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Tag Archives: Presentation skills

 

How do you want to travel?

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about individual accountability for engaging in learning, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the course as the instructor does. This means focusing on the process (how learners decide to engage – or not) as well as the content (syllabus or curriculum).

Courses and workshops represent particular journeys for all participants – teacher included. In general, learning facilitators establish and negotiate the content, pacing, climate and structure throughout the course. And yet, learners themselves decide what and how they will learn. Learning can happen in the absence of teaching, and teaching can happen in the absence of learning. The magic happens when the two come together.

Most workshops and courses typically start off with a conversation about:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Course overview or outline
  • Participants’ learning goals
  • Learning assessments.

However, it’s equally important for learners to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how they will learn and participate, what might hold them back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that can feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused beginning to workshops and courses, because a conversation about process sets the stage for reciprocity and co-engagement in the learning journey.

It comes down to a conversation about how we (both the instructor and the group) collectively intend to make the journey together. From a facilitation perspective, this means starting out by asking questions like:

  1. Are you (learner) coming to this class as a spectator or as a participant?
  2. What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
  3. What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
  4. If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
  5. How will you translate and adapt ideas, knowledge and skills in order to apply them in practice?

It’s not essential that we ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions we could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles and on the nature of the voyage they will take with you and with one-another.

And the next time I attend a workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”

 

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Find your light

 

I’ve been collaborating with a colleague who teaches performing arts in putting together a “stage presence” workshop for educators and presenters. Our joint approach was sparked by a hallway conversation a few months ago about how stage and theatre performers have much in common with teachers: both need to foster an immediate, emotional connection with the audience/class, and both need to create and sustain an atmosphere of excitement, engagement and inspiration. In addition, all performers, teachers and presenters occasionally experience equipment malfunctions, bad venues, challenging audiences, and unexpected events. What separates the veterans from the beginners is in how we respond, improvise and model ‘grace under pressure’.

A common axiom among theatre performers is to “find your light”. That is, step out onto the stage and find the spotlight. Lately I’ve been thinking about the implications of metaphorically finding your light. In a classroom or lecture hall there aren’t usually spotlights and curtain calls, and the best educators are more occupied with facilitating students’ learning as opposed to occupying centre stage. So, what does finding your light mean in the context of presentation and teaching skills?

I think that in teaching and presenting, our “light” is our truest, most authentic self. If we can model authenticity in a group, with all of the attendant risk and vulnerability that entails, we encourage others to do the same. It is something of a paradox – approaching a presentation as a conversation versus a performance is the essence of great performance! Theatre ‘works’ when it’s a conversation with the audience (either explicitly in experimental theatre, or implicitly in traditional “never break the fourth wall” approaches). And while acting, by definition, involves assuming a character, great actors fully inhabit their character. All that we teachers/presenters have to do is fully inhabit ourselves.

There is something about stepping up to the front of the room that makes people freeze up. It’s a shame when that happens, because we are most engaged when we encounter others as their real selves. Finding your light is about shining your light – for all to see.

 

fish swimming sky

If you want to get out alive, never swim against the current

A few weeks ago a colleague shared a harrowing story of a presentation gone wrong. It was one of those scenarios where you don’t anticipate much controversy about what you have to offer, and the group appears jovial. But beware – large groups can sometimes behave like jungle cats. One moment, the regal beast is basking in the sun and purring, and then suddenly the powerful claws will slash and wound. Perhaps this sounds overly dramatic, but I’ve yet to meet a presenter who – somewhere – does not carry a scar from such an encounter. When it’s just you in the “cage” with a couple hundred slumbering lions, it’s best to keep alert and look them in the eyes!

Now, I am not implying that presenters should fear their audiences. Presentations offer an unparalleled opportunity to inspire, communicate and connect. And I’m not suggesting that it’s us (presenters) against them (audiences). That said, we know that individuals have distinct personalities and moods. And like individuals, a group’s mood can shift rapidly; sometimes without warning. It can feel mighty lonely at the front of the room when the group turns ugly.

I’ve written elsewhere about how to “TAME” difficult or challenging participants. But what to do when the whole group seems against you?

The first order of business is listen to understand. What did you say that triggered discord? What might be behind the objections, concerns, indignation or outright scorn among audience members? Modeling a stance of eager curiosity and a humble willingness to listen is disarming. It is profoundly respectful.

Example: “It sounds like this is something we really need to pay attention to. Would you or others be willing to share more? I’m so glad that you spoke up – thank you for raising this.”

The second essential step is to step outside of the content – that is, what you and others are saying – and reflect on the process. Group process refers to the how versus the what. This is expecially important to do if Step 1 results in pure venting and is not especially productive for the group as a whole. The power of reflecting on process as opposed to content is that you make it not just your problem, but the group’s problem. Plus, it is almost certain that while there are dissenting voices in the room, there are also voices that want to help you get things back on track – if you give them the opportunity.

Example: “I want to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening in the room. I noticed that when I said […], there were some strong reactions. I’m wondering what would be most helpful from me at this point? What do others think?”

The third point is to keep an open mind. It may be that you’re pretty invested in the idea or perspective that you are sharing and the audience members’ opposing opinions have provoked defensiveness on your part. This never goes down well. Defensiveness on a presenter’s part can be like throwing gas on a fire. Stay open to the possibility that you might indeed be missing something important, and that the group is offering you a true gift by pointing it out. That doesn’t mean you are obliged to do exactly what others want you to do, or even to change your thinking. It’s simple reciprocity – if I want others to listen to me with an open mind, I need to be willing to do the same.

Example: (inside voice) “Hmmm…I was not expecting this reaction. I wonder if there are others who might have the same reaction. This is worth considering carefully.”

In short, always swim with the current.  Trust me, you will eventually make it to shore with only a few scrapes and bruises!

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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?

 

 

 

sticky buns

 

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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