In a recent blog, Corrie Barclay shared his experiences from a recent meeting he attended where Dr. Bill Rankin spoke about presentations. In conclusion, Corrie came up with the following, that:
The creation of a presentation is more than just images and text on a slide. To effectively engage an audience and convey powerful messages, you need to consider those messages and specific design principles that will allow present your information in the most effective manner possible.
I could not agree more that it is more than ‘images and texts’. A presentation is also about more than just an app or a device. I am not saying that apps are not powerful, but in my view having a good app is only one part of the puzzle that is a good presentation. Let me diverge for a moment to explain.
 
At a recent staff meeting, we had Tony Richards come and speak about cyber safety smarts. Not only was I left pondering the consequences of my ongoing digital footprint, but I was also left perplexed as to what made the presentation so compelling. Usually staff are ready to sprint out the door at 4:30, but everyone stayed seated for an extra twenty minutes as proceedings went a little overtime. In conversation the next day, a fellow staff member commented on Tony’s slide transitions and questioned whether I could do that in my presentations. While I knew that his visual presentation was smooth and seamless, a very well-oiled machine, I still felt that it was only part of the magic. In addition to the visuals, I felt that the knowledge and control of the content was impeccable. There were no questions that he was asked that he could not respond to and add to in an instant. Having heard endless cyber-safety presentations before, there was also a sense of honesty about what was said. Supporting this, Tony has the great ability to fluctuate between the serious and the humorous, such as showing a video of what it would be like if we did what we did on Facebook in real life to highlight some of the absurdities of social media, to speaking about particular cases of sexting and child pornography to highlight some of the hidden realities of life in a virtual space. All along, he provided a positive message, even if many of the consequences seem rather gloomy. Lastly, what kept many of the discussions going over following days was the fact that Tony sent through a plethora of resources in support of the ideas that he was talking about, therefore allowing teachers to follow their own trails of thought.
 
I am not saying that Tony’s presentation was the greatest presentation that I have ever witnessed. However, in my view, it was a successful presentation. In my opinion, I think that there are three key ingredients that make for a successful presentation. They are:
1. Having good content and a clear message
2. Delivering the message in a flexible and engaging manner
3. Providing supporting material that builds upon and adds to the delivery of the content
 

I will now build upon each of these things.

Content

Whenever I teach story writing, I always explain to my students that it is the ability to delete material that makes the success of a composition. This is no different when developing a presentation. More often than not, we get caught in a trap where we try to provide too much information. feeling that everything needs to be covered. However, the consequences of this is that so many different (and sometimes contradictory) ideas get bounced around that the original message and purpose for the presentation gets lost in the noise. What is important is to take a step back and unpack each piece of information, questioning whether it adds or hinders the presentation. If it hinders, then often it needs to go (or be provided in the additional material).
 
Associated with having a clear message, is the challenge of what to present in the first place. Sadly, more often than not, the whole content of professional development and presentations is dictated by financial pragmatism or legal imperatives. It is always hard to be passionate about what you present when what you are presenting you have no passion for. (No offence, I have yet to meet anyone in life who is passionate about occupational health and safety.) 
 
This is often the case with staff meetings, where the content provided is dictated by education office or various health and safety guidelines. It was a breath of fresh air at the start of term when my principal had the opportunity to present about something that he was truly passionate about, the history of the Victorian education system. Although there is a requirement to rollout the National Curriculum, he started the meeting by putting the current situation in context with all of the other changes that have occurred over time. Although it may not have been the most interesting of topics, the presentation carried a certain energy that comes when you are passionate about something.
 
Another similar example was a recent ICT smorgasbord that I was a part of. Although maybe not as free and open as an un-conference or a teachmeet, staff were given the opportunity to present on the topic of ICT prior to the day, with the rest of the staff then signing up for two different presentations. Not only did this give staff a sense of trust and autonomy in regards to the choice of PD (Peter DeWitt recently wrote about this topic in his recent blog), but it also allowed people to share what they are most passionate about, whatever that maybe. What is most disappointing about both of these scenarios is that they are often few and far between in today’s age of overcrowded meeting schedules.
 

Delivery

Whether I agree with everything he says or not, Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President in Design for Apple, has got the art of delivery all worked out. Although I maybe sceptical about the exaggeration of the content provided, he certainly knows how to use intonation, pitch, pace and pauses to hit home his message. After watching his spiel for the the new iPhone 5c, I was wondering whether it really was the ‘cheaper’ iPhone.
 
