June 18, 2009

Powerful Presentations Tip #4: Great Content Is Necessary But Not Sufficient

All too often great content falls flat because presenters spend far too little time thinking about the format and flow of their presentation. Bringing your content to life requires thoughtful consideration of options whether you plan on talking from the podium or facilitating a more interactive learning experience.

You will create a more engaging session that attracts and retains participants’ attention, energy, and interest if you answer a simple question for each of your major content threads: what are the various learning formats and teaching techniques that could be used for this segment?

Let’s say part of your session involves helping people better manage various customer service situations. How might you do that? You could:
  • Lecture about the major components of good customer service and how they apply to common situations.
  • Tell a story about a time when you experienced or managed a challenging customer service situation.
  • Show video clip examples of good service and bad service and lead participants in a discussion about what they observed.
  • Have people turn to a partner and share a time when they received outstanding customer service. Then facilitate a large group discussion identifying customer service best practices.
  • Break participants into triads for a role rehearsal/play with one person being the customer, one being the service staff member, and one being an observer.
  • Do a role play/rehearsal in front of all participants and then have a debrief.
  • Have participants break into small groups and read various customer service case studies and identify how they would handle them.
  • Twitter a customer service tip to your account and have those roll real-time on the screen.
  • Do a real-time the participants on how they would handle various customer service situations and lead the entire group in brief discussion of the results.
  • Divide participants into two groups. Have one identify the top five qualities of outstanding customer service and one identify the five elements of customer service that most frustrate the customer.
  • Any combination of the above or another option not listed.
So how do you decide? The final choice is more art than science, but selecting a technique or format involves considering which approach:
  • Might best advance your learning outcomes;
  • You can confidently and comfortably lead;
  • Is most appropriate for your participants’ demographics and preferences;
  • Will yield the right level of participant energy and engagement;
  • Offers variety from previous formats or techniques used;
  • Most helps participants connect the content to the respective contexts;
  • Support content segments and formats that will follow later; or
  • Effectively uses the time available for this content segment.
Once you’ve completed this consideration and selection process for each content segment, step back and examine the overall flow of your session through two lenses: (1) how the content unfolds, and (2) the participant engagement your teaching techniques evoke. Refinement might involve reordering some content so it makes more sense for participants or switching out a teaching technique to be more interactive or perhaps more reflective.

Don't walk away thinking that lecture is evil. A well-crafted talk from the sage on the stage that includes memorable stories, compelling content, and engaging examples often is far superior than a poorly planned session involving highly interactive teaching techniques. And some settings and audiences clearly want to be talked to/with rather than be asked to do group work. Just remember that for every teaching technique you select, other techniques that are potentially more engaging or interactive are always available and should be considered.

Renowned architect and designer Eliel Saarinen once said: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” Savvy presenters do the same, always considering how each content segment fits into its larger time block, how each time block fits into the overall session design, and how their individual session fits into the larger conference schedule or ongoing workshop series being offered.

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