on January 18th, 2012

Yesterday I was slumped listening to a highly experienced engineer doing a rather mediocre presentation for motivating the development of a new product. He received a rather cool response although I know his product concept was excellent. He would have got far better results if he had followed some simple rules as far as presentations.

What was wrong?
The presentation which lacked lustre used a plethora of power points and words, often delivered in a monotone and all tightly compressed into an hour – slides were thrust out to the bemused audience in machine gun succession. And inevitably there was no interaction with the audience. The poor reviews were predictable.

A galvanizing speaker
On the other hand, however, one of the best speakers I have encountered was an engineer hailing from the Mid West of the good old US of A. He galvanized the audience with an excellent and humorous opening quote; he showed passion for his subject and then after presenting two slides, efficiently broke the 80 strong audience into small groups of five. Each group was given two short, four minute assignments to illustrate the points made. Each group had to write up its findings on flip charts during which time the presenter circulated, assisting the groups as they prepared their findings. The results were then displayed around the room.

The interaction was fearsome, the delegates, without exception, were talking vigorously with each other about the topic at hand. A small prize for the best group was also helpful in achieving a carnival atmosphere. There was the hum of real learning going on. The participants were following the ‘constructivist’ approach of learning - constructing their own knowledge and understanding of the topic.

People walking into the room at the end of the proceedings would have been surprised – the presenter was delivering the last part of his presentation, surrounded by the audience, from the middle of the room - using a remote microphone and controlling the slides remotely. And the room was festooned with at least 40 large sheets of paper summarizing each group’s findings. The reviews afterwards were outstanding.

A few suggestions for your next presentation:

  • Interact with your audience from beginning to end
  • “Sell” the topic to the audience – why it will be important to them
  • Show everyone that you have passion for your subject
  • Challenge the audience, with every slide you use, to come up with their own comments and understanding
  • Give the delegates tasks to enable them to construct their own learning - perhaps in the form of small groups
  • Make the delegates interact with each other

As far as a stimulating presentation is concerned; Dorothy Parker hit the nail on the head with: ‘The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity’.

Yours in engineering learning


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