Presentation Patterns - A Recipe for Better Education

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Neal Ford, Matthew McCullough, and Nate Schutta have traveled the world giving presentations on technical topics – several thousand collectively – to a variety of technically and business-minded audiences. We’ve been taking detailed notes of what works and what doesn’t all along the way. Those notes have been distilled into a draft book titled Presentation Patterns and Anti-Patterns.

You’d be right to question the need for yet another presentation how-to book. We questioned that as well. How-to offerings such as “Presentation Zen” and “Slide:ology” are great overall guides on creating and giving a presentation. But the technical audiences of OSCON and our other frequent haunts have shown us that our approach is very different than that of other presentation how-to books. In fact, with a heavy bent towards software developers, we took inspiration from the famous Gang of Four book, Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software and mapped that idea on to presentations. Each Presentation Pattern prescribes a technique seen in the field. A means for budding presenters to emulate the pattern are described in extremely concrete steps for both PowerPoint and Keynote alike.

However, we didn’t stop at listing patterns that should be emulated. There are almost an equal number of patterns that should be avoided. We answer not only the “why”, but back it up with real-world examples and visuals that will scar your psyche and give the anti-pattern a memorable name. This leads to the last point: why give these observed patterns names?

As with the Gang of Four book, identifying complex patterns provides concise and repeatable communication to colleagues. There’s no longwinded “please make the first element fade to about 50% opacity just as the second one is transitioning to 100% opacity and speak to the point currently darkest in the list.” A mere, “that would be well-suited to Charred Trail” would suffice. The pattern names gain personality, a memorable turn of phrase, and an unspoken volume of definition.

We feel the technical presentation world is ready for Presentation Patterns. Give us 40 minutes and you’ll leave a changed orator. You’ll never look at an OSCON presentation again without several pattern names parading through your mind. That’s precisely our master plan.

Photo of Matthew McCullough

Matthew McCullough


Matthew McCullough, Training Pioneer for GitHub, is an energetic 15 year veteran of enterprise software development, world-traveling open source educator, and co-founder of a US consultancy. All of these activities provide him avenues of sharing success stories of leveraging Git and GitHub. Matthew is a contributing author to the Gradle and Jenkins O’Reilly books and creator of the Git Master Class series for O’Reilly. Matthew regularly speaks on the No Fluff Just Stuff conference tour, is the author of the DZone Git RefCard, and is President of the Denver Open Source Users Group.

Photo of Neal Ford

Neal Ford


Neal Ford is a director, software architect, and meme wrangler at ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy that thinks disruptively to deliver technology to address the toughest challenges, all while seeking to revolutionize the IT industry and create positive social change. Neal focuses on designing and building large-scale enterprise applications. He’s an internationally recognized expert on software development and delivery, especially in the intersection of Agile engineering techniques and software architecture. Neal has authored magazine articles, seven books (and counting), and dozens of video presentations and has spoken at hundreds of developers conferences worldwide on the topics of software architecture, continuous delivery, functional programming, and cutting-edge software innovations. Check out his website at He welcomes feedback and can be reached at

Photo of Nathaniel Schutta

Nathaniel Schutta


Nathaniel T. Schutta is a software architect focused on cloud computing and building usable applications. In addition to his day job, he’s an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches students to embrace dynamic languages. A proponent of polyglot programming, Nate is the author of multiple books, including Presentation Patterns, with Neal Ford and Matthew McCullough, written to rid the world of bad presentations. He’s also appeared in various videos and is a seasoned speaker, regularly presenting at conferences worldwide, No Fluff Just Stuff symposia, meetups, universities, and user groups.

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Jason Phillips
08/15/2011 5:58am PDT

The problem with giving a presentation on how to give better presentation is that it raises the bar of expectations. Here are some things I found puzzling which were never explained: 1) why did they have 3 speakers? was this some kind of technique? why was this a good thing? 2) why did they show photos of their Halloween parties? They were great photos and looked like great parties too. I just wondered why it was included. As a presentation on giving presentation it seems like they’d explain why they were doing that. 3) They joked about how silly it was how they once considered 3D fonts “state of the art” and key to a great presentation, but then without any sense of irony then presented the “analog noise” font as the next great thing to use that would make all presentations better. I wondered if they held back on explaining things as a tease to buy their book.

Overall though great concept and good content.

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Dave Neary
07/28/2011 8:25am PDT

Great advice. Not that easy to put into practice, especially with software like PowerPoint. I need a soft transitions tutorial :-)

Berend Tober
07/28/2011 7:30am PDT

Useful information presented well, except they did not leave time for questions. The Halloween Party pictures are intriguing (how do I get an invite!!), but maybe fewer of them and time instead for questions??