31 comments on “How do you plan a successful presentation?

  1. Well, I’m hardly the expert but no one else has replied yet… and as I’ve been reflecting on the motivations for which people do things, learn new things, experiment and change or don’t change, I’ve got 2 pennies to add to the pot.

    It’s some advice I picked up from Sinek via TED and actually, one of my students (the one who has TED as an i-phone app🙂 reminded me of this morning when I was trying to convince him to do something new…

    Start with the Why.

    (sidebar- I hadn’t done, so he cheekily got up and demoed Sinek for me)

    Anyway,

    why you’re there in the room doing the presentation but most importantly why they’re there in the room with you and how that being there is just gonna just change their lives (teaching practices) forever more….

    • I agree with Karenne about starting with the Why! Like Karenne, I don’t feel I’m an expert but I have given presentations and I will provide answers to your questions based on this experience. Maybe someone will glean something even if you have probably heard all this before!🙂 I’ve been speaking about various topics this past year and one of the things I do after the general introductions is say, “Why should you care?” then go about answering this question. Obviously, they chose my presentation so they have some vested interest but I like to make a real world connection. This is what I do with my students to motivate them to learn. I am by far no expert. I defer to you and have learned a lot from seeing you present and by reading this blog. However, I have had some very successful presentations by my standards. I always begin with a smile. Beforehand, I remind myself what I want the audience to take away from the presentation. I go over what I want them to do after the presentation and how I will convince them to take action. This way I stay motivated and passionate about my topic. Getting an audience to take action is a challenge. An audience may reflect on the message and even ponder the message, however, to get a person to act is a much more challenging task. I try to picture myself as one of the audience members and figure out what it would take as that audience member to persuade myself to action. This means I also learn as much as I can about my audience. I’ve been able to do this by asking audience participants I know from my PLN through my blog or on Twitter. I find social media extremely valuable in gathering information about the audience. I’ll know their level, if they are familiar with my topic, age, and more. I sometimes interview an audience member to try and determine the mindset.

      I have been reading The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs which is an amazing book full of useful advice for adding passion to a topic. You’re pretty passionate from the presentations I’ve seen. I believe as long as you keep this passion and believe your topic is important then you will continue to be great. I end by answering the initial question, “Why should they care?” In the middle of the presentation I show a video and do a type of discussion activity. For my PLN and Twitter presentation, I have the audience come up with any question they don’t know the answer to then I give them a minute to ask the people near them. I time them as a kind of joke. When the time is up then I ask who had their questions answered. Only a few do and we find out the question and answer. Then I ask who didn’t have their questions answered. The question is presented and I ask the entire room if anyone has an answer. Someone always does. I explain that is how a PLN online works, when the person has a question they can present it to many in their field and usually find a reliable answer quickly. This has been a successful hook for this presentation as well as my We Connect Video project, http://weconnect.pbworks.com/, where several members of my PLN say why they participate in social media. I also create a wiki for each presentation and every one is given a card with the wiki details and how to connect with me. I end by asking/ answering questions and speaking with the audience members individually. This is for a smaller presentation.

      I think keynotes are a bit different. You have a larger audience and many have to leave quickly to catch the next workshop or smaller presentations. When I’ve given keynote presentations I start with an anecdote or story the audience is familiar with and try to draw them in and surprise them by the conclusion. I really enjoyed how Luke Prodromou did this at ISTEK. I enjoyed the story of the 2 teachers and how the one I picked was the wrong answer. This anecdote caused me to reflect on my own practice. I also enjoyed your tie in to the story about the girl in a Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. I loved reading how her English improved and have even purchased the book.

      • Hi Shelley,

        thank you for your comments which were – whatever you say – full of wisdom, I thought.

        I agree with you about 2 million percent that the big deal is passion. If a speaker has it they can move mountains. It’s a dangerous commodity, of course, because audiences can be carried away by passion and lead to places they don’t necessarily want to go to! But without it a talk is just a talk.

        You are right, I am sure, to ask that ‘why should you care?’ question. it’s really important. As a planner, I guess you have to believe that the audience will take something special away from the session…

        Of course, trying to persuade people that the DO care, or OUGHT to…that’s something else. I tried to do that last Friday. I THINK it worked. But that’s the thing with audience feedback; what you get as an instant reaction may have no connection with any lasting impression that people take away with them.

        I agree with trying to include some kind of discussion activity in the middle to break things up – but Will’s comments here are interesting in that respect. Some teachers would prefer to listen.

