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”.