A few months ago, I had the opportunity to make seven presentations to six different professional groups in six cities over seven days. As I prepared for that whirlwind week, I worried about how to make each presentation as effective as possible. I kept thinking about the “great” presentations I have attended at conferences through the years, and how they always seemed to be more like casual conversations with the presenter rather than one-sided lectures. Ever since I started presenting education sessions at conferences eight years ago, I have sought to emulate that environment. In conducting post-session evaluations, I have concluded that the key to achieving that goal is in the preparation just as much as it is in the energy brought to the actual presentation.
The process I use to prepare for an education session is outlined below. In creating this process, I have tried to balance the need for an enjoyable presentation with meeting the technical requirements to have the session be approved for continuing education units (CEUs) — to identify the need and learning outcomes. Articulating the “need” for the session (how the session adds to the body of knowledge in the field) and then generating three measurable learning outcomes for CEU approval is one of the most difficult parts of preparing a new presentation. As I work through this part of the process, I continually ask myself “How can I measure this during the session?” I keep revising it until I have a concise answer that will demonstrate the effectiveness of the presentation for the audience. For example, actions like “defining, repeating, recording and discussing” are recommended because they are easily and clearly measurable. Words like “know, grasp, understand, improve and appreciate” are not as easily measurable and are not recommended when seeking CEU approval.
1. Conduct focused research
Filling the standard 75-minute presentation slot can seem scary at first, but the first five minutes will be taken up by the introduction and another 10 or so for questions at the end…only leaving about an hour to fill with content. Because most of us are conducting secondary research (compiling research already done by others), looking for information directly related to the learning outcomes helps make the best use of time and energy.
2. Prepare material carefully and logically
A well-organized presentation will be easier for the audience to follow and help them remember the information (and it’s easier for you to present!). Here are some things to consider when putting all the pieces together:
• Use current and reliable data. Be careful to use data that is as current as possible and from reliable sources. Also realize that new data isn’t published on every topic every year.
• Visual aids. Your presentation is not the time to demonstrate that you know how to make the software perform every trick in the book. A few well-placed effects can help make your key points stand out without being distracting. Visuals should be an aid to the presentation, not the primary feature. Don’t put everything you’re going to say on the visuals — that will cause people to read the slides instead of listening to you. Visual aids should also be designed with easy-to-read text, and graphs and charts that don’t require detailed explanation. Fonts should be large and in colors that contrast nicely with the background. Speaking of backgrounds, keep it simple.
• Less is more. One of the requirements of CEU approval is an outline including the expected amount of time spent on each topic. I like to create my draft outline as I’m preparing my material, and I use it as a tool to ensure that I’m not trying to put too much information into the session. Everything should tie back to a learning outcome.
• Know your audience. The goal of a professional presentation is to share information about a topic in a way that is easy for the audience to understand. Your vocabulary, diagrams, charts, etc. should be determined not by what you know, but whom you’re presenting it to. The presentation is about sharing what you’ve learned, not just showing off that you learned it! Try to avoid technical jargon as much as possible.
• Practice. This is an absolute must. You should practice the timing of your presentation at least a few times before “the day.” It’s also helpful to get set up in your presentation environment early so you can do a quick run through to test everything.
3. Be personable
Greet people as they come in. Use (short, appropriate) personal stories in the presentation and to answer questions. Thank the audience for coming and let them know how to contact you if they have more questions.
4. Answer questions
Do not get in arguments with audience members over content. Additionally, if you are asked a question you’re not sure of the answer, admit it and offer to follow up with an answer afterward.
And last, have fun!
Christian Moore, CPRP, is Director of Cathedral Oaks Retreat Center in Weimar, Texas, and Chair Elect of NRPA’s Young Professional Network.