Two years ago, Paula Baxter put Presentation Zen in my hands. Since then, the Reynolds book is a staple in my ‘recommended summer reading’ letter for high school students. It is a wonderful guide for understanding how to distill your message, and be more mindful of those in your audience.
Another guru of presentation design is Seth Godin, and his work here is worth your time. Both texts remind us that a presentation is meant to ENGAGE the audience, not simply make them sit through what should have been your speaker notes.
The best presentations do so much more than inform. They inspire.
We can only build inspirational presentations when we have the following ingredients:
b) an authentic understanding of where this material needs to go (a focused purpose)
c) someone to bounce ideas around with
d) an open minded community
Inspired presentations are not about the tech. They aren’t about the sound equipment, the stage, the mic, the devices or the lighting. Inspired presentations are about the people. When do we make our fellow colleagues feel safe to fail? Safe to share a story? Safe to ask for more time to get it right? Safe to ask others for help?
“The one thing that all successful people have in common is persistence,”
― Garr Reynolds,
If we want our presentations to come from a foundation built on persistence, we need time and people. Whenever I see a poorly constructed presentation, I empathize with that person’s lack of one of those key ingredients.
“Only through mistakes can you see where you’re lacking, where you need to work.”
― Garr Reynolds,
As a DP teacher, I spend a lot of time preparing my 11th and 12th grade students for oral presentations. They need to practice making mistakes in front of an audience. They need to have that experience happen again and again and again. It doesn’t feel good to make mistakes, but in our classrooms, it should feel safe. I design several low-stakes speaking opportunities. A professional basketball player probably misses thousands of free-throws in the gym without an audience before they ever reach that dramatic fourth quarter pressure shot moment. Sometimes our students just need a ‘shoot around.’
They also need to be exposed to good presentation models. Lawrence Lessig is a favorite model to share. This is someone who nails simplicity. The effort behind his slides is palpable. Check this out for classic Lessig brilliance.
In July, I was honored to be a part of the Apple Distinguished Educator showcases at the Institute in Holland. I was allotted three minutes to share something I learned as an ADE.
You can watch my opening to the presentation here:
My presentation was okay. I was happy with my layout, my slides, my images, etc. I wish though that I had just told a story. The ADE crowd is intimidating, and I felt a huge amount of pressure to say something profound. I thought I needed an allegory, some huge ‘aha!’ moment. In trying to find that, I lost my narrative.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
― Garr Reynolds,
I wish I had remembered that we all find our colleagues intimidating. More importantly, I wish I remembered how much we all love a good story, we love being involved.
If I could turn back time, I would have told the story of just one image:
There is a great story behind that image. I briefly touched upon it, feeling I needed to outline exactly what my message was. I wish I had worked to unpack that image, to give the audience a narrative they could have tinkered with themselves. Involving the audience means giving them room to think, room to play with your narrative. That is what Presentation Zen is all about: the artful way of inviting your audience in.
“Give them something to think about later” (from the Presentation Zen blog)
What will resonate with your audience?
Will you be brave enough to find out what resonated?
I was too shy to ask for feedback on my ADE one in three showcase. I felt a wave of relief when it was all over and I didn’t take that decisive step to ask anyone what I could have done differently. The best presenters push through that awkward haze. I will be sure to make that a new goal for this year. Embarrassment fades, but losing out on an opportunity to get better sticks with us unless we act. Rock balancing only happens when you are willing to let the whole thing fall down…and start all over again.