Part of what we do as teachers and learners is report back on what we find out in our personal inquiries. As teachers it was done on a daily basis with our students. We helped them disseminate the information that they need to be successful. As administrators, the number of presentations often lessens, but the audience usually increases; at any one time there could be up to 100 people in the room we are presenting in.
What strategies were successful for us when we stood in front of students and helped them make sense of information? What can we take from our time in the classroom and make it work for us as presenters?
Saturday at ASCD, I changed my schedule around so that I could attend a workshop by Deborah Estes, a presenter, former teacher and administrator from Texas. The title is what originally caught my eye: “Brain-Friendly Presentation Skills.”
I present frequently to my departments, and I’ve struggled recently with creating engaging content. Not that what I am saying is earth-shattering stuff, but I know that there are moments in my presentations that I need to invite the audience to digest what I am saying and give me feedback. Sitting in Estes’ presentation, I learned that I have not been nearly observant enough of my audience; your audience and being able to read them and redirect them through the use of movement, storytelling, and, of all things, touch, determines the success or failure of your message. Information without reflection and discussion does nothing for learners. Give them the chance to hash out what you are saying and clarify it for one another and you stand a much better chance of making a difference in their learning.
Right from the start, Estes subtly began to coerce me into her presentation. I was early by about 20 minutes, but she was much earlier than me. She greeted me with a handshake and used my name (name-tag) when she did.
Points #1 and #2: Be early and set up at least 30 minutes before your scheduled start to greet your audience by name and appropriate touch (handshake) as they enter.
As she began to speak to the room of 150+ people, like most presenters, she gave her background and brief bio. Hers was not done as a description of credentials or current occupation, but rather the story of how she became a teacher, coach, administrator, and speaker. It was done structurally, meaning she related herself to all levels of educators: high school teachers, middle school teachers, and elementary teachers. Each part of her opening story, which took about 5 minutes, had relevance to someone in the room because in our lives we, too, held or currently hold one of the positions she did. More than that, her stories were relative to experiences we have all had.
Point #3: Use the power of storytelling to share information. We remember best when we give our information context.
One of the most powerful things she did was move us. Not the kind where we were emotionally moved, but rather we physically moved around the room. In the 90+ minutes we were there, we moved over 15 times. We conversed, we shared information and discussed the topics in the handout on our own terms, but in ways that she dictated.
Point #4: Move people. Look at your audience and find clues that they are disengaging. When you see the nods or the glazed eyes, change their state.
Some examples of what we did:
- Moved to another seat
- Turned and talked
- Four corners of the room (body voting)
- Invented names
- Hand voting (raise your hand and think of a number, use your fingers to represent the number, then find someone else in the room who has that number. When you do, discuss the topic with them).
- People bingo
- Touch blue (simply walk around the room and touch something blue)
- Take your neighbor for a walk around the room while discussing the topic at hand.
Another thing I often struggled with is the format of how I present. Should I do straight lecture and give a handout with all of the cute slides on the handout? What other options are out there? Estes presented us with at least 10 examples of how to change up the format of your lecture.
Point #5: Transfer of information does not have to be in the format that we all learned it: the straight lecture. What if your audience knows a great deal about the topic you are covering? Why spend time on the details if they already have them? Give them the opportunity to list everything they know about the topic. Have them present it to the crowd. Based on what they know, amend your presentation on the fly and allow your group to go deeper into the topic.
After leaving the room, I realized that not only had I met over 20 people during the course of her presentation due to the movement and socialization, but I reflected on the attitudes of the staff that I work with as they receive information during faculty or department meetings. Wow. I see the source of their boredom and frustration. They are disconnected from the information because they never have time to reflect on it. The subtleties of presenting were on display for me today, and I thank Deborah Estes for sharing them with me.
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