A few weeks ago, I put up two posts on how to give a presentation.  Those posts came from a handout that I use when I talk to college students.

Next week, I'm giving the same workshop for 5th graders.  I reworked my handout for them, and I thought I'd share it here as well.  In some ways, it's a better handout, because it's shorter, clearer, and to the point.  Maybe there's something to be learned there.

Tell your audience a story

When I do a presentation, I like to think about it as a story.  A good story captures the audience’s imagination.  A really good storyteller tells the story in such a way that their audience has all the information they need to follow the plot.  They introduce all their characters.  They tell you where the story is set.  The action is logical and you can follow the plot easily.  And a good story has a satisfying ending.

Good storytellers ALWAYS keep their readers in mind.  They will tell the story differently for little kids, for older ones, and for adults. 

As a presenter, you need to do the same thing.  Before you begin, ask yourself, Who is my audience?    How much does your audience know about what you’re talking about?  If this is all new to them, you’ll need to provide more background right at the beginning. 

Beginnings, middles, & ends

Like a good story, every presentation has a beginning, middle, and end that serve very different functions.

The beginning of a story gives you and your audience a common ground and shared experience.  In a book, the author uses it to provide a setting and to introduce the main characters.  It also sets the whole story in motion by having a conflict or task that hooks you into the story.

In a talk, you would use it to tell the audience what your topic is (the characters), why the topic is interesting or important (the conflict and setting), and what the main ideas are you’ll be talking about (the characters’ characteristics and personality).

  • Ask yourself:
    • What are the main ideas?
    • Why should my audience care?

The middle of the story is where most of the action occurs.  It’s here where you develop the shared information that will move the plot forward.  In a  presentation, these are your main ideas: What are the facts?  What are intellectual puzzles you’ve grappled with? What evidence are you bringing to bear on them?  These are the complicated ideas that you want to make sure everyone understands. 

There are two steps in writing a good middle. 

  • First, lay out the plot line: the major facts that your audience needs to know to follow your study.
  • Then, ask yourself the following questions: 
  •  
    • Have you introduced each character (fact, idea, controversy) that is important in the story?
    • Have you made it clear how these ideas interconnect and relate to each other?
    • Does your plot move forward in a logical fashion?
    • Have you answered the questions that will arise in the minds of your audience?

That last question is really important.  If you gave a talk to your little brother or sister – someone who knows NOTHING about your topic – could they understand your story?

The climax of the story is when you solve the problem you laid out.  In a presentation, it’s where you make it clear why what you’re talking about is really exciting and important. 

The resolution of the story is where you tie up loose ends. 

  • Ask yourself: What is the main idea/feeling/plan that you want the group to take home with them?

Feeling Nervous?  Remember: it’s not about you.

Everybody gets nervous before they present.  It’s natural.  There are three really important things to remember that will help will your nerves:

  • Focus on what your AUDIENCE is feeling, not what you’re feeling
  • Have something interesting to say
  • Practicing helps

How to Approach the Task

  • Have something to say.  Focusing on what you’re going to do, rather than what you’re feeling, is wonderfully distracting.  That’s why having a good story to tell really helps.
  • Plan and practice.  Keep your story clear in mind.  Make sure you explain things to your audience.  And practice your talk out loud.  If you say things out loud, your mouth will knows what to do when you are too nervous to think straight. 
  • Control your body.  Feel nervous?  Slow, deep, calming breaths will slow down your heart and help you to focus.  Before a presentation (or a test!) I often wash my hands and run warm water over my wrists, because it slows down my heart and helps me focus.
  • Try to make everyone else comfortable.  Your job as presenter is to MAKE EVERYONE ELSE FEEL GOOD.  Remember, it’s not about you.  Focus on communicating your ideas.  If you focus on making them feel comfortable, you’ll worry less about yourself.

Worried about what you’ll look like? 

 Lots of people worry about what they look like in front of the audience.  Other people don’t think about it at all.  You need to strike a balance.  Again, the most important thing is to think about it from your audience’s perspective. 

  •  Ask yourself: What do you look like to them?

Choose simple clothes.  When you’re presenting to an audience, choose clothes that are comfortable and fit into the sitting.  Don’t wear something distracting.  If you’re giving a talk about an international aid organization who works on disaster relief, don’t distract your audience by wearing a funny t-shirt from your favorite band. 

Avoid annoying mannerisms. Flicking your hair over your shoulder, saying ‘um’ or ‘like’, or picking your ears all take away from the group’s focus on the ideas. 

Conclusion

You will do GREAT if you focus on these three things.  Really. 

  • Focus on the audience and helping them understand your ideas.  It’s not about you.  You’re just there to shape and facilitate a shared experience.
  • Develop a storyline.  Think about the presentation from the group or audience’s perspective and lay out a storyline that will help you all move together towards your goal.  Don’t forget to provide a setting and introduce your characters, explain how the characters move through the plot and what major action occurs, bring your talk to a climax, and provide a satisfying resolution.
  • Be a storyteller.  If you focus on getting your ideas across to your audience you will succeed.

Good luck!

© 2010 Nancy Darling. All Rights Reserved

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