Dodging Presentation Fatigue- a Guide for Teachers and Students

If we’re being honest, all of us have had evil thoughts during a presentation at some point in our lives. Presentation software is one of the most poorly used tools available- but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are a teacher who wants to tune up your direct instruction delivery or a student who needs to nail that next presentation,   these 10 easy tips to creating a presentation will make your audience sit up and listen. Here goes…

1. Be passionate about your topic. Or pretend to be.  Sometimes this will be simple. If the topic is assigned it can be a little more difficult- until you connect the topic with something that matters to you. Look at your topic from a variety of angles. If your topic is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, imagine skateboarding without it. If your topic is the War of 1812, you might imagine how the military might look without the improvements to officer training that that war brought about. These things may not be on the assessment rubric, but they are important to help draw your audience in.

All of these things answer the “Why do we need to learn this” question. When you know why it’s important to know something, it’s easier to learn and talk about it.

 2. Connect with your audience. Be yourself (or better). Your personality should come through into your presentation. Your audience needs to connect with YOU, not your PowerPoint. In fact, consider making the PowerPoint the LEAST important part of your presentation. You should be the center of attention. Let some of your personality come through. Be who you are and assume that the audience wants to hear what you have to say.

One way to do this is to begin the presentation with a story about why this topic is important to you. Let your audience view a bit of your love for the topic from the human side. Open with a personal anecdote that leads to the bulk of the presentation content.

 3. TALK to your audience. Nobody likes a lecture. Pay attention to how you talk to people when you are NOT presenting. Study your body language. Do you stand still and just talk when you are with your friends? Of course not! You move- you gesture- you modulate your voice. Figure out what body language you “speak” and use it in addition to the words you give your audience.

4. Eye contact is essential.  You MUST become comfortable looking at people in your audience. If you are in a large room, shift your focus around the different areas in the room. In a small room, try to make eye contact with each person randomly at some point in the presentation.

Why is eye contact so important? It sets a very important tone right from the beginning. Eye contact conveys confidence and honesty about you. Looking at your audience members’ faces also gives you an idea of how they are receiving your message. Are their heads drooping? Time to change things up and get some energy going (see step 8).

 5. Make your presentation a conversation.   Everyone loves to hear a good story. Let  your audience know how you have connected with the content- or why they should. Any topic can be part of a story about why it’s important. If you don’t have a personal connection with the topic, scour the news to find out how the audience might find the topic relevant.

A conversation has a number of points but it’s not just a list of facts. In order to create a conversation you have to have good knowledge of what you are talking about. This means you have to…

 6. Know enough about the topic to speak without notes. This means you can answer questions from the audience about your topic. If you are just transferring information from a webpage to a slide, you are doomed to bore your audience to death or beyond. LEARN YOUR CONTENT! Start by creating an outline of what points you REALLY think the audience needs to know. These are the beginnings of your presentation. Often times they are the END of a presentation- because speakers don’t find the relevant information to use to expand on the slide bullets. For each point ask yourself the following:

  • What’s the main point that the audience needs to know?
  • What are the points that make this relevant to the whole presentation?
  • How can I make this information relevant for the listener?

 7. Humans have emotions. Use yours.  There is a reason that many of us don’t like to use the text to speech function on our computers- the voice is monotonous and machine-like. Unfortunately, so are many of our voices when we are presenting. You can create energy by being energetic. (See “being passionate about your topic”). Small things like changing your position, raising your voice level… pausing and speaking quietly…stand up… ask a question… share a story. Laugh. Take pauses to allow the audience a reaction. Show them your reactions to the content. They will take cues from you and act accordingly.

9. Use Public Speaking Strategies  Public speaking is not rocket science, but it requires practice. So do it. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in the car. Record yourself on your phone. Practice in front of your family. Practice until you really know your presentation. It is REALLY evident when you don’t. You cannot “wing” a quality presentation.

Start by looking at the audience, taking a breath, and then beginning to speak. Some of us rely on “uhm” or some other thinking word. If you need time to think, inhale. Then start to speak again.

Move away from the podium. It will help you to interact with the audience if you are able to move around your presentation space. People will tune in when you move closer to them.  Be sure to use body language and facial expressions that you’d normally use (go back and read #3.)

It’s ok to use notes but don’t read to your audience. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m talking about” like someone stumbling through a written script that they copied and pasted.

10: About the Visuals   Presenters rely on visuals. Sometimes they rely too MUCH on visuals. Your visuals need to have a purpose, but if the purpose is to fill time or space, rethink things. You can increase the impact of your images by making sure they are used for one (or more) of the following:

  • illustrating an idea
  • helping to maintain interest ( but don’t rely on this!)
  • clarifying a key point
  • providing an illustrative example
  • clarifying or simplifying a model
  • summarizing data
  • entertaining the audience
  • providing impact
  • comparing/contrasting ideas
  • showing progress along time spans

A word about video…

Videos can be a powerful part of a presentation but ONLY if they are serving a purpose that can’t be done without them. Be sure to tell your audience what the purpose of the video is before you show it. Some reasons to use video can include:

  •  tell a story from a first person point of view
  • evoke a feeling or set a tone
  • show something you can’t show in person
  • inspire your viewers
  • create interest in what information will follow from you

Some guidelines for using video:

Make sure your video is crisp and clear- both audio and video. Nothing gets the audience to tune out more quickly than a hard to watch clip. Keep your video to 2-3 minutes. Much longer than this and your audience will forget you are there. Having said this, you can use longer clips IF you stop and connect with the audience as appropriate.

Don’t let the video do your work for you- it is there to enhance and support you, not replace you. Spend the time necessary to edit your videos to reach this goal. As with still images, your video needs a job to do. Make sure it has one.

( Picture Roles Guide v1.4.pdf)

 11. Bonus! Consider alternatives   

You’ll notice that at no time does this guide mention how to use software like Keynote or PowerPoint. That’s because if you follow this guide, it won’t matter what you use- or if you use anything at all. Consider some low tech options:

Artifacts (visuals that can be held by audience members)
Photographic Displays

The medium you use for your presentation will depend on your content and your intent. Audience participation? Don’t dim the lights and turn on the projector. Think of the best way to get where you want to go- then use the tools to get you there.


4 responses to “Dodging Presentation Fatigue- a Guide for Teachers and Students

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