        Oh gosh! It’s fun to prepare presentations, scary, great when they go well, absolutely devastating when you haven’t quite answered the why (should they care?) question.

        For me, the whole thing is a kind of work-in-progress. One day I’ll know!!

        Jeremy

    • Hi Karenne,

      so sorry it taken me DAYS to reply.

      Life, sometimes!

      Thank you for reminding us of the ‘why’ of it all. In the midst of putting together slides, trying out ideas etc the basic why sometimes gets lost. Like writing or lesson planning, really.

      But I must have your ‘why’ question in my mind, at least subconsciously. My presentation using the teacher video clips morphed into a discussion of what beliefs must motivate the teachers as they describe a successful lesson. Could the watchers/audience divine the beliefs that must have been present when a teacher chose to do a certain activity, for example?

      = why!

      Because the question alsays is something like ‘hey that’s a great technique you are using in your lesson, but why are you using it? What do think it will achieve, really!’

      Jeremy

  2. In medicine there is a huge difference between teaching, persuading and presenting at conferences, so I assume that holds true in other disciplines.

    When persuading, you call on emotional messages and images to get people to change their minds about their health, donating money, volunteering etc.

    When presenting, you use statistics and references to prove that you have done your research. Your audience won’t be tested on their recall but you will be tested by your audiences questions.

    When teaching, you need to find ways to focus attention and improve the chances that your students will remember information. The best way to do this is to actively engage the students mentally and physically in learning.

    I teach a SET, BODY, CLOSURE approach to planning teaching sessions that is too lengthy to discuss here, but I did write briefly about it here http://medicaleducation.wetpaint.com/page/TIPS

    • Hi Deirdre,

      thank you SO much for coming in from the outfield! I mean, of course, from outside the world of language teaching.

      I had a look at your TIPS page – and the Set-Body-Closure approach looks really interesting. I frequently write about lesson planning for example, and the next time I do that i will have a good re-look at your scheme and try its applicability across a range of situations!

      I agree with you about emotional messages etc. And I certainly agree that you have to go into a presentation knowing your facts; your listeners will evaluate you on your ability to roll with it!

      Thanks so much for coming along!

      Jeremy

  3. hi there Jeremy!

    I was looking forward to finding many comments down this post, by the usual suspects that always post here, and also I considered not commenting myself for I’m no expert, maybe your being an authority in the subject scared us a bit. However, your final sentence on it (that is doesn’t get any easier) invites us to do so, also my willingness to learn overshadowed my self-confidence, so I’ll try to engage in this conversation and hope that others do so before you move on to the next post.

    – How to start: I like to let the audience know why I’m there and why I chose to talk about what I’ll talk about. I feel that it’s important to show that the subject is ‘in’ me, and that I have experienced it. I don’t want to sound like a TV announcer.
    Engaging the audience with pair-work activities and things like that is nice, but I don’t really like it, neither as a participant, I think that very good speakers don’t need that, I use this technique when I don’t have a good opening. This is a very personal opinion though. I remember that when I attended a whole day workshop with you in Sao Paulo, the one about fluency in January, the session I enjoyed the most was the one you talked the most, in which you started with a story about a football player who learnt his L2 in a very unusual way and you were really excited telling the story, and things like that. The session I didn’t like was one full of group work right from the beginning. But I guess I’m minority in this aspect.

    – How to end: I have no idea. I usually leave this to improvisation, and it works fine, throughout the session I try to get a feeling of the audience and see how they respond to the different activities and sub-topics, so the end is a reinforcement of the best part of the talk, which can’t be planned ahead. This is risky, but gives you the rush, the excitement of spontaneous speech, I like it.

    By the way this is a question I’d like to ask you, it can even become a new post. What about improvisation? How do you deal with it? How much of your talks are improvised? I’m a big fan of improvisation, it gives talk an organic touch, and it shows the speaker really knows the subject and is really responsive to the audience.

    Planning – An over planned talk sounds like a TV show, in that case I didn’t need to be there, I could read the speaker’s paper or book, or his references, I don’t know. This is difficult to answer, in my experience it’s like writing a song, sometimes you start with the lyrics, sometimes with the melody, sometimes you only have the title, and then… you never know. That’s the beauty of it.

