There’s More to it than Not Reading Your Slides

Last school year, I stumbled upon an eye-opening COETAIL Cast. The topic focused on the importance of teaching presentation skills in school, and argued that knowing how to design and deliver an effective presentation has become a critical skill for students.

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Photo courtesy of Benson Kua via Flickr

I was gobsmacked that I had never considered these ideas and skills! To me, an effective presentation meant the kids could get up in front of an audience, tell about their topic without reading their notes or bulleted slideshow, all the while maintaining eye contact, pitch and volume.

Excitedly, I continued my research and learned a lot from Carmine Gallo’s 9 Public Speaking Lessons from the Worlds Greatest TED talks, and Geoffery James’s How to Fix Your Presentations: 21 Tips.  I was able to put together a couple pages of notes and organized the advise into 3 main focuses: Planning Your Message – Tell a Story, Planning Your Visuals – Make Your Slides Visually Simple, and Delivering Your Message – You are the Presentation, Not Your Slides. I also enjoyed watching Garr Reynold’s TED Talk, Story, Imagery, & the Art of 21st Century Presentation, and How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint by David JP Phillips.

At this point I was completely convinced that things needed to change at our school. Of course the best way for me to create change is to be the change – so I restarted two presentations I had been working on, keeping in mind all I had learned.

The first presentation was targeted to all the teachers, and was about a trip I had taken to Shekou International School to see their use of technology. The big take away from the trip that we needed to communicate to our teachers was that it is not about the tools, but rather the teaching methods that couldn’t exist without the tools. I felt it was hypocritical of me to stand up and tell them about my trip when what I wanted was for them to stop the old ‘sage on stage’ routine. I decided to build an interactive presentation that got my point across, but that also showed them a new tool and engaged them in the topic.

Here is the presentation that introduced the Kahoot game:

Although the first slide woke up my audience with a little humor, the slides are not a visual dessert by any means.  However, the Kahoot game that followed was engaging and thought provoking, asking pointed questions like:

  1. Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include learning about a topic in a collaborative social setting?
  2. Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include working toward a common goal that was relevant to real life?
  3. Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include having to sit and listen, perhaps following or being read a PowerPoint, for 20 min. for more?
  4. Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include you having to read a 5 page article and fill out a note card with your reflections?
  5. Yes or No: Did your best learning experience include an instructor who was obviously excited and passionate about the topic and task?
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Photo courtesy of Melissa Bowman via Flickr

There was lots of laughter, some nervous, but most were nodding their heads in obvious resonance – especially the principals. The elementary teacher even elbowed me and “thanked” me for ‘raising the bar.’

Since that, I have seen many changes that I think may have started there. For one, Kahoot is used (and begged for by students) around our school from Arabic to P.E. Secondly, the elementary school completely revamped Back to School Night, doing away with most of the PowerPoints and creating a night where parents could truly get a feel for how learning at our school is becoming more and more student centered. (Check out Jodee’s blog to read more about how she changed her presentation for her 3rd grade parents.) The elementary principal even played a Kahoot with the parents to commence the evening on a fun, interactive note.

My second presentation was for a ‘Parent Share’- a once a month, informal gathering for parents to hear more about what’s happening at school. My principal wanted me to give a quick update on some of the cool ways we are using technology to make learning relevant and real world applicable, connect to others outside of our school, document and reflect on students’ learning journeys, and provide transparency to the happenings at our school. For this occasion, I was excited to try out more of the design principals that I had read and watched about.

It has been a great week revisiting the “presentation zen” learning I (luckily!) stumbled upon last year. I have renewed conversations about how and when to weave these new ideas into the secondary curriculum and spent time planning a presentation workshop with an English teacher to prep her students for their IB presentations this year. Exciting times ahead.

Be the Change!