I’m back from FMX. It was great as always. I got some awesome feedback on Illucinated and saw some great presentations.

Which brings me to today’s topic: presentations. As a graduate of KISD this happens to be a topic I have a lot of experience with. The concept of KISD is that whenever you create something there, you have to present it in front of a large audience. You end up doing around 5 public presentations per semester. And this is important too because communication is one of the most important skills for a designer. Doing a good presentation requires a good understanding of the audience, information design and dramaturgy. So when I go to conferences like FMX, I always cringe at the n00b mistakes even most experienced movie/games industry pro make in their presentations. Here is a unsorted list of 8 things that people often do wrong.

  • No practice
    Practicing your presentation is pretty much the MOST FRIGGIN IMPORTANT THING YOU HAVE TO DO! And let me get one thing straight: going trough the presentation in your mind is NOT practice. You have to actually speak out those words loud. Do it a couple of times alone. Do it afterwards in front of a friend or family to get some feedback. Then do it over and over again until you get sick of it. And then do it even more. For a short presentation of around 15 minutes, you should aim for doing something like 20 practice runs. And also: don’t do them in a row – that only creates false security because you will talk yourself warm. Make at least 1-hour breaks in-between each practice round. Which means you will have to practice for at least two days.
    Practice is important because it allows your brain to explore the mental space of the things you can say to avoid mistakes during the presentation and boil the data down to the important information. It will also help with stagefright. (EDIT: And PLEASE take your time when you practice! A presentation running too long is bad for everybody involved.)
  • Reading
    Reading a pre-written speech is the best way to lull your audience into sleep. Written language tends to be too information-dense for a oral presentation. Also, when reading the person presenting tends to read too quickly and with bad intonation. Basically, reading aloud is NOT communication. If you are not trying to communicate with the audience, they won’t listen.
    Which doesn’t mean that writing down the text of your presentation can’t help. It’s a good starting point to get your ducks in a row. But when you get on stage, you need to be able to throw that note card away and speak freely.
  • Splitting the presentation among many people
    “And now Bob will tell you something about alphanumerical encoding in paralell processing – thanks Dick! I’m Bob and – uh – I will tell you something about alphanumerical encoding in paralell processing”. Presentation n00bs will often think that splitting a presentation among a few people has some advantages. It doesn’t. It’s a common fallacy. Long before a presentation is due it may seem scary. So it may seem like having to do only half a presentation would be only half as scary. But when you actually doing a presentation, it doesn’t matter if you are there for 7 minutes or for 15 minutes. It’s both equally scary. Most people talk themselves warm after a couple of minutes and are able to deal well with the situation. So splitting a presentation means that just when the presenting person has become comfortable in front of his audience, you cut him off and put up another horrified one who needs again a couple of minutes to get up to speed. Also, an audience gets used to the person speaking. Changing people means you have to get used to a different person. Often you will compare the second guy to the first guy and the second guy will always have the disadvantage of simply not being the first guy. It’s like when they changing the staff in a TV Series. Remember Sliders? Didn’t work so well. Finally, when the presentation is split, the moment of change between speakers needs to be practiced even more because it requires two people perfectly understanding what they are supposed to say. If you don’t, you just end up looking stiff and awkward. So splitting a presentation has a lot of disadvantages and no advantages. Better have everybody learn and practice the entire presentation and then pick the best one to speak on behalf of the rest.
  • Slides
    Speaking of Sliders. Using Powerpoint seems to be a common practice now – even in cases when it is redundant. Don’t succumb to that fallacy. Do you REALLY need slides? What do you REALLY need to show. Imagine each slide would cost 20 bucks. What would you show? If you do slides, for heaven’s sake don’t put up bullet points of the things you will say anyway! It’s silly! Proponents of slides will tell you that using slides means using two information channels. But that doesn’t mean that both channels have to present information in the SAME WAY. Newsflash: people can’t read and listen at the same time. Try it for yourself if you don’t believe. So instead of writing bullet lists, why don’t you just show pretty pictures that illustrate what you talk about. For example: If you are talking about a person, don’t put up bullet points with biographical data of that person. Put up a nice portrait of him!
  • I will speak about…
    Here’s a common mistake. People tend to begin their presentation by giving a painfully detailed breakdown of the presentation structure. Guess what? Nobody cares! Nobody will even remember that structure as soon as you switch to the next slide! That doesn’t mean that having a solid structure is useless – on the contrary. It’s just that if you have to explain the structure to people, it probably sucks… and then explaining it won’t make it suck less.
  • Cool, Bla, Cooler
    Speaking of which, here is a good rule of thumb for a solid presentation structure. Start off by showing something cool. Then elaborate. Then finish of by showing something even cooler. I heard it first from Spike Jonze but I’m sure he’s not the first one to come up with that one. You need something cool at the beginning to make people curious about what you have to say. Then they will be all ears for all your ramblings. Then, finally, you need to finish it off at a high note (possibly setting them up for Q&A) by finishing with something cool again, ideally even cooler.
    In practice, this means that if you show a short movie – Show that movie first, then explain how it’s done and finally show it again. It may be not cooler to watch it again but people will have a different appreciation for it if they know more about how it was done. If you show a game – show actual gameplay first, then explain how you developed it and then show another part of the gameplay, possibly a more sophisticated one.
  • Managing applause
    Here is a fundamental thing presentation n00bs get wrong frequently: they forget to think about when the audience is supposed to give applause. As a presenter, you are able to control that pretty well, especially if you talk about other people (”please give a warm hand to…”). You are also able to stop people from clapping. For example, you can intercept closing credits at the end of a movie and start talking immediately. Do so, goddammit! If people start clapping at the wrong moment, it can get pretty awkward. One common pitfall with the above mentioned structure is that people will clap after you’ve shown the final cool thing but BEFORE you were able to mention one last bit of information (contact, release date, etc..). You would be forced to say something after the applause. At this point people already have given you a hand and won’t react to what you added. Awkward! Another common pitfall is NOT to give clear signs on when the presentation is over. So people might go into Q&A without applause. That’s what the “Thanks for listening” is for!
  • Contact information
    Here is a quiz: where would you put contact information – like the URL of your blog or portfolio or your E-Mail address? At the beginning? No, because people don’t know why they would want write that down at this point. They haven’t seen what you will present yet. So in-between? No, because people need time to take notes and you don’t have that time while you are doing your presentation. So the correct answer is: at the very end! I mean AFTER you finished talking. Contact information needs to show up as a slide (yes, the only slide you really need) during the Q&A session AFTER the presentation. Now people know if they want to know you better and now they have the time to take down notes. I find it a good idea to put up contact information on the “Thanks for listening” screen at the very end of my presentation. Otherwise, you will have just “Thanks for listening” on the projector for the entire Q&A and that’s always a bit silly.

Just a few hints. Those are some really straight-forward details. Unfortunately, presenting in front of a large audience can be very scary. In such situations the rational part of the brain doesn’t work so well anymore. That’s what practice and experience is for. Thanks for listening.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “Presentations”

  1. zproxy

    Really great list you have there.
    By the way the Microsoft PDC 08 talks were quite good, as if all the talkers had some training beforehand which i am sure they did.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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