In last month’s Teachers.Net Gazette, I wrote about the importance of putting your talent and effort to work planning and practicing a presentation or workshop. However, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms points out: "There's no other way to learn other than by playing. There’s just something about throwing an interception in front of 70,000 people compared to throwing an interception in practice that just makes it stick in your head that much more."
This month, we examine how to get out on that playing field; put your talent, effort and planning to work; and complete that pass in style.
Principles of Good Practice in Presenting
Participants in your workshop will most likely benefit from the experience if
you apply the following principles of good practice.
- Good practice involves interaction among participants.
Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race.Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s
ideas and responding to others improves thinking and deepens understanding.
- Good practice uses active learning techniques.
Learning is not a spectator sport. Participants do not learn as much just sitting and listening to the presenter. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and practice ways to apply it to their teaching.
- Good practice provides timely feedback.
Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses your learning. Both presenters and participants benefit from opportunities to assess their understanding. They need opportunities to perform, reflect on their performance, and discover or receive suggestions for improvement.
- Good practice emphasizes time on task.
Participants come to presentations to learn. Activities are planned and carried out with that purpose constantly in mind.
- Good practice respects individuals’ varied experiences and unique ways of learning.
Participants need opportunities to demonstrate their expertise and to effectively relate it to new learning.
- Good practice communicates high expectations.
Expect both yourself and the participants to learn and to perform well, and your expectations will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Manage Your Presentation by Managing Yourself
Have you ever watched a cat watching a mouse? As long as the mouse remains perfectly still, the cat will nonchalantly lick the back of its paw, yawn, or even wander off. People, too, have difficulty attending to anything that does not change. We tune out background sounds such as air conditioning, although we notice when it shuts down. The same principle applies to a presenter with a monotone voice or to one frozen and immobile behind a podium. Excessive repetition, such as relying on slide after slide, can also have the same effect. We may not lick the back of our hands under such conditions, but like the cat, we may yawn . . . or even wander off. You can keep people’s attention for long periods of time by using yourself and your environment as changing focal points.
You will find it difficult, if not impossible, to present well if you really don’t care to be doing it. So remind yourself of the reasons you are presenting. If you are eager to share what you believe in, you will do so with passion. It will show. You will capture attention
without having to force yourself. There are ways, however, that you can enlist your voice and body to support your enthusiasm. Here are a few.
Vary speed, pitch, and volume. End sentences clearly. Avoid excessive use of um, er, like, and you know. Stress important words. Project your voice to the back of the room. Use silence strategically.
Avoid fidgeting. When you move, do so with a purpose. Move slightly toward or turn in the direction of a person asking a question. Vary distance between yourself and the audience, but do so prudently. For example, step slightly forward when giving a direction;
step slightly back while waiting for participants to follow the direction. Modify your facial expressions to fit context.
Make frequent eye contact with people; look for friendly faces!
- Lock your eyes on one person before starting a sentence or thought.
- Move your eyes around the room, but complete a thought with each individual whose gaze you engage.
- Pause and breathe while moving to another person.
Control your gestures. Practice in front of a mirror. Where are your hands? Keep your hand gestures above your waist; don’t let them flutter unnecessarily. Don’t twist a ring, crack your knuckles, bite your lip, push your glasses up repeatedly—unless that’s what you want your audience to notice! Judiciously punctuate words with arm and hand movements; for example:
- Use palms up to reinforce a question or invitation
- Hold up three fingers when saying “three key ideas”
- Applaud to recognize an insightful statement
Wear clothing that will not detract from your message. You want participants to focus on you and what you are presenting, not on a flamboyant tie or a large, shiny rhinestone pin.
Manage Your Presentation by Managing the Environment
- Check the set-up ahead of time. Will you want a glass of water handy?
- Is there enough space for your materials so they won’t get out of order?
- Does the LCD projector work? Is it focused, clean, and the right distance from the screen?
Format Crisp Handouts
- Incorporate fewer rather than more pages, printed legibly on one side, using at least 12-point type.
- Leave space between items for notes.
- Include a cover page, perhaps incorporating an appropriate graphic.
- Number the pages.
Produce Interesting Flip Charts
- Prepare pages on your flip chart ahead of time. For example, even though you will write on the newsprint during the session, lightly pencil in key words to help you remember.
- Illustrations can add interest to a flip chart if used judiciously.
- Prepare material on every other page so that you have a blank page ready if needed.
- Use two or three different colored markers.
- Limit what you write on a sheet to key words only, written large enough to be seen by all.
Rich Allen, a dynamic presenter, asserts that music is an incredibly powerful instructional tool which can be added to most learning situations. Properly employed, it can create a heightened social context, motivate participants to engage themselves more rapidly, and provide a sense of safety that might not otherwise be possible.
Match the music to the activity. Here are some effective times to use music:
- Before the workshop or activity formally begins, music sets the tone for the session. Also, decreasing the volume or stopping it altogether signals the start of the activity.
- During movement, music should match the tempo of the activity.
- During discussions, music, softly played, provides a comfortable background to conversations between and among participants.
- After the workshop, music can provide participants with a positive image of the session as they gather materials and prepare to leave.
Manage Your Presentation by Managing the Presentation Itself
- Know your material. (Never read it!). Open your presentation with a few remarks or a bit of humor to give people time to settle in and get their minds focused.
- Start and End on Time. If there is some reason to start late, don’t start with an apology. Greet the group first, commend them for something, apologize quickly, tell participants when you expect to start, and give them something to do, such as reading a handout, while they wait. End when advertised, not later. Plan to be available for a while afterward to speak with individuals.
- Highlight Key Points. Present major points in memorable ways. People may not see the relevance of what is being said without the implications being teased out for them. A powerful way to highlight is to link the fact or piece of information to a related benefit. It is important that you understand the concerns of the audience with respect to the topic and address them early.
- Always establish relevance from the point of view of the participants!
You can help participants focus on key points through verbal emphasis (tone, loudness, silence) and the use of PowerPpoint™, overheads, handouts, and flip charts.
- Simplify Directions. Give directions one at a time, and wait until each item has been accomplished before giving the next one. Most people will lose track of what you ask them to do if they have to remember several directions at once. For example, what response would you expect from the following?
Please stand, then go over to the table and choose a paper from one of the piles, bring the paper back to your seat, write your name on the top right corner, answer questions one to six, then discuss your answers with your partner.
A better way is to begin the sequence with “Please stand.” Wait until everyone is on their feet, then continue with, “There are several piles of paper on the table. In a moment, when I say ‘go,’ go to the table, take one sheet from any of the piles, and return to your seat.”
- Avoid Lethal Blunders
- Arrogance: acting like a “know-it-all” expert.
- Ignorance: being unaware of local culture and tradition.
- Tactlessness: telling off-color jokes and using racist, sexist, or derogatory language.
- Insensitivity: mocking or embarrassing a participant.
- Misjudgment: ignoring the needs, makeup, and level of expertise of participants.
Finally, remember: It’s not about you. Yes, it is natural at first to center your concern on your own performance, but as soon as you can, shift your focus to the participants and their concerns. When you throw that touchdown pass, concentrate on the receiver!
Much of the material for this article is from Hal Portner’s book, Workshops That Really Work, published by Corwin Press.
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