How to create a great technical presentation

We’ve all been there… in a technical presentation, wanting desperately for it to end because you’re just not engaged, you’ve lost track of what you are there for and the door is just sooooo tempting.

Want to avoid being the person on stage, increasing the gravitational pull of the door? Here’s my top tip: on the drawing board, don’t think about what features you want to demonstrate.

Did I just say don’t think about features?

Yes I did. Because people aren’t interested in features in isolation. I went to a dire presentation at SQL PASS where some well respected figure was demonstrating exciting new SQL2012 features by repeatedly saying “and you click this and look this happens then you click this and this happens and you click this and this happens and then you click this and this happens and that’s PowerView”. I walked out of that session half way through, none the wiser about PowerView.

It’s a common enough mistake amongst us techy folk – we are so impressed by the gadgetry and trickery that we lose sight of what it’s actually being used for. I remain a shameless ETL geek, but I can safely say that whenever I’m presenting the MS BI stack, my beloved SSIS rarely gets a look in. And why? Because the end user cares little about how their data got to them in a usable state. They care about how they can use their data, even if the DW / ETL story is going to chew up 75% of what they are going to spend.

So what should I think about?

People use software to do work. The features of that software enable people to do their work faster and more effectively. If you want to engage your audience you need to think about their business process first. You need to start your demo by thinking about the users story. You can then tell that story with your features – and get their engagement as they see how their process will change.

In a client specific situation, you tune that story to the client. In a general presentation you have to find a hook more or less everyone can get into – which is why Movies data keeps cropping up in some of the broader Microsoft demos. Almost everyone knows a few famous actors and movies and can connect with the story you try to tell.

Here is a simple example: In Reporting Services, you can change the background colour of a row of data using a formula. Neat feature. Demo that feature in isolation and most business users will give you a big fat “like, whatever.” Tell a business user that when a value indicates they need to take action, we can highlight that data so it jumps out at them – they get the value. They’ll keep listening to you.

Obviously this post is taking a very simplistic view – but next time you’re doing a presentation – start with your story first and there’s a good chance it’ll be much more interesting.


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