It’s been quite a a few years now (getting on for six or so, in fact) since I first got excited about Garr Reynolds' work on effective presentations. There was a time when his ‘Presentation Zen’ book and blog were like a shining beacon, both informing and reflecting my own ideas and beliefs. I remember being so excited about the idea that designing and delivering effective presentations and effective teaching were, if not essentially the same thing, then at least shared a common language and purpose. I still drop by his blog every so often and if my excitement of six years ago has been dimmed somewhat then that is more to do with personal contexts than any critique on Reynolds himself. But this recent post certainly rekindled that passion, for it strikes me that his 'Ten Tips for improving your presentations and speeches’ could easily be ten tips for improving your teaching/classroom delivery. Here I’ve swiped some key lines from his ten tips and (maybe) distilled them. I’ve dropped his eleventh point about “authenticity” because I personally think it’s a red herring, and believe that notions of “authenticity” in a mediated society are complex and divisive (which is a whole other topic for a different debate).
1 - planning: "Preparation should be analog at the beginning. Turn off the technology and minimize the distractions”. Please note, this isn’t about ‘analogue vs digital’. It’s about knowing what works best at different stages of the process.
2- put the audience first: "The message or the lesson must be accessible and useful for your particular audience”
3 - have a solid structure: "my aim was not that the audience would remember each point, but rather that one or two points would stick with each person.”
4 - have a clear theme: "If the audience only remembers one thing, what should it be? Write it down and stick it on the wall so it's never out of your sight.”
5 - remove the non-essential: "Cutting the superfluous is one of the hardest things to do because when we are close to the topic, as most presenters are, it *all* seems important. It may be true that it's all important, but when you have only ten minutes or an hour, you have to make hard choices of inclusion and exclusion.”
6 - hook ‘em early: "Start with a bang. Get their attention and then sustain that interest with variety and unexpectedness, built upon structure that is taking them some place.”
7 - show a clear conflict: this one might need a bit of tweaking, but I think it’s about explicitly referring to the 'struggle zone’ where effective learning takes places. "Make things clear, engaging, and memorable by illustrating the struggle.”
8 - demonstrate a clear change: "Too often, though, the only change the presenter creates in the audience is the change from wakefulness to sleep.”
9 - show or do the unexpected: "Make the audience aware that they have a gap in their knowledge and then fill that gap with the answers to the puzzle (or guide them to the answers).”
10 - make ‘em feel: "Yes, facts, events, structure are important, but what people remember—and what is more likely to push them to act—is the way the narrative made them feel.”
I know that to expect every one of those ten tips to be implemented in every single lesson we teach is unreasonable, but as guiding principles as to how we plan and deliver in the classroom I think they are absolutely key to success.