Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Presentation Mojo

by AJ

Continuing with the theme of effective presentations... I just came across a link to an article about Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple). Jobs, apparently, is famous for his powerful presentation style. The article outlines the "top five" secrets of Jobs success as a presenter. They are excellent points-- which the bulk of presenters at the California TESOL conference could have benefited from.

I also think they are great principles for teachers... especially when a teacher is presenting new information or explanations.

Here then are the five...
Sell the Benefit
"Steve Jobs does not sell bits of metal; he sells an experience. Instead of focusing on mind-numbing statistics"

This is excellent advice. As a conference attendee, I was focused on one primary concern: How can this information help improve my teaching. While I was interested in the research behind presenters' ideas, I was happy to get this in handout form to investigate at my leisure. What I wanted to hear... during each 45 minute presentation... were practical, powerful, beneficial APPLICATIONS. In other words, how do the research/ideas translate into classroom practice and how will they benefit me and my students.

Amazingly, very few speakers focused on this. They led group activities. They plodded through overhead slides (more on this later). They talked incessantly about theories or ideas or statistics. I found myself, time and again, fidgeting... and combing through their handouts for something I could use. (I find the same weakness in research articles.. all numbers, no practical benefits).

The workshops I enjoyed most were the ones that stayed focused on the practical in-class benefits.

This is an idea that is also applicable to teaching. Too often we focus on the linguistic minutiae, but never sell the students on HOW and WHY its important.. what it will allow them to do, what situations they can use the information in. We fail to sell them on our approach, our materials, our lessons.

To be clear, I am definitely NOT talking about a bullet point list of "objectives" for each lesson. IE-- "At the end of the month the student will know and be able to use the past progressive". Better would be something like, "At the end of the lesson you'll feel more confident talking about past events, will be able to communicate more clearly with Americans, and will understand & enjoy more authentic English materials". I could probably come up with something stronger/better, but you get the idea.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
"Jobs takes nothing for granted during product launches. He reviews and rehearses his material."

One thing I love about teaching in an IEP (Intensive English Program) is that I get tons of practice. Ive got my class for 4 hours every day. This allows me to experiment alot and practice alot.

For example, I never learned how to use the movie technique effectively at TU, because I simply didnt have time to master it. I had limited time with each class.. and lots of curriculum demands from the University. But at IIC Ive been able to use it every day... for months.

In regards to the conference, I got the feeling that many of the presenters had not practiced. I understand that most were not pros. Many may have been presenting for the first time, and were nervous. No problem. But the best cure for nervousness is PRACTICE. The more you practice, the more relaxed you become (so long as you arent trying to stick to a rigid script).

Keep It Visual
"Speaking of slides, there are very few bullet points in a Jobs presentation."

This was perhaps the worst aspect of most of the CATESOL presentations. EVERY presenter I saw seemed to be a slave to the overhead. Their presentations were driven by bullet points. Some had slides that contained multiple paragraphs of text. And worst of all... most used overheads that were EXACTLY the same as the handouts.

Most presenters used the overhead as a teleprompter... plodding through slide after slide.. and then paraphrasing it. By the last day of the conference, I stopped listening. Rather, I would race around to different rooms and collect the handouts-- because I knew most speakers were just reading them anyway.

My advice-- skip the overhead completely. Or, do as Jobs does-- put PICTURES on your slides. Pictures can reinforce the point you are making. But dont use these as a crutch either. The best presenters I saw were the ones who unattached from the overhead, approached the audience, and just talked to us.

Exude Passion, Energy, and Enthusiasm
"Jobs has an infectious enthusiasm. When launching the video iPod, Jobs said, "It's the best music player we've made," "It has a gorgeous screen," "The color is fantastic," and "The video quality is amazing."

This should be point number ONE. Enthusiasm erases a thousand mistakes. I admit, I was shocked. Most presenters at CATESOL were flat. No energy. No excitement. They stood still, using few gestures. Their voices were devoid of emotion. They just didnt seemed very interested in what they were saying.

But there was one standout exception. On Saturday morning I awoke at 7:50. I was three days sleep deprived (I hate mornings). Worn out. I threw on some clothes... ran from my apartment to the conference. Stumbling up the stairs, I felt spaced out.... and irritable.

I arrived at the workshop 5 minutes late (title: "Brain friendly teaching")... thinking Id collect the handout then doze off.

But in five seconds the speaker had me hooked. She was passionate. She walked around the front of the room. She smiled and laughed. She was obviously excited about the ideas and their applications. All eyes were on her. My exhaustion vanished. I took out my notebook and wrote like mad.. struggling to keep up with her stream of ideas.

My next workshop was more typical... a guy read through his wordy handout.. with absolutely no feeling. Suddenly, I was sleepy again, and found it impossible to pay attention.

Consider this point carefully when you teach. Passion can overcome anything.

"And One More Thing..."
"At the end of each presentation Jobs adds to the drama by saying, "and one more thing." He then adds a new product, new feature, or sometimes introduces a band. He approaches each presentation as an event, a production with a strong opening, product demonstrations in the middle, a strong conclusion, and an encore -- that "one more thing!"

I like this idea... an encore. A surprise. One idea I continually come across is the obvious fact that the brain loves novelty. And so, why not finish every presentation/class with a fun surprise. Something exciting. Something weird. Something crazy. Get them stoked just before they leave... keep them wanting to come back for more.

Strong Openings
A strong opening is just as important as a powerful end. This is Dale Carnegie 101: Dont begin with a wordy introduction. Dont begin with long explanations.... or a mind-numbing list of your qualifications.

Start right in the middle of things. I teach an English Presentation course.. and tell my students to begin with a "no shit, there I was..." story. For example, "I was standing in front of a large class-- 50 students. Some had their heads on their desks. Others had their heads bowed. I smiled and said "hello". No response. No smiles. Nothing. My gut turned. I realized immediately that my carefully prepared lesson plan would never work. What to do?......."

Then you launch into your brilliant idea that saved (or would have saved) the day.

Thats a lot more powerful than "Hi, Im AJ. I have been teaching English as a foreign language for six years. I have a Masters degree from... blah blah blah". Many of the presenters went on like this for ten to fifteen minutes! (Out of a 45 minute presentation)!!

Skip the intro... jump right in.

San Francisco, CA