When presentations go wrong, think preparation and grit

Earlier this week, I blogged about what could be described as one of the top ten worst rounds of presentations I’ve witnessed in the five years I’ve taught Professional Communication and Presentation. While the students definitely grasped some aspects of visual design and put a week and a half worth of effort into brainstorming, organizing, designing, and submitting the project, several students produced less than mediocre work (no image sources, nine slides for a 15-30 slide project, super noisy slides), disregarded my advice (and extra credit points) to meet with me or my teaching assistant for a design consultation, and delivered abysmal at worst, forgettable at best “approach explanations” in class. I received this very thoughtful message from Cory Jim of Empowered Presentations. In this response, Cory helped me to ask the types of questions I needed to determine what really happened on presentation day:

…Is the student just going through the motion to get a passing grade? Are they afraid of public speaking. Did they get the right instruction. Did they have enough time. Are they excited to do it. Would they rather do something else instead.

He also gave me some excellent ideas for reframing how I teach the visual resume in class:

There are many many factors that one must take in to consideration such as:

A clear purpose to in fact land a job. How to use keynote/powerpoint effectively. The power of the perfect picture. How to storyboard. How to place fonts. Font Legibility. How to create a color palette. What branding is. What marketing is. A call to action. Engagement. The sales process. Different personalities. How much is too much. Where to emphasis a point. How to stand out. And many more…

I appreciate Cory’s insights, advice, and encouragement. After analyzing the situation further and speaking to several students, I think this comment sums up what happened on presentation day. Despite guidance, in class time, meetings, and reviews, a lack of preparation and drive for excellence led to the class-wide failure.

What I have found is that sometimes one does not have the excellence mentality, drive, passion, and just finishes the project going through the motions just to get it over with. Those are the ones that don’t quite get it (yet). Do we spend the time nurturing them to get better, or do we seek out better talent that is passionate for presentations? We let them go as it is not what they are self motivated to do.

One of the hardest things for me to accept as a teacher is that not everyone will get or care about the power and importance of a strong presentation, not everyone understands without being explicitly forced to that every presentation is high stakes (Duarte 2008). Not everyone, even when his or her grade depends on it, will treat his or her audience as king (Duarte 2009) and put his or her all into preparation and execution. It’s my job as teacher to give students tools, not hold their hands through every step; it’s my job as teacher to trust students to use their critical thinking skills and act autonomously and know that any and every presentation in a presentation class counts!

I could tell from observing presentations later in the class week that several students got this. However, several more still just don’t care. It’s time to let those go and focus on the ones motivated to truly achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the course. Without preparation, a presentation will go poorly–I promise. Without a growth mindset, a life will go poorly–I promise! I’ll leave you with the same inspiration I will draw from as I revise and rework this assignment in the future, Angela Duckworth’s “The key to success, grit”:

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One thought on “When presentations go wrong, think preparation and grit

  1. […] And last, but not least, are two posts relating to teaching public speaking and presentation in the classroom.  Chiara explains her negative experience in “When Presentations Go Wrong,” and her solution in “When Presentations Go Wrong, Think Preparation and Grit.” […]

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