Another master of delivery is Bear Grylis, particularly in regards to his post-production narrations. Even though you know fully well that he is not going to die, the tension that he creates through his delivery carries the viewer along.

 
In addition to the manner in which presentations are given, another key element relating to delivery is the ability to adjust to the situation. Coming back to Tony’s presentation, I think that is one of his strengths, to be willing to crack a joke in order to break things up. Associated with this, it is important to be able to adjust to the situation. I remember a few years ago having to listen to a tour guide in Vietnam speaking about the ruins at My Son. It was six in the morning and everyone was barely awake, let alone showing much interest. However, our guide went on and on for near on thirty minutes, as if he was reading from a manual, unwilling to either answer questions or shorten  his spiel. Not only was his delivery dry, but it lacked an authentic sense of voice.
 

Supporting Material

I remember being told an urban legend at university about a presentation given by Simon During, during the heydays of Cultural Studies, where he showed images of supermodels while delivering a presentation on Victorian novels. I think the point was to break up the unquestioned connection between the presenter and their support material. I think that what During’s example shows is that supporting material has a story to tell and is often just as important as the content and delivery of a presentation.
 
There are many programs used to create and support presentations, with the original being Microsoft PowerPoint. However, some other examples that have popped up in recent time include Haiku Deck, Prezi and Google Presentations. Each of these applications offers a suite of tools and tricks, including transitions, animations, effects etc… However, in my view, the greatest trick of all is being able to tell a story in a clear and uncluttered manner.
 
A great practitioner of the ‘clear and uncluttered’ mantra is John Pearce. In all of my conferences and professional development sessions, I have never actually seen John present, but through a range of means, such as Twitter and other people’s blogs, I have viewed many of his presentations. (I think this as much testament to John’s penchant for sharing.) Whether it be focusing on student curation or providing an introduction to Edmodo, John’s presentations are usually not much more than a so-called collection of ‘images and texts’. However, it is his ability to clearly tell a story that makes his presentations so good. This is not only done through the use of clear headings and images, but he also provides various points of commentary along the way. Take the following page as an example:
 
 
On this page, the heading clearly states the purpose of the page, this is then followed with a screenshot from Edmodo showing the aspect in question, while further explanation is provided at the bottom of the page. Although seemingly nothing more than a Google Presentation, the presentation does everything that it needs to do to help carry across the content.
 
In addition to backing up the presentation at hand, supporting materials, whether it be links to various websites or resources, allow the listener to continue their investigation. This may include simply providing examples and materials in support of the content spoken about or even providing a whole book in some cases. Again I come back to Corrie Barclay. For his presentation on integrating iPads at VITTA 2013, he created a eBook full of information that allows the participant to continue their learning long after the actual presentation has finished.

Another way in which supporting materials are important is that they allow the dialogue to continue on. Recently whilst trawling my Twitter feed I read a tweet from Troy Moncur.


What struck me about the tweet is that with the advent of various social media platforms, presentations now have the ability to carry on long after the lights have been turned off. They no longer need to finish, rather they now have the ability to link from one presentation to the next.
 

Conclusion

Coming back to the initial argument, that presentations are more than ‘images and texts’, there is one thing that has been taken for granted and that is what a presentation actually is. In today’s day and age of screencasts, digital presentations and flipped classrooms, the notion of a person presenting to people is already under threat. However, there is one thing that will never change, that is that it will always take more than an app to make a good presentation.

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Strength is in the Weakness

In my view, the strength of any team is not in the leadership group, although having strong leadership is important, rather it is in the supposed lower ranks, those individuals and stakeholders deemed to be at the bottom, and their ability to carry the overall vision for the organisation. To use a sporting analogy, it is often the depth of the reserves rather than the strength of the seniors that a teams metal is truly tested. With enough money, any team can buy enough players to be a good side, but to be a strong and successful side, it is the ability to stand up against injury and adversity which often decides between winning a game and maintaining long term success. This same mentality can be applied to the day to day actions in any educational environment. Often effort and money is put into key areas associated with big data, such as NAPLAN. However, it is those areas found in the margins of the curriculum, areas which neither provide clear measurable data nor any direct benefits, that the strengths and weaknesses can truly be tested. In the past I have written about the problems with reading conferences, another aspect often shunted from the day to day activities is that of goal setting and their role in supporting learning and development.

