Teaching & Training Skills: How to present information

I once had a prof who was a total geek; she loved her subject so much that she overwhelmed us with information. While her enthusiasm added interest, it was exhausting. Worse, it was incoherent. Even those of us who took copious notes were unsure of the key points. The instructor failed in 3 ways:

  1. She didn’t manage her enthusiasm. Don’t overwhelm your audience. Cover fewer topics or include less detail. If you have too much content, consider increasing the time; maybe your 30-minute seminar becomes an all-day workshop, the pamphlet becomes a manual, or your speech becomes a series of classes.
  2. She forgot the students’ motivation. Sad but true—when it comes to credit students, marks come first. Their concern is usually “Is this on the exam?” If you’re leading a non-credit program, you still have to consider your participants’ perspective. They want to know “What’s in it for me?” and “Are you making good use of my time and energy?”
  3. She didn’t present the information in a way we could use. The prof shared her extensive knowledge with no hierarchy, so while fascinating, it was mostly useless. Her lectures were like a thousand pounds of butter dumped in my living room: something useful becomes mostly useless because it’s not in manageable chunks.

Shape your communication so that your audience knows what are the main and most important points, and what is supporting content. Here’s how to do that:

  • Repeat and emphasize key points
  • Use titles and headings to create structure and help readers navigate the content
  • Specifically note key points. This is an important point…
  • Use vocal variety. Change your pace, pitch or volume (But don’t scare people)
  • Use color, bolding, and italics
  • Use body language or arm gestures as appropriate
  • Repeat and emphasize key points

Questions Your Audience/Students/Participants Want Answered Think about your audience and what’s going on in their heads. It’s probably something like this:

  • Why am I hearing/seeing/doing this?
  • What’s in it for me? Am I going to get something out of this?
  • Is this something I can use? Is it worth my time and attention?
  • How long will this take?
  • What are the key points?
  • What if I don’t understand or miss something?
  • What am I expected to do now? What’s the next step?
  • In light of the fact that life is short, is this a good use of my time?

Questions You Should Answer (before you present or publish) It’s time to be brutally honest. Before you get on that stage or enter the classroom, ask yourself:

  • Is this about me or my audience?
  • What do I want them to do/think after reading or listening?
  • Why did I choose this format to deliver my message?
  • Is this engaging? Would I want to read/attend/do this?
  • How will I know that my audience has heard and understood my message?
  • How will my audience know that they understand?
  • How is this making the world a better place?

9 Secrets to Clear Communication

  1. Tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. (Repetition and hierarchy) Ask for feedback to make sure they got the message as you intended it.
  2. Ask about 5 people who are typical of your intended audience to review your work. Can they understand it? Do they know what to do next?
  3. Respect people’s time and brainspace.
  4. Give away the answers. If you want people to know something tell them what it is. Don’t expect them to guess. The only thing adults hate more than being wrong, is being wrong publicly.
  5. Review and edit until you are using the fewest, clearest words to do the job.
  6. Use common words, active sentences and short paragraphs. (Work to express, not impress.)
  7. Avoid jargon, idiom and slang unless you are sure your audience will understand.
  8. Use abbreviations only after spelling them out the first time you use them.
  9. Put the punchline up front. Most of us learned to write cumulatively, presenting our arguments, leading the reader to a conclusion. These days (especially in business and online writing) the order is flipped: state your point first, then present the necessary words to support it.

Be brief, be clear, be yourself. You’ll do fine. And so will your students.