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Presentation Skills

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Begin with the ending, end with the beginning

 

The best presentations are structured like a really good story, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Dale Carnegie’s famous axiom offers a skeleton how-to: “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.” But starting your talk with “Today I am going to share with you…”  is not the most dynamic or compelling way to capture an audience’s attention. On the other hand, people want a road map – it’s important to orient the group to what they are about to learn and experience.

 

Begin with the ending

So, what does “beginning with the ending” look like in practice? For me, the ending doesn’t reference the conclusion of my presentation. Rather, the real ending – the whole purpose and intent of my presentation – are the implications for attitudinal, behavioural and/or practice change. In other words, I like to start with where I want the audience to end up – not me!

For example, when I offer clinical workshops on Motivational Interviewing, I begin by asking the group to reflect on specific clients that they find challenging: “Imagine it’s Monday morning, and you get to work, look at your calendar, and see that the first three clients you’re scheduled to see are the most difficult individuals that you’re working with. How are you feeling?” Common responses include “stressed”, “anxious”, “hopeless”, “frustrated” , “annoyed with the person who scheduled these clients!”. Then I say: “Now imagine that you’ve finished this workshop, you get to work tomorrow morning, and you see these same three clients booked into your calendar – and you actually look forward to your morning because you get to try out the skills and strategies that we are going to learn today!”

This brief thought experiment gets people involved right away because it establishes not only the relevance of the content, but its application beyond the workshop.

 

End with the beginning

I agree that it’s useful to offer a summary of what I’ve covered as I wrap up a presentation or workshop (“tell them what you told them”), but that’s not the end. After summarizing, I make a point of explicitly circling back to the beginning by inviting participants to reflect on where they were when we started our collective learning journey, where they are now…and where they want to go. Bridging the knowledge-practice gap is a challenge, yet therein lies the value of the whole experience. Setting concrete implementation objectives and a plan for follow-up is key.

I also point to the ending as a beginning, and to our continuing development as an ongoing series of new beginnings. We are always still beginning, each time from a different place.

Finally, ending with a great quotation is always a nice touch. Here’s one of my favourite quotes on motivation and change:

Andy warhol quote

 

So…what will you try out in your next presentation?

 

 

 

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Artifice and performance are the enemies of engagement

 

I gave a talk yesterday on presentation and facilitation skills, and one of the key themes was the importance of shifting our focus away from ourselves (“Am I doing a good job?” “Do I measure up?”), and directing our attention to the needs and interests of the audience. This marks the crucial shift from performance to conversation.

Paradoxically, at the same time we also need to pay attention to being ourselves. I was struck once again by the “simple but not easy” axiom as it relates to authenticity. On one hand, what is simpler than just being who we are? But on the other hand, what is harder than offering our real, true self in front of a large (or smallish) group?

“The snow goose need not bath to make itself white.

Neither need you do anything but be yourself.” (Lao Tzu)

 

I’ve never seen a snow goose, but I’ve seen quite a lot of snow this winter. And up close every snow flake is unique and beautiful.

The most engaging presenters are fully focused and radically authentic.

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the axioms about great presentation skills is to “make it sticky”

 

Sounds good, but how? Here are four of tried-and-true strategies (the “application” part is how I say it – you can adapt to your style!).

 

1. Get people talking

People remember most of what they say, versus what the presenter says

Application: “Take 3 minutes, turn to the person next to you and share one thing that stands out so far”

 

2. Evoke disagreement

Critical analysis often means criticism – ideas don’t stick if a person hasn’t had a chance to integrate within existing knowledge, assumptions, worldview

Application: “Write down one concern, question or skeptical comment or idea about what I’ve been saying”

 

3. Initiate a “Teach Back”

No matter how much knowledge/skills/expertise I might have started with, anything I’ve ever had to teach forced me to learn more deeply.

Application: “Find someone you haven’t spoken to yet and teach them ___ (concept, skill, approach, etc.)

 

4. Bridge the Gap

Don’t be afraid to assign homework.

Application: “Before you go to sleep tonight, write down three things that you are going to practice or do differently based on the work we’ve done here today…and put them on your computer screen/refrigerator/other.”

 

Last week I was asked to facilitate a workshop for a diverse group of community health and counselling providers. The organizers asked for an outline of the proposed session as well as an overview of a subsequent follow-up session to help ensure uptake and implementation. In other words, why invest in staff training if there’s no traction over the longer term?

 

The research/education/practice gap is undeniably tough to bridge, and follow-up coaching and training certainly helps increase adoption and skill development. But in my mind, every presentation is an important opportunity to foster motivation for change – with or without follow-up.

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It’s often good to follow your own advice

Last Friday I presented to a group of health practitioners (registered dietitians) at their annual conference. The topic was “presentation skills” – an important element of their professional practice, as dietitians frequently work with various client goups experiencing complex and challenging health conditions. They are not just presenting information. It’s more about inspiring and motivating health behaviour change when the stakes are high.