    While thinking about this, I found useful to read your post
    https://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/what-are-presentations-and-plenaries-etc-for/

    and The Presentation Reformation by David Moran, on the latest issue of the IH Journal http://ihjournal.com/

    It’s funny you’ll be talking about the END in the closing plenary of BRAZTESOL, which means we’ll have to wait till the next conference to know how to end it properly. : ))

    • I’m not terribly experienced in giving talks, but I’ve sat through a few. I agree with Willy: I’m not there to do pairwork. I don’t really want to hear what the person sitting next to me has to say. I’m there to listen to the speaker. I often wonder if it’s only TEFLers who insist on engaging their audience in this way… treating them as students rather than fellow professionals? Afraid of too much PTT (Presenter Talk Time)? But, frankly, I feel a bit ripped off. Always strikes me as a bit of a time-filler.

      • Hi Mark,

        thank you so much for this.

        Yes, I think all presenters (myself included) are a bit scared of PTT!! And we think the audience might feel cheated if it’s only us who do the talking.

        You and Willy have made me reassess this.

        Thank you!

        Jeremy

  4. Hi Willy,

    you know what I appreciate most (really) about your comments is feedback from that ‘Fluency’ workshop day in São Paulo. It has made me think.

    A worry that many presenters have (myself included) is that if the speaker just talks and talks, people will get bored. We build pair and groupwork into our sessions to try and keep people engaged, and to try and value their input etc.But I have also had times in other people’s talks when i have wanted less pairwork and more input!

    I guess it depends on how long the session is for? A 60-minute talk to hundreds of people is different from a 6-hour workshop, perhaps?

    As for improvisation, well it’s the same bind as for teachers, especially in observed lessons, I think. If something comes up do you run with it or do you keep on with what you are doing. If you run with it you risk your whole plan falling to pieces – in front of the observer!! Or, in our case, in front of maybe hundreds of people….

    And yet sometimes, just sometimes, it’s the improvisational moments that light up a session. Perhaps, again, it depends on the kind of talk that is being given.

    As for the closing plenary at BRAZTESOL, well sometime ago I was asked to do a conference closing and it got me wondering/thinking about what such a thing meant.That’s what I’ll be talking about in São Paulo!

    Jeremy

  5. In the Closure, I tell people to restate your key points including the why what they are learning is important, give people I feeling of being successful learners, and if this is one of a series of sessions give them something to anticipate. The “no new” in my model stands for no new material in the last 5 minutes, don’t let people leave with a feeling you didn’t finish your talk by saying something like “well of course there is the reinhouse issue and the millar complaint, oh well I’m out of time”

    • Hi Deirdre,

      I really like that thing about having ‘no new’ in the last 5 minutes. I remember one talk I went to where the speaker threw in something really important in the last few minutes, and i remember thinking how outrageous that was, because she had no time to develop an argument for it…

      I agree with you 100% that in a ‘goof’ talk the speaker does not run out of time – that he or she gets to the closure bit on time.

      (I do try, honestly!)

      Jeremy

  6. Thanks for posting this, Jeremy, and thank you to all the people who have commented. I have picked up some real pearls here (about planning and giving presentations).

    – Jason

    • Hi Jason,

      well it’s always interesting, isn’t it, to try and do it better!

      I am fascinated by this issue of whether being made to do pairwork in a presentation is unattractive – as if the audience is being ripped off. What’s your take on that? Because if Mark and Willy are right, then a whole plank of presenter behaviour gets knocked away…..

      Hmm.

      Jeremy

      • You know what? I think the point is pretty valid, as personally I sort of do not like the chummy pairwork stuff in presentations, either. I am there to hear the speaker, and to think a little and digest things at my own pace. Longer workshops are a different matter, of course, but if we are talking a 30-50 minute session, I do not really want to have 15 minutes of that taken up with pairwork – unless it is deeply intrinsic to and will feed back into the talk itself. As one of your commenters mentioned, we do not really want to be made to feel like we are taking a class…

        But that leads me to two other conclusions:

        1. If we do not like all this pairwork in sessions, perhaps many of our students feel the same way when we use it so much in our lessons (!)

        2. You are 100% right – I have in the past been a proponent of this pairwork and group discussion thing in my own presentations, and now I am sitting here thinking: how and why did so many of us presenters get caught up in that if it is actually not all that popular with our audiences?

        Perhaps no-one thought to ask – until this post came along… Better late than never, I say!

