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Designing Killer Presentations

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While most software developers might be gifted with technical skills, we often come up short when it comes to presentation skills. One person that seems to be able to put together a killer presentation is Jesse Desjardins. I spoke with Jesse to get his opinion on the key ingredients for a great presentation. Looking at Jesse's presentations, you'll see he has an original approach to creating presentations that grab your attention. To see how it's done, check out Jesse's SlideShare channel. One of his pieces that caught my attention is his "You Suck At Powerpoint" presentation, embedded here


You Suck At PowerPoint!
View more presentations from @JESSEDEE


DZone: Could you introduce yourself please?

Jesse Desjardins: My name is Jesse Desjardins. I don't like titles, but most people know me as a presenter, designer or presentation designer.

DZone: What are the key ingredients of a killer presentation?

Jesse Desjardins: For me it boils down to putting in the hours. I can spend up to 30 hours prepping for a highstakes 1 hour talk.  Seems like a ridiculous amount of time (especially if you leave it till the night before) but with a little planning it's not that hard. I use Evernote and jot down all my ideas a few weeks before hand, I find that helps a lot.

One of my first public speaking engagements I spent way more time on it then what I actually got paid for. There were only about 100 people in the room but when I was done I uploaded the presentation to slideshare and it got 10,000 views in a week. I then got hired to give the same talk 3 other times in Denmark, Jordan and South Africa. That's what it is for me, putting in the time to pull off something amazing.

DZone: What's the biggest mistake you see most people make when designing a presentation?

Jesse Desjardins: Not designing your slides in a way that helps tell your story. That could be a lot of things. Too much information on your slides is a common one. If you're going to read word for word what's on your slides just give a handout to everyone and send them home early. Most people get caught up with decorating instead of designing effective slides. Some of the best presentations I've seen only have pictures and maybe a few words, it really doesn't need to be complicated.

DZone: Can you give some preparation/design tips to get a great presentation together?

Jesse Desjardins: I write down all my ideas on post-it notes and stick them to the wall (usually for a few days). It becomes very clear what your flow is like and where you need to add or take out certain parts. In terms of style I always avoid the standard templates that come with the software, they are usually really dull. I had to give a presentation on low cost airlines once in Europe so I Google EasyJet font and colors and I styled my presentation after one of the most well known airlines over there, looked amazing. I also try to avoid really lame corporate stock photography, you know the token one member of every race around a boardroom table shaking hands, it's stupid, no one's office actually looks like that. Whatever visuals you're going to use just keep a consistant look throughout your presentation.

DZone: Is it all down to the software? Does using Keynote mean my presentation will be better than if I use PowerPoint?

Jesse Desjardins: Keynote for Mac is definately the premium solution for creating amazing looking presentations, but it's definately not just down to the software because i've seen some pretty horrible presentations made with it also. Everything design wise just works better on mac, end of story, period.

Most of my live presentations contain a lot of images and video clips and they just embed beautifully in Keynote. Whenever I have to pull off the same effect in PowerPoint I get really angry, it's do-able but it's a lot more work.

DZone: Have you any tips on how to deliver a great presentation?

Jesse Desjardins: Having a crystal clear picture of who your audience is and a ridiculous amount of preparation, for me that's it. 

DZone: Who are your role model presenters? Or what are the best presentations you've seen?

Jesse Desjardins: Oh man, I just have way too many. I think Gary Vaynerchuck is a great presenter, and he doesn't present with any slides. He curses like a sailor so I wouldn't put him on stage at TED but his passion is amazing. I'm a big fan or well designed presentations that can have a second life online. If you look on slideshare there are plenty of presenters who get it and are reaching a far greater audience then they could ever get giving a live presentation.

DZone: When it comes to technical presentations, people tend to rely on bullet points a lot. How can you avoid this?

Jesse Desjardins: Ya I get this a lot. It's the same in most corporate presentations, the excuse I hear is "it's very technical so we need to leave them with handouts". That's fine, just don't present your document on screen. The big thing with putting all your information on the screen in bullet points is that people read ahead. So create your handouts, save it, then create another version to present on screen.

Have you any presentation tips to share? Are there any outstanding technical presentations that you've seen? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


Jim Bethancourt replied on Tue, 2011/04/12 - 9:00am

The book Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte is a fantastic read if you're looking for a good book on how to put together a great presentation and different ways to present what you'd like to get across to your audience. Death by bullet points and "slideuments" are two of the most memorable takeaways of things to avoid.

Damien Lepage replied on Tue, 2011/04/12 - 9:11am

Nice article, thanks. Good slides are just one ingredient for success. Another big one is definitely public speaking skills. This is also something that can be learned. I would recommend Toastmasters over any formal training in this matter.

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