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Tip of the Week: Presentation skills from the experts that translate to the classroom

I think we sometimes forget that every time we step in front of a room full of students, we are performers. I’ve heard some make the comment:

“I’m here to teach. Not to entertain.”

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. But I’m not talking about entertainment here, simply trying to keep all the cats in a herd by doing a song and a dance without any real purpose. Think the last day of school around 1:30.

I’m talking about performing. The idea that I have information and knowledge and wisdom to transfer. And the way to get all of that stuff across is through a performance – the act of emotionally grabbing a group of people and sucking them into your world. There’s a difference. And there’s also tons of brain research out there that can help us make our performances as effective as possible. Find some of that research here, here, here, and here.

It’s not just educators who use this research to connect with others. A recent article over at Entrepreneur highlights what this can look like in the world outside of the classroom. The article describes the presentations of Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, and how he uses specific brain-based strategies to suck audiences into his world.

You need to head over to get the full details but I like how the article highlights five specific presentation techniques that Federighi does very effectively, techniques that you can — and should — use in your classroom:

1. Raise the energy level. Federighi doesn’t just walk on stage. He leaps, strides and exudes passion and enthusiasm in his voice and gestures. He has a smile on his face. He laughs easily. His energy level is high — much higher than the average presenter.

Most people deliver a presentation in the same tone of voice and use the same energy as though they were speaking in hushed tones to a colleague in the hallway. A mission-critical presentation is not a casual conversation. It’s a performance. A performer such as Federighi brings up the energy in the room as soon as he walks in.

2. Make people laugh. Most business presentations are dry, boring and stuffy. Federighi didn’t get the memo. Right out of the gate he injects humor in his presentation. He kicked off a discussion of the new Apple operating system, “Yosemite,” by poking fun at the “crack product-marketing team” that develops names.

3. Keep your body language ‘open.’ Federighi has commanding presence. He doesn’t cross his arms or slouch. He has a constant smile and maintains an open posture, which means his palms are up and his arms are kept above the waist. Your body language speaks volumes before you say a word.

4. Design simple, visual slides. If you use slides as part of your performance, makes them good slides. Look at this. Or this.

5. Stick to the 10-minute rule. John Medina, a University of Washington brain researcher, came up with the “10-minute rule.” He says that no matter how engaging a speaker is, the audience will naturally tune out after approximately 10 minutes. The cure is to build in soft-breaks to re-engage the audience. Federighi doesn’t break the 10-minute rule.

Some teachers call this the chunk and chew method. Give kids a chunk data over 10-15 minutes. Then give them another 5-10 minutes to chew on that data. Think / Pair / Share. Graphic organizers. Quick writes. Small group discussion. Kahoot questions.

And, no, you’ll probably not ever speak in front of a huge audience but you can and should use the same techniques to make your performance as effective as possible.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am a camp counselor and have been for many years. We sing and dance and talk excitedly to teach the kids

    June 14, 2014
  2. When I was a school principal I learned no matter how bad the phone call was and how bad the news was when I left my office I had to have a big smile on my face, otherwise the students I interacted with thought I was mad at them. I guess being a good presenter needs a little bit of the fake it til you make it business.

    June 23, 2014
    • glennw #

      I think you’re right!


      June 24, 2014
  3. Reblogged this on My Blog: Teaching with technology. and commented:
    I agree, when you step in front of a class, most students are expecting your best!

    July 1, 2014
  4. I agree, students expect our best when we are in front of the classroom.

    July 1, 2014
    • glennw #

      Thanks for the quick comment! Appreciate it!


      July 2, 2014

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