Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 6

Last little bit of school means lots of oral-presentation-type final projects. These are often on very cool subjects, since spring fever (or some hidden good nature, or something) leads teachers to allow their students a bit more freedom in choosing topics. But a surprisingly large number of people strongly dislike presenting, and not many know how to engage an audience at this stage in life. If you plan it right, presenting can be just like having a conversation (a really one-sided conversation, but still) with your audience about a topic that you know and care about. This is the ideal setup, giving your audience information, entertainment, and a bit of a human connection. But, good readers, there’s an aberration infiltrating our public school system that circumvents this ideal, well, ideally: Microsoft PowerPoint (shudder).

Okay, it’s not so much the program itself as the ways in which it is so consistently abused. Slideshows are great for grounding your discussion and making sure you don’t skip anything important. Images, diagrams, charts, graphs–all very helpful, too. Yet most people don’t know how to design an effective one (this goes for all you Prezi users, too), through no fault of their own, since no one teaches them that skill particularly well, either.  If they did, here’s what they’d tell you:

How to Not Put Your Audience to Sleep Whilst Presenting a Slideshow

  1. Less is more. Seriously, guys. You don’t need huge bulleted lists on every slide. The more words on your slide, the less people will pay attention to what you’re actually saying, which is really the more important part. Pet peeve: when someone decides to copy-and-paste an entire passage into their presentation, and while they’re giving it, stops at that slide and says, “Well, you guys can read.”
  2. Two words: spell check. If you insist on having words in your presentation (I usually use visuals alone), at least have the decency to spell them correctly (and don’t forget good grammar). Words can be distracting in the first place, but people will fixate even more on typos. Oh, and if you’re talking about a person, it’s usually a good plan to know how his/her name is spelled before presentation day.
  3. On that note: pronunciation check. Make sure you know how to pronounce any names or foreign words or jargon before you present. Nothing discredits your presentation more than not having bothered to do that: if you can’t say something in your presentation correctly, it casts serious doubt on the depth of the rest of your research.
  4. Be a human being! This is especially important in school, where most people are predisposed to not be engaged anyway. What you say is a lot more important than what you’re showing on your slide; it’s a conversation, remember? You know what it’s like to be in your audience’s bored shoes, and you don’t want to add to the tedium. So make eye contact! Be loud and fake confidence! Crack jokes! You and the people listening to you will enjoy it a lot more if you make a point of being conscientious and present.

There. A simple four-step process to halt this pandemic in its yawn-inducing tracks. May the odds be ever in your favor, fair boredom-fighters.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 6

  1. Ah, Splashium… how is it that every single one of your post opens my eyes and amuses me so? Though of course, I always understood that PowerPoint should be used in substitute of a poster and that everything should be as scarce as possible – what you say is more important. Whether or not I actually follow that understanding is a different matter… It’s not my fault. Words flow out of me like a tide, never halting and always in weird levels of strength. Please do not judge me.

    But why did I not read this before presenting my book in English? Despite competing in public speaking-related competitions, I have difficulty speaking in front of my peers. Strangers. Yeah, I’m totally fine. High school teenagers. Yikes.

    Thanks again! And curious to read more of what you’re planning for this blog!

    Signing off…

    • Oh, no judgment at all! Yeah, it’s quite weird how much of an effect the audience has. I find I have to practice a lot more to be prepared for a presentation aimed at people I know than strangers, too (as exhibited by my ad libbed Leonard Cohen rant…you and I should’ve rehearsed our English presentations with one another ;)).

      As always, thanks for the thoughtful response!

  2. Speaking of captivating presentations, you are an amazing public speaker! People around me at the Homecoming talent show were saying that you were going to be on National Public Radio someday (to which I responded that you are cut out for greater things than that 🙂 ) Thanks for the tips! Haha, I know the less is more rule in relation to presentations, but I rarely follow it… it is easier that way and I tend to procrastinate……..

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