You stand at a podium looking out at glazed-over eyes. Behind you, your PowerPoint slides. You are an instructor in a big auditorium or a boss at a meeting. Your slides are on a big screen behind you.
Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose common sense.Gertrude Stein 1
Perhaps the eyes before you are not fogged at all, but riveted to little glowing rectangles held in hands. In Anglo-American culture, for the most part, we have considered it rude to look away when someone is speaking to us. However, in classrooms, workshops, and meetings, we now often look away, especially if we are part of a large audience.
I am no exception. I too have found myself at times with downcast eyes at gatherings, especially if the presentation was of information I already knew. Or if the speaker’s presentation was basically a reading of the slides. I had already read the slides, which was faster, of course, than listening to the speaker. Once I “got” it, that is, the information, I would stop listening to the speaker. So, alas, I too would then surf on my phone or laptop, work-related surfing perhaps, but rude nonetheless. And I am not a millennial.
So now, like someone prompted by the New York City MTA’s “Courtesy Counts, Manners Make a Better Ride” signs on the subway who gives up their seat to an older or disabled person, I try to give my undivided attention to the speaker, no matter what. I don’t even put my cell phone in plain sight on the conference table anymore. Awake at work.
What about the other side? The speaker? The slides?
An audience wishing to be elsewhere. It is so obvious when you the speaker have not connected with those folks in front of you. This affects your energy and sometimes the information trying to be transmitted. No wonder so many people fear public speaking more than death.
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.Jerry Seinfeld 2
However, many of us now are asked to give presentations or teach workshops. For the sake of career and public reputation, we say, “yes, sure, I’ll explain the quarterly report to the board next week, I’ll teach that class on HTML for beginners.” And then …
And then we go to make our slides
True or False? Most of the slide presentations you’ve seen in the last year have not been stellar and many have been boring or unreadable. And often these slides did not help the speakers connect to their audiences. And it is not just a matter of making your text large enough or using just so many bullets.
But before there are slides, there is you, the speaker. Presentation is about presenting first of all yourself. If you could read only one book about presenting, try Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides.3 or his 10 Tips for Improving Your Presentations Today on his website. 4
Tech doesn’t always do it
I don’t think we should feel that because our tools have become more advanced, we are more advanced. The technology of the soul has not changed for a long time. Many times we use technological advances to stand in for we are more advanced. Jazz is not like that. You can come up with all the synthesizers you want. It’s still not going to be able to swing…. This music celebrates human beings and our creativity.Wynton Marsalis 5
How do we …?
How do we keep folks awake and engaged in a way that creates better listeners and speakers of us all? That creates better meetings? Better teaching sessions? Better brainstorming events? And how do we use slides to not only keep our audience awake, but engage them in learning something new or participating in a conversation, debate, or brainstorming session?
To Be Continued …
including Hegel, Eisenstein, and Stein
- Stein, Gertrude. Reflections on the Atom Bomb, 1946. First published in Yale Poetry Review, December 1947.
- Seinfeld, Jerry. goodreads.com (n.d. ) accessed 8/28/2020. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/19838.Jerry_Seinfeld.
- Reynolds, Garr. The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides. CA: New Riders, 2011.
- _______________. “10 Tips for Improving Your Presentations Today ” presentationzen.com (n.d.) accessed August 28, 2020. https://www.presentationzen.com/
- _______________. The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides. CA: New Riders, 2011:
- Mitchell, Olivia. “Seven Ways to Keep Audience Attention during Your Presentation.” speakingaboutpresenting.com (n.d.) accessed August 31, 2020. https://speakingaboutpresenting.com/content/7-ways-audience-attention-presentation/
- Zandin, Noe. “Why Do We Fear Public Speaking?“ Quantified Communications (blog) (n.d) accessed August 31, 2020. https://www.quantifiedcommunications.com/blog/why-do-we-fear-public-speaking/.
This post was originally published on January 29, 2016 and updated in September 2020.