Giving Presentations

I learned long ago that the secret to traveling for work as a software developer is to give presentations at conferences. Thus, I learned to be comfortable giving presentations in order to present at conferences and "see the world". I travel from 4-8 times a year and that is an amount that allows it to remain exciting (most of the time) rather than becoming a drain. When I started working on Web accessibility there were likely to be people of varying abilities in my presentations so I learned to make my presentations more accessible to all attendees. Recently it occurred to me that these additional techniques are important for all presentations.

There are many disabilities that are not immediately obvious. There are different cognitive disabilities and almost everyone has a preference for either visual or auditory learning. Some visual disabilities are obvious but other may not be, and hearing impairments can't always be detected. And in any presentation room there is likely to be some person who can't visually see the screen well or hear the presenter. This could be due to the large person sitting in front of him, or the person chatting on a cell phone or with the person next to them. The placement of the podium or other physical structure, reflections from a window or light source, or proximity to a moveable partion wall all could create additional visual and hearing difficulties.

So, I have come up with Becka11y's 4 Basic Presentation Rules to make all presentations accessible to all.

  1. Present the information as if the audience cannot see the screen
  2. Create presentation slides that assume the audience may not hear all of your "words of wisdom"
  3. Keep bullets short and to the point.
  4. Repeat and Summarize

For those of you willing to read a bit further, here are the details.

Present the information as if the audience cannot see the screen. Verbally explain any important pictures, charts and graphs. When describing a line chart it is not enough to say, "As you can see the red line shows the increasing trend in the use of JavaScript." Instead say, "The red line shows the increase in the use of JavaScript from 20% to over 50% from 2001 to 2007.&quit; That doesn't really take that much extra time and it ensures that all members of the audience are getting the same information. I think people sometimes feel awkward explaining information that is visually evident on the screen but remember not everyone may be able to see the screen and they are probably not as familiar with the material as you are. Providing the information in different modalities is critical to getting your point comprehended.

Create presentation slides that assume the audience may not hear all of your words of wisdom.
Don't skimp on the details. Make sure to include the legend and numbers in the chart. If the person can't hear you explain the details, hopefully he is sitting where he can see them on your charts or can review them later from the handouts or presentation file.

Keep bullets short and to the point. This may seem to conflict with number 2 but in my opinion too much textual information on a slide is as bad as too little. Cover the key points in the bullets but don't overwhelm. Know what you want to say and write it as simply as possible. You want the audience listening to you, not reading a novel in your charts. The text on the slide should cover the key information you want the audience to take away, you fill in the details while presenting.

Repeat and Summarize – remind people why they came to see you in the first place! Sometimes if feels awkward to say the same thing twice but if you word it a bit differently you will ensure people understand your point. Someone who missed it the first time around will get it (and hopefully retain the information) when it is repeated. If a person missed something during you talk due to distraction a review of the highlights and the key message will make certain she walks away with the message you want.

These points aren't anything new and you've probably heard them before. Next time you go to a conference see how well the presenter stacks up. Hey, if you see me present, let me know how I did! And, next time you present keep this in mind. Its not just about accessibility it is about reaching the entire audience, making the presentation worthwhile for all, and getting your message across. Now, if I could only write as succinctly as I think I can create bullet points this post would be much shorter!


About Becka11y

Web Accessibility Consultant with 30+ years in the software industry and 12+ years of direct accessibility innovation.

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