Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just in Time Presenting Skills

I have over 200 slide decks on my computer.  Every year I have to create at least ten new decks.  I also have decks of slides given to me by standards colleagues and coworkers that I have permission to borrow from as appropriate.  I have decks I produced for IHE, HL7, HITSP, EHRA and others, and then I have the internal decks I use at work.

You want a presentation on IHE or HL7 or HITSP, I got a dozen of em.  Need a new one?  I can put it together given a day's notice, or even less in some cases.  I might not like you for asking, but part of my job is to promote these activities.

Often times, many of you will have to do the same thing.  How can you do it?  I've already given you a couple of hints.  Have ready made content you can reuse.  But here are a few more.

First of all, the words on the slide are NOT important to your audience.  They will get copies of those words later, and can read them faster than you can speak them.  The best kind of slide to speak to is one where you can change the message to suit your audience or purpose.  A single picture illustating an event.  A FEW words describing a concept.  If you use too much text, the slide it too tight to be reused for other things.

Second, practice before speaking, if even in your head.  Don't create a slide and figure you will wing it.  Know what you want to convey.  Again, don't worry about the words.  I use the same HL7 CCD deck every time and use different words each time.  There is NO script.  I know what I want to convey and the slide is my prompter, but not my script.

Can you speak for five minutes on one slide?  Ten?  Try it.  It's a worthwhile skill to develop.  Most folks spend 2-3 minutes on a slide.  If you can spend 5-10 minutes and make the image on the slide memorable or tied into your story, do it.

I hate animation on slides.  Why? Because as soon as I have to use the same deck in a webinar, I have to undo it all.  If you animate, use a second slide that changes what was on the previous slide a bit.  That will play on a webinar.  I find other peoples animations of slides disruptive, because I don't pause to click where they would.  I use their stories, but in my own words, and with my own stories interwoven.

Oh, and stories are great.  Any time you can come up with a simple vingette, tale, or longer story that illustrates what you are trying to achieve, it makes your point more memorable.

I'll finish this post with a little story and a last tip.  It's hard to engage with your audience standing behind a podium.  If you have space use it.  One of the best IHE presentations I ever gave was up on a stage in Connecticut.  Twenty feet back from the edge of the stage was the podium, and next to me was a HUGE screen showing my slides (this was before I'd ever seen TED).  I started to present, and less than 30 seconds in, excused myself and moved to the front of the stage.  Then I used the entire space pretending that stage right was Connecticut and Stage left was California, and moved documents from one end of the stage to the other while describing XDS.  You could tell from the audience attention on where I was that I'd captured their attention.  I also used the deck and screen, pointing and emphasizing not with a laser, but with my hands and body.  If you read my first post, that's the same presentation where I got the name for this blog.

Well, back to my current Just in Time presentation.


  1. I've found it better to write a script than try to "wing it", as I have suffer one too many "brain cramps" in front of an audience. The cool thing about improvising is that it might be wonderful, but it also might be brown and smelly. A script will also help you to focus on presenting your material in the time that you are given. You only get one opportunity to waste people's time. If you blow it, you will never get a second chance.

  2. Don't get me wrong. You should have a plan for what you want to say. But what most people think of as a script is what they should say word for word. It's more like a set of notecards or prompts. You should definately have an outline of your talk, but try to avoid scripting it to the point of memorization.