  7. Well, Jeremy, like most discussions we’ll have many ‘it depends’.

    Getting back to the Fluency one I attended, you HAD to do pair work and stuff, that was what everyone expected I guess, because it was a session on how-to / practical activities to engage your students, and notoriously this a good way to show the material. So I guess pair-work is useful when you want to give teachers a taste of an activity, but that should be the aim and not ‘engaging’ ‘keeping them awake’, as I said, that is an artifice for boring speakers. (wow, I know that by saying it I’ll lose some friends, but that’s what I think at the moment) I’m saying that as a teacher who goes to talks, conferences, etc. As a speaker myself, I’m sure I’m boring at times…

    I agree with Mark, it’s a TEFLer’s thing, I had that clear at IATEFL. I watched presentations of researches in metaphors or critical global educators or stuff like that in which there was PW, oh c’mon, gimme a break! On the other hand, the only two sessions I attended that was meant to show practical activities were terrific and there were plenty of PW. They were Marisa Constantinides’s and Bethany Cagnol’s.

    At the end it’s the presenter’s duty to read the conference’s guidelines and know the difference between a talk and a workshop, these names are self-explanatory, aren’t they?

    • Hi Willy,

      I think you are getting it about right, here. It’s what I thought in response to Jason’s comments (above). Pairwork in presentations IS a good thing if there is a genuine purpose to it. But if it just to make people feel ‘included’, then maybe it’s a waste of time.

      It IS surely entirely reasonable to get participants to DO things in a presentation – just as it IS OK to get students to work in pairs to got through some reading comprehension questions together (= two heads are better than one). Or is it?

      I wonder whether it might be fun to do a conference workshop on groupwork and pairwork and try to tease out whether your opinion is shared by many (my sneaking suspicion is that it is!)

      But that would involved quite a lot of pairwork!!

      Jeremy

  8. Hardly qualified to comment on this matter, but just wanted to say that for my 10 minute slot presenting resources for the British Council this week I started with a mystery –

    Me ‘I am going to show you a video of people answering the question “Is life in the UK what you expected?”. Who do you think you’ll see in the video?’

    – It got people engaged, I think. However, I was guilty of getting people to do pairwork to share ideas for using the resource and answering my question above.

    I guess much of the approach to the presentation depends on what exactly you are presenting. I was showing off a resource, so I had questions about the resource. I imagine you might start a presentation differently if you are presenting a book/methodology/technological tool/other thing…

    As everyone’s said, thanks for the post and thanks to everyone else for interesting comments. It’s good to read as a (very) novice presenter in the field.

    • Hi Mike,

      (and I wish I had been there to watch your ‘gang’ – well the gang you were in!)

      Your example is a good one. Is it OK (would Willy approve?!!) if you say ‘get into pairs and guess what the video will show?’ That gets people ‘tuned in’, as you say, I think.

      I had people watch some teacher videos last week and they had to say what the teacher appeared to believe in and whether they could use the same technique. My justification was that if I put pople in pairs participant A might have seen something that participant B missed and vice versa. I assumed that my participants (47 Malaysian B Ed students, some ex-CELTA trainees, some MA and PhD students) would appreciate this technique. Now I am not so sure…

      Jeremy

  9. Jeremy,

    I have to second your reference to “something to hang your ideas on” – a framework. It is so important – whether that be a metaphor, a narrative, a repeated mantra, an organizer etc…. You did it well in the one presentation you gave a few years ago about teacher development using the “Angel of the North” and then a kind of construction schemata around that. I often start with an optical illusion, asking the audience to find something. I then make it appear and this foreshadows my own attempt to “reveal” — and that is all a lecture is, teaching is IMHO – guiding others from the unknown to the known.

    I often do this by creating a scenario. Most successful has been the old CSI – here’s the murder victim and now let’s discover the cause of death….. I also often tell a joke at first and then keep referring my main points back to that punchline.

    One other thing I’d like to mention – I’m a constructivist and I think it the duty of any presenter to understand their audience and respect their intelligence. That’s a broad topic/dynamic but essentially it means at times, letting go and giving the mic to the people – let them share their ideas and capacities. Not cheating anyone by doing this – it is all in HOW you do it. Time is precious, respect that along with the mind of the audience. I’ve been to too many that don’t respect the audience, their brains or their beautiful beings.

    David

    • Hi David,

      thanks for mention of ‘Angel of the North’ memory. And yes, the whole point of that was to try and find some visual metaphor for some things I wanted to say, and something that people might remember. On the other hand the worry may well be, sometimes, that people ONLY remember the angel and not the other stuff – I mean the meat of the talk.

      I very much like your CSI approach, and it is certainly one which kicks off a talk in grand style.

      As for co-construction, I think that really works well. But how do you avoid irritating people like Willy!!

