Feb 2, 2010

Presentation: A Trainer's Perspective

This is a guest post from Joel Xavier, an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad. He is based out of Pune, India and trains students for various entrance exams including MBA.

This is a slightly long post but is very insightful. It is based on Joel's presentation experience during his recently concluded 5 day training session.

I shot out an SOS email to Vivek one day asking him to provide me with ‘whatever’ content he had on ‘making presentations’ [He is a senior from my MBA days who even back then, was known for his slick presentations]. Why? I was to teach a bunch of engineers-to-be the nuances of making good presentations in about 3 day’s time and I had no clue how I was going to approach it. Who better to ask for guidance than your own senior? I got more than I bargained for.

Within no time I had a long list of twenty odd links pointing back to this blog which was his pick of the best of the basics. I got to work. I was carefully copy pasting the content to a word document for offline reference when it hit me. At the end of almost every article I was reading was an introspective question. Which of these habits are you already following? Which are the ones you would like to try out in your next presentation? Each question was making me think about how exactly I relate to what has just been discussed.

What is my learning out of the whole experience? The whole concept of relating something you have just come to know to some experience you have had in your life, or some particular aspect of the presentation that appealed to you personally was a revelation. It made me sit up and reorganize my entire 5 day training schedule. At the end of each session I would ask the participants in my workshop about what were the one or two specific things that they would remember from the session that just concluded. I was surprised to find that though my topics were very generic, like how to build your CV, and how to participate in discussions, the things the students mentioned as their learning were very personal. Sharing them with the entire group was an amazingly effective way to personalize and retain learning. Participants actually began to look forward to the last 10-15 minutes of each session which were dedicated to this activity.

Among the various articles, there were a few on how to represent data in a presentation. My audience for this workshop comprised third year and final year students of Electrical, IT and Agricultural Engineering. Students who were academically very sound, but had completed most of their education in the regional language. I realized that they would not need much of the charting tips right now, important as they are. And then it dawned on me. I needed to tell them what I was doing myself, understanding the audience. File formats for images and charting tips would come a long way down the line. They would first have to understand their audience.
This entire process was turning into a big learning exercise for me as well. So I decided to reassess the situation. What is my purpose? And as you would have it, I dramatically went into flashback mode. Circa 2005, my first day in Prof. Abhinandan Jain’s class on market research [Jain baba as we referred to him, respectfully]. We had designed a survey and Prof. Jain was making it clear in no uncertain terms that we had failed miserably in our effort. “What is your purpose?” He would bombard us with the same question for every point we made as a class. The words still ring out in my ears. 73 bright managers-to-be racked their brains that day to understand why simplicity and a clear sense of purpose are so absolutely necessary. I now had the opening note to my own presentation. Before you start working on any presentation you need to have a clear objective as to what you aim to achieve through that presentation.
Just remembering about Jain baba brought back another gem of an insight to calm the turbulence that was surrounding my preparations. We used to pride ourselves in making the most dramatic presentations with the best of embellishments, presented with great flourish in those much loved classrooms. Then one day Jain baba punctured our egos in a way which we were to get used to over time.
The presenter was facing a technical problem and the projector decided to play truant. So Jain baba asked him to go ahead and make his point without using the projector. The presenter was petrified and tried to wriggle his way out of the situation claiming he could not do it as there was a lot of important data that the audience had to be shown. What Jain baba said next put the class in a stunned silence. “The power needs to be in your point.”
Over a period of time presentation skills have come to mean Power point skills for a lot of people. I knew I would be laying the right foundations for the participants if I made it clear that MS Power point and projectors are only some of the tools available to you as a presenter. It is necessary to use them as tools and not as crutches.
That said, I had some very strong points to begin with. While preparing a presentation:
  • Be clear about your objective
  • Understand your audience.
  • Focus on the content and not the embellishments.
  • Get the audience to relate to the content and make their learning personal
Through my interaction with the audience I realized that the majority of them, like so many of us had come to the workshop thinking of presentations as the thing you do standing in front of a PowerPoint show. I decided to try and break this myth. I had to make it clear that there are innumerable occasions in real life when you are actually required to do a presentation. I gave them the traffic cop presentation.
I asked my audience how many of them had tried making a presentation to a traffic cop to avoid being fined? I got these incredulous looks which made it amply clear that the audience was having a tough time connecting traffic cops and presentations. Then I proceeded to explain how once you are caught violating traffic rules, the entire purpose of your interaction with the cop is to get away with a minimal punishment [your objective]. How the traffic cop actually intends to only censure you and has the power to waive the fine for a warning if he is convinced that you are a responsible driver otherwise [understand your audience]. Convince him about your being a responsible driver by showing him more than just your license willingly. Since two wheelers were relevant to my audience this meant things like the helmet, the pollution control certificate, the tax papers etc. Before I knew it, I was getting that look from my audience. The look that says they have done it, but never thought about it this way. Point well made.
I encouraged my audience to make presentations by using the best tool available to presenters: the mind of the audience. If you can make them visualize the point you want to make, I believe you achieve much more than just getting your point across.
A few other notable tricks from the blog that I used in the training were good humor and chocolates. They are surefire winners if you want to engage your audience much more productively.

About Joel:

Joel ‘Cyclo’ Xavier, an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, has worked with Marico and HUL in branding and sales before he got into teaching and training. He is currently based in Pune and trains students for various MBA entrance and other competitive exams. 15 of his students made it to the various IIMs in 2009. He is also a visiting faculty at the University of Pune, department of Management Sciences for marketing. You can find out more about his work on: www.mentorgrid.com

If you also want to share your presentation experience with all of use here, send an email to vivek [at] allaboutpresentations [dot] com.

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