Friday, October 16, 2009

Presenting and Panicking

Over the past two weeks, I've been a student in a workshop/class on how to do better presentations. The one thing that drives me crazy is going to a seminar or talk where the person speaking puts everything up on a Powerpoint and then basically reads from it. As a teacher and writer, I do a range of presentations: I teach classes where I need to show a range of materials and provide information for note-taking; I do school visits and talk to kids from five to eighteen; I speak at conferences. While I have strongly resisted the Powerpoint disease and shied away from bullet points, it's weird how you can find yourself falling into that when inspiration fails you!

So when a professional development opportunity arose at work, I suggested that creating better presentations be our focus. The first task was to find someone who could show us new alternatives - that turned out to be Tania Makin from The Presentation Group. She came along and spent 8 hours with us during which, instead of telling us what to do, she provided a wealth of good and bad examples, and we analysed and discussed what worked and what didn't. In Week 1, we had to present for two minutes on a topic. In Week 2, it became a five minute task. Both times, we "graded" each other; the second time, we were filmed.

When I'm at a conference or a festival, I like to listen to and watch other writers and think about what they do and how they do it. Some are great, some are not. I discovered that great presenters to kids, like James Roy, tell stories. Funnily enough, the most interesting speakers at the big writers' festivals do similar things. Rather than lecture, they tell a series of small stories. Those that are boring are the ones that think they need to lecture, reading from prepared papers or the dreaded Powerpoints. The best presentation I have seen was an editor and illustrator talking about how a picture book was created, and the whole PP was simply images from various stages of the book.

So what did Tania Makin tell us? Or, what did I learn that was useful? Firstly, that my perception that telling stories was the most engaging approach for the audience was correct. We talked about the ways in which stories can be utilised to get across the information we want - she calls it the documentary approach. Rather than a series of facts or dot points, you can frame your talk as a narrative. The use of great images is really important - what's also important is how you present them on the screen. I added my own corollary to this - you can never depend on the technology to work, especially in schools. Your talk needs to stand alone without the PP behind you on the screen.

Some of the other points that have stuck with me (without going back to the handouts and infringing on Tania's copyright!) include doing a lengthy analysis of your audience - who are they, what will they expect, where will you present, what is your purpose. This is important to me. One day it can be 50 five-year-olds, the next it can be a room full of school librarians. There are also times where you need to provide good handouts to give accurate data and information, but you also need to remember that this is where it belongs, not on the screen.

I came away with my brain buzzing, and feeling a lot more confident about how to use images and titles, and also feeling that my usual approach is actually OK - I just need to develop it and expand it more (and not talk so fast). I also need to spend more time thinking about how to match images with what I am saying, something I've always known about picture book writing but never applied to my presentations - the image is there to enhance and/or take the place of the words, not just be a nice decoration behind me! But while the image stuff is useful, there will still be plenty of times where I can't use it, so ... it's back to making the words work better!


MacDibble said...

Your usual approach is brilliant.

Thanks for posting this for those of us who have no idea.

Toronto furniture said...

Hi. Interesting reading. In many points I agree with you. The most bothering thing is when someone thinks that reading slides word by word in Powerpoint means presentation. I don't say that Powerpoint is bad but it should be used just as a tool for providing basic outline. I think that the most important point is to be interested in the topic in order to attract the audience and have some talent for presenting.

Best regards,

Sherryl said...

As the trainer said, the factual information needs to go in the handout. It doesn't belong on the screen! We also talked about how a lot of people are not good at taking notes, and they can't listen and write at the same time, so they miss most of it if you don't have a good handout.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Again, a really useful post, Sherryl. Thank you!