Notes from One Who Aspires to Great Public Speaking

Catherine Pellegrino talks quite well about how active learning could be as much a part of conference presentations as it is a part of our classrooms. I won’t recreate her arguments here (go read them!), but they got me to thinking about my own presentation style, the styles of presenters I’ve seen recently that kept me engaged. I will simply add that active learning may not scale to suit large audiences, or suit every topic, or fit every audience. If, for whatever reason, I decide not to include active learning in my future presentations, it will be by choice, and I will remember that this choice comes with the same huge consequence that I face in similar circumstances in my own classroom: I will have to work even harder to make sure that my presentation is engaging in the absence of mandatory engagement.

While I’m at it, I will remember how comfortable I’ve become in my own classroom not using PowerPoint, or using it very sparingly. And I won’t feel cowed into using it simply by nerves or a false sense of serving future audiences. Back in the day (by which I mean, “I’ve heard of such things but only seen them in disciplines other than mine these days”) people used to present papers, which meant that the actual paper was available for perusing later. Pretty handy if you weren’t able to attend the actual session, but unfortunately you have to have a pretty stupendously amazing paper in order to be engaging as you stood in front of everyone and read it. I can’t imagine ever having such an amazing paper that I’d be comfortable delivering this type of presentation. My style is much more pseudo-extemporaneous: me, a few notes and an outline, careful rehearsal, and maybe a handout or a PowerPoint. And for me, this PowerPoint does not substitute for a presented paper because that entire genre of presentation is foreign to me. No, if I’m worried about future audiences I’ll make a handout or a summary or a blog post or a video or anything that will make sense to that audience without saddling my present audience with stuff they don’t need.

It’s too bad that knowing and doing are such completely separate acts. I guess the best remedy will be practice… which would mean submitting proposals… and, you know, actually presenting.