Friday, December 4, 2009

How NOT to give a presentation

I have been interested to read a personal account of a presentation by Danah Boyd that went badly wrong. In her blog post, Danah gives a very emotional account of what she did, and her reaction when things turned to custard. I applaud Danah's honesty, however I believe her account demonstrates beautifully how NOT to give a presentation.

There were a few issues going on that I do not want to go into here - you can read about it in Danah's post and the following comments. Nevertheless, here are the lessons about presenting that have been reiterated to me by reading Danah's story.

"A week before the conference, I received word from the organizers that I was not going to have my laptop on stage with me. The dirty secret is that I actually read a lot of my talks but the audience doesn't actually realize this because scanning between my computer and the audience is usually pretty easy. So it doesn't look like I'm reading. But without a laptop on stage, I have to rely on paper."
Do not rely heavily on technology

"I basically decided to read the entire speech instead of deliver it."
Do not read a talk/speech/presentation

"When I showed up at the conference, I realized that the setup was different than I imagined. The podium was not angled, meaning that the paper would lie flat, making it harder to read and get away with it. Not good."
Check out the venue and equipment beforehand

"... figured that I knew the talk well enough to not sweat it."
Know your talk inside out

"I only learned about the Twitter feed shortly before my talk. I didn't know whether or not it was filtered. I also didn't get to see the talks by the previous speakers so I didn't know anything about what was going up on the screen."
Be familiar with the program, not just what you are talking about

Questions for us to consider
In a follow up comment, Jeff Hurt asked Danah some hard questions about her attitudes to presenting...questions we can all think about as we prepare to give presentations.

1) Who is the presentation for? You, your audience or your conference organizer?
2) When did you really lose the audience's attention?

3) If the audience is not getting your message, is it their fault or yours?

4) Are presentations supposed to be data dumps, even those by scholars and researchers?

5) If you could have a magic wand, stop time and walk around the room to peek inside each attendee's head to see how they were reacting to your presentation, would you do it? And if you would do it, what if what you saw them thinking was totally different than your scripted speech? What would you do then?

6) Have you thought about getting more formal training in presentation delivery skills, how to handle hecklers (whether verbal or in writing), how to engage your audience, how not to read a speech, etc?

7) Have you thought about getting some coaching on how to manage your emotions so this doesn't happen again and so you walk on stage confident in your message and in yourself as a presenter?

8) Do you really want to continue professional speaking? Is that your passion, your best and highest use?

What we can learn from Danah's experience
Here are some key pointers to help us become better presenters.
  • Know what we're saying
  • Know our audience
  • Know where we're saying it
  • Know how we're saying it
A big 'thank you' to Danah for being so open with her reflections and allowing us the opportunity to learn from her experience.

Image: 'danah at the OCLC event at ALA+2007+in+Seattle' Marc_Smith


Jean Jacoby said...

I think the article raises a more interesting point - that of Twitterfeeds and the responsibilities that come with using them... having seen them in action at e-fest, where they were used during one of the keynotes, I remain unconvinced. Tweets are often so instant they come before a speaker has fully developed a theme. Comments on content are fine, but relatively pointless if the speaker can't see the feed; comments are less fine when they become personal or irrelevant to the context. One has to wonder why the tweeters in the Web 2.0 conference didn't simply call out, 'slow down'? Is it possible that it's more fun to hijack a talk via twitter? I wonder what it says about power relationships in new audiences! Certainly it seems that technology is advancing ahead of the etiquettes needed to make them work!

Sarah Stewart said...

That's the discussion I didn't want to get into...there's lots of interesting comments for and against Twitter backchat at conferences that you can find in blogs etc.

I still think you're less likely to get this sort of problem if you really engage the audience.

M-H said...

I have another question that has occured to me when reading about these events around the blogosphere: Where was the chair of the session? Why did s/he not get up and stop the twitter stream, especially once the comments became sexist and insulting?

I know Danah. She is an intense young woman and is a nervous presenter at the best of times; her presentations are cerebral rather than populist. She does engage her audience, but not in a razz-mat-tazz kind of way. I would suspect that the kind of audience that would post sexist comments on a twitter stream wasn't the right one for her paper.

Sarah Stewart said...

I'm left with the feeling that we're no better than the Romans...they used to watch the lions eat Christians...we watch people being devoured by Twitter.