(Griffey Image: wikipedia.org)
“The home run is easy to describe: You put up a slide. It triggers an emotional reaction in the audience. They sit up and want to know what you’re going to say that fits in with that image. Then, if you do it right, every time they think of that you said, they’ll see the image (and vice versa).” Seth Godin in Presentation Zen.
Godin is describing presentations in a business context, but he may as well be describing a lecture or class presentation. Direct instruction has a limited role in an open-ended or student centered classroom, but it is still a role and a part of most teachers’ toolboxes. And when a teacher decides that direct instruction is the most appropriate strategy, who doesn’t want the kind of “home run” that Godin describes?
We’Il look at how Godin suggests crafting a presentation to achieve that result, and how we can adapt those suggestions to a class setting. First, though, there’s a key question upstream: what is the point of our talk? Traditionally, a lecture was the best way to deliver large amounts of information to an audience. The lecture is born of the idea that an expert will convey information in the most effective method possible, especially because a lecture is completely scalable: the costs and resources needed to lecture to an audience of 10 and one of 100 are not markedly different.
A large part of the push against the lecture in today’s educational realm is that this is no longer the case. First, we understand from brain science and pedagogical research that the lecture is actually a very inefficient way for the audience to learn, no matter how convenient it is for the lecturer. Secondly we have better ways of distributing information, such that we can provide our audience the content that we want to convey in ways that are much more flexible, permanent and tailored to our audience’s needs. So the question is: why lecture? Or, to tie back to Godin, why present?
Both Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, and Seth Godin approach presentations as something different than the delivery of content. Godin says that “the reason that we do presentations is to make a point, to sell one or more ideas.” Here, I anticipate a bit of skepticism from other educators. After all, we are not trying to sell something- we’re trying to teach. I’d argue, though, that the idea of “selling our ideas” is at the core of engagement. Replace “make a point” with “provide purpose,” or “relevance” or any other engagement buzzword from the teacher-effectiveness scale of your choosing, and the concepts map. Instead of delivering the content, deliver the relevance. Deliver the “why,” or the “so what.” Godin continues: “If you believe in your idea, sell it. Make your point as hard as you can and get what you came for. Your audience will thank you for it, because deep down, we all want to be sold.” Sell the importance of the content in order to prep your students and get them engaged and prepped for the learning activities to follow. So how does Godin recommend that you reach for one of those “home run presentations?”
“First make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them. Create slides that demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you’re saying is true.” Again, think back to the idea of relevance. What is the picture or image which speaks to the “why” or “so what?”
“Second, don’t use cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.” If you have identified a concrete point of relevance, jump on Google Images and find a good picture which supports that point.
“Third, no dissolves, spins or other transitions. Keep it simple.” You hate it when your students do it. So don’t do it. If your presentation needs that much spicing up to make it exciting, go back to #1 and #2.
“Fourth, create a written document.”
Number four is the essential step for the classroom which allows one and two to exist. It’s also the hardest shift for us in the classroom. Remember the original purpose of the lecture: to be the most efficient means of disseminating information. With the backlash against multitasking building in relationship to what we are discovering about brain science and “task switching,” consider that notetaking is the ultimate form of multitasking: trying to process speech and visuals, in real time, and have enough executive function to sort important information from unimportant, or the bullet-able to what needs to be dictated word-for-word. Think back to the last time you sat in a lecture and had to take furious notes– did that process help you follow the talk, or hurt you? Now recall the last talk which inspired you or was particularly effective and memorable. How many notes did you scribble during that talk? Is there a connection?
Again, this hits to the heart of why we’re standing and delivering at this point in our instructional design: to provide relevance, context and meaning to the content. I am not the most effective or efficient means of delivering content to students. You are not either. We are lousy content delivery vehicles. We can use myriad better methods to give them the content which they will consume and make meaning of after we have primed the pump by selling them the vital importance of that content using our expertise and passion for learning and our disciplines.
Godin continues: “When you start your presentation, tell the audience that you’re going to give them all the details of your presentation after it’s over, and they don’t have to write down everything you say.” In other words, “Put your notes down. Take this message in, and think about it.” What would your students do next if all you did was sell them the “why” and then turned them loose on the how/who/when/where?
Do you agree with this “redefinition” of the role of direct instruction? Do you use this approach? Does this pair with brainstorming/preflection or inquiry activities in your class? Comment below!