Before I graduated from the university, I had to submit a thesis and present it to a panel of professors. Of course, they questioned and I had to answer and defend my work.
My peers all prepared “well". They drafted their perfect presentation scripts, make big piles of presentation transparencies (computer projectors were not popular at that time) to include fine details of their work.
Then, they prepared a big stack of cue cards. Rehearsed the presentation until they can recited it in reverse order. The purpose? To make sure that the presentation would go like clockwork.
I didn’t like this type of “serious" and dull presentation. I believed that presentation should be lively and interactive. When I saw them rehearsing like old-time robots, I could imagine the panic and fear on their faces when they forgot one line during the presentations.
Here was what I had done. I prepared about 10 slides for my 20-minute presentation. And I intentionally omitted the “Thank You" and the “Q & A" slides. (:p)
No cue cards or draft speech but only an outline of my presentation. Why? Because I believed that one should knew his stuff inside out if he had spent a whole year in the thesis. It should not be a problem introducing the project and answering any questions. The thesis should already be part of me. In other word, “I am the thesis!" For Q & A, I had brainstormed a list of likely questions (from the panel’s perspectives) and the approaches to answer them.
In the session, I just presented like I was casually introducing my thesis to someone interested, only in a more formal way. For their questions, I used one to two seconds to organize my thoughts and gave them my answer. (I was nervous then, but I thought I still looked quite in control of the situation.)
This was my first formal presentation ever. (That was a time when making presentation was not so popular in primary and secondary schools. So I didn’t have much training or experience beforehand.)
The outcome was, well, satisfactory.
That was long time ago. The insights, however, still hold.
How Do You Present?
Many of the trainers that I have encountered still:
- Prepare detail presentation slides. A half-day training session may drown the participants with over 100 slides.
- The trainer holds a large stack of cue cards in his/her hand (just wonder what would happen if I shuffle their cards)
- Give the impression that they are reciting (you can tell from their look)
- Lack interaction with the participants
Maybe you will ask: so what?
From my experience, the answer is: big trouble.
To be a successful trainer, your have to be trusted by your participants. A trusting relationship is the foundation of a successful training.
So, for someone who just recites a script, do you trust that he knows the subject well? For someone who seldom take his eyes off the cue cards, do you trust his expertise? For someone who practically read from the detailed slides, what value does she offer? Without interactions, a training session is no different from a recorded video. Why not just watch a video?
so, my advices are:
- Presentation slides should only highlight the key points. You do the elaboration and explanation. This gives the participants a reason to concentrate on you.
- The less cue cards the better. I used to printing my slides in 6-in-1 or 9-in-1 notes pages, and write my presentation key points on these pages (because of the lack of white spaces, you cannot write much and this forces you to depend on yourself.) After a few times of mental rehearsal, the whole session will be outlined in my mind. If I really forgot something or need to refer to the notes during the session, I will just pick up the notes and have a look. There if no need to be afraid of referring to the notes, only that you should not do it often.
- Add interactions to your presentation. This need not be in the format of questions and answers. You may just maintain eye contact with your participants, or just non-verbally communicate with them through facial expressions or body gestures. Even if it is a couple of tens of people there, you can do the trick by look at the group of people at each of some focal locations (left, centre, right, front, middle, rear.) A few seconds of purposeful starring will make a difference.
- Pay attention to the facial expressions of the participants. If they look puzzles, you may pause and ask if they need any clarifications or assistance.
- Integrate your presentation with the environment or situation. Use examples just happened in the day or in the class to explain your topic. For instance, if you are doing a team-building training and you see someone brings a lot of snacks into the class, you may refer to her as a good team worker who take care of the needs of other team members.
- Make joke and be humorous. But don’t say “let me tell you a joke…" kind of crappy statement.
All the above center on one simple objective: to let the participants know that you are confident and in control of the session.
In any face-to-face communication situation, only 7% of the meaning is communicated through the contents, 38% is done by your tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.
You don’t have to stick to the above tactics. Just remember that you have to let them know that you are confident and in control of the session. Only confident trainers can help people learn effectively.
One more thing: if you used to speak monotonously. Add more variety to your voice tone and pace. Don’t kill your participants with a robotic speech.
Pause appropriate. Let participants have time to think, reflect, and respond. This is particularly useful when you tell stories and jokes.
Tell a Story
I like to use stories to delivery the contents.
You may think, “This is so old style."
Really? What about the story at the beginning of this posts? Do you find it useful? (you see that?)
A story need not be the old time “once upon a time" thing. It can just be a lively description of a daily event.
And sometimes, old-style stories like fairy tale, or fables can be useful.
Here is a story that I used to tell in Change Management workshops:
There is a farm with many animals – horses, cattle, chickens, pigs, …
One day, the animals hold a big assembly to discuss their breakfast issue.
A horse said, “Our breakfast is boring. What do you eat? For us horse? (some participants will say “grass") For cattle? (“grass" as well) For chickens? (some may say “feedstock?") And pigs?…"
They talk and talk and conclude that their breakfast are just very boring and want a change. After some heated discussion, a decision is made. They want to eat what human eats: ham and eggs!
So, they are going to have their ham and eggs starting tomorrow.
The head horse ask the head chicken after the assembly, “You will support the decision, right? How about providing the eggs for our breakfast?" “Sure. We will fully support the motion." Answered the chicken.
Then the head horse visits the pigs and ask, “We will have the new breakfast starting tomorrow, the chickens will supply the eggs, will you supply the ham?"
The pigs shouts, “of course not. For the chickens, what they do is just involvement. But for us pigs, this is commitment."
Normally, the class will start laughing. At the same time, they have learned the difference between involvement and commitment.
Stories can be just be about daily events. What you need is a rich description of the event, the sensory experience, and some details. The bottom line it, you let the participants build up a movie in their head and get you message.
Why Use Stories?
First, stories attract people’s attention. People love to listen to stories. A great story-teller can always attract audience.
Second, stories can by-pass rational criticisms and you can more readily get your message into the participants mind. If you use reasons to influence people, they may react right from the beginning. But if you tell stories, you have a good chance that they will first listen.
Third, stories are more memorable. In addition, you can also leverage on the punch-line or special elements of a story to remind the participants of the trained concepts/skills. For example, “are you ready to provide the ham?" will definitely remind them of commitment.
Stories bring fun and are easily memorable.
Therefore, a successful trainer should always observe and collect stories for use in training sessions.
Keep a Piece
One final suggestion: keep one piece of your puzzle.
In other words: if you want the participants to really learn something, don’t tell them all.
You may tell them 95% or 99% of the stuff. But leave a bit for them to explore, to think, and to reflect on. Only by engaging them to complete the puzzle will they really OWN the learning.
How to achieve this? I will leave this piece to you.