Dwayne Hodgson

A Portfolio

The work and adventures of Dwayne Hodgson,
+ Learning Designer & Facilitator at learningcycle.ca
+ Storyteller & Photographer @ thataway.ca

Creating Dynamic Present-ipations (Part 1)


You’re at a conference. In yet another workshop enduring yet another death-by-PowerPoint presentation by a panelist who drones out the slides in a monotone, oblivious to the experience of her/his audience. 

After 30 minutes, you look around the room: 25% of the people are still listening, half are checking their Blackberries or Twittering, the rest are dozing. Needless to say, engagement and deep learning ain’t happening for most folks today.

Forty-five minutes, and 45 data-dump slides later, you are finally invited to respond – well, sort of! "So, if there aren’t any questions, let’s move on to our next presenter in the interests of time…”


It’s okay! Wake-up! It was just a bad dream. That would never happen…

Presentations are a staple of meetings, workshops and conferences, perhaps because they seem like an efficient means of “delivering” content.  But it puzzles me why we continue to rely on them so much when our personal experience and research suggests that they are not very effective at producing real learning.

Here are a few suggestions how you can share new information in ways that invoke different Learning Domains and Styles, and that design to put "participation" into your presentation to deepen their learning. I've broken this post into two parts: 

Part 1. Ways to Make Your Presentations More Interactive and Engaging -- If you can't "Lose the Podium", there are some ways in which you can at least "Loosen" it. 

Part 2. Skip the Presentation  -- Add via Dialogue -- If you have some flexibility with the format, consider not doing a presentation in favour of something more interactive. I'll address this in my next blog post another day. Stay tuned!

And to walk the talk, let’s make this a learning task in itself! As you read, note which ones you’ve tried before, which ideas you might try next time, and which other new ideas you could add to this list. Post your responses, reflections, objections and questions on this blog.

Part 1. Ways to Make your Presentations More Interactive and Engaging:

If you have to make a presentation, here are a few suggestions to make it more effective and interactive:

1. Keep it Short:  No more than 20 minutes since that is the outer extent of an average adult learner’s deep attention. In many cases, you can then use the other 20 minutes  for either a longer Q&A or a more creative learning task where the participants can process what you shared. 

2. Use a pairs exercise as a warm-up: :Turn to your neighbour and share one strategy that you use to manage your “cholesterol”. We’ll hear a sample.” This will heighten their engagement from the get-go, and demonstrate respect for their opinions. It can also serve as a mini-LNRA to help you pitch your presentation at the right level. You can also weave their questions and examples into the rest of your presentation. 

3. Use PowerPoint to Enhance the Presentation, Not Drive It: Leave lots of white space, use intriguing visuals to convey and reinforce key concepts, provide a clear outline and visual key in the slides so people know “You Are Here”...(Please also see an article I wrote for GLP's Voices in Dialogue on Blending PowerPoint and Dialogue Education"). Better Yet! Dump the PowerPoint and use a Prezi instead! Prezi is a free, online tool to create dynamic, zooming presentations of words, graphics and symbols. (Click here to see some examples of Prezi's I’ve created). It’s much more fun and less linear than PowerPoint). 

4. Invite a few questions of clarification part way through the talk. Rather than waiting until the end. Better to address these types of questions sooner than later.

5. Weave in stories and anecdotes that speak to the Affective domain.  Next time you make or attend a presentation, watch the change in body language and engagement as the audience members hear a story or joke. I guarantee you that most folks will visibly perk-up and listen with heightened attention. (They’ll also tend to remember these better than the rest of your talk!).

6. Invite Questions From the Audience Before You Begin. You can do this verbally, or in written form.  This can serve as a mini-LNRA and help you adjust your presentation to the appropriate level of complexity.

For example, in a recent presentation on RBM that I did for the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, I began by asking them to write their questions about RBM on a post-it and place them on a continuum chart according to their familiarity with the topic (from “New to Me” to “Old Hat”). The type of questions they asked and the location where they posted them on the line gave me a quick read on their comfort level, experience, expertise and attitudes towards the topic. This really helped me adapt the rest of the talk and I referred to their questions during the presentation. 

7. Frame Your Presentation With an Open Question that suggests how the participants can listen more deeply.  For example: “As you listen and watch this presentation on Effective Communication, think about how you would explain this approach to your kids?” Debrief the question after the presentation to kick start the Q&A.

8. Provide the audience with a 1-page handout with a Text Box and/or Graphic that outlines the key content.  Ask the participants to listen to your presentation (Auditory), and read (Visual) through a text box, chart, etc. together and make notes on their questions, objections and suggestions on the page (Psychomotor). Be sure to let them know that you’ll invite them to share their answers afterwards. 

9. Hand out Opinion Cards for the Audience to hold up as you speak. Red for Disagree, Green for Agree, Yellow for “Huh?” Nothing like seeing immediate feedback while you’re presenting. (Dare ya!)

10. Invite them to respond via social media.If you are feeling brave and everyone has access to the Internet, project your Twitter page on the screen and invite the audience to post their questions, and reactions as you go. Here's an example of someone who has done it recently. After all, if they’re Twittering anyhow, they might as well twitter about your talk, eh?

What additional ideas, questions or suggestions do you have? Please post them on this blog. I'll respond in Part 2 and provide some additional suggestions on how you can Skip the Presentations and Add via Dialogue.

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