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Standards Column

A Standard Individual:

embedded world and conference presentations

By Chris Hills

Chris Hills


These are my own personal views and not those of my company Phaedrus Systems see www.phaedsys.com which is where the full version of this column, with links etc, resides under the Documents tab.


It has been a very busy month. Most of the Europeans were at, or were represented at, embedded world in Nuremberg the first week of March. Come to that many US names were also there and the major international players as well.  It is the largest European embedded show and at the same time at the other end of Germany, attracting all the mainstream press, was C-Bit the consumer electronics show.


Feelings at embedded world were that the show was smaller with fewer people though in fact there were more booths (up 4%) than last year and more visitors (up 16%)!  SO I put that down to better organisation and flow of visitors. Overall the show was very upbeat and I got the comment that there were “more buyers than lookers”. 


I did some poking around to see if this was just bravado and bluff but as best I can see things really are looking up.  Most of the suppliers were reporting a good Q1 “so far” and this reflects the view from my own company and a few others I know to give me accurate indications.


The market has changed in the UK and Europe.  However I think it is evolution not revolution.   Companies always come and go it is just that 2009 accentuated the process. The problem is that economics is no respecter of calendars so I expect to see some more “evolution” in 2010.


This evolution is affecting many areas of the industry including the shows.  The UK ESC is changing location and format.  See http://esc-uk.techinsightsevents.com/ which should generate new interest.


Another show, mid-May in the UK, that has done a bit of “revolution” as much as evolution is the Embedded-MasterClass. See http://www.embedded-masterclass.com/ With new sponsors for 2010 it has taken the interesting step of banning power point for the presentations in the conference!


The reasons for this are multiple and they are not just confined to Embedded Masterclass but affect most conferences, and indeed anyone who has to do presentations. 


Firstly we have the tendency for some companies to send along some one from marketing or “technical sales” (a rose by any other name….) to push out the corporate presentation and in some cases blatant product pitches.


There is a class of company that insists that any company presentation must contain a set of corporate profile slides.  Who we are, where we are, how profitable and how many people we employ.  Essential information for a take over or share dealing, but of no relevance to an Engineer or indeed the project managers.   It has been this way for a couple of decades and since 2008 when banks and global corporations could disappear almost over night and small start-up can hold key technology there is no relevance at all.  


The close relative of the Corporate Overview Introduction is the semi blatant product pitch dressed up as a technical presentation


Despite what marketing people think both the corporate and product style of presentation is actually counter productive at a conference and to be honest the corporate part is not much use at a sales meeting either.  I have seen these sorts of presentation significantly contribute to the demise of an annual conference. The delegates would not come back to a conference that had a significant proportion of this sort of presentation. The “significant” number being >=2.  

The next problem with power point is the “here is one I prepared earlier” syndrome.  There are two points here:


One is where some one gets given the Company Presentation a day, or two if they are lucky, before the event and just reads it. It is not their presentation. Ok we have all seen the odd occasion where intended speaker is not able to make it due to external problems and some one else presents it on their behalf.  However there have been far too many incidents where a company wants to be speaking at a conference and then for marketing/logistical reasons puts up “speaker A” who is local and emails over “The Approved Company Presentation” on the topic. The local person then has to present it.  If they are very lucky they can tweak it or may even get notes to go with the presentation but often they can’t.  They may not even fully understand or be conversant with the content of the presentation.


Also the other problem that it is far too easy to reuse last week’s /month’s /year’s presentation with a minor tweak.  I used to always do a fresh presentation for each conference I do. However there are times when you can do the same one for different audiences and I have been asked to do a particular presentation 4 times to different groups.  The trouble is when you have a “standard” presentation for the year and every conference gets the same one even if it is with different presenters, none of whom may actually have written it.  


In my case, for the one I presented 4 times, whilst I have had the same set of slides, the actual presentation differed in content to suite the audience.  In two cases the person who invited me to repeat the presentation for his group commented on the fact the presentation had changed.


Which leads us on to the third point: Reading the slides: DON’T DO IT! Unless you are presenting to a visually impaired group the audience will be able to read the slides you put up. You don’t need to read them verbatim, though I know we have all been to presentations where some one has done that.  In any case the slides should be a bullet point and you talk around that point.


Words on slides….  A picture is worth a thousand words yet some people try to put those words on one slide rather than a picture.  Now guides on presentations vary as to 1, 2, 3 or 4 lines of text of 10-5 words per slide.  Now that is 1 line of up to 10 words or 4 lines of 5 words not 4 lines of ten words!  The point is KEEP IT SHORT.   I have seen a presentation where all the slides looked like pages from a novel. Line after line of text, the audience is not going to read it let alone remember it. They will probably have lost interest by slide three and be doodling to email on their phones.


There will always be the odd exception where you need to put up a lot of text and quote it verbatim but these occasions should be very rare.


So Embedded MasterClass http://www.embedded-masterclass.com/ has decided to stop all this by saying “No Power-points”.  Their premise is that it will stop the problems above and that good presenters should be able to use a flip chart (A2 size pad) and a whiteboard to present to talk about a subject they know, understand and have enthusiasm for.


Actually, many of the best presenters I know do like to have a white board of flip chart to have even when using power point.  It helps for impromptu explanations and the like when there are questions or something new springs to mind.


Will a ban on power points work? Will they relent and let power point’s in?  I don’t know but it has caused everyone to stop and think: Think about content, who will present and how they will do it.


If there is no power point you have draw your own diagrams and write your own bullet points. This will change what you can do. It really will show up those just reading a script or are marketing people from the real technical people who know their subject.


If you see an improvement in presentations in 2010/11 it is probably going to be due to someone you will never get to hear of:  Richard Blackburn the Embedded MasterClass organiser who took the step to ban power point at his conference in early 2010.  A brave decision that is long overdue to shake up the power point syndrome and conference presenting in general.


In a couple of months I will tell you how it went but I should be interested on anyone else’s thoughts on Death by Power Point and any interesting presentations they have been in, and those they wish they hadn’t


As usual any comments, money, praise or death threats to chills@phaedsys.com



Author Details and contact


Eur Ing Chris Hills BSc CEng MIET MBCS MIEEE  FRGS   FRSA is a Technical Specialist and can be reached at This Contact


Copyright Chris A Hills  2003 -2008
The right of Chris A Hills to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988