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Archive for the ‘technical trainer’ Category

Let me start off this review by stating Presentation Zen is a very practical book on how to improve one’s presentations. That probably struck me more than anything else as I read through it, because I found something of use in every chapter. At the end of the book, I had quite a few notes. Some are already reflected in the way I build presentations, but quite a few more are not. And since they are practical and based on sound reasoning, I will probably begin to implement a lot of these points in the coming months.

So let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Garr Reynolds (blog | twitter) immediately dives in to why traditional methods of doing slides aren’t very good. When you first start up, say Microsoft PowerPoint, the template guides you to build slide after slide of bullet point lists. This has become the norm in the business world and you stand out as unusual if you don’t do this. In addition, if you don’t build slides this way, some may even think you’re shirking your duty, that you don’t have you act together. But then Garr makes a great point: if everything is in your slides, why do they need you? See, the focus of the presentation should be on the one giving it, not on the props he or she brings along, to include the slides. The person giving the presentation should be the main source of disseminating information, persuading the audience to accept his or her point of view, or otherwise being an essential part of the entire presentation. If you think about why we do presentations in the first place, this makes perfect sense.

But bullet list slide after bullet list slide isn’t just bad because it draws focus off the presenter. Think about how you feel after seeing 30-40 bullet list slides, one after another. Chances are you just want to get done and get out of there. And chances are you’d have been better served if someone took the time to put together a document or white paper discussing what you’re seeing condensed on the slides. So why don’t they? Slides are poor as a documentation resource. That’s what word processing was designed for. So let’s use the tools properly, stop wasting folks’ time, be more interesting, and enjoy ourselves in the process. And once Mr. Reynolds finishes making these points, he then dives in to discuss how to build presentations better.

He doesn’t give you step-by-step this is what you’ve got to do. He doesn’t even “cookbook” it where you can pick and choose different options. You can, based on the way he wrote Presentation Zen, but the author spends a lot of time discussing the hows and whys and what works and what doesn’t. Why does a very busy slide detract from the overall message? Simply, because the eye has to follow all the objects and you may not have your audience end up where you intended. There are key points on a screen the eye will naturally orient t. So why isn’t the central idea or image for a given slide not at one of those points? In other words, Garr Reynolds lays a framework on how to consider doing presentations better. And then he opens up the specifics to see how they fit the framework.

I could go on and on. This isn’t the cookie cutter 1-2-3 book. And it’s not just an encapsulation of commonly known ideas and recommendations for doing presentations better. For instance, here are three notes I took specifically with regards to presentation design:

  • Don’t be afraid of white space. White space brings emphasis to the elements on the slide. Also be aware of placement.
  • Use a mix of symmetric and asymmetric layouts. Symmetric tends to make passive use of white space. A good presentation has both.
  • Use grids to align elements. Divide the space into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Common technique in photography. Where the lines cross are “power points” and are good areas to place main subject.

Even if you’re a “master presenter” there is something to be learned from Presentation Zen. It’s one of those books that probably has to be consumed multiple times to get out all the knowledge that’s packed in. It is, thus far, the best book I’ve seen on how to do presentations better. As a result, I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking to improve your presentations and especially if you’re just getting started. Take the time to understand some of the theory behind what Mr. Reynolds proposes. Pull it apart, mull over it, and then test it in your own slide design. I think you’ll be reasonably impressed.

 

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This is about a long term goal that I’ve had which isn’t posted on here, and that’s to eventually be a technical trainer in some capacity. The fact of the matter is I love to teach. I learned that when as a sophomore at The Citadel I spent much of second semester that year in public schools around Charleston teaching drug and alcohol prevention and while doing tutoring at Burke High School, also as a cadet. I teach at least twice a week as part of my duties as a junior high youth minister,  and every so often I put on a “brown bag lunch” presentation at work, talking about a technical subject. Plus, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years giving presentations to user groups, both to give back to the community, but also because I just love teaching.

So one day I would love to be a technical trainer in a part time capacity (I think you need some time doing real world work, too, to make you a more effective trainer). And I took my first solid step in that direction by completing a Train the Trainer course at MicroStaff IT that Microsoft recognizes for its Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification. We also recorded the presentation (part of the exit requirement for the class) that hopefully is good enough to submit for the second part of the Certified Technical Trainer+ (CTT+) certification from CompTIA. I’ve got other requirements to complete (MCITP for the MCT and a written exam for the CTT+), but the Train the Trainer course was the most difficult because it’s not offered very much and because the cost was completely out of pocket. However, if my goal is to be one day be a technical trainer, it is a worthwhile investment in my career.

On a related note, Pete Mourfield, head of the Augusta Developers Guild, was also taking the class and we got a chance to work together. Pete’s a smart guy and passionate about the developer community. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and learning from him. If you get a chance to get to one of his presentations, even if you’re not a developer, you certainly should. You will definitely take away some useful knowledge. Pete is, as we say in the South, “good people.”

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