Not so Smart Goals

I have experienced many reincarnations of student goals during my time, from goals written with no students in sight to students being given five minutes to scribble down a few vague ideas on a piece of paper. What ties all of these experiences together is that they are all about students, but far too often not composed for students. I have lost count of the amount of times that I have had to work through the SMART acronym with students. It surely says something when students need to be reminded again and again what supposedly makes a ‘good’ goal. I find the most poignant attributes of the so-called SMART goals is the ability to be ‘measured’. I completely agree that a goal needs to be measured, that is not my qualm. However, far to often the data that students use to supposedly measure their goals is not their own. Although they can demonstrate some sort of measurable evidence, they have little ownership over it. They merely complete a task and receive their grade as some sort of just reward. For example, many students often speak of improving their grades or getting better marks, when sadly these grades and marks often only tell a minuscule part to the story of learning.

Another interesting aspect to student goals is the frequency which they are completed. In my experience, goals are often set once a semester, usually connected to the mandatory requirement to include them within reports. Little interest is given to following up and managing them. Associated with this, school diaries have seemingly morphed to contain a treasure trove of learning resources, from study tips to style guides. Squashed in there has been the attempt to provide some sort of structure of the whole process beyond the usual biannual occurrence. However, again this attempt to contain goals in a regimented manner is often lost on those to whom it matters most, the students.

In the end, the goals that students set are often lost in the system. Although they may make it into their reports or be filed for safe keeping, most students have little memory of what their goals were beyond the current set. Is it a surprise that student goals have little perceivable impact?

Life Long Teachers

On the flipside, the goals set by teacher are often no better. In the recent AEUVic industrial action, it was argued by the government that the whole incremental review system was flawed and that teachers were simply getting moved up each year whether they had earned it or not. Sadly, bringing in performance pay would only make a flawed system even more fractured. The problem with the current review process is that, like student goals, it is far from an organic process. Most schools (in Victoria) meet with staff twice a year. Once at the end of the first semester to set the Performance and Development plan and then again at the end of the year to review it. In addition to this, work is often done in teams to set goals based on the previous years data. This is all good, but it overlooks a major aspect of goal setting and that is the need to be timely. It must be said that over the last few years that there have been some great diagnostic programs, such as ePotential and the AITSL Self-Assessment Tool, developed to provide staff with feedback whenever they require it. However, these tools depend on one missing element, an intrinsic desire to forever be better.

There is a real push from some within education at the moment to push for more individualised professional development and to form more personalised Professional Learning Networks. (See for example Tom Whitby’s blog on ‘How Do We Connect Educators’ as well as Andrew Williamson’s presentation relating to PLNs.) I think though that one of the things inhibiting teachers from taking more ownership over their own learning and development is actually feeling confident enough to identify weaknesses without fear of retribution. I think that many teachers baulk at the idea of being truly honest out of fear that this may come back to haunt them if they were to apply for any sort of position of leadership. On the flipside,  I think that there is also a fear among administration at times to allow any sort of freedom with staff as this may lead to precious professional development time being squandered. The problem that remains though is that some of the best professional development I have been to have been the sessions that I chose to attend in my own time, because I had an interest and I saw some worth in it for me. It begs the question, what will any goal achieve if it is not also attached to some sense of ownership?

Power is in the Program

One of the biggest frustrations that I have had with setting goals, whether it be personally or while supporting students, has been the fact that too often goals were developed and left at that. For example, student goals were set and the teacher kept a digital copy, while student would gain a print out. However, there was little feedback or progressive notes developed. This hurdle has been somewhat rectified with the recent inundation of collaborative tools that allow multiple people to be responsible for a single document. Whether it be keeping track of goals using Evernote, creating a Google Doc or simply sharing a document with Dropbox, there is no longer a reason why goals are not living and breathing documents. On a bit of a tangent, I am particularly interested in the work on Tony Moncur from Nichols Point Primary School who has started using the Ultranet (GenED 4.0) to manage and share student learning. I think that if there is anything to be said it is that technology allows the process to become more manageable and accountable. However, as I queried in my previous post, does technology really provide a complex solution or does it simply create a complicated answer that misses the real question, who are goals really been written for?

Student Goal Centered Learning

It is often spruiked that students are at the centre of all learning, then why aren’t goals as well? Surely if we are to make any move into the 21st century then we are going to have to learn to support learners in setting goals rather than just continue to write them for them. For how SMART are learning goals if they are not being driven by those individuals who they relate to? This may mean failing, but it also means allowing students to learn from those failures. If students are to truly be at the center then we need to support them in the process of taking ownership. How are you supporting your students with their goals and do they own them?


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