I have always found that ‘presenting about presenting’ poses a particular set of mental challenges. Audience expectations are generally higher than the norm and my expectations of myself are correspondingly escalated. I have to keep reminding myself of the axiom that any presentation needs to feel more like a conversation than a performance. That means focusing on the audience’s learning needs, goals, and practice challenges, as opposed to my own ‘performance’.

And mirroring the dietitians’ clinical practice with groups, the information that I shared was nowhere near the most important part. (There’s a whole library of books written on presenting and facilitating, covering more content and in greater depth than any 45 minute talk could ever do justice to.) Sparking some lively critical reflection and dialogue (internal and external) about the pitfalls and best practices for us all to pay attention to when presenting to groups was the most meaningful part of the session.

It’s often effective to follow one’s own advice, and happily I was able to come reasonably close to putting into practice the four themes of my session:

1. Stop performing

2. Engage everyone

3. Transform your slides

4. Make it sticky.

OK, maybe I didn’t engage absolutely everyone – but on my way out of the room the A/V guy did give a big thumbs-up, and let’s just say that hasn’t been a uniform experience. I say, gather your nuggets where you find them!

acorn in forest

BG padlock closeup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding beauty all around you

 

In a previous post (PowerPoint Design Best Practice) I discussed my #1 tip for creating beautiful and compelling presentation slides:

PPT Essential Design Principle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just one problem – where to find fabulous backgrounds and images? Although there are lots of “free” image sites online, I have found that many of these tend to be over-used and/or not what I’m looking for. Stock images are a great option and alternative, but subscriptions can be costly.

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to create your own gorgeous images. Composing and capturing the “perfect shot” is far from easy, but there is great beauty in the tiny details that surround us every day. Here are some examples of pictures I’ve taken that I can’t wait to use in future presentations. The extreme close-up strategy makes it easy even for rank amateurs like me to create my own image stock with a borrowed camera during a morning walk.

 

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3 + 3 ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for Slideware Best Practices (plus a bonus tip)

 

Text-heavy slides + presenter’s commentary = missed opportunity. That’s because audiences experience “channel interference” when they’re confronted with text on a screen in tandem with spoken commentary. It’s challenging to both read and listen at the same time. (Like, for example, Saturday morning when you’re immersed in the weekend paper and significant other wants to chat.)

Even worse is reading the text directly from your slides, because people can read silently faster than you can read out loud (plus that announces to the audience that you are actually redundant, assuming that they can read your slides for themselves). On the other hand, seeing an image plus listening to a person speak does not create this channel interference, and engages us both visually and aurally.

 

In a nutshell, here are my 3 + 3 key ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for Slideware Best Practices:

DO break up complex diagrams and visual illustrations into “chunks” offered over a series of slides, and/or provide a handout of the entire image.

DO use an image scaled to cover the whole slide, perhaps accompanied by minimal text (or just a single word or phrase).

DO proofread your slides. Then go back and proofread them again.

DON’T put the content of your talk on your slides. That’s what handouts are for.

DON’T use PowerPoint templates and clip art. These look retro – and not in a good way.

DON’T use text animations. Unless you are a creative director for an ad agency with a big budget, and even then think twice.

 

Bonus tip: If you ever hear yourself apologizing for any [easily preventable] part of your presentation (for example, slides unreadable from the back of the room, random typos, content on a slide that you don’t really understand), chalk it up to presentation karma…and gather these nuggets of feedback for your cache of hard-earned wisdom.

 

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Be yourself, only better

 

The term present connotes giving a performance, with all of the formality and pomp that implies. But it can also mean being present; in other words, being our true and authentic selves in each moment with the group.

“The most precious gift that we can offer is our presence.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Henderson and Henderson (2007) argue that the most effective presenters engage the audience in ways that feel like a one-on-one conversation. The qualities of a performance versus a conversation are summarized in the diagram below:

 

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Some strategies include:

  • Making eye contact that encompasses all sections of the audience (left to right, front to back).
  • Exercising self-awareness with respect to what makes you unique, appealing and enjoyable to be with? Leverage these qualities in your presentation style.
  • Intentionally modulating your vocal tone and phrasing consistent with a conversational approach.
  • Carefully considering the audience, including their needs, wisdom and experience (individually and collectively).

Of course, I don’t deny that presenting is different from a casual conversation. There is formality, gravity and hierarchy to it (as in the diagram above). But the more we see of you – the real you – the better. We’re most engaged when we can identify with the other person (even just a little). When their experiences connect to ours.

Sure, we’re all special, but we’re also all human. It’s a bit of a paradox: The more you express your unique and unreproducable humanness, the more universally engaging you are as a presenter. Easier said than done (especially when performance anxiety is a kind of enemy of authenticity – check out 5 tips for Coping with Stage Fright).

But there it is: that’s the journey!

 

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