Change of pace

As teachers and speakers, when we deliver a talk, a workshop, a class, or other type of teaching session, we need to think about how to structure a class. We need to think about how people learn — and one of the things we do to ensure people can learn effectively is to create change of pace in our classes.

You can’t talk at someone for 45 minutes and expect them to stick with you. You need to change pace so that they’re paying attention, aren’t bored with the material, and stay engaged in the conversation.

For many speakers, trainers, and teachers that means switching up what is happening in the class. From the teacher’s perspective it often goes something like this:

  • I will tell them something
  • I will show them a demo of the thing
  • I will show them a photo/video of a thing
  • I will tell them some more things
  • I will share resources with them

The idea is that we are putting different things in our slides or on the whiteboard, and changing it up. Change of pace.

But it isn’t.

That is a change of pace for you, the teacher. But not for the people that are learning. Look at that list again — what are the learners doing in each of those examples? Listening to you. Watching you. Listening to you. Watching a video. It’s all variations on the same theme.

I have been working on this concept in my teaching for almost 25 years. I owe this cornerstone of my teaching to my friend and then Professor of Education, Peter Chin. I remember the revelation in his science teaching methods course at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

What does a change of pace really look like?

Change of pace is about what the learner is doing, not what you, the teacher, is doing.

Particularly for longer classes or workshops — think 90 min blocks or half or full day workshops — change of pace is really important.

Sure, there’s always some listening, but what else could they be doing? There’s a lot of options. Look at all these verbs!

  • watching
  • analyzing
  • testing
  • drawing/sketching
  • creating
  • reading
  • thinking
  • laughing
  • writing
  • sharing
  • presenting

Next time you’re planning a talk or a workshop, take a look at your outline and your slides. What are the learners doing when you’re on each slide? How have you blocked out the time so that they can partake in different activities that aren’t all just listening?

Use different verbs. Change the pace, and keep your learners engaged.

This was originally published on Medium.

How you should REALLY use bullet points in a presentation

I’m headed to the American Banker’s Association Regulatory Compliance Conference (yeah, that’s a mouthful…) and I’m thinking ahead to the slides I can almost guarantee I’m going to see there from other presenters. And I think of the slides I’ve seen from other presenters at other recent conferences.

I’ll see a lot of walls of text. Death by bullet point.

Image of a slide in PowerPoint showing a title and bullets. The bullets read "There will be bullet points here, bullet points there, bullet points pretty much every where. You can go on, and on, and on… AND! When you run out of room, you can simply split your content in two and create TWO slides that have bullet points. Because of course everyone wants more bullet points."

It doesn’t help that most people that are asked to do a presentation or even volunteer to do a presentation don’t have a background in teaching, or presenting, or even in communication. Couple that with the fact that most PowerPoint and Keynote templates encourage and facilitate this behaviour, and that it’s just easier to use the default, and you’re headed for trouble on the slide front.

So, what should you do? You need to make a change by taking one simple action.

Move your bullet points to the speaker notes

When you move your bullet points to the speaker notes, you’re treating your bullet points properly. Let’s be honest — those bullet points were really just you taking notes on what you wanted to talk about on that slide; you typed out those bullets so that you could remember them. They’re things you wanted the audience to know.

You’ve used the bullet points on your slides as a note taking device and memory aid for you, and as a reference for the audience for later. But you didn’t use it as a communication device.

So change that up. Write your bullets, and then move them to the speaker notes. Next, summarize all the things in those bullets with a single phrase, and put that on the screen. When you produce a copy of your slides, give out your speaker notes. That’s where the bullet points should live.

Your audience will thank you.

This was originally published on Medium.

Getting the most from a speaking mentor or coach

Many speakers–both new and experienced–work with mentors or coaches. In addition to running a business and speaking at conferences around the world, I’m also a fitness instructor. I teach Body Attack and RPM for Goodlife Fitness. In the last 4 years, I’ve been both a mentor for new instructors and been mentored by some pretty incredible people. Asking for and providing feedback that is useful and actionable is an art.

In fact I think you shouldn’t ask for feedback.

You should ask for something more.

Ask something very specific. “I’m trying a few new examples today; can you watch how I present them and give me feedback on how appropriate they are and how well I present them?”

Don’t ask “What did you think?”

Ask “Can you look for opportunities for me to improve the way that I’m framing the entire presentation? I’m not sure that I’ve got it quite right…”

Don’t ask “How did I do?”

Ask “Can you give me three things that I can work on the next time I give this talk?”

The flip side, of course, is that when you’re acting as the mentor, provide actionable feedback. Work with the person to address issues directly rather than speaking in vague generalities.

Be specific

Next time you’re asking a mentor or coach about your speaking performance, be as specific as you can. Look to uncover actionable items for improvement.