Polish your Presentation: 5 Must-haves


For me, a workshop or presentation is a spectator sport.

I have a habit of signing up for workshops, talks, seminars and lately a webinar or two just to - well - witness learning. I’m fascinated with how people learn, what makes learning happen, the sequence of events and how to orchestrate the dance between teaching and learning.

I listen for the types of questions people ask. I eavesdrop on conversations hoping to gain a morsel about what was confusing or brilliant.

I aim for the best seat. Even though I love sitting in the front I may position myself a few rows back and on the side so I can easily see participant faces and hear murmurings.

I want to know how participants are processing information. Their comments, questions, head nods and whisperings are all clues to how well the educator is leading the dance. Even in webinars I scan the comments box for indicators.

The educator, instructor, presenter, facilitator (the person usually at the front) has developed content and will lead the learners, participants, audience through a maze of information that will alter their thinking in some desired way.


And I love figuring out how to make the teacher-learner dance more alluring, interesting and inspiring.


When Emma Basu of Wholistika requested I outline the best practices in course design I started writing qualities that I look for in a course. Then I thought a different perspective would be more useful.

I comprised this list from taking part in synchronous and asynchronous online courses and in-person events.

The venue doesn’t matter - your creatively does.

Here’s my list of qualities I’ve observed that motivate learning.


The Top 5 Best Learning Practices to have in your presentation are:

1. Content, like a good story, must flow from one concept to the next.
Even though our knowledge is configured like a web, linear movement of the information from one concept flowing into the next concept should be seamless. Within your presentations there need to be areas for the brain to rest.  Creating space between important or deeper concepts allows the brain to process the complexity of the concept and to build connections with the new information and prior knowledge. These rest stops can be examples, stories, or audience participation. In other words, allowing participants to practice what they are learning solidifies the concept before flowing into the next concept.


2. Know your audience.
Learning happens by building on prior knowledge and this observation goes with #1. When used effectively, prior knowledge can be a hook upon which to hang or attach the new information. This requires you spending some time figuring out what your participants already know about your topic. I’ve seen this happen at the start of a talk, surveys before a course and questions posed throughout a presentation. When done during a presentation, you are gathering information from participants then immediately using the information to inform your presentation. For example one presenter, asked the audience to raise their hands if they managed high-functioning teams for 5 or more years. Over 80% of the audience raised their hands. This simple distinction let her know that she could focus on high level and deeper concepts versus basic concepts. With that bit of information she could better meet the needs of her audience and give them content that is more relevant and meaningful.


3. Start strong.
This one is my favorite! The first few minutes of a presentation is where you can bring in your imagination and creativity so your content is unique from the start. I love it when instructors take the time to creatively find a way to engage the audience or trigger thinking about the topic other than by saying, "Okay. Let's get started." A great engagement strategy is uncovering typical misconceptions that participants might have about your topic. One presenter began his Change Management course by asking participants to make a list of resistant behaviors. The most frequent response was “digging in heels” and refusing to adjust to the new business strategy. The presenter then showed a list of behaviors such as confusion, misplacing information, and asking a lot of questions during meetings as possible signs of resistance - the audience was intrigued and wanted to know more about recognizing a wide range of resistant behaviors. They were hooked.


4. Have opportunities for participants to explain what they are learning.
Presenters often want to do all of the explaining however if you can relinquish the reigns a little and have opportunities for participants to explain what they are learning, your presentation will leap into the stratosphere. Wonderful things happen when you let participants share the teaching, whether in an asynchronous online course or a live event; 1) you learn how they are processing your content, 2) they are actively working through their thoughts and misconceptions, and 3) the rest of the audience tend to pay attention more closely to see if their understanding is on track. The result is a more engaged, focused, dynamic learning experience for everyone - you too!


5. Questions. Questions. Questions.
Ask meaningful questions! If you are teaching a specific skill ask questions that are aligned with the level of proficiency for which participants are aiming. You may need to ask questions differently based on your venue however don’t let the format of your presentation deter you from asking questions. Another reason I hear for not asking questions is, “What if no one responds? I don’t want to hear crickets!” It would be lovely if participants always answered the questions we pose. It validates us, tells us we are reaching them and that they are engaged at some level. Yet, asking questions, even unanswered ones, triggers thinking and that’s the first goal. Questions make people pause, consider, reflect, remember, assess, and anticipate. Meaningful questions trigger participants to think about their thinking about your content. That’s true engagement.

There you have it.

The quick and dirty of what I look for when reading course content from the perspective of a participant.

I look for these best learning practices because together they help you create dynamic learning experiences.


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