Giving a great presentation: starting from scratch

How do we give great presentations?  In this post I wanted to take readers and speakers to the very first step, when we start planning a talk.

This post isn’t about technology.  It’s not about revision (see the last lines).  It also assumes that readers have some concept or assignment in mind for their presentation; brainstorming is another subject.  This is about starting and building materials for a talk.

When I start to create a presentation, I like to begin by thinking of two items at the same time: what I’m going to talk about at the macro level, and how much time there will be.  This combination helps narrow down a topic what it threatens to balloon into enormity (“I’m talking about the fate of higher education! but I only have 35 minutes”).  This seems like an obvious starting point, but not enough speakers take it seriously, as we can tell from presenters who ramble around a sprawling concept space.  Or, worse, from speakers who don’t understand time limits.

Start thinking of how your talk will unfold in time.  What are the main points you want to address?  After you’ve developed that for a while, bring it to life by envisioning the crucial element: the audience.

Bryan gets ready to present to his town's annual meeting

What do they need to know from your thinking?  What’s best suited to who and where they are?  How much can they handle?  Should they be provoked, soothed, terrified, or amused? What do you need to add to their thoughts and lives? Consider this group of humans and where you want to take them.  That is the essential arc of your presentation.

At this point it’s a good idea to settle into some medium for composition.  PowerPoint, Word, Prezi, scratch paper, an audio file, whatever works: the important thing is to start getting content out of your head and into an external medium.  It doesn’t have to be the medium you’ll eventually present from, so long as you can refer to it and work within it.  I often do this in a mix of PowerPoint and a bunch of web browser tabs. Continue reading

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Giving a great presentation: the gift of your voice

VoiceHow do you give a great presentation?

In this post I want to focus in on one key elements of presenting: what you do with your voice.

Nothing is as important to your presentation as your voice.  This is what makes or breaks your speech.  Voice problems can appall an audience, or mangle your message.  Successful voice wins attention and converts.  It really is that simple and essential.

How you use your voice depends on a lot of conditions: your own personality, your style, and what you want to accomplish with a given audience.

Caveat: I’m not a voice coach, and you can learn an awful lot from working with one.  As a child I apparently suffered from elocution issues, not to mention shyness, and a speech teacher helped me out.  I owe a lot to her.

One key point: try slowing the heck down.  Many people scared of public speaking with race through sentences to get the pain over with as quickly as possible.  This costs audience understanding and engagement.  Please give your words time to seep into the audience’s brains.  Slowing your self down also helps with enunciating tricky words.

(Few people actually speak too slowly for presentations.  They need to speed up, of course.)

One mandatory practice: speak loudly enough for people to hear you.  Use the room’s acoustics and presentation technology to help, but on your own be sure to reach every person with your voice throughout your session.    (Thanks to Joy Pixley for the nudge)

One tricky lesson: your distinct voice is something audiences appreciate, especially on recordings.  We don’t actually enjoy uniform speaking voices.  Indeed, the way you speak is a powerful sign of who you are.  The Center for Digital Storytelling refers to “the gift of voice“, the unique character of what you sound like.  Embrace that.  In my digital storytelling work I’ve found most people hate the sound of their voice.  You have to set that aside.  Audiences want your character.

So record your presentations and listen to your voice.  I know how embarrassing this is, so listen in private at first.  Experiment with new techniques (see below) and practice.

Varying your voice: people despise monotonous speaking voices.  They really do.  A relentless drone is at best soporific, and at worse a summons to flee a presentation.   I’m not sure why people do this deliberately.  There’s an American school of reading aloud which is very cold and affectless, which might be partially to blame.  Ruth Sherman blames corporate culture.

His Master's Voice, old RCA

Alan Levine was not harmed during the making of this post.

So vary what your voice does: Continue reading

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Cutting staff but not faculty: University of Akron hacks around a queen sacrifice

University of AkronA campus under financial stress can cut all kinds of people who aren’t faculty instead of making a queen sacrifice.  Case in point : the University of Akron, which announced the end of 213 staff positions.  That’s 161 people canned, not including currently unfilled jobs.

“The measures are intended to plug a $60-million budget shortfall over the next three years,” explains the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The reasons for this deficit are various, and might include a new sports stadium, expanding debt service, and outsourcing that turned out more costly than planned.

What kind of staff positions have been cut?  This solid article lays them out in detail.  They include jobs in custodial services, an arts center, maintenance, libraries, a scholarly press, a multicultural center, administrative support, technicians, student services, legal services, enrollment, academic advisors, career services (“The University of Akron’s Career Center, which is supposed to provide help to the newly unemployed, was itself a victim of cutbacks”), sports, and IT, plus several assistant deans.

Reminder: these are the folks usually classified as “administration.”

A demographic note: Ohio is graying, losing the under-20 population, like much of the American midwest and northeast.  Akron itself is seeing its average inhabitant’s age increase.  To the extent that UA draws its traditional-age undergraduates from Ohio and the midwest they will suffer increasing tuition challenges.

