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Stephanie Evergreen on the Potent Presentations Initiative and Winning a Copy of Presentation Zen

Hi folks. Susan Kistler normally contributes the Saturday post on aea365, but she’s busy cleaning and updating your awesome proposals. I’m Stephanie Evergreen, AEA’s eLearning Initiatives Director and the lead of a new AEA project initiated by the AEA Board of Directors – the Potent Presentations Initiative. We’ll be identifying and sharing research-based strategies to improve the quality of evaluators’ presentations, increasing the likelihood that your message is heard, retained, and used.

Come now, you must admit that at least once in your experience you’ve fully realized what people mean when they refer to “death by PowerPoint.” We know. That’s part of why we’ve started on this mission, but definitely not the only reason.  We want to help evaluators make great presentations in whatever context, whether at a conference, working with stakeholders, or sharing your findings with the public.

In the Potent Presentations Initiative, you can expect professional development targeting slideshows, research posters, and written reports. We’ll share guidance on everything from how to improve the readability of a graph to how to deliver an engaging talk that conveys your key messages.

Hot Tip: Well, actually, that’s why I’m writing to you. What are the hot tips you have about presentations? What do you think makes them potent? You know a good presentation when you see it. What has the presenter done so well? What should you and your fellow evaluators improve? Submit your suggestions in the comments below. Oh, and we’ll make it worth your while. We’ll select, at random, one commenter from among those submitted by April 1 to win a copy of Presentation Zen (2ed) by Garr Reynolds (this new December 2011 edition has some great updates focusing in particular on delivering your message).

Rad Resource: Again, that’s why I’m here. We’re looking for two students who want to take on small research projects as part of this initiative. One study will involve interviewing fantastic presenters and the other will entail a bit of research on rhetoric. Are you interested? Good at research, writing, and in one case interviewing? Available between March and May and up for 40-50 hours of work for a $1500 stipend? Are you my rad resource? If so, send a note of interest and an example of your work to me at stephanie@eval.org by Friday March 30.

Can you extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may learn of your great ideas for improving presentations. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

32 thoughts on “Stephanie Evergreen on the Potent Presentations Initiative and Winning a Copy of Presentation Zen”

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  11. Stephanie Evergreen

    AND the winner is… Penny Black! Congrats! We’ll send Presentation Zen out to you right away.

    Thanks to all of you for participating. These are great suggestions and we’re thrilled to gather your input.

  12. Stephanie Evergreen

    I’m so geeked about all of the hot tips coming through. Keep them coming – the deadline for the book drawing is tomorrow, April 1.

    My thanks to the many people who are interested in becoming a rad resource on this project. The deadline for that has now passed, but really, I’m thrilled by the response!

  13. All of these are fantastic and useful comments that cover all the highlights of good presentation. I’d like to add one more idea. Sometimes when the exact numbers aren’t that important, statistical charts can be presented without numbers but using the color scheme and relative sizes and positions of chart elements to get the meaning across more easily. When doing this, the presenter takes the audience on an engaging tour of the “map” that is on the screen, pointing out the various relationships among the elements and how to interpret them.

  14. Wow! Great comments. A number of them have a common theme – when you use visual aids, pay attention to their design.

    And a number have a complimentary message, in that you visual aids are there to support you, it is the story that you are telling that should be the focus.

    I keep thinking of some of the great speeches of history. Martin Luther King didn’t need slides for his I have a dream speech. And, while I realize that it may be argued that there may be a difference between a presentation and a speech, attention to the narrative must be an essential component.

    I’m personally fascinated by the way people speak – the attention paid to rhythm, tone, word choice, pacing, organization, clarity. Some people seem to have a natural capacity to engage others with their voice and spoken message. I look forward to learning about rhetoric and improving my own delivery skills in particular.

  15. What a wonderfully rich discussion! I sincerely appreciate the suggestions and resources that everyone has shared in the comment thread. I’ve been to conferences and talks outside of those sponsored by AEA and notice that some presenters will give their presentations/papers by simply *reading* to their audience. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of doing so as well, but have found — and I hope others will agree — that it isn’t necessarily the most effective way of delivering a message. Rather, I was inspired by Hans Rosling and the technological aides that he used to teach about health status across the globe on gapminder.com. Though he doesn’t use tools such as PowerPoint or Keynote, I think there is much to be said about designing presentations and message delivery based on the approach that he uses.

