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The best-constructed talk i ever saw as as scientist was by a medic who considered himself far too busy and important to spend time mucking around with Powerpoint. The only slides he had were figures of his results - photomicrographs of tissue, graphs of drug effects, etc - probably lifted from a paper in preparation, and so probably done by his graduate students anyway. This meant that there were only a handful of slides, so very few distracting transitions to distract from his talking, and the screen was always full of important content.

Needless to say, that this guy's combination of laziness and arrogance had led to him to have a much better presentation than me with much less effort left me absolutely furious.

For every one of those, I've seen disorganized mumbling that a set of slides could have really helped.

I pull off this sort of stuff (very few slides or talk sheet with a few bullet points) nowadays after a decade of corporate managerial life. It essentially requires you to be ultra clear in your mind about message and narrative and to develop an ability to communicate simply. It's very difficult to pull off without much practice especially early in your career - so don't feel bad.

I found when I applied the principles I use for software, it helped me make much better presentations.

Build a (user) story. Why are presenting? What do you want to accomplish by taking to these people? Based on what they already know, how much background do they need? Your don't build features by adding buttons and sliders - you figure out user stories by asking why a dozen times. It's not quite the same dynamic but you can roughly go through the same exercise, even if it's just in your head.

The other big thing is to reduce text content to the bare minimum. Remove sentences (move them to speaker notes, if you want). Keep rephrasing things to make it shorter. If you have lots of text on screen people read it and don't pay attention to you. If you're reading the text verbatim, you might as well just email your content and not waste the time talking.

Visuals are good when possible. Even dumb stock photos can work: for example, if you're making an argument that your onboarding process is too complex, a photo of a crazy highway interchange can help reinforce that. It certainly leaves a more lasting impression that a 9-point bulleted wall of text.

> It essentially requires you to be ultra clear in your mind about message and narrative

I think this is a requirement (unfortunately too infrequently enforced) for making any presentation to more than a few folks. If a number of people are dedicating their time, brain cells and energy to listen to the presenter, that presenter should make his message as clear as possible. Know exactly what you want to say, write main points into charts, say it.

There are some exceptions -- at scientific conferences it is usually OK to lose all but narrow specialists in the last 25-50% of the presentation, but even then the "general" section should be clear.

I highly recommend this approach if your domain even remotely supports it. When I have full control over a presentation, that's what they look like.

Another advantage is that when you try to jam text and figures on to the same page, you shortchange what the figure can be; keeping all the space for a diagram means it can be meaningfully complicated. I dislike almost all "architecture diagrams" anyhow because they're almost all the same [1], but if you get a full screen, you may have a chance to put something complicated enough to capture a useful slice of some system, where as by the time a figure is done being jammed on to a page with a couple of lines of text, it's been reduced to 10-20% of the useful area of the page and can't hardly have any useful information in it.

[1]: You know them, because you've seen them. There's the diagram with four or five boxes with tiny bits of text in them, randomly connected by some lines. Sometimes some of them are dashed. There's the diagrams with four or five machines randomly connected, that helpfully shows you that the API server connects to a database, and that users connect to the API server. (No shit? Wow!) Some clouds will appear. (You mean your system uses the internet? Wow!) There's the cake diagram that shows that your system has a bottom layer, a middle layer with a couple more services, and a top layer with yet more distinction. (You used layers in your system? Wow!) Basically, if you are going to show me a diagram, I want to see a diagram that I could not have drawn pretty much before even seeing your system. I've seen a diagram of an AWS deployment of a system that had a couple dozen elements... that actually said something useful about what was connected to what. When you've only got five elements, there just aren't enough possibilities to be a problem worth diagramming in the first place.

The other thing to mention is that medics are trained from an early stage to be able to present their thoughts concisely on a regular basis to impatient senior doctors. 'present your findings' (and 'hurry up') is something a medical student hears at least once a day.

Q - medic = doctor in British(?) Terminology?

Yes. Specifically one who practices medicine rather than surgery (who would be a surgeon).

This guy was a consultant, ie a very senior doctor, and got to do research as a sideline. If the context had been clearer, i would have said "a consultant", but on HN that could mean anything!

I think in the US such people might be called "internists", which is also a weird and confusing term in its own way.

I don't see a field medical technician having grad students, so I would think so


It's a university term really, the students studying Medicine are called medics by everyone else, tend to be very cliquey.

It can come down to how well you know your topic. If the presentation was on how to make a cake then my mother would be able to take to the stage and do the whole thing with zero preparation. She would pop the recipe and the method notes up on the big screen and that would be it. Myself, because I actually would have no idea what I would be doing, I would make up slides for each step in the method summary and still be reading them. Again, my mother would not have to refer to what was on screen.

Actually there is lots of science and craft and history and plenty else in cake making, again, my mother would be able to do all that with open ended questions.

I think that if you have been working with the same clients and the same code for the last few years then you too can present without the presentation, to keep the audience captivated and learning. Vision, focus, enthusiasm all comes into it.

The other part is having presentation skills. Who really likes standing in front of a crowd? This can be learned, however some people go to posh schools that emphasise public speaking and other people go to schools where this is not something that happens. It is a lot easier to stand up and talk in front of a crowd if you have done it every week throughout your childhood than if you have not done it before.

He probably also knew what to focus on, which helps tremendously with any presentation.

For sure; I think for many people that have to make a presentation, the message they want to tell is organized in bulletpoints, and they think of that while making the presentation, adding bulletpoints as they go. The presentation then becomes their own speakers notes, the crutch for their presentation.

The alternative is to, if you need that crutch, write down the presentation in bulletpoints, memorize it, and make an accompanying / illustrative presentation alongside it. That requires a bit more effort and practice though. And if you have enough practice, if you have your message in your head already, along with the structure, you won't need the crutch anymore.

But this is a very specific skill, if you're not doing regular presentations you won't acquire it. There's a lot of people that travel the world doing conference talks, they can reuse the same material a few times if need be, spend more time preparing, and just know their exact message. Getting paid to do presentations instead of having to do it as a side-thing does make a difference.

Even if you build your presentation this way, you can fix it: start again. Use your first presentation as literal speaker notes and just rebuild the while thing, but extract the key ideas, be very limited in writing down any words you want to say, and substitute charts, diagrams or photos wherever possible.

I like the "Guidelines for Creating Presentations" from the Beamer ( https://github.com/josephwright/beamer ) doc. Mostly: don't overdo slides, what you say is more important.


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