Are such cuts now what we think of as part of the new normal?

(thanks to the Remaking the University Facebook group and from discussion on this Chronicle of Higher Education article)

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American higher education politics just changed, maybe

It’s the middle of 2015 and in the United States presidential candidates are marking their territory for next year’s elections. Higher education policy has loomed surprisingly large so far, and the various postures and proposals sketch out something of a break in the way Republicans and Democrats have been handling education.

A quick refresher: ever since 1960 or so the two parties had reliably opposed higher ed positions.  Republics saw campuses as overstuffed with money and radicalism, while Democrats defended schools as cultural and economic fountainheads.

This changed during the first decade of the 21st century, as Democratic support helped George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind pass into law, lending political power to reforming school operations, often over teachers’ wishes.  A bipartisan tendency grew.

Signing into law No Child Left Behind.

Note the key presence of Ted Kennedy with George W. Bush.

Then the 2008 recession and the 2009 death of leading education defender senator Ted Kennedy drove many Democrats more deeply into the arms of education reform.   Slashed tax receipts led legislators of both parties to cut K-12 and postsecondary funding.  A new generation of Democratic leaders saw reforming all of education as a cause, especially when institutions resisted.  This is where president Obama and his education secretary come in, for example, with their drive to reform all of education, from Race to the Top to building a (still incomplete) college ratings system.

This period also saw Chicago mayor and Obama ally Rahm Emanuel battle with that city’s teachers unions.  The well-named Democrats for Education Reform appeared.  In 2010 Waiting for Superman was released, very critical of K-12 (that Democratic bastion), and created by the same man who directed Al Gore’s climate change film (in 2006) and a short about president Obama for the 2012 Democratic party national convention.  These Democrats fought for greater accountability, more testing, less teacher and school autonomy, lower union influence, and more technology than instructors requested.

And this Democrat-Republican educational rapprochement continues today, at least in terms of policies and the work of sitting politicians.  This week Arne Duncan called for more accountability for colleges and better guidance into jobs for students.  A major Department of Education committee asked for more power: specifically,

the 18-member panel said that it should be “the final decision-making authority on accrediting agency recognition.”

The panel, often referred to as NACIQI, also wants greater power to force accreditors to focus more on student learning and student outcomes.

As Elizabeth Sanders observed this year, “There is bipartisan support for the idea of more college accountability.” Call it political expediency or the triumph of neoliberalism; either way, many Democrats found themselves not too far from Republicans.

Cthulhu for PresidentAnd yet things seem to be changing, one decade into the consensus.  The bipartisan alignment might be breaking up.

Consider: every Democratic presidential candidate has called for massive public funding for higher education.  Bernie Sanders kicked this off in May, urging debt-free access to public colleges and universities.  In one recent interview Sanders was direct:

“You want to go to college? You have the ability to go to college? You have the desire to go to college? Public colleges and universities will be tuition-free,” because education must be a right of all people.

Hillary Clinton also thinks higher ed is too expensive, although she doesn’t go as far as Sanders.  And now Tommy Carcetti, er, Martin O’Malley also wants to make college less expensive.

Meanwhile, Continue reading

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Presenting and participating in the EDUCAUSE 2015 conference

EDUCAUSE 2015 conferenceThis October I’ll be presenting, participating, networking, schmoozing, reconnecting, and generally hob-nobbing with people at the EDUCAUSE 2015 conference in Indianapolis.

Here are some of my events:

A pre conference workshop, Building an Emerging Technology and Futures Capacity in Your Organization.  That’s on Tuesday, October 27th, from 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM Eastern time.

This seminar will describe how to build and grow a futuring capacity in a campus team. We will cover a variety of leading-edge methods, including trend analysis, scenarios, the Delphi process, and environmental scanning. Organizational leaders will learn how and why to get their staff using these tools.

Later that day I’ll presenting in a virtual session, Working with Emerging Technologies to Promote Engaging Learning.

This dynamic preconference seminar features 12 speakers who will each present their approach to effectively working with emerging technologies to support teaching and learning. The session begins with a brief overview of emerging technology trends and will continue with segments on how to support evidence-based emerging technology work, and with examples of effective emerging technologies being used or piloted today. The seminar also includes two discussion sessions with members of the 7 Things You Should Know About… publication advisory team and with those working with 3D Printers, Makerspaces, and BYOD initiatives.

My topic will be futures capacity for organizations.  Malcolm Brown and Veronica Diaz (ELI) will host.  The session runs from 3-6 pm.

On Thursday (October 29) I’m presenting on Looking Ahead to 2026: Trends in Technology and Education.  The skinny:

This session examines leading trend lines in education and technology, extrapolated forward over the next decade to explore campus transformation. Trends are based on a four-year continuous environmental scan, conducted via social media. Topic rubrics include educational contexts (economic, social, policy), selected technological developments, and academic computing.

