Chapter 4. General Hints and Tips for Great Presentations

Neil Lucock

Krishna Tateneni

Okay, you've decided to use Calligra Stage for your presentation. Before you start making transparencies or animated slide shows, go and find a piece of paper and sit down at a desk away from the computer. It doesn't matter whether you are doing a teaching session or trying to convince the boss that your plan, policy or idea should be adopted, you need to figure out what you are trying to say. Write down all the subjects you need to cover, try to get them in the order you think will make sense. Don't put any details in yet, just decide on headings and the structure of your talk.

Under each heading make a note of what facts you need to cover. You are trying to build a convincing argument. Consider grouping your facts into things must be included, things that should be included and things that it would be nice to cover if you had plenty of time.

Once you have written down all the things you need to say, consider the time available to do it in. Ten minutes seems ages when you start, but it is very difficult to actually get much across in so short a time. Get your sheet of paper and a clock with a second hand. Practise your presentation over and over again. This has many benefits. Firstly, you get the timing right. If someone says you have ten minutes, never go over the allowed time. Secondly, when you actually do it in front of a live audience, it will not be the first time you have done that presentation. Third, you get the words right in your own head. You will find ways of saying things about the subject. If you've heard yourself do this presentation several times, you will know what you are going to say next and how you are going to say it.

Calligra Stage does not produce Speaker's Notes at the time of writing, but I am happy to just use ordinary slides. Produce some slides for yourself, printed on plain paper, and some for use with the Overhead Projector. Make the text on your slides nice and big, you need to be able to read it at a distance. I use 14 or 16 point text, experiment to find a size that you can read easily. I never write out a script.

If you are using an Overhead projector, learn how to use it beforehand. Make sure that the bulb works, that the spare bulb is still okay. Clean the lens and display plates. If you are not used to working with projectors, practice. Ensure that the projection screen itself is clean. It's probably best, when timing yourself, to allow for five seconds (count one thousand and one, one thousand and two....) to change each slide. That way you know you don't have to rush. If you need to point at something on a slide, you can use a pointer and point at the display screen, find a laser pointer or put a pencil on the transparency itself. Be warned, these tend to roll out of place when you nudge the table.

Consider where you are going to stand. You cannot stand in front of your display, so off to one side is probably your best option if you want your audience to be able to see. I often project a picture onto a wipeboard and draw over the top of it. If you are using a PC with a digital projector you can draw over the top of your slides with Calligra Stage's pen tool. Remember, drawing freehand with a mouse is a skill that needs practice. If you are using an Overhead projector, you can use transparent overlay slides and a pen over the top of your computer generated ones.

When you are doing the presentation do not accidently look into the light, it's easy to do. If you are not going to use the machine for a few minutes, turn it off. Practise to get where you are going to stand sorted out. Check the room you intend to use for electrical sockets and learn how the blinds work and where the light switches are. Good preparation not only makes you less likely to make mistakes (inanimate things can be a nightmare in front of an audience) but also gives you confidence. Always have a Plan B ready if something refuses to work. Have a paper copy of your slides with you. You can photocopy and distribute these to your audience if the equipment fails.

I have not said much about the content yet. At present all you have is a piece of paper with everything you want to say on it. Before you make anything, ask youself if their understanding of what you are saying is going to improved by showing them a picture. Bad presentations consist of a series of slides full of text. The presenter then reads the slide to the audience (who have already read it as they can read faster than someone can say it aloud). Try to avoid writing anything on the slide, except a title and a number. Draw a picture of what you need to say, then explain the picture to them. That way they do not get ahead of you (they can read faster than you can speak, remember?) and you look like you know it. You do not know it, you are using the picture as a series of prompts. A slide should support what you are saying, not duplicate it. A slide should be the focus of the audience's attention, not a distraction.

An example. I teach Railway staff how to respond to accidents. I wanted to use a slide to discuss how you can move dangerous loads from a derailed or damaged rail vehicle to a road vehicle after an accident. The slide I made had a simple drawing of tank wagon, the kind used for carrying gases or oils. On the side I wrote Lethal Chemical Company so that I do not have to explain it. I wanted to make several important points. First, you must get any overhead electric wires turned off before you do anything if they are within a certain distance. I drew one of the supporting structures and drew an arrow with the safety distance on it. Then I wanted to say that you must not transfer the wagon's contents in darkness or thunderstorms. I drew a moon and a lightning bolt above the vehicle. You must get specialist advice, so I drew a sheet of paper and wrote the word Plan near the vehicle. You also have to ensure that the vehicle does not move when the weight inside is removed. I drew little red wedges by the wheels. Everything I need to talk about is on this drawing. All I have to do is look at the drawing and it tells me what I need to cover. When I have covered all the things in the drawing, I have finished on that subject.

In general, only use a slide or picture if it shows something that adds to what you are saying. Finally, relax and try not to rush through it all. Talk to them, not at them and remember that a presentation is about whatever message you are trying to get across. Calligra Stage is a useful tool. It can help you to get that message over, but it cannot do the job for you.