It’s Always About You

I’m in the process of finishing up a presentation for the Central Ohio .NET Developers Group, and this got me to thinking about how I structure my presentations. Luckily, right around the time I was musing on this subject I ran across Jeff Atwood’s article Who Needs Talent When You Have Intensity?(which lead to Users shouldn’t think about YOU). I’ve long held the opinion that a good presentation is one that is immediately useful in your day to day work. After reading Jeff’s post, and Kathy Sierra’s post that Jeff linked to, I’m revising my opinion.

A great presentation helps the audience do their job better.

Thinking back over the presentations that I’ve given in the past, the ones that I’ve felt were the most successful, and the ones where people have given me the best reviews, have been the ones where I’ve gotten out of the way and talked about how to do a better job rather than how I did my job well. One thing that I have long held is that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” but only when you follow it with “talk to me afterward and we’ll figure out how.” Ultimately, when presenting, it’s the presenter’s job to help the audience learn the subject matter. If the presenter doesn’t know, that’s okay. But, it’s important to make sure that the audience is given an avenue to find the answer – either through an email follow up, a follow up later that day, or follow up by the next day of class. My final thought is that Kathy Sierra hits it right on the head: “Too many learning experiences and books leave the learner feeling impressed as hell with the instructor/author, but… stupid.” The learning process is about the student, not about the teacher. When I think back to the past few presentations that I’ve attended, the presenters haven’t included themselves more than a few times. On the rare occasions when a presenter has said “I”, it has been in the context of “I made this mistake a lot until I got the hang of this. Here’s how you can avoid this and why”. When they include themselves, presenters aren’t talking about how great they are: they’re exposing when they made mistakes and how everyone else can learn without having to repeat that mistake. In the end, the only thing that matters is that the audience is learning.