If you are called upon to present technical content, and aren't sure of the best way to go about doing it, this lengthy blog post will hopefully save you hours of research and inspiration-searching. If you'd prefer to skip all the background information, feel free to jump to the top 3 things I learned.
My history with technical presentationsI've sat through many software development-related presentations over the years, and have even given a handful to small audiences. However, I've never given a presentation at anything like a conference before. That's about to change in a couple weeks however, when I'll be speaking about portals, systems integration and web development at the 2008 ILTA conference. In preparation, I decided to throw out what little knowledge I had about how to create a good presentation and started researching the topic.
I was at the 2005 Microsoft Patterns and Practices Summit and saw Harry Pierson's architecture presentation. His presentation seemed a lot simpler than all the others since it lacked a page full of bullet points. During the presentation he mentioned that he was trying out a new presentation approach he had recently read about in Cliff Atkinson's book Beyond Bullet Points (BBP). I didn't run out and buy the book back then, but I did get an idea about the concept from the free material available through Cliff's Webcasts and sample chapters.
Researching for the presentation
Collecting informationI started my research for presentations by looking up BBP to see what Cliff's been up to the last couple years. Since he recently published an updated edition of BBP for PowerPoint 2007, I decided it was a good time to buy. I created a new web feed folder for presentations in Snarfer and added his blog.
Next, I let Google guide me to the most popular presentation blogs, which immediately lead me to Garr Reynolds's blog Presentation Zen. I discovered that Garr recently wrote a book about presentations, also titled Presentation Zen (PZ), so I added it to the cart. If you'd like a quick overview of his points, watch the video of the metapresentation he made to Google employees. His post on technical presentations was very relevant to my needs, as well as a link he provided to an awesome booklet (partially funded by our federal tax dollars) on the subject by the Oceanography Society.
From these first two sources, I found references to Nancy Duarte's presentation work and her blog. Her team was the one that helped out Al Gore with An Inconvenient Truth. Nancy did a webinar on how to create powerful presentations for VizThink, a new visual thinking community that love thinking visually and creating mind maps. Nancy also recently finished working on her book, slide:ology, but it wasn't published until this month, so I couldn't get it in time.
Around the time I was doing my primary research in July, Dan Roam's book, The Back of the Napkin (BOTN), was still fresh off of the press. It created quite a buzz in the presentation circles, so I thought it was worth looking into. Almost everyone has something good to say about it, and the cover just looks cool. It wasn't a book on presentations specifically, but it was right up my alley in terms of relevance. Considering my topics, so I was intrigued about the possibility of being able to communicate my topics using simple pictures.
Garr's book begins with a presentation-style forward (a one-page series of slides) by Guy Kawasaki. Guy is a former Apple fellow and considered to have this whole speaking-presenting thing down by his peers. Guy's Alltop.com site was featured in his blog (of course you'd expect some self-promotion) as a service that makes it easy to find top blogs or sites on a subject. Browsing Alltop lead me to their speaking aggregate page, speaking.alltop.com. This has Nancy's, Garr's and Cliff's blog all on the page, which is a good sign so far. In addition to these, it has a bunch of others as well, which should point you to just about any other niche related to presenting/speaking that you'd need.