Presenting…A Better Presentation

In a recent blog post, Eric Stoller reflected on his experiences attending the 2013 NASPA and ACPA conferences. He wrote the following concerning educational sessions:

“In terms of regular sessions … we have to stop being so bad at this. Seriously. Powerpoint isn’t the problem. We need to be better storytellers and utilize high quality visual communications.”

He then cited an earlier blog he wrote, properly entitled Conference Sessions Do Not Have To Suck.

I feel your pain, Eric. Most of us feel your pain. In fact, I probably have contributed to the pain. And I agree: our presentations, particularly at professional conferences, have got to improve, if for no other reason than to set an example for our future leaders. And the improvement needs to start with me.

At my university, I am responsible for supervising four graduate assistants within the Campus Recreation Department. One of their responsibilities is to conduct staff training and development. Up until now, I have assumed that these graduate assistants were decent presenters. They had all made good grades in their undergraduate careers, which included giving class presentations, and they had all been leaders in their Campus Recreation Departments, which meant that they had participated in staff training. But time after time their staff training presentations at my facility ended up being boring Powerpoint slides that were visually unappealing, with the graduate assistant rushing through each slide, reading verbatim from their notes. There was no storytelling—only regurgitated information that could have been communicated via an email attachment.

This year, after talking with my students, I finally understood why these smart, talented graduate assistants gave such poor presentations. They had all been told in their undergraduate school that their presentations were good. And they commented that they had never seen presentations done any other way, even in their university classes.

At conferences, in university classes, watching their instructors and peers: they had never seen presentations done any other way. Whoa.

My university is undergoing a SACS review, and as part of this review, they have chosen to institute a Quality Enhancement Plan entitled “Presentation U.” It “represents new opportunities students will soon have to improve their presentation skills across various platforms.” I am encouraged, and look forward to seeing the initiatives that my university takes to improve our students’ presentation skills. However, our students continue to see poor presentations year after year from some professors who haven’t changed their class information and teaching style in years. For real change to occur, our faculty will need to set good examples. I hope they are up for the challenge.

Good examples also need to be set at our regional and national conferences. I’m not saying that every presentation is terrible; in fact, I attended more great presentations this year at the NIRSA conference than I’ve ever seen before. But it seems there are more bad presentations than good. Why? Is it because seasoned professionals never receive honest feedback? And could it be that younger presenters have never seen it done any other way?

In order to stop this cycle of poor presentations, we need to teach the next generation how to do it better. And that is my responsibility. Starting this fall I will provide my graduate assistants with intentional instruction on how to give a good presentation. And though it seems odd to me that I would need to teach presentation skills, I welcome the chance to be part of the change that we all desire. Because who wants to sit through another boring presentation? We can do better.

How do you train your student staff to give great presentations?



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