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Don't Bore Me with Your Presentation, Inform Me

Randall Alberts

Randall Alberts is assistant director, Project Management, Ringling College of Art and Design.

We have all been to presentations in the office, or even at conferences, where we feel as if the speaker is as soothing as a nice warm glass of milk or a fuzzy blanket. The hardest part of being in such an audience is staying awake. If the audience is fighting the sandman to listen to a presentation, then no one is really listening. The people listening to you when you give a presentation are there for a reason: either to learn something new or because they were required to be there by management. Regardless of the reason for their attendance, your job is to give them information they can use.

Making an effective presentation is truly an art form. Like all great artists, orators need practice to hone the skills necessary to create a work of art. The truth is that anyone can learn the skills necessary to the challenge. Not all presentations will be museum quality, but there are a few simple ways that you can make a big difference for your audience.

·        Practice presenting. Speaking in public is one of the biggest fears that most people have. As in most of life’s challenges, you have to practice to get better, overcome fears, and fine-tune presentation skills. Several resources are available to assist you in improving your speaking, including joining organizations such as Toastmasters International, which will help with encouragement and practice.

·        Know your subject. When you meet someone new, it is always easiest to talk about yourself, because you are the expert on you. When you present a given topic, you need to be informed about the subject. Being the foremost expert on a subject is not a requirement; however, your audience expects you to be informed and able to speak about your subject with authority. Know your limitations with the subject matter and do not be afraid to collect audience questions, which you can research after the meeting and follow up individually or at the next meeting.

·        Have visual aids. People respond to pictures and colors, even number-driven colleagues such as accountants and actuaries. Computer applications like Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote can be effective, but they can also be very static. Newer web based tools such as Prezi can help animate presentations. Remember, a presentation is only as good as the skill level of the presenter. Even a dynamic presentation can alienate an audience if the speaker simply reads each slide.

·        Do not be afraid to draw a picture. Technical presentations can be some of the most complicated presentations. If presenting in a room with a whiteboard or flipchart, draw out the details so that your audience can see your vision. I was in a meeting recently where the power of a simple drawing changed the whole team’s perspective. Several engineers were describing a new network model for our company. The engineers, who were very knowledgeable, continued to describe their network model as if the other participants and I could envision it in our heads. I asked one of the engineers to draw the design on the whiteboard in the room, and as soon as he did, everyone had the same shared vision. It truly demonstrated the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

·        Allow for questions. If you are keynoting a large conference with thousands of attendees, taking questions may pose a challenge; however, being a keynote speaker is usually the exception rather than the norm. Allow attendees to ask questions in an orderly fashion. Their questions may help provide insight to a point that was missed. They may also help you further explore your understanding. If you do not know the answer to a question, be honest, research it later, and follow up after the meeting.

The next time you are called on to give a presentation, try some of these techniques to keep your audience engaged. Your presentation will be informative and keep the attention of even the most distracted listener. Stay positive, and remember that every successful public speaker has given a few boring presentations along the way. Following these simple rules for your next speech could put you on the road to be a great orator.

© 2014 Randall Alberts. The text of this EDUCAUSE Review online article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license.

Comments

Thanks for the informative article, Randall!  I concur 100% with the need to draw diagrams in technical discussions -  I have often found that a dry erase board and engaging people with even the most basic, unrefined diagrams can help stakeholders understand  complex issues better, and helps them feel better connected to the discussion.

Diagrams, graphical representations or images can turns a boring presentations into an interesting one. We used to have a regular reporting with my previous company and those words really sucks. It can make us dizzy until we fall asleep.

What I did on my next report is that I added some images (although some of it were not directly related to the topic, I just used it as an example) making them more attentive with every slide of the presentation.

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