Giving Your First PHP Presentation

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Your heart begins to race. Suddenly, it’s stifling hot in here. Your palms begin to sweat and your knees are threatening to give up and flee to a vacation in Cancun without you. The dull rhythmic thump-thump in your ears heightens to a frenzied jack-hammer. You can’t remember a time when your mouth has been this dry. It’s time to begin – and your voice cracks. It’s public speaking time and you’re the next one up.

In this article I’ll cover the basics of why presenting PHP is important, who can present about PHP related topics and what you can do to make your presentation stand out.

Why Give a Presentation?

If you’re like most of us, you know this feeling intricately. The pain of tattoos, the long hours of weight training, and public speaking all have one thing in common: pain. However, if you’ve done any of these, you also know the tremendous benefit that follows afterward. While I can’t help you get rid of the fear symptoms that you may have with public speaking, I can help make the case for the benefit of speaking, specifically about PHP.

An Opportunity to Give Back

You’re very lucky if you’re a PHP programmer. From the time you’ve started to dabble in PHP, you were able to gain the same access to the full enterprise level server just like the pro’s have (there’s no “community edition” and “enterprise edition”). The Open Source Software movement has been able to make this free to you because of the work of many volunteers and business sponsors.

Remember the last time you were stuck on a particular programming issue? A quick Google search and you probably arrived at the solution in either blog post format or on a forum. Once again, volunteers were providing information and skill to help further the Open Source community. Presenting PHP is a way to give back for all the free programming-goodness you have received.

When you present about PHP topics, you are continuing the cycle. While you may not be creating code or writing the internals of PHP, you are enabling more programmers to use PHP to the potentials that you’ve discovered or mastered.

An Opportunity to Learn

There hasn’t been a single time that I’ve created a presentation and aven’t learned something new. While you’re reviewing your content, you may run across new ways to do something. When researching alternatives to the tools you’re recommending, a new tool might crop up that you wouldn’t have looked for if it weren’t for this presentation.

You’ll Be an Expert

Once you take the leap and are give a presentation to a group or team, you are now the owner of that content and are considered an expert in that arena. When you are confident enough to present your knowledge in a clean, articulate way, you are proving you know what you’re doing.

Maybe You’ll Make Some Money

You probably won’t make money at first, but it can be done. As you begin to present more and more, you will develop a professional reputation. And, as you polish your presentations, you will learn more, present better, and further refine the concepts. Especially at conferences, a well polished expert presentation is worth it’s weight in gold. If you continue presenting PHP, you are likely to claim a small stipend for your hard work in addition to all the previous mentioned benefits.

What If You’re Not an Expert?

I may have already scared you. If what I say is true, then you can no longer hide in the shadows! Those who attended your presentation are now considering you to be the expert. And it’s true, whether you choose to believe it or not. But here’s a secret: you don’t need to be an expert to present; you will grow to be one.

Honestly Identify Your Current Level of Expertise

If you have just an introductory knowledge of the topic, claim such. You have just positioned yourself to be an ‘expert’ in the beginners track. If you’re going to be covering more advanced topics, portray this in your presentation abstract. It is okay to be an ‘expert’ of a certain area, no matter the size or complexity. While I know some amazingly talented expert auto mechanics, I also know of a brake specialist company that has made a name for itself focusing solely on that one aspect of mechanics.

Accept Feedback

Set your ego aside and accept feedback from other experts. Once you show you are willing to discuss and be open to other’s suggestions, you’ve demonstrated a higher level of professionalism and continued along the expert track.

There have been times when I thought I was presenting something particularly well until someone corrected me on some details. If I would have argued with the other expert, that would be the only thing people would have remembered about my presentation. Instead, I agreed and thanked them for their gracious contribution. Now the attendees remember an expert presentation where the audience participation was welcome and valued.

Get an Expert’s Review

Review your presentation with experts before you present. No matter what level of presentation you are going to be making, send it off to a contact in your network who has more experience than yourself. Don’t be embarrassed by the content of your presentation; instead, be willing to accept any feedback and follow directions. A true expert can learn from other experts.

Make Your Presentation Stand Out

I can count the number of truly interesting presentations I’ve seen on one hand. (That doesn’t say much about the videos I’ve seen of my own presentations!) There are a number of pointers I’ve gathered by watching people like Guy Kawasaki and Steve Jobs present, and while not all of these suggestions may be feasible in each of your presentations, they are good things to remember. They all boil down to one thing, though: make your presentations multi-faceted.

