Monthly Archives: March 2016

Feedback is so important to presenters shifting the paradigm – overcoming Powerpointlessness

This entry is going to sound a little self-aggrandising -perhaps even full of braggadocio  – but the exchange between myself and an attendee following a recent academic presentation I gave may be useful if you attend similar workshops.

A few weeks ago, I was the final speaker in a long day on a rather dry but important subject for psychologists – risk management. I was requested to speak about how IT could mitigate  risk for psychologist practitioners. I’ve offered all day workshops for this population around Australia, showing how IT can be incorporated into their workflow.

So, I attended with a presentation I believe understood its audience’s fears and concerns, which would only have been heightened through the day with lectures by lawyers, “old heads” and representations from regulatory boards.

I saw my task, being the last speaker for the day, as being both “light” and enlightening, and indeed very early in my presentation, acknowledged that I was presenting in one of the two times to be avoided: last (the other being straight after lunch).

I asked the audience to relax, forget about taking notes, while I told them a story. Yes, I literally said I was going to tell them a story. Which I proceeded to do about an airline’s incident which saw a 747 land with its nose gear retracted at Sydney Airport in 1994. I then wove a story within a story about how I was already involved as a psychologist with the same airline, and how I came to be involved in the aftermath of the incident in question.

Quite a few in the audience of perhaps 150 looked confused as to where I was going and its relevance to the day’s topic, but it soon came home to them, which is a frequent modus operandi I have when presenting. It’s a fine line, but hanging people out in confusion then bringing them back in with an “aha – I get it” moment is a trope I use for increasing audience engagement, much like a magician tries to hold an audience in suspense while setting up the trick.

This was the first time I’d presented this topic in this short format (about 45″) and so without an opportunity to trial it, I was eager to receive some feedback. A few days later, I received an email whose author has given me permission to reproduce (without ID). I was a little surprised by its content and focus:

Hi Les,
I attended your presentation last weekend at the PPWP meeting.
Thanks for presenting such an engaging and thought provoking presentation – especially, as you acknowledged, in the graveyard shift!
While I was very interested in the content of your presentation I have to admit to being more focussed on process, and taking copious notes about presentation style and the use of a/v.
I speak regularly in both Psychology and Yoga settings (I am a Psych and also a Yoga Teacher), and I’m presenting a keynote presentation this March at the Yoga Australia national conference (the peak body for Yoga Teachers in Australia).
I’ve been gradually training myself away from a heavy reliance on text based presentations, and I’m really hoping to challenge myself with this presentation.
So – to get to the point – I’m really keen to attend one of your ‘Presentation Magic’ courses if you still run them?  And I also wondered if you offer individual consultation where you could look over my planned presentation and provide feedback?
Thanks Les, cheerio,
To provide some context, not just was my presentation the last for the day, but the previous ones had followed the usual psychology Powerpoint style which the letter above alludes to. It wasn’t just that being the final speaker is a tough task, but expectations after a day of text-based powerpoint is usually so low that my task was actually made a little easier in terms of gaining attention and engagement. Just by daring to be different.
I opened a dialogue with my correspondent:
Thanks for your feedback,

Had you seen me present before?

If you hadn’t, I can imagine that what you witnessed (“saw” is too narrow) may have changed or confirmed the direction you want to take your own presentations.

Certainly (and I only got there after lunch), you would have witnessed standard psychology presentation materials and skills during the day.

I’d be really curious – as in, I would like to write a blog article – about your “copious notes”: what was occurring to you as you were note-taking, as I’m guessing that’s not what you had come prepared to do, but correct me if I’m wrong.
It’s not everyday you get to have such feedback. Often we present in an unfamiliar location to an audience we may never see again. Given this, I was curious to hear the feedback, which shortly arrived in the form of points the correspondent had taken while I presented:

Les’s presentation approach:

  • ·             Handheld device to control powerpoint
  • ·             ‘Holder’ under iPad mini to handle easily
  • ·             Les had his own notes on the mini?
  • ·             Storytelling – to make a point. Use visual prompts to help tell the story
  •               Engage the audience – don’t treat them like they have no idea what              you’re talking about, ie. Don’t tell them the obvious!
  • ·             Weave different things throughout – ie, while Les was talking abut the plane crash he mentioned his own work in fear of flying
  • ·             Slides are purely, very few words
  • ·             Keep to a few key messages – eg. Les’s 3, 2, 1
  • ·             Offer something people can email you for (eg, Les’s social medial policy). This encourages follow up and interaction with your audience later
  • ·             Tell people what you are and aren’t going to cover – keep expectations manageable
  • ·             When referencing websites use screenshot images of the website – visual interest
  • ·             Books – show image of the cover of the book
  • ·             Give the audience time to think for themselves – pose questions for their deliberation

I found this very interesting – what a psychologist about to do her own important keynote in a few weeks – finds worth attending to in another’s presentation. It’s important feedback. Let me share the next piece of correspondence (my response) which will hopefully provide further clarification:

I am curious when you noticed your attention shifted from content to process – do you recall? After all, you were most likely lulled into a sense of Powerpointlessness by some of the previous speakers – or did you recall you’d seen me before and so your expectations shifted? Just asking so as to provide for more depth and nuance to my blog article!

