Ten Tips for Top Decks

If you attend two geek conferences back to back, you get to see alot of slide decks. And while the decks at SXSW and the IA Summit were chock full of good content, many of them had a few little practical problems, which would’ve all been easy to avoid. I’ve done plenty of pitch presentations, so I was thinking, “if I was presenting, I would wish I’d thought of that!” the whole time.

Here are ten practical tips for giving good deck, aimed at geek conferences, but hopefully useful for others as well.

  1. Make sure that your Twitter handle is big and clear on the first slide. If you say smart things, people will want to follow you, and the backchannel will want to use the shortest name they can find for you.
  2. Likewise, don’t forget a hash tag for your session, and keep it short. #gp is better than #greatpresentation, for example. Eating as few of the backchannel’s 140 characters as possible is good for your karma.
  3. If you’re on a panel, tell the audience to ask questions through Twitter. It can be a nice way of answering what you want when you want, and dodging the long, drawn out, “I have something to prove” questions that everybody hates.
  4. Use LARGE typography. From the back of a big room, type smaller than 64 px is going to be hard to impossible to read.
  5. We’ve all got laptops with us. If we want to read, we’ll use them. Keep your slides visually interesting, but go light on the text. The best presenters use the least text in their slides.
  6. Do not put slide-junk like the date, the name of the conference and your logo on every slide. We all know where we are, who you are and what day it is, and we’re having a hard enough time concentrating on your incisive insight without unnecessary distractions.
  7. Anything you really want people to see should be in the top two thirds of any slide. People’s heads will invariably block the bottom third.
  8. You never know how well set up the projector and screen will be, so keep away from the edges of your slides to make sure nothing gets cut off. As a general rule, keep a 10% zone on top, bottom and both sides free of content.
  9. Make sure your type/background combo is high contrast. If you present in a well-lit room, grey on black will be hard to read. Highest contrast, but boring, is black on white. White – or any bright colour – on black works too, and generally looks fancier.
  10. Unless you’re presenting some massively complex essay, present your material, don’t read it. If you’re reading your presentation, you seem stiff and you can’t connect to the audience. Even if you flub a line or two, you’ll always get more sympathy if you present without reading. Reading is a refuge for nervous presenters, but one you should work on getting over as soon as you can.
  11. These tips won’t make you a great presenter, but they will ensure that your great presentation can be seen, looks good, and encourages backchannel discussion. Hope it helps!