Everyone knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of a bad presentation. 100,000 slides, all read word for word, illustrated with tiny, complicated diagrams and no gifs whatsoever. Awful!
No-one should be that disengaged when hearing about the work of PDS. We're the people protecting Parliament from cyber attacks, setting the direction of digital transformation and building apps that make it easier to engage with democracy. Our presentations should do our work justice and get audiences excited about digital services for a modern Parliament.
That's why I wanted to write about what we're doing to encourage PDS staff to take a simple, accessible and plain English approach to presenting at events.
Unity without uniformity
At the Digital Service Quarterly Update earlier this year I developed a branded slide deck, plus some guidance for speakers. Since then I've helped the website team write a presentation explaining why we're building beta.parliament.uk and telling the story so far. Working with the data and search team I created a presentation to help them communicate our new approach to Parliamentary data and search.
We designed these presentations for different internal and external audiences but they all followed a similar format:
- clear slides
- minimal jargon
- important information up front
- detail later on
As one of the principles of our Digital Strategy is 'unity without uniformity' the next step was to create a template for a standard PDS deck that anyone could use. Plus guidance to make sure they use it well.
Here are some of the hints and tips we give our speakers.
Before you start
The three things you should be asking yourself as you prepare are:
- what’s the main point I want to make?
- what else does this audience need to know to understand that point?
- what’s the best order for those things?
Keep in mind the main theme of the event. If you're unsure, contact the event organiser.
Creating a deck
Once you've decided the main point you want to make, make sure your title slide reflects it.
Keep your slides simple and to the point. They should:
- be easy to read
- keep the focus on you, the speaker
- force you to be really clear about what you’re actually saying
Avoid using metaphors and jargon. Instead use concrete terms and plain English alternatives. Your audience will then be certain of your message. Be generous with providing examples - show screenshots or give a demo of the thing you're talking about.
Make sure the images that you use illustrate the point you’re making. We prefer photographs of real people at work and our products over stock images and full-page flow charts.
And we enjoy a gif, of course, as long as it's relevant.
Practice makes good enough
No-one's expecting perfection but with a little practice you should be able to get close. The best way to improve as a speaker is through rehearsal and iteration, cutting unnecessary detail and repetition to make your presentation as sleek and understandable as possible.
Rehearsing your talk before the event is only partly about making sure you talk to the given time limit. It also helps you clarify the narrative, spot where you're waffling and work out where your audience would expect a pause (to laugh/cry/take notes/applaud).
Members of the content team are always happy to be guinea pigs for a new presentation. Just let us know if you'd like a practice run and some friendly feedback.
Resources for PDS presenters
- You can find the standard PDS slide deck and presenting advice on the Digital Service Share Point page, alternatively email me and I'll send you the latest version
- Doing presentations - a website about doing presentations well
- Doing the hard work to make talks readable - a blog post about bringing your personality to a presentation
- The TED blog - a collection of tips for speakers from TED coaches