Presenting technical, complicated material need not be a chore.
By Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP
Too many presenters say: “This is pretty dull stuff so I’ll try to get through it quickly” or “You may be bored by my presentation today, but it is really important.”
These and more are indicators of two things: The presenter is a rank amateur, and the audience has once again been noble enough not to string them up by their thumbs. In reality, these presenters are not amateurs in their field. They are accomplished medical professionals who know their stuff, just not how to convey it. The audience is eager, open and wants this presentation to succeed.
Our corporate culture, however, has beaten audiences into being polite Labrador Retrievers—ever loyal, even keeled and placid. Presenting technical, complicated material need not be a chore when you T.H.I.N.K.
(T)ransform How You Think About Your Role
Your first job is to be a memory maker, so don’t be the supplier of solely facts and data. You are there to present and inform, but more importantly, you a re there to create a learning environment. A community of learners is there to unite around your message and make something of it.
The last time you went to a comedy club, despite having a great time, you likely had trouble retelling the stories and jokes the next day for those who were not there. That is because you had a community formed around not only the presentation and digestion of material, but you were there to be entertained. If the last meeting you attended left you unable to explain what you learned it means you did not have a positive community experience. Presentations should focus on digesting content into directly applicable skills going forward.
Because there is no subject that cannot be presented without interest and enthusiasm, you can transform your mindset from that of a lecturer to a preacher, counselor and facilitator.
(H)unt For the Essence of Your Content
When you simplify, you stand a greater chance of being an educator supreme. While recently coaching a regional medical liaison for a global pharmaceutical company, a consultant was told the pharmaceutical rep feared “dumbing things down” for his audience would reduce his credibility.
The consultant encouraged the rep to speak with elegant simplicity, as that would engage the doctors in the audience to
think of the meeting as a conversation, allowing the pharmaceutical rep to directly respond to the doctors’ most pressing questions.
Imagine the difference that this rep saw when he began the conversation by sharing four quotes from patients who had taken the drug, explaining the changes they had experienced. Outcomes, after all, are the essence of why we use medication.
(I)nvestigate the Expertise Present Among Your Audience
Facilitation does not mean “boring group work.” When done effectively, it permits the attendees to meet and learn from one another. When you’re given a time frame in which to present, perhaps one hour, plan to speak for only a third to a half of the time. This allows for true interaction.
(N)et Results Make You Valuable
Pragmatism must be a goal, so think about what the audience will do with the material. Always ask yourself this question, “What do I want them to think, feel and do as a result of this presentation?”
It may help you to send an advance e-mail to all the participants at your next meeting, asking the group about their work, how they are struggling, and what they hope to learn during your time with them. This will give you a clear sense of direction that meets the audience psychologically and where they want to be professionally. Even if your next presentation is to your own team (a group that you may believe that you understand well), send the e-mail. Net results are what your boss and clients care about, because they demonstrate the value of attendance.
(K)now the Stories and Examples That Make Your Presentation Memorable
Watch the presenters at your next meeting minutes before they start. Too many of them fiddle with their slides. There comes a time, however, where professional presenters stow away their slides and commit pen to paper, noting what stories and examples they will use to accompany each visual.
This nuanced change in focus will have a dramatic change on how the audience perceives the speaker. When you personify the content with real-life stories, the audience sees you as a peer and not as a lecturer. While PowerPoint can be a great tool for visually representing data, some speakers rely too heavily on it.
To force yourself to re-focus your attention on your message and away from your slides, use a flip chart for your next presentation. As you draw and write you will focus on what the audience needs to know. Remember that some of the most intimate connections with the audience can be made with no visual aid. Your audience will remember the stories; they’ll forget about the slides.
To evaluate your progress toward becoming a masterful facilitator, just go to the restroom after your presentation—that’s where people will discuss what intrigued them, whether they were bored and whom they met during their time with you. Beware: you may only hear positive feedback from those who don’t want to hurt your feelings, but note the different reasons your participants enjoyed your presentation. When your technical or scientific presentation is compelling, you will literally have no competition.
Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP is a facilitator, medical educator and author. His latest book, Fearless Facilitation, is due out in 2013.
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