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Soft Skills Part 6 - Presenting

Regular Contributor
Posts: 232

Soft Skills Part 6 - Presenting

I’m sitting here working on a 3-hour workshop I’m going to be giving at the end of February to a group of Business Analytics students at a local university, and it got me thinking about how I put my presentations together.  I’ve given a large number of talks at my local SAS User group, the former NESUG (Northeastern SAS Users’ Group) and Global Forum, and have approached them the same way. 


My first step is to establish 4 different things:

  • Topic Selection – If I am presenting at a user group, I tend to do some research online to see what’s already been done. I usually like to focus on topics that are less popular – it’s how I’ve become a strong advocate for features in SAS like ODS Graphics Designer, Graph’n’Go, and SAS Simulation Studio. 
  • Experience level of the audience – I will approach the talk very differently if I know the mix will lean more towards less experienced versus advanced users. If the audience will be mixed, or if I don’t know the experience level, I always err on the side of novice.  Even if the audience turns out to be more advanced, it is almost guaranteed that there will be some users that know nothing about your topic. 
  • Length of the presentation – Obviously a presentation that is 15 minutes in length will have very different information than one that’s 3 hours. If I am going for a presentation for new users, I aim for 1 minute per slide – I’m going to spend a little more time per slide.  If the users are more advanced, or it’s a mixed-level group, I go for about 45-50 seconds per slide.  This will allow for a buffer at the end for questions (I estimate 5 – 10 minutes). 
  • Content – If I am going to be providing handouts, I use more images in my slides (the attendees can make notes on the papers); if the users are going to be making their own notes, I rely on a 50/50 split between graphics and text. If the image is small enough it can be clearly seen side-by-side with text, then I limit the slide to no more than 6 bullets, and a total of 40 words.  If the image is large, I expand it to as close to full-size of the slide.  If it will only be text, then I go no further than 8 bullets and 50 words. 

Second step is to practice – I like to engage with the audience rather than reading my notes.  This takes practice, so I memorise little things throughout my day – library card number, credit card number, phone numbers of people at work etc.  What you’ll find is doing this often enough your memorisation skills will improve.  Also, don’t memorise word-for-word – rather, aim for points that you want to make instead.  Being comfortable with the subject will make this easier, so I will spend as much time reading up on the topic as possible. 


The final point is the doing the actual presentation.  You know the topic, you have your points all ready to go, now it’s time to do the talk! 

  • Talk slower than you normally do. Chances are pretty good you will talk faster than normal during your presentation, so if you consciously slow it down, you can hit the 45-60 second time limit you’ve set above.
  • When you’re looking at the audience, focus either on the tops of people’s heads or their chins – it looks like you’ve established eye contact, but you won’t get distracted by people’s actual expressions.
  • Use your body to be expressive – point to the screen, use hand motions to express points, and move around the stage if possible which allows you to talk to both sides of the room.
  • When changing slides, I always count to 3, then change the slide, then count to 3. This will allow people to finish making notes on the previous slide, read the new slide, and allows you to gather your thoughts before proceeding.


I really enjoy giving presentations, and I hope that my suggestions help make you a more successful presenter.  My last tip is to be the kind of audience member that you would want attending your talk – don’t look at your cell phone, don’t laugh at mistakes the presenter makes, and don’t talk to those around you during the session. 


What are your presentation tips and tricks?  I’d love to hear them!

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Community Manager
Posts: 565

Re: Soft Skills Part 6 - Presenting

Great crash course in putting together a preso! Tracks very closely with the teachings of Bart Queen, a gifted speech coach that I brought to SAS some time ago. He's a huge proponent of pausing so that the audience can absorb what you're saying and showing. In fact, he says to pause for longer than feels comfortable. He's fond of saying, "Don't go with how it feels. Go with the impact it creates!"

Regular Contributor
Posts: 232

Re: Soft Skills Part 6 - Presenting

That's funny because advice that a friend gave me is to talk slower than normal, pause longer than usual, and enunciate more than is comfortable. Good advice :-)
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