29 August 2011

The Zen of Presentations, Part 43: Not our best work

Today’s post is for students heading to their fall classes, whether for the first time or not.

Over the course of your career as a student, you are going to listen to a lot of lectures. You’ll definitely see that some lecturers are better than others.

In universities, you may be lucky enough to have some professors who are world famous for their scholarship; people at the absolute top of their professional game.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you may well be influenced by the style of lecturers. That might affect how you give presentations, either in class or elsewhere.

Don’t make that mistake.

A university instructor has two or three different classes a semester. For each class, that instructor has three hours of class time per week, for a total of six to nine hours of stuff every week. Let’s say eight hours, for the sake of argument.

The key to great presentations is practice. I consider at least two “out loud” run throughs before the actual presentation to be my bare, scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel minimum for conference presentations. Hundreds of hours of work go into every Apple keynote, for which they are rightly praised.

Rehearsing each lecture twice would require 24 hours of rehearsal and lecture time a week. And remember, we still haven’t added in time needed research what the information to put on those slides, or the time spent organizing the information in a coherent way for students, never mind everything besides lectures that instructors have to do.

Because of the lack of rehearsal, it’s almost necessary to use your slides as notes. Lecturers are routinely guilty of “reading each bullet point aloud as it come up” style of presenting because of this.

When I’m lecturing, it’s not my best work as a presenter. It can’t be. There’s too much stuff and not enough time.

Students, don’t think that lectures are good examples of what to do presentations. Even the best instructors compromise on presentation practices to get the lectures done.

Picture by thekennelclub on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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