Create a Supportive PowerPoint

Notice the word “supportive.” Your PowerPoint shouldn’t be the focus of your presentation; that’s your job. Instead, create a PowerPoint that augments what you’re sharing.

A good PowerPoint slide has only a few sentence fragments to support the current point you’re presenting. Never display full paragraphs in front of an audience, and any art or pictures should be limited to graphics to illustrate this particular slide’s message. Funny or distracting images just for the sake of being filler do nothing for a good presentation. Also, limit the amount of transitions and distracting effects. Your audience should be watching you present, not staring at a big screen 90% of the time.

Include Code Samples

Code samples are also very important when it comes to PHP presentations. If putting them on your PowerPoint slide, fit the least amount of code possible on the slide and highlight the portions that are important. Do not be afraid to cut out non-important code or code that isn’t the focus for this point of your presentation. And make sure to have an archive of the fully functioning code samples for participants to download after your presentation, too.

Give Live Demos

Live demonstrations bring certain level of expertise to your presentation because they show you actually can do what you’re talking about. They also give the hands-on people something to focus on and take away from the presentation. This is the point where you transition the theory into practical application. You instantly gain credibility if you can demonstrate what you know in front of your audience!

Keep in mind, however, live demos will break. From the infamous Blue Screen of Death to half of the demos I’ve done, that is the one thing you can always count on. This isn’t bad, it’s almost expected. Just don’t panic. Resist the urge to profusely apologize; a simple “I’m sorry… please bear with me” goes a long way. Just take the steps to correct the problem and do it again. The expert you are becoming can certainly handle the little bugs and unknown issues easily and with confidence.

Be Entertaining

Sadly, no level of amazing skill and expert demonstrations will make a presentation seem great if it’s not also entertaining. Admit it… you’ve been bored by many presentations, even if the content was superb. While we can all agree that no one could even remotely think our own high quality break-through presentations would be boring, a bit of entertainment or humor can’t hurt. If you just stand in front of the room and lecture, people will fall asleep.

Seriously convey your concepts. Don’t be a jokester or be silly about the core of your presentation, but also remember not to take yourself too seriously. Before and after a concept, be entertaining, be funny, and be willing to engage the audience. A joke or two won’t hurt. And to top it all off, don’t forget to be high energy. A high energy presenter keeps everyone interested in the presentation. Only a few people (see: classic comedians) have been successful with low energy routines.

Final Thoughts

You only have to do one presentation. If you don’t like it, then you never have to do it again. But you won’t know unless you try. Plus, if every PHP programmer did just one presentation, we’d have a library of knowledge and presentations that rival any other industry or language. This I’m sure of.

Here’s my dirty little secret: the adrenaline and reward will hook you. If you’re even remotely like me, after the first you will already be planning your next one. I’m excited to share what I learn, to give back to the community, to entertain, and sometimes even make a little money.

So are you ready to do your first presentation? Check out your local PHP Users Group to see if they need volunteers to present. (I guarantee they do!) You may even want to contact Zend, the PHP Company, to see if they have any opportunities for presentations. I know Zend hosts a number of webinars each month which you might be able to participate in.

And as always, feel free to reach out to me if you need any help or that last kick in the pants you need to get you to start presenting PHP!

Image via zhu difeng /

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  • http://marcusebarnes.com Marcus Barnes

    Thank you Aaron for encouraging us to present our knowledge and hands-on experience. For those with a general fear of public speaking, a good way to gain confidence is to join a local Toastmasters International group. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toastmasters for more information about the organization. Many of my friends have benefited from joining Toastmasters.

  • Lucas

    If confidence is a problem, start out with colleagues and friends. At work, we have “knowledge sharing” sessions within our scrum team that are an opportunity for everyone to get involved, practice preparing and presenting content and getting feedback from the audience.

  • http://makdiose.co.cc Mak Diose

    Thanks Aaron for this great post! I was actually planning to give a PHP seminar (for free) to students of my college school. This post really give that kick for me to continue. I really like the part that you said. “This is your way to give back for all the programming goodness we received”. I’ve been coding PHP for almost 5 years now and I guess now is really payback time. :)

  • http://www.myacrofinder.info bholland

    Aaron,
    Very good article. I have given presentations on presentation-giving and I commend you for covering all the important aspects needed to be successfuly.
    Good work!