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I have to give a presentation next week to my supervisor and my teacher about the activities I have performed during my internship.

I've never been good at presentations and become nervous really quick. When I get nervous I start to talk really fast and skip valuable information I should've told.

I feel like I need to master giving presentations if I want to become a serious software engineer later on.

Do software engineers give presentations on a regular basis?

How can I prepare myself for a presenation? Would I get less nervous if I gave more presentations?

Any hints & or tips are greatly appreciated.

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9 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You can become a "serious" software engineer even if you're bad at presentations. Coding efficiently and communicating properly are two distinct skills.

It's similar to games when you can choose to being a soldier or being a wizard. You will enjoy being a good soldier with lots of XP, but if you can add some magic to your skills, you won't fear any daemon :)

If you give more presentations, you'll be better at it. It's like writing documentation or blogging.

If you feel nervous, the key is to prepare and repeat, and repeat.... The D day, have a paper with only keywords for each slide, and beware of 2 things not to do: 1) talk fast and 2) walk from side to side

I've heard about http://www.toastmasters.org/ who is an organisation that helps people to become a very good speaker, but I haven't tested it.

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Good communications skills are very useful to have. you can code well without them but if you are the guy always giving talks at user groups and conferences people will notice. At some point someone may even consider you for a job because of it! –  Zachary K Mar 21 '11 at 15:58
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+1 for Toastmasters, it helped me get past that presentation problem. Unfortunately, I have to present way more frequently than I desire, but it is a key part of the job that separates the junior developers from the senior developers. If you can't present in a clear manner with confidence then that will make your customer question your capabilities. –  Dunk Mar 21 '11 at 17:41
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+1 for Toastmasters. Keep in mind, though, that TM isn't a quick fix, it's a place where you are 'forced' to speak in front of a friendly group on a weekly or monthly basis, thereby preparing you for other types of presentations. –  oosterwal Mar 21 '11 at 17:46
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First thing I would do is go find a friend who would be interested in what you've done and would be willing to pay attention in order to ask you relevant questions. This will help you feel more natural about talking about your work. Afterwards (or even during) take notes about the topics that you touched on, and areas that you needed further explanation that maybe you had not thought to bring up. Using these notes you should be able to make a more structured talk that will still feel natural for you to convey. Practice again with a different friend. Practicing is very important to help you feel relaxed and confident about your material.

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Yes software engineers give presentations from time to time. I was exactly like you a few years ago and I improved and become more experienced with time. In my opinion if the audience are few make it more interactive and you will find yourself talking naturally and with confidence.

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It won't help you this week, but you should take a public speaking course and a business communication course if you haven't already. The only real way to get over a fear of public speaking is to do it repeatedly. Find opportunities to make presentations whenever you can, be it at school, user groups, student groups, church, etc.

The public speaking course I took in college helped me a great deal. We had to give presentations on various topics, both assigned and self-chosen, on a nearly weekly basis to the class and to other people that the professor would pull in at random. It was the best class I ever took and far more useful to my career than any of my programming courses.

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Sounds like a great class! Knowing how to give a talk is a learned skill, just like any other, and there is no better way to learn then to practice a lot. –  Zachary K Mar 21 '11 at 16:23
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Go to the library or bookstore and find a few of these books:

They will give you great tips about how to structure and deliver a great presentation. They will show you how to use narrative to tell your story, how to make your presentation more visually compelling and memorable, and the importance of practice.

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+1 for slide:ology alone. Great book. –  Paddyslacker Mar 21 '11 at 19:17
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When I had to give one in School to the entire physics dept my professor made me give it to him first. Then he made me rework large parts of it so that it would be much better.

My advice to you would be to find a friend or two and give the presentation to them. Have them give you an honest critique of your talk. It will help a lot!

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The first time I had to give a presentation to an Admiral I was as nervous as you sound. I wrote out the notes for waht I needed to say and had background nmaterial written out for what I thought he might questions. Then, I practiced for two full 8 hour days with a video camera and reviewed each practice session to fix any nervous habits etc. Was one of the smartest things I ever did. I knew going in that I knew the material cold, I knew from the videos that I looked better than I felt and it gave me lots of confidence.

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Do software engineers give presentations on a regular basis?

Yes. Depending on how formally you define "presentation" you will be doing it on a regular basis. You may just be explaining something to a colleague at a whiteboard, or you may be giving a more formal presentation, but in either case you still need to be able to organize your thoughts, communicate your intent and get across your message.

One of the biggest problems I see that stops developers from progressing in their careers is not lack of technical chops, but poor communication, so you should definitely spend some time trying to work on this (not to the detriment of your technical chops of course, but in addition to!)

How can I prepare myself for a presentation?

Read this blog post from Corey Foy about presenting at conferences. It's full of great links to things like the Dreyfuss Skills Acquisition Model. Understanding how people learn helps you to present and communicate ideas more effectively.

Read "Even a Geek can Speak" by Joey Asher. It's only 200 pages long and packed full of great advice about how to get your point across.

Would I get less nervous if I gave more presentations?

Yes. We do weekly "brown bag" lunch sessions at work. They started off with some of the more senior people teaching the more junior, but we now use them to get people on the team, regardless of seniority, to present to one another about anything that's interesting to them: a blog post they've read; some code they're working on; a tech book they're reading. It really doesn't matter what: the purpose is to get people used to standing up in front of a room full of people and presenting. We don't allow prep time (we choose the person that morning) and we frown upon any powerpoints or formal presentations. I've noticed the general communication in the office and level of comfort of the team in communicating their ideas has improved immensely.

On a personal level, I was a technical trainer for a while and the first few times I delivered the classes I was almost physically sick with nerves beforehand. Now, many years and many presentations later I'm pretty comfortable speaking in front of groups of any size and I think I can communicate fairly well. There's definitely nothing special about me in this regard, so if you practice presentation skills and do a small amount of research about how people learn, you will be fine.

Good luck!

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To prepare for your presentation, I suggest you write out everything you want to say, as if you are writing a term paper. Read and reread your paper until you feel you have touched on everything you want to present in the order you want to present it. Think of this as your script.

From your script create a hierarchical tree of each subject and bullet items within each subject. This outline will serve as your notes. Your outline notes will do two things for you: 1) Make it so you don't read your script from a piece of paper (you should know your script by heart,) 2) Make it so you don't forget some important detail that you felt needed to be in the script.

You should be able to print your outline on 1/2 of a standard typing page, or you can use a small deck of 3x5 cards with your important items written on them. If you go with the 3x5 index cards, be sure to number them in order and I suggest you punch a hole in them and put them on a ring--that way if you drop them they won't get out of order.

The last bit of advice: Audience members rarely have big smiles on their faces. If your supervisor and teacher look bored, disinterested, asleep, or slightly mad, this is probably their normal relaxed expression. Don't let their expressions affect your presentation. Both your teacher and supervisor want you to succeed (your success counts as a success for each of them), so view this as an opportunity to make them look good.

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