That will run from 4:30 until 5:20 PM.

Conference hashtag is #EDU15.  If you’re going to Indianapolis, please say hi.  If you can’t make it, please consider the virtual sessions.

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Giving a great presentation: notes on using PowerPoint

For this post in my series about making better presentations, we’ll turn to PowerPoint.  PowerPoint! mocked, vilified, hated all over the place, yet still the leading presentation tool.  How can we make the thing work to strengthen our speeches, rather than narcotizing our audiences?

There are many books, slideshows (naturally), and videos about using PowerPoint effectively.  Here I want to share what I’ve seen from my experiences as speaker and audience member.  First I’ll touch on making slides, then on using them. After that is Presentation Zen, not using PZ, and some miscellaneous thoughts.

Caveats: I’m not going to address other presentation technologies in this post.  I’m also not going to explore the best ways of starting to prepare for a talk; here I assume readers are already in the midst of getting materials and thoughts together.  Apple users, when I say PowerPoint you can infer I’m also talking about Keynote.  I’m not going to give technical details about using the PowerPoint editor.  No time for pechakucha here.

If I could give you only one piece of advice, it’s to remember that your slidestack serves your argument, not the other way around.  People come to a presentation to hear you speak, not to watch a slideshow.  What they experience is a synthesis of speech and image, a fast dance between spoken word and projected light.  You must have that organizing synthesis or dance routine in your mind throughout, so that people experience and remember something greater than 47 PowerPoint images and 46 clicks.  If you don’t, people will fall asleep.  At best.

Your argument – your narrative, your story, your pitch, your ideas, content, brooding, whatever – is the essential thing.  The slides enhance your essential argument.  They amplify it and render it easier to understand. Make and use slides accordingly.

What kills PowerPoints, by Alan Levine

Onward to tips and practices: Continue reading

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A tale of two academias: campus chief financial officers peer into the future

What do the people in charge of campus finances think about academic sustainability?  Inside Higher Ed and Gallup surveyed CFOs again, and the results are both fascinating and sobering.

Overall, CFO opinion is split between optimism and pessimism.  Setting aside individual temperaments, this division illustrated the growing resource gap among academic institutions.  That separation seems to be widening, and now having an impact on campus planning and expectations.

Consider existential threats.  More than 1/4th of private institutions fear for their existence in coming decades, while the rest do not.  More publics are cheerful.

CFOs consider the fate of their institutions

On a broader note, just over half of these specialists (56%) agree that “media reports suggesting that higher education is in the midst of a financial crisis accurately reflect the general financial landscape of higher education in this country”, while nearly half disagree.

Similarly, almost one half think their campus hasn’t changed its business model lately, while almost another half… “Forty-five percent of business officers say their institution has significantly changed its budget model in the past four years. Another 16 percent plan to significantly change their model in the near future.”

Another split shows up in views of how much fat remains to be cut after a near-decade of recession.  “Half of business officers do not believe their institution can make additional and significant spending cuts without hurting quality.”  The other half apparently see a juicy fat layer remaining alongside muscle and bone.

A slightly more uneven split occurs when CFOs think about where new spending dollars will come from.  A majority, “61 percent agree that new spending at their institution in the coming years will come from reallocated dollars rather than an increase in net revenue.”  The other 39% apparently expect fresh monies.

Things look fairly bright for inter-campus collaboration.  62% of CFOs are “exploring collaboration opportunities for academic programs with other institutions”.  Interest in shared services is on the rise, especially among state institutions: “Those working at public institutions report using a shared services model more frequently (54 percent) than do those employed by private nonprofit”. Almost half of CFOs are increasingly interested in shared services with other institutions, but again, almost half (44%) aren’t even considering it.

A Tale of Two Towers, photo by cogdog (I’m tempted to generalize about these divisions, although the report’s presentation doesn’t really support it.  I do, nonetheless, imagine two campuses.  One is confident that they will grow their student body and receive new revenue to do so.  If they need to cut they can, but don’t think they’ll have to. They aren’t interested in collaboration.  Down the road from that happy place is a different campus, brooding about the possibility of going out of business a few presidencies from now.  They have no fat to cut, and don’t see new dollars coming in.  This school is eager to collaborate with others. )

In some areas the CFOs are more harmonious.  For example, the leading way for campuses to raise revenue today is “employing strategies of increasing overall enrollment”, according to 82% of respondents.   Next most popular is “launching new revenue-generating academic programs”, as per 70%.

In contrast, what aren’t  campuses doing?

outsourcing more academic programs (4 percent), revising tenure policies (14 percent), cutting spending for intercollegiate athletic programs (15 percent) or shifting more undergraduate teaching to senior faculty members (19 percent).

Tenured and especially senior faculty and sports are safe, in other words.

Sustainability is something CFOs get darker about the further they look ahead.  “More business officers are confident of the sustainability of their institution’s financial model over the next five years(64percent) than over the next 10 years (42 percent).”

Continue reading

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