      Jeremy

  10. English Raven :
    You know what? I think the point is pretty valid, as personally I sort of do not like the chummy pairwork stuff in presentations, either. I am there to hear the speaker, and to think a little and digest things at my own pace. Longer workshops are a different matter, of course, but if we are talking a 30-50 minute session, I do not really want to have 15 minutes of that taken up with pairwork – unless it is deeply intrinsic to and will feed back into the talk itself. As one of your commenters mentioned, we do not really want to be made to feel like we are taking a class…
    But that leads me to two other conclusions:
    1. If we do not like all this pairwork in sessions, perhaps many of our students feel the same way when we use it so much in our lessons (!)
    2. You are 100% right – I have in the past been a proponent of this pairwork and group discussion thing in my own presentations, and now I am sitting here thinking: how and why did so many of us presenters get caught up in that if it is actually not all that popular with our audiences?
    Perhaps no-one thought to ask – until this post came along… Better late than never, I say!

    Yes, Jason, it DOES make you think about pairwork in class too. I wonder if pairwork in presentations is like pairwork in class; you need to know WHY you are using it and what people will get out of it. If it just means ‘talk about things because I think that’s more ‘humanistic’, then that may not be a good enough reason, but if something is actually achieved??

    I begin to wonder whether the kind of pairwork in presentations that simply goes to show that there are many opinions about something (which is the kind of default mode, I think), is actually valid…

    Jeremy

    English Raven :
    You know what? I think the point is pretty valid, as personally I sort of do not like the chummy pairwork stuff in presentations, either. I am there to hear the speaker, and to think a little and digest things at my own pace. Longer workshops are a different matter, of course, but if we are talking a 30-50 minute session, I do not really want to have 15 minutes of that taken up with pairwork – unless it is deeply intrinsic to and will feed back into the talk itself. As one of your commenters mentioned, we do not really want to be made to feel like we are taking a class…
    But that leads me to two other conclusions:
    1. If we do not like all this pairwork in sessions, perhaps many of our students feel the same way when we use it so much in our lessons (!)
    2. You are 100% right – I have in the past been a proponent of this pairwork and group discussion thing in my own presentations, and now I am sitting here thinking: how and why did so many of us presenters get caught up in that if it is actually not all that popular with our audiences?
    Perhaps no-one thought to ask – until this post came along… Better late than never, I say!

  11. Englishraven,

    I really think the point of pair/group work in our classes is completely different than that of a presentation. It is for them to focus on “production” and not just receptive skills. I still believe that we have to increase ttt in classes but of course this doesn’t mean as Jeremy pointed out, “discussion for discussion’s sake”. How you do it is important and the basic question for the teacher is how to make it “purposeful”. But in a presentation for teachers and for training, the point of group/pair work is not on helping their language skills (though that might be a secondary aim). It is about engaging with the content and offering their own wealth of background, experience, knowledge to others. So I think we are comparing apples and soccer balls….

    David

  12. Hi David,

    thanks for the apple and football!

    I was about to agree with you wholeheartedly – student pairwork is different – but then I had two thoughts.

    The first is this: the way that some people have talked about pairwork in presentations sounds exactly the same as the way some students have moaned abut pairwork in class. They may b different activities, but they sometimes produce the same result.

    Secondly, your mention of the word ‘purposeful’; maybe that’s the key. If a presenter can give participants something purposeful to do, then it’s OK. Hey, but wait a minute, it’s sometimes good just for people to talk?

    This gets more confusing as we go on, I think. What WOULD purposeful pairwork be like in a presentation?

    Jeremy

  13. Jeremy,

    I’m finally getting more summer free time and getting back to your thoughts!

    For me, any pair/group activity can be made “purposeful” and empowered such, IF the presenter has the courage and politeness to explain why every one is doing it. That’s the best approach – the most direct one. I prefer inductive learning best. So, the audience does the activity and then the presenter , connects the activity with the wider topic. But the other way around works to. Explain, lecture, pontificate but then say, “hey, let’s get in pairs and try this. It will show clearly why “x” is important / how “x” can be used etc….

    But I think it is up to the presenter to really be sure to link the activity to the lecture topic. In a very strong, personal and if possible researched/referenced fashion. That’s what I see anyway.

    David

  14. Great!! No comments!!!
    BUT, being a beginner I must confess that reading the all your responses illuminated me.
    Sir, I’m from Nepal and over here we experience a very different situations while being with the learners. They are too hesitant even to speak out their names. Students hardly dare to talk with their teachers. As fluency is a matter of practice, we can’t imagine acquiring it without exposure to it.
    May I request you to share your experience on how we can overcome cultural factors that hinder second language learners….

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