Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Presenting Lessons

            Over the past few weeks I’ve given several large presentations to different groups. I enjoy doing it quite a bit. During my preparation—which is extensive—I often find myself experiencing flow. After a presentation I’m pretty amped up, almost like the high after great exercise, only to crash hard afterwards. Each presentation takes quite a bit out of me.
            While for some presentations I rely on words, I prefer to use PowerPoint to create a richer experience for the audience. It’s not death by PowerPoint, however, with bullets firing off one by one. Instead, I practice Presentation Zen as preached by Garr Reynolds. This entails a great deal of attention to slide design and the use of effective images, supplemented by just a few words at key times. I also tend to incorporate video and music; for a recent one I even created a short movie of images with a soundtrack. (I would post a slide deck, but they make little sense without my commentary. You can see Part 1 of a presentation from a couple of years ago here.) So when I plan a presentation, it’s a multi-step process drawing from a wealth of resources.
            I contrast this to a chapel talk I gave at my school back in the mid 1980s. I was urging the students to become involved in a service project, and I wanted to play a short song by Harry Chapin. So I dragged my CD player, amplifier, and speakers to school and set them up...then had to drag them home afterwards. Graphics? Maybe some sort of poster.
            Any time I present, I remember some of the basic lessons of public speaking: eye contact, slow and clear enunciation, guided movement and catchy gestures, et cetera. I’ve been using some of the same tricks to mark my notes for many years, although now I try to go note-free whenever possible. Still, I feel empowered tremendously by the easy-to-use, powerful tools at my disposal. Even my clicker frees me up to move as I want.
            Metaphorically, I think this highlights a real challenge for modern schools. How do we continue to stress the basic and essential, yet at the same time embrace the new and harness its potential?

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