Some Rules for Making a Presentation
Here's a 10-minute Powerpoint talk with
Human attention is very limited. Don't cram too much
information, either in each slide, or in the whole talk. Avoid
details: they won't be remembered anyway.
- Have a very clear introduction, to motivate what you do and to
present the problem you want to solve. The introduction is
not technical in nature, but strategic (i.e. why this
problem, big idea).
- If you have a companion paper, mention it during the talk and
recommend it for more details. Don't put all the details in the
talk. Present only the important ones.
- Use only one idea per slide.
- Have a good conclusions slide: put there the main ideas, the ones
you really want people to remember. Use only one
- The conclusion slide should be the last one. Do not put other
slides after conclusions, as this will weaken their impact.
- Having periodic "talk outline" slides (to show where you
are in the talk) helps, especially for longer talks. At least one
"talk outline" slide is very useful, usually after the
- Don't count on the audience to remember any detail from one slide
to another (like color-coding, applications you measure, etc.). If
you need it remembered, re-state the information a second time.
- Especially if you have to present many different things, try to
build a unifying thread. The talk should be sequential in nature
(i.e. no big conceptual leaps from one slide to the next).
- Try to cut out as much as possible; less is better.
- Help the audience understand where you are going. Often it's best
to give them a high-level overview first, and then plunge into the
details; then, while listening to the details they can relate to the
high-level picture and understand where you are. This also helps them
save important brain power for later parts of the talk which may be
- Use a good presentation-building tool, like MS PowerPoint. Avoid
Latex, except for slides with formulas (Leslie Lamport himself says
that slides are visual, while Latex is meant to be logical). Good
looks are important. If you need formulas, try TeXPoint, George
Necula's Latex for Powerpoint.
- Humor is very useful; prepare a couple of puns and jokes
beforehand (but not epic jokes, which require complicated setup).
However, if you're not good with jokes, better avoid them
altogether. Improvising humor is very dangerous.
- The more you rehearse the talk, the better it will be. A
rehearsal is most useful when carried out loud. 5 rehearsals is a
minimum for an important talk.
- The more people criticize your talk (during practice), the better
it will be; pay attention to criticism, not necessarily to all
suggestions, but try to see what and why people misunderstood your
- Not everything has to be written down; speech can and should
complement the information on the slides.
- Be enthusiastic.
- Act your talk: explain, ask rhetorical questions, act surprised, etc.
- Give people time to think about the important facts by slowing
down, or even stopping for a moment.
- Do not go overtime under any circumstance.
- Listen to the questions very carefully; many speakers answer
different questions than the ones asked.
- Do not treat your audience as mentally-impaired: do not explain
the completely obvious things.
- Slides should have short titles. A long title shows something is
- Use uniform capitalization rules.
- All the text on one slide should have the same structure
(e.g. complete phrases, idea only, etc.).
- Put very little text on a slide; avoid text completely if you can.
Put no more than one idea per slide (i.e. all bullets should refer
to the same thing). If you have lots of text, people will read it
faster than you talk, and will not pay attention to what you say.
- Don't use small fonts.
- Use very few formulas (one per presentation). The same goes for
program code (at most one code fragment per
- Do not put useless graphics on each slide: logos, grids,
- Spell-check. A spelling mistake is an attention magnet.
- Use suggestive graphical illustrations as much as possible. Don't
shun graphical metaphors. Prefer an image to text.
In my presentations I try to have 80% of the slides with images.
- Do not put in the figures details you will not mention explicitly.
The figures should be as schematic as possible (i.e. no overload of
- Do not "waste" information by using unnecessary colors.
Each different color should signify something different, and
something important. Color-code your information if you can, but
don't use too many different colors. Have high-contrast colors.
- A few real photos related to your subject look
very cool (e.g. real system, hardware, screen-shots, automatically
generated figures, etc.). Real photos are much more effective
during the core of the talk than during the intro. I hate talks
with a nice picture during the introduction and next only text; they
open your appetite and then leave you hungry.
- For some strange reason, rectangles with shadows seem to look much
better than without (especially if there are just a few in the
- Sometimes a matte pastel background looks much better than a white
- Exploit animation with restraint. Do not use fancy animation
effects if not necessary.
- However, there are places where animation is extremely valuable,
e.g., to depict the evolution of a complex system, or to introduce
related ideas one by one.
- Use strong colors for important stuff, pastel colors for the
- Encode information cleverly: e.g. make arrow widths showing flows
proportional to the flow capacity.
- Use thick lines in drawings (e.g. 1 1/2 points or more).
- Don't put useless information in result graphs (e.g. the 100% bar
for each application).
- Label very clearly the axes of the graphs. Explain the un-obvious
ones. Use large fonts for labels; the default fonts in Excel are too
- Discuss the results numbers in detail; "milk" them as
much as possible.
(c) 2003-2005 by Mihai Budiu.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 2.5 License.
Feel free to use it for any purpose, including commercial, as long as
you properly quote me.
- I don't agree 100% with him, but Mark Jason Dominus gives some
very good advice
- Excellent advice
from 1979 by Leslie Lamport.