(less) Stressing over presentations

On several occasions over the last couple of years, I have been asked to present something technology related to our staff. Presenting at our school can be a bit of a daunting experience. An average High School meeting can be 200 people, and a campus meeting even bigger. As a newbie teacher five years ago, the concept of presenting to a large meeting gave me palpitations and I always over planned with mixed results. I never considered myself a natural public speaker but instead muddled my way through. Some people say that teachers spend their whole life presenting, so should therefore have no problem doing the same to a bigger audience. In my experience it is a completely different experience, taking someone from their comfort zone of the classroom and asking them to present to their peers.

Over the last couple of years I set professional goals in this area to try improve. I never aim to to be world’s most witty, charming presenter but hopefully I can be someone who can present sometimes dry material in an engaging and thoughtful way and make our teachers think and reflect.

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My baptism by fire was presenting a 5 min keynote at the Learning 2 Conference in Bangkok in 2014. (if you look hard enough, there is a copy of it on YouTube somewhere) It was probably the most stressful thing I have done, but in the process and in reflection. I learned a method which works for me and overtime has helped me be more confident in my delivery.

My current routine goes a little like this….

  1. Explore what data or research can support the presentation – I always try to hang my message off some specific information from the context of our school. It could be survey data from a student perspective or quotes from a focus group. Teacher tend to be more engaged with stories from our school and numbers to back up statements.
  2. First mockup of slides – Begin by spending an hour, usually the week before a presentation (hopefully not the night before) putting an idea into slides and thinking through a sequence. Usually Google Presentations or Keynote for something bigger.
  3. Speak through for the first time – Might seem odd, but once I have some rough slides; usually with bullet points, boxes or a couple of pictures, I will try find a venue and then talk through the presentation with no notes. I usually find that during a first run through my ideas come together better as I verbalise them.
  4. Identify chance for engagement – somewhere in every presentation you need a chance to let teachers talk to their elbow partners. When practising there will be a natural spot where you can let teachers predict what the next answer might be, or to take an idea and then discuss how this relates to their classroom practice.
  5. Back to the drawing board – usually once I have done the first verbal run through, I have a more complete set of ideas and proceed to rehash the slide deck completely. Here I put a huge effort into the layout of slides, usually removing text and bullets (putting them into the notes instead) and replacing them with icons, images, aligned boxes or diagrams. Everyone knows the message about much too much text, but if laid out nicely on the page some text works and adds depth to your message. Sites like Slides Carnival are useful inspiration, but I try take elements of the templates rather than follow them strictly like a recipe.
  6. Speaking notes – once I am happy with the sequence I will go through and type my notes into the semblance of a script usually as a table in a Google Doc, where I drop screenshots of the slides into the document. (see example here and below)
  7. Find a humorous hook to begin the presentation – everything seems to go better if you can find way to get the audience to laugh in the first couple of slides. It seems to loosen the audience up and break the tension.
  8. Add a couple of animations – I have am yet to use the text in flames animation, but a few subtle animations give me reminders of what to mention and help pace my speech.
  9. Final practice and refine notes – once notes and slides are sorted I will go to the actual venue and do a complete run through whilst plugged into the projector. There is something different which happens when you practice in the actual venue and you always end up ironing out an issue with the projector, or remembering to plug in the audio cable. Depending on time and importance of the presentation, I sometimes place my iPhone on a chair and film my practice. You always cringe when watching yourself but it always reminds me that I need to speak clearly, mumble less and stop saying um.
  10. Follow up – I always try post my presentation somewhere, or email it to staff as a reminder. Some super reflective teachers will delve into your notes but at least it keeps your message in people’s mind slightly longer… well at least until next week’s staff meeting 🙂

If you read as far as the 10th bullet, you might think that it I am spending a crazy amount of time on one presentation. You are probably correct…, but probably also under-estimate how long some people take perfecting their message. Some of my school leaders write the most elaborate scripts for presentations and it seems to work for them. You can obviously spend a lot of time on the visual layout and I am sometimes guilty of spending too long, but I am now a lot faster and use simpler imagery. (My tech colleague Noah Katz has pretty much taught me everything I know about design and layout). Essentially each person has their own way of doing it. For me I realised a few years back that despite having nice looking slides, I tended to go off on tangents and then get confused and mumble so having something to look at helps me stay focused and confident. I don’t use presenter notes in the actual presentation as feel I can never manage to juggle the dual screens… (I know slightly ironic for someone trying to presenting about technology.)

This week I presented on a rather dry topic with our High School staff on the issue of Digital Distractions. Both the presentation and notes are below to give you a sample of my process. I got one nice remark at the end that I managed to engage everyone with two activities in the middle and that there were plenty of practical take away tips. A lots of work for a 20 min presentation but probably worth it in the long run.



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