Sunday, September 25, 2011

Brisk, Bold, And Not Boring


Recently I found myself waking up one morning wondering, "Why did I say I'd do that!"  What was it?  I had committed to giving a session at the American Association for State and Local History conference about how not to do a boring session.   Luckily,  with many thanks to my colleague Lindsey Baker, director of the Laurel Historical Society who joined me as co-presenter, willing to try anything, and to a great group of session participants, we all had a good time.  I thought I would share a bit of what we did with Uncataloged readers as you head off to conferences, Rotary meetings, or anywhere else where you stand up in front of a group.

First off, we planned.  Lindsey and I did an agenda, revised the agenda, talked on the phone, emailed, shared our powerpoints, and met the morning of.  I've been in sessions where the participants appeared to engage with each other for the first time on the podium.  For us, the planning really helped.

Changing the Space
The chairs were set up in straight rows--we just rearranged them into slight curves, which felt more conversational and friendly.  We put up big pieces of brown paper and asked participants to share their thoughts on what they love and what they hate about presentations as they entered.  Even this little bit of change communicates that a session might not be the same old thing.

PowerPoint
Yes, we used PowerPoint, but we wanted to show that presentations can be fast-paced and compelling. We started by thinking about Pecha Kucha (20 slides/20 seconds per slide) as a starting point and discovered we could go even faster.   Lindsey's presentation was about how to do a bad Powerpoint, and she did it by actually doing a great version of a bad Powerpoint.  It's below, followed by my Powerpoint on what makes a good presentation. 


In addition to Pecha Kucha, we modeled two other presentation techniques. Drawing on ideas about multiple intelligences, we asked participants to draw (not write about) their idea of what a conference participant in 2111 would look like (you can find the framework at the end of my Powerpoint above).   Of course, there was some grumbling about not being able to draw,  but it produced some interesting results, spurring lively conversation.   We tried a stand-up interview as our next technique, leading one participant to comment, "It works so well we're now asking you questions about the project, rather than about interviewing!"   

Our final assignment (accompanied by candy) was small group work. We took real session titles from the conference and asked small groups to design participatory, engaging conference sessions.  From dropping a vase in a session on collections care to role-playing the closing of a historic site, the results were great.  And the results were gained by really lively conversations--and that, to me, is the sign of a great session--when everybody's ideas are in play.

We made sure we had some time at the end to debrief. Participants were also encouraged to ask questions along the way and we both got out from behind the podium.   There was nothing miraculous about our recommendations.  They are ones we know from our work with museum audiences, but somehow those techniques are often forgotten when we step in front of that conference podium.  It's just like working with school groups--if you don't approach the task with joy and enthusiasm (and a sense of humor) why would they?

We'd love to hear about other great suggestions for making any presentation more memorable.   What techniques have you found effective?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank YOU! I hate going to presentations with "Talking Heads" (not to be confused with a great band of the same name) that are only reading what they put up on the screen for all to read. It looked like a great workshop and I am sorry I missed it. thanks for posting it for all to read!

Susie Wilkening said...

This looks fantastic. I'm sorry I missed it and delighted that Lindsey more than filled my shoes! Thanks, Lindsey!

Lindsey Baker said...

Susie, I'm not sure I "more than filled" your shoes, but we definitely had fun! Thanks for thinking of me as a fill-in. And Linda, thanks for posting!

Andy Verhoff said...

Thanks for posting this, Linda and Lindsey. I'll recast the presentations I do in your light.

Linda Norris said...

Susie, we missed you, but as you can see, Lindsey did a great job--Anonymous, thanks for reading, and Andy, thanks for attending and reading!

And when I think about what made the session, it really was about the idea of letting loose a bit, having fun...maybe that's the most important lesson.

Ron Potvin said...

I was sorry to miss this session at AASLH, since I was presenting in a session at the same time. Wow, bullet-point overload in at least one of my slides for sure. I find it interesting that even as museums have clearly become public institutions, we maintain academic presentation models when we talk to each other. We learn by watching others, so we need to break the cycle.

P.S.: I couldn't help noticing that the man sitting behind Einstein appears to be sleeping. Perhaps even Albert needed some public speaking tips.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks Ron--I know, I'd like to meet you one of these days, rather than virtually in various ways--perhaps we'll have to figure out a way. And you bring up an interesting point--with all we know about learning, why are academic institutions still using that same model? But certainly, museums need to do better and hope this provided a bit of inspiration for some....

janice said...

Sorry I missed the session (I think I was speaking somewhere else in the building at the time). I really appreciate you posting it for us all. Coincidentally today's Dilbert gives us a great idea for Powerpoints:http://www.dilbert.com/strips/comic/2011-09-27/

Heather Widener said...

Thank you Linda! We enjoyed the session. One of the VAM council members, Gary Sandling, blogged about it for us! You can see that here: http://vamuseums.blogspot.com/2011/09/end-of-powerpoint.html. Take care, Heather Widener, Communications Director, VAM

Sarah C. said...

The presentation was great. I was especially inspired by the 20x20 idea and the interview format.

I do have to say though, I still hated the small group breakout. Guess it comes down to multiple intelligences or some such thing!

Linda Norris said...

Heather--thanks for sharing the VAM blog, and thanks Gary for blogging about it. Sarah C--so I'd like to know more (because I am one of those people who do like small groups)--what is it you don't like about them? But thanks for coming and playing along :)

Ron Potvin said...

Linda, I'm sure we'll run into each other one of these days. I'll be at NEMA in November, but then I think I'm conference free until Salt Lake City. Our students, about 12 of them, will be making presentations on their summer practicum experiences next week. We have asked them to present five things they learned, with five slides, in five minutes, our modified version of Pecha Kucha.