I recently worked with a mental health counselor on a workshop she gave at conference, and was able to do a thorough formative evaluation a week or two before she gave it. Despite her apprehension (she hadn’t been in the habit of presenting since she finished graduate school five years ago), Heather did an exceptional job. She was very comfortable with the material, and adeptly drew each point back to her presentation’s central theme.
As we discussed how the field trial went and what could be improved, we kept coming back to four practices that we felt were present in every great presentation. We’ve all been to presentations that have had an impressive and lasting impact on us, as well as those that are largely forgotten once we leave. If you want to give a memorable corporate training class, classroom lecture, or a conference workshop, make sure to follow these four principles to turn a good presentation into a great one.
Many have a tendency, especially in corporate situations, to strip themselves of individuality during meetings and presentations, all in the name of being “professional.” I feel that this is a foolish sacrifice. When you can truly be comfortable being yourself, your authenticity shines through, and your content is more engaging and credible.
We’ve all been to workshops where the presenter comes off as inauthentic or smarmy, and the message suffers. Don’t let that be you. If you are humorous, use humor to engage your audience. If you love golf, create golf analogies that illustrate your point. Be yourself. Your natural passion for your material will permeate every point.
2. Utilize the Power of Personal Narrative
Narrative is a powerful tool. Stories and accounts can get your audience’s attention, help them relate to your material, and illustrate points and principles in a unique way. And narrative is even more powerful when the stories are your own.
Using too many examples and stories that are not your own can have the watered-down effect of a supposedly inspiring email that has been forwarded dozens of times. Speak from your own experiences. Show your audience that you believe in what you are teaching because you have learned it for yourself.
3. Plan for Participation
It is no secret that learner participation is one of the keys to internalization of instruction. A good presenter carefully plans for this participation. This does not mean idly asking, “Any questions or comments?” at the end of each slide. It means preparing discussion questions and interactive activities that will engage learners and get them to speak up and help teach one another.
It can be very powerful to have your learners share personal stories and experiences as well. If you are following the principle of using personal narrative before inviting your learners to do so, they will be much more likely to share. And your workshop will be that much more effective.
4. Be Flexible
A smart presenter has to be on her toes. What if you planned an activity for twenty people and only eight show up? What if you planned to show a video but the equipment isn’t working? What if you prepared a presentation about the basics of essay writing and your learners turn out to know more about it than you? Be prepared to take things in stride and make a good presentation despite unplanned eventualities. And whatever you do, don’t apologize if something doesn’t seem to go right! The moment you apologize or say you don’t know what you are doing is the moment you lose your credibility. Be brave, be strong, and be flexible!
Giving a well-prepared, well-received workshop can be a very rewarding experience. If you remember to be yourself, utilize the power of personal narrative, plan for participation, and be flexible, you can transform your next presentation from good to great. Try it!
What do you think? Do you have any tricks or principles that enhance your lectures or presentations? What makes a memorable presentation to you as an audience member?
Check out our podcast episode on this subject for more discussion.