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Melt Their Faces With These 10 Recommended Presentation Strategies

"Seriously, I'm having fun!"
Last Friday afternoon, I was sitting in the Mega Center at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois. The ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) Conference was just wrapping up, tables were being folded, boxes packed, and a few hundred vendors were getting ready to depart for their next show. I was sitting with my colleague, Keith Sorensen, and my new PLN friend Brendan Murphy. We were charging our mobile electronics on a shared surge strip while checking email and discussing some of the interesting presentations we had experienced during the previous few days.

"What strategies constitute a great presentation?" became the focus of our reflective discussion. We were critically reviewing our own presentations, as well as, criticizing and admiring techniques that we had seen at this conference. After comparing notes, and bringing a few others into our conversation, here are the results of our impromptu list of best presentation practices...

  1. Begin with the end in mind - Thank you Stephen Covey. What is the one significant thing that you want your audience to take from your presentation? Emphasize this point within the first fifteen seconds of your discussion, and emphasize it again in your closing remarks.
  2. Plan and practice - If you only have 45 minutes, plan accordingly. There may not be a lot of time for hands-on participation. Leave time for questions. If you use slides, they should be easy to read, concise, and error free. Put reminders to self in your comments field. Avoid exotic fonts and glitzy backgrounds - keep it simple, and practice, practice, practice.
  3. Provide teasers - In advance of your session, provide information and material that engages participants prior to the workshop. A Google Doc or Slideshare presentation lets participants pre-screen your content. Use Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to share a summary of your presentation, and "tease" your audience. Invite participation to those who can't physically attend your session. Remember that the folks that are truly interested will be the ones that show up.
  4. Welcome your participants - If possible, set up early enough to greet your participants as they enter your "learning zone". Shake hands, make eye contact, and appreciate the fact that they are giving some of their precious time to you. Be welcoming.
  5. Hook 'em - Whether it be a fun activity, a funny video, or an interesting graphic, hook your audience with something interesting and engaging. Yes, humor impacts learning - but not everyone is adept at stand up comedy. I like how Ellen Degeneres gets her audience dancing at the beginning of her show, but not every room is set up to accommodate physical activity. Play to your strengths and acknowledge the limitations.
  6. Rock their world - Enthusiasm is contagious. Ask good questions. Ask the participants what they would like to learn from this session. Invite conversation and engagement. Acknowledge contributors by their first name, and make them the stars of the show. Speak to your audience, and don't patronize them by reading your slides word for word. A great presentation can challenge our thinking. Acknowledge that agreement isn't required, and temporary discomfort and disappointment can be symptomatic of opening one's mind to disruptive change.
  7. Give them a voice - Solicit input from the audience and engage them in active listening and participation. Poll questions and backchannel conversations (TodaysMeet or Twitter) allow audience members to become participants engaging with an even wider, authentic audience. A collaborative Google Doc, or an app such as Socrative, can also increase active participation and engagement.
  8. Check in periodically - Every ten to fifteen minutes, check in with your audience. Are there any new "burning questions"? Does anyone have a story or example to share? Have them turn to a neighbor to have a reflective conversation about what has been covered so far. Your conference room may be set up for "sit and get", but that doesn't mean you have to play it that way. Move their chairs and move their minds.
  9. Closing time - Allow enough time for questions, sharing credits, and acknowledging the contributors. Revisit your main points and provide directions to additional information. Is any clarification needed? Offer a quick survey to get feedback on your presentation. What were the strengths of the presentation? What could be improved? Were the objectives of the session met?
  10. Feed the fire - You have ignited a spark, now feed the fire by asking the participants to take action on what they have learned. What will they do today? What will they do next week? What will they do next year? A conversation and a relationship has been started, provide a means for your audience to stay connected and continue the learning beyond the space and time constraints of the meeting room.
Finally, there are two essential results that I want from my presentations. First, I want to invite, initiate, and foster a learning relationship. Second, I want learners leaving with the feeling that the session exceeded their expectations, and they are prepared to share their learning experience with others. Now it's your opportunity to turn this post into a conversation by sharing your thoughts on this topic.
  • What do you think of these presentation strategies? Is there anything that should be included? 
  • What makes a bad presentation bad? What makes a great presentation great?
Your thoughtful comments are welcome and appreciated.

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Unknown said…
One thing you'll notice about Bob during his presentations is that he asks people for their names and then refers back to those people, by name, throughout the session. He will make you think that he knows everyone in the room when in fact he has just met them for the first time. I know this approach really hits home with attendees because they come back year after year which has just as much to do with Bob's knowledge as it does with the fact that he shows that he really wants to meet (and remember) every person who walks in the room. It's a great trait that I wish I had more naturally within myself.
Robert Schuetz said…
Thanks Keith. I wish it was just a matter of professional courtesy, but honestly, I just prefer not being in the spotlight. Like George Couros said in terrific his ICE keynote, "the smartest person in the room is the room". It still boils down to learning and relationships. I feel it's easier to establish a working relationship once we have been introduced to each other. It was your encouragement that moved me from participant to presenter. Learning together is just more fun! Thanks again, Bob
Kate Fahey said…
I was in Bob's PD presentation at ICE. I got the honor of being the "good guy" by allowing people to select candy that they would like rather than handing them what I wanted them to have. What a great analogy for PD! Many of Bob's thoughts resonated with me and I plan to use them as I continue to develop PD at my school. Great post for people who are just starting to present (ME!).
Robert Schuetz said…
Thank you Kate! I appreciate your help during our Personalized PD session at ICE-14 - you were a good sport! I am glad that you enjoyed this post, and once again, appreciate that you took time to comment. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I am sure that we will cross paths again soon. Talk soon, Bob

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