After running an engineering conference with 80 odd engineers, in the beautiful surrounds of Sydney harbour and its yachts, I reflected on why some of the presentations were outstanding and others dull. The presenters were of a similar caliber with identical resources. The presentations which lacked luster used a plethora of powerpoints and words, often delivered in a monotone and all compressed into an hour – slides were thrust out to the bemused audience in machine gun succession. And inevitably there was no interaction with the audience. The reviews for these were predictable.
On the other hand, however, the best speaker was an engineer hailing from Minneapolis. He galvanized the audience with an excellent and humorous opening quote, he showed passion for his subject and then after presenting two slides, efficiently broke the 80 strong audience into small groups of five. Each group was given two short 4 minute assignments to illustrate the points made. Each group had to write up its findings on flip charts during which time the presenter circulated, assisting the groups as they prepared their findings. The results were then displayed around the room.
The interaction was fearsome, the delegates, without exception, were talking vigorously with each other about the topic at hand. The prize of a bottle of good wine for the best group was also helpful in achieving a carnival atmosphere. There was the hum of real learning going on. The participants were following the ‘constructivist’ approach of learning - constructing their own knowledge and understanding of the topic.
People walking into the room at the end of the proceedings would have been surprised – the presenter was delivering the last part of his presentation, surrounded by the audience, from the middle of the room - using a remote microphone and controlling the slides remotely. And the room was festooned with at least 40 large sheets of paper summarizing each group’s findings. The reviews afterwards were outstanding.
In summary - a few suggestions for your next presentation:
- Interact with your audience from beginning to end
- “Sell” the topic to the audience – why it will be important to them
- Show everyone that you have passion for your subject
- Challenge the delegates, with every slide you use, to come up with their own comments and understanding
- Give the delegates tasks to enable them to construct their own learning - perhaps in the form of small groups
- Make the delegates interact with each other