Presentation Tips for Kevin Bacon

Who hasn’t been there? Stuck in a room rapidly losing useful oxygen while some Powerpoint ninja squeezes out  the last lingering juice of your youth with bullet points. Having just been involved in a conference binge (both as presenter and attendee) I share these observations from an audience perspective in the hope that they may spread and flourish wherever spectators are pulling their own ears off in frustration.

Now, I appreciate that there is not a massive readership for this little site, but as we are all connected to each other by only 6 steps (yes, even to Kevin Bacon) maybe it will even prove useful to those who first started out changing small towns with dance*.

(A quick hat tip to @kristinalford who also got me thinking about this with a series of tweets the other day, which I include so you can benefit from the wisdom of an actual pro.)

You could just stop here, but have a think about reading on too.

You could just stop here, but have a think about reading on too.

1. Simplify

Simplify everything.  Particularly your slides (if you’re using slides). Once you ask me to read anything beyond a couple of points, I stop listening. Slides are for key ideas.

2. Don’t Do My Reading For Me

I promise I can read. In fact, whatever comes up, I will automatically read. So if you read it too, you are potentially going to become a confusing extra narrator. I want your spoken words to provide the extra depth and background to what I’m reading.

3. Synthesise

If you’re presenting data or summarising a paper go ahead and show the pertinent stuff, but at some point I want to hear how you interpret that in a meaningful way for me to take away and use. If I never hear the point of the data, I definitely won’t remember it.

4. Use Visual Stuff

Even better than words is a visual representation of concepts. Whether it’s via a diagram or a particular image that fits, something that brings it all together will help me immensely more than trying to catalogue words. Need a demonstration of how adding images can make it easier to relate stuff – check out one of the excellent posts from BuzzHootRoar. Sure it’s a different setting, but the message is obvious.

While I’m at it, no irrelevant images please. I don’t want to see the holiday snaps you’re proud of because you used your cool new camera if it doesn’t help things flow or reinforce a point. If you’re showing random animal shots, I’m examining the airconditioning layout and wondering if I could employ babies to undertake a heist in this joint.

5. Stories Are Always Good

Actually, not always because I also don’t want to hear about your travel adventures (unless that’s the talk). A narrative that anchors the presentation will always keep me more interested than “look, this is great because I read lots of stuff”.

6. Please practice, I can tell

Are you a master of improvisational theatre? Do you regularly undertake freeflowing rap battles or poetry slams? No? Then don’t try to be ‘in the moment’. It is really obvious in the audience when you know your stuff. I don’t just mean the information, I mean the whole flow of the presentation. If you don’t care enough about your presentation to even run through it a couple of times, why should I care enough to listen?

Here’s a reference point from this feature relating to Apple presentations (there’s other good tips too). Those slick-looking presentations aren’t just that way because they use cool apps. A 20 minute presentation has about 250 hours work put into it.

7. Run to Time

This follows on from practice. You were given a job to do in a certain time. Do it. It is incredibly rude to the other presenters who probably also want to share their hard work when you run over. It also threatens my lunch break.

The other thing is that extra time rarely makes a presentation better. Less time means more focus and those watching are more likely to actually get the message. Just because modern movies seem to be getting longer and longer, doesn’t mean you should forget to edit.

Try this exercise once your talk is written. Do it once and time it. Now use the same slides and cut the time down by 25%. Then do it again in half the time. Now you know which bits are actually crucial.


So there they are, 7 tips to preserve audience sanity. If you’ve got any others, I’ll be right here, chewing on the venue-provided mint.


* Clearly, Kevin Bacon probably doesn’t need tips on presentations. I’m sure he’d be excellent in any presentation, even if he was asked to do it as a slightly creepy guy or a broken ex-cop.


5 thoughts on “Presentation Tips for Kevin Bacon

  1. Pingback: Bigger Fears in the Smaller Room | The Flying PhD

    • I heard almost universally good things along the grapevine. We won’t always have that much time to devote to them, but it’s a strong reminder of the need to give presentations (and the audience) a bit of respect.

  2. Pingback: Presentations for Goldfish | The Flying PhD

  3. Pingback: The Number | The Flying PhD

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