Let me go through your observations one by one:

Les’s presentation approach:

  • ·             Handheld device to control powerpoint

Yes, I use my iPad nowadays, rather than stand at the podium and click the keyboard. It requires the MacbookAir and the iPad to be on the same wifi network. I use my Optus mobile wifi router to provide that. It also accesses the web in case I need to do that to answer a question. But I also keep a small handheld Kensington clicker USB installed in case Optus falls over. (backup!) Oh, and I don’t use Powerpoint!

  • ·             ‘Holder’ under iPad mini to handle easily

This was a device (“BakBone”) gifted to me a few years ago when I was a Keynote speaker at Macworld in San Francisco, part of the shwag for presenters. It was developed by a surgeon to help hold his iPad in surgery! Link: <http://www.holdyourtablet.com/pages/about-the-bakbone-tablet-holder>

  • ·             Les had his own notes on the mini?

No, no notes under the slides. Anything that is important enough to need a note (an amount, a number of significance, a ratio), should be on the slide itself. I tell stories (see below) and so the slides (I can see the next one coming on the iPad) cue me in. But you must know your story. The exact words are not so important, so you don’t need to learn lines like an actor. BUT, it does require rehearsal which includes advancing your slides to match your words. We can discuss this more. If I made it look easy, it’s because I practise so much.

  • ·             Storytelling – to make a point. Use visual prompts to help tell the story

As above.

  • ·             Engage the audience – don’t treat them like they have no idea what you’re talking about, ie. Don’t tell them the obvious!

I call it “respect your audience”. They may not have the deep understanding of the subject, but they will appreciate being treated as equals. Lowers the barrier to engagement.

  • ·             Weave different things throughout – ie, while Les was talking abut the plane crash he mentioned his own work in fear of flying

Unspoken presentation rule. Even engaging presos need a change of pace and media every few minutes.

  • ·             Slides are purely, very few words

Yep. Slides are your support crew. Martin/Lewis; Abbott/Costello; Rowan/Martin… etc. You work as a team.

  • ·             Keep to a few key messages – eg. Les’s 3, 2, 1

in a brief presentation like mine, no more than 2 main messages for the audience – and tell them, “this is one of your take-home  messages you can start working on immediately”.

  • ·             Offer something people can email you for (eg, Les’s social medial policy). This encourages follow up and interaction with your audience later

Sneaky, aren’t I? Social psychology is plastered with experimental findings like this.

  • ·             Tell people what you are and aren’t going to cover – keep expectations manageable

Not sure I actually did this, apart from the low expectations which gets a quick laugh, but underneath that sets the tone,  also the quality of the presentation. Many in the audience who ARE presenters and think they know Powerpoint, will ask themselves, “How did he DO that?” Curiosity – up!

  • ·             When referencing websites use screenshot images of the website – visual interest

Absolutely, And the same for books and journal articles and emails… And then focus in on the salient bits and it’s OK to read someone else’s quote, just not your own!

  • ·             Books – show image of the cover of the book

ditto!

  • ·             Give the audience time to think for themselves – pose questions for their deliberation

Yes, all about engagement, and lots of small “aha” moments. Misdirect, then bring the audience home, so they sigh with satisfaction: “Yep, I get that… cool!”

Hope this helps

I want to share with you the final correspondence of relevance:

Thanks Les for your detailed points (above) – incredibly helpful and very generous of you.

My attention was on process before you spoke as I know presentation skills are your forte, and I’m working on this myself.  Yes, I had already been ‘lulled into a sense of Powerpointlessness’… please use that in your blog – gold!
I really loved that for a while there I was thinking – “where is he going with this story?  I’m not sure it’s relevant”… then a-ha!
The message I want to convey in this blog entry is that many in academia and the regulated health professions are ready for change in how complex ideas and information is offered up in formal settings designed to improve their professional development. The standard way of powerpoint-based learning is no longer working for many and no longer can be considered evidence based teaching, yet we still persist with it as evidence of the persistence of social norms and tradition in the sciences.
Thankfully, there will be a growing number of practitioner who both recognise quality training, and who are willing to say enough is enough to their peers and professional societies.
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