Everett Toews

Helping you shave narwhals

Presentation Patterns

04 Apr 2013

Presentation Patterns is a book that takes the concept of software design patterns (and anti-patterns) and applies it to presentations and public speaking. This book is a must read for Developer Advocates and Software Developers who need to deliver a presentation to any size group of people. I would also recommend it to anyone in a technical position or even those in other roles as it’s filled with practical advice and actionable steps accessible by anyone. After reading the book through once and giving a presentation based on a handful of the patterns therein, I’m convinced this book can help improve or kick start your presentation skills.

The Book

The book is broken down into 8 chapters: Prelude, Creativity, Slide Construction, Temporal, Demos vs Presentations, Stage Prep, Performance Anti-Patterns, and Performance Patterns, The patterns in the book more or less follow the standard Design Patterns (GoF) format. Each pattern is comprised of the sections: Pattern Name, Also Known As, Definition, Motivation, Applicability/Consequences, Mechanics, and Related Patterns. In all the book is 304 pages and I found it to be digestible in 4-5 days. The authors are well known on the technical talk circuit and have thousands of hours of presentation time between them. The patterns are often separated by amusing anecdotes that demonstrate the successful application of a pattern or the sometimes disastrous consequences of falling prey to an anti-pattern.

The Read

I read the book with a particular presentation in mind so I at least had some idea about what I wanted to say. This definitely helped motivate my reading and, since I also knew what I didn’t want to say, I could just skim over some of the patterns.

I quite liked reading the book this way. I could read the Name and Definition of a pattern and pretty quickly figure out if it was suitable for my upcoming presentation. If not, I would skim it or disregard it completely. I could see reading this book before authoring any presentation just to get ideas and be reminded of the variety of patterns. Then I’ll be able to pick and choose which patterns might be appropriate for the content and the audience, and how to combine them. I can see how each time I read the book it will take less and less time until I’ve eventually internalized the concepts.

The Presentation

The presentation I was preparing for was due in a week but in truth I had been thinking about it for several weeks before I had even picked up Presentation Patterns. I would occasionally jot notes down as ideas came to me, following the Fourthought pattern without realizing there was already a pattern name for it. What I’ll describe now is the process I went to through to author the presentation. I’ll be using the shorthand of identifying everything by pattern name to give you an idea of how you can quickly and concisely communicate the way you’ve created a presentation. You can find the presentation at A Cloud Platform for Apps: The Rackspace SDKs so you can compare the presentation against the description.

Looking back on it, what I had in mind originally was an Infodeck, which is really no good for a public presentation. It would have would up looking like a Bullet-Riddled Corpse. My next bad idea was series of essentially random pictures to communicate one thought per slide but I then realized I had almost fell prey to the Photomaniac anti-pattern. After getting all of my bad ideas out of the way, I settled on Takahashi but I had trouble finding my Unifying Visual Theme. Eventually I wound up combining my Unifying Visual Theme with Entertainment, Intermezzi, and Brain Breaks. I made sure I also used Bookends to make the beginning and end distinctive. I went out on a limb and did a simple Live Demo and used Traveling Highlights to discuss the code afterwards. I used Carnegie Hall extensively by practicing at home, at a user group meetup, in front of colleagues, and in front of a limited audience before finally taking the stage in front of my real audience.

Overall the presentation was well received at appsworld. For my next presentation, the biggest thing I’d like to improve on is a Narrative Arc and utilize some of the Temporal patterns more.

In the spirit of the book I’d like to present my own pattern!

Pattern: Smile Dammit

Also Known As

Have Some Fun, Enjoy Yourself


When you start your presentation the first thing you should do is smile dammit! Whether or not you’re actually feeling it at the moment, have some fun up there and try to enjoy yourself.


I’ve attended too many presentations from dour faced presenters. Maybe they’re comfortable with public speaking but they sure don’t look like it. They appear to be miserable and that affects my perception of them and their topic.


Unless you’re giving a presentation on an extremely serious subject, there’s no reason not to smile. Failure to do so will leave a bad impression with your audience. If you’re feeling a bit nervous, it might even help quell some of those butterflies.


Just smile once in a while dammit.


One thing that really struck me was an estimate of the amount of time it takes to prepare a really good presentation. The authors figured that there was about an hour of work total for every single minute of presentation time. To deliver a top notch presentation that sounds about right to me.

Presentation Patterns was great read and definitely worthwhile. I’ll be reading it again too. It’s rare I find a book useful enough that I feel compelled to do a book review style post but this was definitely the case here.

Whether you’re new to public speaking and presentations or have a fair number of hours on stage already, you’ll find many useful patterns in this book. Some you will already know and some you will already be doing but giving identifying them and giving them a name is powerful. Now you can use those names as a shorthand when thinking about how to combine patterns into recipes to deliver interesting and entertaining presentations.

However, it will definitely resonate most with developers since the information is delivered in the well known pattern format.