Most people have quirks when they present. And I'm sure, although I have put forth great effort to be aware of quirks and eliminate them, I have one, or two, or three, or ...
As a matter of fact, I recall several years back I collaborated with a friend and colleague to facilitate a workshop in the Denver area, and his use of the phrase "what-not" apparently caught my attention because I did not realize until after the workshop and while reading one participant's feedback on her survey that I had picked up on his use of that phrase and had incorporated it into the last two sessions I presented at the workshop! She had actually sat and counted the number of times I had used it! *gasp* (And to be honest, I recalled, while I was presenting, seeing this particular person in the audience snickering at times that were obviously out of context. It was all starting to come together ... LOL!)
But my goodness! I could not believe it! In retrospect, I had caught the "what-not" bug and was using the phrase like crazy! I had never done that before! (At least I do not recall doing so!) My colleague's use of it subconsciously caused me to use it.
This is what happened: We converge with interlocutors that we like or that we want to like us. This colleague who is also a friend and is one with whom I have a great professional relationship, so based on this phonetic and social selectivity, it was natural I would pick up on one of his catch phrases and use it myself or that I would ... converge with an interlocutor!
As I thought about the workshop and this participant's feedback, I could not help but to wonder (and worry!) if her focus on counting my "what-not's" interfered with her actual learning. I wondered if my temporary presentation misstep consumed her and subsequently caused her to lose an opportunity to learn. What had I done?!
The greatest goal of any presentation is to ensure learning takes place and that participants take action based on what they learn, so I got to thinking ... What plans can I put in place beforehand to provide my audiences with the most awesome learning experience possible? I came up with three ideas.
1. Keep it active. Provide multiple opportunities for participants to hear from themselves and others via writing and discussions. That way, they have opportunities to think about the substance of what you have presented and process it means for the work they do. (And, that way, your voice is not the only one in the room!) Check this link for ideas on how to keep it active.
2. Conduct brief, on-the-spot self-assessments. While the audience is engaging in an activity, conduct a mental recap of the last several minutes of the presentation. Were there quirks or missteps that should be avoided going forward? Did you ensure you used power words as opposed to wimpy words? How well did you handle audience questions? If you have them engaging in conversations, roam around the room to show interest and to model good facilitation skills, while you conduct your own internal conversation with yourself.
3. Check the temperature. Pause and ask the audience if we need to go in a different direction or keep moving on the planned route while keeping in mind your objectives. Whatever change you make, ensure it aligns with what you want to accomplish overall, and avoid changing just for the sake of making the audience happy. A change in direction could mean stopping to consider alternatives to what has been presented and examine whether there are missing points need to be covered. This is not expected and is not the norm for a presentation and, as such, will certainly break the pattern of what their brains expect and helps learning to not be cold and boring but rather hot and relevant!
What else might we do to ensure our audiences always learn?