The Biggest Mistake in Presentations and How You Can Avoid Them

After 90 minutes of listening to her lecture,
I walked out of her Marketing class feeling  
no smarter than when I first walked in.

Have you ever had such a Professor? 
One who made an interesting subject so boring
that she made you feel like she'd torn a hole through
the space-time continuum and stopped time?

For me, it's my Marketing professor, Professor Wrong.
And in case you missed the highly popular first article
about Professor Wrong, check it out here. It contains
the Public Speaking Sins that you should avoid
if you want to avoid being as hated as Professor

Today, while half-dozing through Professor
Wrong's lecture, I realized that many other
innocent people were suffering from the
same teaching mistakes that Professor Wrong
was committing. To avoid boring your audiences,
be sure to avoid this one Presentation Skills Mistake
that most other presenters make:

The Biggest Mistake in Presentations?
  • No Audience Involvement

Professor Wrong suffers a severe sickness called
'Answering Your Own Questions'. And today, the
sickness was at it's most severe stage. To get an
idea of how brutal this sickness is, imagine that
you were sitting in Professor Wrong's 10.30 a.m.
Marketing class. About 10 minutes into the class,
you would have heard her ask the following question:

"What are the different types of knowledge structures?"

You would have then seen her click to the next slide
on her Powerpoint presentation which magically
revealed the three different types of knowledge
structures. Take a quick look at the magical slide
(below) and decide for yourself how interested you'd
be in this lecture after 30 such slides:

After Professor Wrong asked the question, you
would have then heard Professor Wrong proceed
to answer her own question. Ten minutes later,
you'd hear her ask another question about the
factors affecting knowledge structure, immediately
after which she'd proceed to give you the three
different factors. And you'd just sit there, wondering
whether listening to a Professor's Q&A monologue
was what education was all about.

  • Public Speaking Sin: No Audience Involvement
A question is a great way to arouse curiosity in
the listeners. In Professor Wrong's case, her
question caused me to rack my brains and try
and come up with a suitable solution.

Unfortunately, Professor Wrong wasn't
interested in listening to our answers.
Immediately after she asked her questions,
she proceeded to move on to providing the
possible answers. The questions were simply
a transition so that she could move onto the
next slide.

Here's the problem with this:
While rhetorical questions certainly have
their place in speeches, educators should try
and use questions for audience involvement.
Questions should be used to allow learners to
use their brains and discover the answers for
themselves, rather than simply listening
to the Professor hand out the solutions on
a Powerpoint presentation.

  • Public Speaking Tip: If You Ask a Question, Listen to the Answers
If you're a teacher or workshop-leader whose
job is to educate, then use questions to allow
the audience to discover the answers
by themselves! In other words, if you ask a question,
be prepared to listen to the answers. Not doing so can
cause you to be seen as rude and obnoxious. The purpose
of education is to allow learners to expand their critical
thinking skills and discover the answers themselves.
Questions are a great way to do just that.

After this article was written, I came across the following
research study that emphasises the effect of audience
involvement in learning.

Pascarella and Terenzini (1991, p98) report that student involvement
or engagement (active learning) be used since a substantial body of
evidence suggests that the greater the learner's involvement in the 
learning process, then the greater the level of content acquisition. 
Also note that this involvement can be as simple as note taking,
discussions, or answering questions.

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