  16. My comment for successful presentations is to remember that you are Telling a Story. A successful presentation unfolds like a good plotline, with a clear understanding of the problem, empathy developed for the participants, an inspirational sense of adventure during the solution, and a clear and well developed understanding of what it means in the end. A good storyteller/presenter will present the information is such a way that the observer feels like a participant in the journey of discovery.

  17. I like presentations where: 1) the slides are an inspiring visual accompanying the presenter’s main ideas but not a visual prompt for me to read; 2) the presenter gives an outline of the talk at the beginning (answering the “what I’m going to cover” and a final summary (answering the “why this is all so important” takeaway. Engaging the audience with a question or quiz at the beginning helps make a connection with the presenter, as does presenting a “real life” moment for the audience to reflect on. Knowing the audience is critical to framing your messages in a way that the audience will find compelling and really “hear” you.

  18. I think it’s important to remember that slides are meant to be a *visual* aid. Far too often I see PowerPoints slides that are jammed with text because the presenter wants the audience to have a handout with all the information to take home and they think that printing out their PowerPoint slides is the only way to do that, which results in having a poor quality slide show and a poor quality handout. If you want a handout with the notes, then print up a Word document with the notes. Then you can make your slides a visual support to the actual presentation!

  19. Jenna van Draanen

    My tip comes from Nancy Duarte’s book, “slide:ology” and it has really helped me improve my presentations. In Chapter 10 she writes that we often put far too much text (or just clutter) on slides because we use our slides as a crutch, and are afraid of what will happen when we remove the visual triggers that we’ve created for ourselves. Her three tips to overcome this are fabulous (she calls it the 3 R’s of letting go):

    1. Reduce. Practice presenting your slides a few times, then highlight one word per bullet point and try rehearsing again, but this time just focusing on the highlighted word. Then remove all the rest of the words and try again. Finally, if you want, replace the key words with images to better capture your audience.

    2. Record. Practice presenting and record yourself. Listen to it in your spare time to absorb the material and to notice your areas for improvement.

    3. Repeat. Practice again and again to get past the stumbling blocks. She also suggests creating flashcards, mind maps, or writing a summary of the presentation to get more comfortable and refine the material.

  20. In my experience the best presentations are those that don’t stop and start with each click to the next slide. I feel more engaged with the presenter and with the content of a presentation when prsenters use their slides as a sort of mood lighting, or background to their presentation. When content is well organized and flows logically from one point to the next, slides or visuals can be used to reinforce the verbal message as opposed to prompt it.

  21. The best advice i’ve heard is “one idea per slide.” Rather than cramming several things on one slide, separate them into individual slides. It makes the presentation much more appealing for the audience yet still requires the same amount of time to present. Fewer slides does not necessarily equal less time.

  22. Myself, I love PowerPoints to enhance a talk. The visual helps greatly to underscore the auditory input. And yes, sure, there are bad ones. A good presentation starts with:
    1. How much time do you have to present?
    2. Who’s the audience?
    3. What’s the point (objective, purpose, message)?
    4. What’s your presentation budget? [can you get help with graphics and what’s the cost?]

    Agreed that practicing and timing a presentation are crucial. I hate it when panelists show up for a 12-minute presentation with 48 slides and drone on and on [are they thinking, “my presentation is much more important than anyone else’s”?]

    You have to reach a balance between level of detail on a single slide and readability. How much detail do you need to make your point?

    I think in academia, there’s a worry that too much color, creativity, movement, emotion, humor or animated graphics takes away somehow from the seriousness of the scientific work. Again, there’s probably a balance somewhere between acute boredom and explosive screen presence.

    What’s wrong with take-away messages? It’s just summarizing – and being specific about your point. Why should that be “insulting intelligence”?

    What is “slide junk” [I googled, but got guitar stuff] and why is clip-art bad? [I googled and got nowhere]? Good quality photography for slides costs money and some of us don’t have presentation prep budgets. And let’s be specific about what an “interactive presentation” means – somehow, I don’t think that has to do with what’s happening in the slide itself. Or does it?

