Creating a good presentation

We all like to attend conferences and most people like the idea of presenting at one. But when the excitement of your submission acceptance fades, many of us sit down to face an empty PowerPoint deck and wonder where to start. Creating an effective presentation is a difficult task and it’s made even more difficult by the fact that most of us have never been taught how to do it. 

I’ve spent some time this summer thinking about presentations and reading what I can on the subject. I’m hoping this makes me a better communicator, and in any case I now know what I’m doing wrong! For those of you currently working on presentations or thinking about submitting for next year’s EclipseCon, here are two books I highly recommend.

Presentation Zen

This book by Garr Reynolds is fundamentally about getting your head in the right place. Stylistically, the emphasis is on graphical simplicity and storytelling, but to me the best parts were those that got me focused on why I want to present in the first place. Read this book first to get inspired by what great presentations can accomplish. And also check out Garr’s blog which is full of good information.

One of the best suggestions Garr has is to watch great presenters at work. Spend a few hours watching TED presentations, and you’ll have a new appreciation for how good a presentation can be.


Nancy Duarte’s claim to fame is that she developed the slides used by Al Gore in his talks about global warming. In this book she goes into great detail about how to create an effective presentation. The emphasis here is on the nuts and bolts of creating (but not giving) a presentation, and believe me if you’re not a graphic designer this information will help a lot. By the way, this book is also available on O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online.


If you act on the information in these two books, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great presenter and your audiences will thank you for it.

I’m in the early stages of incorporating this material into my work, but I can already see some benefits. And if anyone in the Chicagoland area would like to see where I’m at right now, I’ll be speaking tomorrow (September 16th) at CJUG on the topic of “OSGi: Why Java Modularity Matters”.


5 Responses to Creating a good presentation

  1. Patrick,

    Thanks for putting this out there. I am the program committee chair for EclipseCon next year, and we are doing all we can to get great presentations and not people reading their bullet points.

    I hope to see a submission for a talk from you when we open the submission system in October.

  2. Patrick says:

    Hi Scott,

    Yes, I definitely will be submitting one or more talks in October. And I better present well after this post!

    — Patrick

  3. One book, which is also recommended in presentation zen is

    Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
    by Chip and Dan Heath

    This book is really, really good!

  4. Patrick, thanks for this. Its an important subject.

    I saw the Presentation Zen book online and emailed a friend if she knew if it was any good but she hadn’t seen it. Thanks for the review, I may now pick it up.

    I recently gave two talks on E4. In the first one, I started with the EclipseCon08 slide deck, modifying and updating. The presentation went ok but not great. What I realized was missing was the story. People go to presentations for a story, for a complete thought that you the presenter take them on the journey towards. So I reworked the presentation and by focusing on the story made it 100% better. It also made it my own, since I was then telling *my* E4 story. It was a very enlightening experience, and felt like one of the best presentations I’ve given.

    And I agree, the TED talks are fantastic examples of how to present.

  5. Patrick says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I’m glad focusing on storytelling has worked for you. It’s something I’m still trying to work on in my own presentations…

    BTW, if you’re interested in the art of storytelling, there are some great YouTube videos created by Ira Glass on the topic. Watching these really helped me clarify what I wanted to do with my presentations. Here is a link (via presentationzen):

    And keep up the great work with e4!

    — Patrick

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