The question “how do I teach this to them” has puzzled presenters, professors, and parents since the Greco-Roman god Apollo taught Chiron, his foster son and polymathic centaur, how to throw a curveball.
In this post, I share an approach for outlining and preparing the delivery of educational presentations.
My general preparation for an educational or invited talk at a conference, in a classroom, or for a client event includes five steps.
First, confirm the theme and audience.
When invited to give a talk, ask about (1) the objectives of the event (and my host) and (2) the background of the primary audience. Talking to 5th graders about trees differs from presenting on the forest industry to a Rotary Club.
At times, the specific theme is less important than the role you serve for the audience and your host. If you are the after-lunch speaker, focus on a (relevant) subject you truly care about and know deeply, one that allows you to bring extra energy to the room. This may or may not match exactly what you were asked to speak about, but in my experience, a really good, engaging talk that captures the attention and interest of the audience is a success, regardless the advertised theme.
Then, select your insights.
If your theme is bears, which two or three things about bears do you plan to focus on and communicate? What bears eat? How bears walk? Who’s smarter than the average bear, Smokey Bear or Yogi Bear? Your choices comprise the “modules” or parts of your talk, and they are selected with the objectives of the event and the primary audience in mind. These are your key messages, the main points you want to share.
Third, choose your examples.
Relevant examples, evidence, and data that you know well will help the audience absorb and appreciate your ideas. Select examples – stories, maps, figures, graphs, movie clips or any other tightly packaged information – that support your insights, simplify your job as the presenter, and make it easy for the room to appreciate your message.
At times, a presenter dumps data or stories on the group without an organizing framework or clarifying idea. This confuses the room. Don’t do this (unless you’re the next Robin Williams). 🙂
Fourth, incorporate your introduction and transitions.
Choose and practice your opening and what you will say to move from one insight to the next. The introduction could be as simple as “Hi. My name is Dave. Today, I’m going to share three things related to bears.” Transitions could be simple phrases (“now to the second point”) or they could be brief stories that emphasize the insight just shared or introduce the relevance of the insight you are about to share.
My point here is less about the content of the introduction and transitions and more on the importance of simply deciding and practicing what you will say in advance. Practice out loud. Verbalize your opening and transitions. Help your brain and mouth work together to find the best word combinations. THIS WORKS. You will think of new and better ways to strengthen, tighten, and smooth the talk by practicing out loud, even by yourself.
Finally, construct a conclusion.
Well-constructed conclusions could be the most neglected part of the educational talks I’ve heard (and delivered). The conclusion is an opportunity to reinforce the most important points and manage the educational experience for the audience. This includes knowing what you plan to say after the Q&A concludes. You would rather choose the final thing heard by your audience than have the final thing be the product of a random question. This leaves too much to chance. Know your close.
Developing and delivering an educational talk – a presentation that shares or transfers knowledge, skills, and expertise from presenter to audience or from teacher to student – requires a clear understanding of your objective in the room and your audience. Having a clear, systematic process to organize and prepare your comments increases the likelihood of success in conveying your message to the group.