It was Paul’s first conference ever,
a little nervous he went from home.
Hopped on a train and entered the building,
stepped so in the unknown.

Do you still remember it, the very first day you went to a conference? The excitement and slight tension when you step into the keynote room. Every time when the lights dim and the speaker starts to speak, it’s another joyful moment for me. But sometimes that feeling drops quickly if the slides the presenter uses are either unclear, unreadable or simple awful. If you like to present, but have no real idea how to create clear sheets to tell a story, follow Paul’s adventure for common pitfalls.

The speaker walked upon the stage,
and started talking about himself.
But Paul did not care about this at all,
and had to put his wandering mind on a shelf.

Your first slide contains the introduction of your presentation. Too often presentations start with something like: "Hi, I am Jacob van Lingen; I am a senior developer @ JDriven and I like hiking", including a picture of myself on a mountain top. Though it’s good to tell the audience who you are, nobody really likes this as a starter.

To grasp anyone’s attention you need to start with something special. Tell them a short funny story, a sad anecdote, a mention of current news or just some made up fantasy. Maybe something that happened that very morning. Or that one time you faced the terrible bug that haunted your team for a week. It doesn’t really matter, as long as the listeners are just triggered to listen to you. Once you have your introduction figured out, add a nice visual to support that story. And only then, after that first introduction, start by introducing yourself!

Cause Paul was a wee shy guy,
he sat down in the last row.
The text on the screen was terrible small,
so he missed half the show!

The biggest mistake of creating a presentation; using a font size that’s way too small for your audience to read. When you suspect the font size is too small, it surely is! It’s an immediate turn off when the slides are impossible to read. Besides, there is an easy lifehack to prevent such a scenario: Stand 2m / 6 ft away from your laptop screen. If you can still read it, it’s probably big enough.

One of the slides,
showed the blue docker whale.
But the contrast was bad,
thus it looked bloody pale.

Beware the dreaded beamers! In so many cases a projector is not able to show true colors. Or it is, but the presentation room is not dimmed enough, and all colors look washed away. When you create your slides, take notion of this. Though your laptop screen can easily portray all subtle color differences, there is a big chance it won’t look that good during your presentation. So make sure your text, images and diagrams really pop up from the background.

Mimicking a presentation environment at home is quite hard, but by lowering your backlight of your screen to nearly the minimum you could get an idea what your slides will look like with very poor lighting conditions. If you would also throw in Night Mode[1] while testing, at least you can tell yourself you made sure you tried everything.

It was a complex system,
shown with a million lines.
The presenter talked and talked,
but Paul did not understand the signs.

In our field of work we often deal with complicated workflows, applications and architecture. Presenting such a thing is quite difficult. If you want to use diagrams to convey the message, be careful you don’t put a too complex diagram on the screen. When your audience start to see the image, they have to process the information; and boy it takes longer than you like to imagine.

Well, now we have an issue…​ Because you really have to show that cryptic chart to even explain the situation! Do not despair, there is still a thing you could do. Complex diagrams do often consist of a bunch of interwoven simple diagrams. Instead of showing one big image with a lot of arrows and stuff, show the overall picture without too many details[2]. Label all parts that you want to discuss. Tell your listeners about the general idea behind this graphic. Once they get that, go to a next slide where you zoom in on one of the labeled parts. Apply this to all parts, until you have explained everything. You could even add the general graphic in the top right, so your viewers know how the current part fits in the whole of the system.

A thousand years old citation,
shown boldly upon the screen.
The story was still about something different,
hence it did not match the scene.

A quote of a famous person can really spice up your presentation. It gives your stage both extra spark and credibility. But be careful when you show it to your audience. If you show it too early, the audience will already read it, and probably not understand why they see that slide. Or they will, but the surprise effect will be far less. No, you need to show it at just the right moment; that is just before you speak it out loud.

Another thing to consider, if the words are important, people will not mind when you say exactly what’s in front of them on the screen. So do just that! Don’t start to abbreviate the quote as it will lessen the validity of said quote. And while you are at it, try to memorize the quotation by heart, so it gives an even better impression.

For many the bottom quarter of the screen,
could never have been seen.
But the first few rows could glance it all,
which Paul found really mean.

The best room you can wish for is a theater with ascending seats. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury. As a viewer, it is so annoying if you miss part of the show because you can’t see everything. Therefore, don’t put vital information in the lower part of you slides. As a rule of thumb, I’d advise to leave the last third just blank. If you still want to put some content there, it is a great place for secondary info. Things like your name, the current date or the progress of the whole presentation. If people miss those, it does not really ruin the experience.

Because it was Paul’s first experience,
he was not aware of all those flaws.
But now you know them,
don’t go out there getting undeserved applause!

1. Some examples are Night Shift, Night Light or f.lux.
2. Some presenters try to bypass this problem by using a digital magnifier tool. I would advise against this, as the audience still sees the whole diagram at the start.