Thursday, April 14

The Art of Presentation

How many of you have been to a conference or meeting, expecting some degree of expertise, only to experience the presenter who a) has too many slides; b) has too much text on the slides; c) isn't quite sure what some of the points on the slides mean or to what they refer; d) reads nearly every word on every slide; or e) all of the above.

Yes, I heard your sighs and I see those hands.

What is the deal?  How is it possible that we still manage to do so poorly at presentation?  I get the urge to turn to look the projector screen even if your laptop is right in front of you.  I fight that all of the time.  It's as though I don't quite trust that what I see on my laptop will be projected for everyone else, but I know we often check the screen to be sure the colors or images display as we hoped or expected.  But then we are riveted and can not seem to turn back, or we become sideways bobbleheads swiveling our heads back and forth between the screen and the audience and, inevitably, some of the audience is not included in that quick sweep.  Sure, it makes sense to refer to the presentation screen in some circumstances when you have something specific to point out, especially when you're working with graphics, tables, or even quotes.  But don't stay glued to that screen.  Make your point and step away from the screen.

As a college writing professor and as a purveyor of teacher-/faculty-focused professional development, one of my favorite mantras is this:  "Remember your audience."  That really covers pretty much everything. 

In thinking about your audience, think about your purpose: what question(s) are you trying to answer?  what problem(s) are you trying to solve?  what information are you trying to convey?  what do you want your audience to do or be able to do once they have heard your presentation (or read your blog or article or whatever).  As you consider your audience and your purpose, the tone and style--the how of your presentation will become clearer.  Thinking about audience, purpose, and tone & style will help you make decisions about structure or framework of the presentation, about word choice, about the use of graphics, about colors, etc.

None of these is more important than the other.  If you know your audience well and you know and convey your purpose clearly, you can make a few missteps on the tone and style of your presentation; that comes, for me, from trying to be too clever or cute with graphics or other stuff to "dress up" my presentation.  But that occurs when I think about me and not about my audience.

As you think about your audience, your purpose, and how you are presenting, ask yourself these questions:
  1. what do they know?
  2. what do they need to know?
  3. what do they want to know?  
And you know that "need" and "want" are rarely the same.  I suggested my students write these on a sticky note or something and make sure the questions were in their sight line as they wrote or crafted their presentations.

Remember your audience. . .as you draft your presentation, regardless of your use of Prezi or PowerPoint or Animoto or anything else.  Refer to those three questions as you think about your objectives for doing the presentation.  These factors will help you as you organize your presentation and determine its key points.

Remember your audience. . .as you create your presentation.  Flow, transitions, graphics, size of fonts, space, etc.  There are reasons for the design guidelines.  You might want to review Presentation Zen, TCS Tips & Tricks, and/or the PowerPoint Ninja.  As you are thinking about font sizes and number of lines per slide, think of the size of the room and the people at the back of the room.

Remember your audience. . .as you present.  Be aware of them.  Be present with them.  Look at them.  Make sure you are prepared so you don't have to refer to your notes too often, so you don't have to read the slides, so you don't rush, so you don't overcomplicate your presentation and trip yourself up.  You might visit this presentation tips resource for additional or other thoughts.

As you present, keep in mind that the PowerPoint presentation is a tool, a resource.  The presentation gives the audience something to look at while you talk.  It makes the abstract more concrete.  It makes the concrete more specific. 

As you prepare for your presentation, listen to yourself and look at your slides critically.  As you continue to think about your audience, to reflect on those three questions listed above, hear your presentation and look at your presentation the way you want your audience to experience.  Then you will hear and see what works, and what doesn't.

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