I am often asked to speak at conferences, meetings, and workshops on Information and Communication Technologies for Development - ICT4D. My goal is to be a lively presenter, engaging the audience as active participants in the discussion. I am succeeding at my goal from feedback like the responses above on the Learning@Hand back channel.
So what is my secret to getting kudos like that in talking about technology and development? Here are a few guidelines to being an engaged, exciting presenter.
- Start with a storyline: The first step for any good presentation is to develop a storyline. Know the story arch you want to present and build an outline of key points based on that story arch. Note the focus here - in a story. As the great Seth Godwin says, a presentation excites, motivates, inspires. You will educate the audience in the course of the talk, but don't make it the focus. That's a workshop, not a presentation.
- Think in photos: Woe to the presenter who puts more than 5 words on a slide. They are confusing a presentation with slide notes. Your slides should accentuate your point, not be Cliff Notes to remind you want to say. Your audience can and will read your words faster than you, and just be annoyed that you read so slowly out loud. Instead just use big, evocative photos that demonstrate your point. Google Image Search is your friend here. And for those that worry about image rights - if they didn't want the image used freely, they shouldn't put it online. For my presentations, I have a goal of less than 5 words for the whole presentation - including my title slide.
- Be animated: No one likes to watch grass grow, so don't just stand there clutching the podium. Grab the microphone and move out into the audience. Talk with emotion, point to your photos, point to people in the audience, raise & lower your voice, get excited, cry, do whatever the presentation calls for to get and keep your audience's attention. Trust me, they will remember your point if you make it memorable.
- Convert the audience to participants: I love asking questions to specific audience members, especially the engaged ones. Also, I do pop quizzes asking for answers to be shouted out. I make people vote by raising hands or standing up. I ask for gadget examples from the audience, like who has the oldest phone or newest tablet. Anything to make people feel they were part of the presentation, not passive receivers.
- Get personal: Big topics, like ICT4D, can often be impersonal and seem remote to the audience. I like to break through this barrier with personal stories - events or actions I experienced that tie the big, global narration to common themes we can all relate to. One of my current favorites is that yes, everyone is on Facebook, even my mom - and she "likes" every single one of my posts. Also, stopping mid-story and asking the audience what they think should happen next, especially when the next step isn't logical or expected, is a good way to make a personal story participatory.
- Go funny and positive: I love making people laugh. And if they're laughing, people will accept critique and criticism in a positive light. Often, I am discrediting theories and actions that are popular but ineffective, so the humor goes a long way to get the point across without being booed off the stage. In fact, I know I've hit the mark when the crowd erupts into laughter and then goes "oooo" when they realize the joke it on them for perpetuating these misconceptions.
- Be short: No one ever leaves a presentation saying "I wish that talk went on for another hour!" So be brief. Finish early, and spend the extra time getting mobbed by your new fans.
In general, I think I am a pretty good presenter now, or as I like to think of it, a lead discussant, by following these simple rules. Then I happen to see a presentation that really rocks and yet again humble me. Here is one of my favorites, which I re-watch often to learn from: Mark Congiusta on Power Point Failures
In fact, if you only watch one video to improve your presentation skills, please let it be this one. It gives great guidelines on how present with the right mood: funny, informal, yet highly informative.