By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
I’ve been reviewing video presentations for a project. Primarily I screen them for delivery rather than content. It’s amazing how many basic rules of good communication presenters break—consistently—even professional speakers and celebrated “master teachers.” The other side of the equation that puzzles me is the level of tolerance audiences seem to have for poor presentations. I wonder sometimes if we have seen so few well-delivered presentations that we have lowered our expectations, and therefore, demand so little of presenters. Most of the presentations I see are entertaining but not educational, even when they portend to be.
There is great risk in this, and I think one evidence is what I call “The Null-Expectancy Factor” (NEF). The concept of the NEF states that as a result of continued poor teaching-learning experiences, most learners participating in any given learning experience—a course, seminar, workshop, training event—enter with little expectation of actually learning anything. Most anticipate they’ll enjoy the experience, many will be satisfied with being entertained, but in terms of actually learning something, I fear that a long steady diet of ineffective teaching has taught them to have no expectation that what they “learn” will actually be meaningful or applicable to their life.
Here are five elements that are consistently ignored or poorly handled by presenters—lecturers, instructors, or workshop leaders. If given attention as a set of practices every presentation I’ve reviewed would be improved tremendously.
Focus. Presenters need to have ONE focus for their presentation. The question to ask oneself is, “What is the ONE thing this presentation is about?” When you identify it, then stick to that one thing. The most powerful presentations make the “one thing” a concept. Therefore, the better question is, “What is the one concept I want to present?”
Scope. Scope has to do with coverage. Any one thing (concept) we choose as our focus can still be complex. The question is, “What is the cope of my treatment for this one thing I want to communicate?” Every element of the presentation—from illustration to visuals, should support and legitimately connect with the one concept you are presenting.
Pace. The brain has its own rhythm for how it processes information. One element of this fact is the idea of “attention span.” People has a longer attention span than we given them credit for, but the key to enabling it is the pace of the presentation. An effective rule is to change the learner’s focus every five to seven minutes, and you want to shift the pace every ten to fifteen minutes.
Acquisition. In order for your presentation to be meaningful to the learners they must be able to “acquire” the concept you are trying to teach. Educators use the terms “comprehension” and “understanding.” The questions are, “Do my listeners comprehend what I am communicating?” “Do my learners understand what they are reading?” Therefore, you need to build in points of “testing for comprehension” throughout your presentation. This includes testing for misunderstanding.
Application. The final element that is missing the most from presentations is application. If your listeners or students are not able to immediately apply, at some level, what you are presenting then (1) it is not meaningful to them, and, (2) it will result in a failure of retention. If you cannot make immediate application of the one concept you are teaching for your learners they will likely forget it as soon as they walk out the door.
The next time you prepare a lecture, class, sermon, or workshop presentation, check to see how well you address each of the five elements for effective instruction.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.