    So, what does it take to be a “compelling facilitator”, what is an “appealing visual” anyway, and what is an “inspiring interaction”? I think the definitions vary according to what you’re saying, who you’re saying it to, and what your overall message really is.

    Take a look at TED – the talks range in length from 3 to 20 minutes… engaging, inspiring, intelligent, well-rehearsed. Can we do these kinds of talks at AEA?

    1. To respond to one of your items in your great post Jan – good photography doesn’t have to cost a lot.

      Here’s an earlier post that gives five free photo sites with great options for presentations. http://aea365.org/blog/?p=4085

      I purchased Zoom (here’s a post on Zoom http://aea365.org/blog/?p=4920) and use it to keep my slides organized and I actually do picture finding as a hobby so I have a whole bunch ready when needed – but I tend to focus on photos that illustrate concepts.

      I haven’t had very much luck with clip art. Do you have a suggestion for a great clipart set that provides strong illustrations for your slides? I’d love to learn!

  23. I have a couple of tips for presenters:
    1. PRACTICE. Practice your presentation (out loud) before you present. This helps you figure out what you want to say, which slides are superfluous or out of order, and your timing. To me, it’s obvious when a presenter has practiced and when he/she has not.
    2. If you must include tables or charts in your presentation, make them specifically for the presentation. Don’t just copy and paste from a paper or report. Audience members rarely care about all of the numbers in a table. Pick out the important ones and make a table around those.
    Great post, thank you!!

  24. Tanai Jarosewich

    We evaluators love charts and graphs and discussions of statistical significance, and those are all important aspects of reporting our work, but sometimes we highlight these elements and forget to weave a compelling story. The tip that I would suggest is to remember that great reports and presentations tell the story of a program, creating emotional connections between ideas and explaining findings in a way that the audience can use.

  25. Great comments!

    A simple but oft-forgotten practice is to design your presentation from the point-of-view of your audience (yes, know thy audience)–but be maniacal about it. So often we make mental leaps in the content or use complex visuals. These are certainly decipherable to us–we were there for every step of their creation. But our audience wasn’t. This becomes even more critical when we’re speaking with an audience whose expertise differs from our own (which is often the case).

    A second practice I’m working on it being better about what the take-aways are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not espousing the intelligence-insulting “take-aways” slide(s). But by being clear about what you want the audience to learn or do as a result of the presentation, you’ll do a better job of organizing, trimming, prioritizing, and making ideas stick.

  26. I believe one key to a good presentation is knowing your audience and tailoring your slides, graphs, and visuals to their needs and wants. Presenting data to program planners needs to be very different than presenting data to policymakers – you can’t just use the same slides and talk about them differently.

  27. I believe in limited text and the removal of slide junk, as well as highlighting on a graph the important parts. When I am talking about graphs, I introduce circles or arrows to highlight the portion of the graph or chart to which I am referring. Helps guide the viewer.

  28. An engaging and potent presentation is one that includes a good use of visuals (high-quality pictures, no clip art please) and a minimal use of text. The facilitator should also make it interactive and engaging to the audience, especially if the topic lends itself to do so. Thanks for a great post…would love a copy of Presentation Zen!

  29. My hot tips include engaging your audience by using a touch of humor as well as believing in your audience even more than they believe in themselves. I also think the intelligent use of technology helps but should not be a distraction. Human interaction is more meaningful than using a myriad of technological advances that leave the audience yawning.

  30. Sheila Robinson Kohn

    A potent presentation is a combination of a compelling facilitator, appealing and engaging visuals, and interactions that inspire participants to process, make sense of, and construct new meaning from the information presented. A potent presenter knows something about his or her audience and the contextual factors that may impact learning. So, hot tips? Know your audience, know your content, know how to engage participants in meaningful interactions that promote learning and push their thinking. Know how to create visuals that support participants in processing the information, but don’t distract or detract from the message.

  31. Stephanie, thanks for filling in! I’m not eligible for the drawing, but thought I would add a hot tip here – for presentation design inspiration, take a look at http://noteandpoint.com/

    This site is devoted to examples of great presentations from all over the place – multiple sources, multiple styles, but all good.

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