Every September, I find myself faced with the challenge of preparing a “Back To School” presentation for parents. This is an important 15 minute block of time when I actually see the parents of my students face to face. In some cases, it might be the only time I see them. Inspired by Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen, I’ve made an effort to incorporate some of his ideas into a redesign of my existing “Back to School” parent presentation. In, What is Good PowerPoint Design?, Reynolds drives home the idea that context is the most important consideration in planning a presentation. Beyond this, he reminds us that simplicity of design is always a good rule of thumb. In, From Design to Meaning: A Whole New Way of Presenting, he outlines the 6 “R-Directed Aptitudes” introduced by Daniel Pink in his book, A Whole New Mind. The “six senses” are, according to Pink, necessary for professional success in today’s world. Reynolds contends that these “key abilities” can be applied to many areas of our lives and discusses how each one is relevant to presentation design. The six aptitudes are:
- Plan your presentation in analog form.
- Consider the purpose. Dakara Nani?
- Prepare a “leave behind” document if necessary.
- Make your ideas “sticky”.
- Edit, edit, edit keeping your presentation as brief as possible.
- Amplify through simplicity.
- Reduce the noise of your presentation by limiting the movement of transitions.
- Remember that empty space is okay.
- Be “completely there” for the delivery.
After digesting all of this information, I went back to last year’s BTS presentation. I update this presentation each year, and recently overhauled the entire thing because I changed grade levels. With all that I had read in mind, I was a bit shocked at my rookie design skills. Critically reviewing this through the lens of design opened my eyes to several presentation faux pas and guided my redesign efforts.
In this slide, it is painfully obvious that I’ve done what I am always warning my students to avoid. I’ve included too much text. I want the parents to understand the key elements of the middle school advisory program, but, clearly, here is where I need to rely on the handout or a class web page. This slide is basically the notes of what I shared in the presentation…not a good idea.
In the redesign, I’ve eliminated the text but chose to keep the photo of the students. I changed the theme to a simpler style, with a bold, dark background. In rethinking the design, I also began to rethink the content and delivery of the presentation. I decided to focus on three words here that define what our advisory program entails. The redesign is simpler and focuses the audience’s attention on the key elements of advisory.
In this bio slide, the original intent was to capture a bit about who I am by including photos of places that I’ve live and worked and to get my educational background in as well. Too many graphics overwhelm the audience making it difficult to focus on the content of the delivery. The overlap and use of photos together with clip art is distracting and the concept of collage is not working. Reynolds advises that empty space is okay.
The redesign of this slide is still in progress. I am currently working with a colleague and friend to create my personal brand logo. When it is finished, it alone will be a much better graphic for this bio slide. My logo will essentially be a globe with simple nuances added to the spherical shape. The simplicity of this redesign is by far more effective than the overuse of graphics in the original slide.
Reynolds stresses the idea of keeping the presentation as brief as possible, therefore, I looked for areas that could be more simply and briefly presented. I used four slides in the original presentation to introduce curriculum. I consolidated those into two, one for social studies and one for language arts, again, relying on the handout for those parents who need or want additional information.
The material that Reynolds presents was invaluable to me as I edited this presentation. Aesthetically, it is much simpler now and, therefore, more appealing. One thing Reynolds maintains is, if a slide can stand by itself, than it doesn’t need to be a part of a presentation that includes a speaker. In addition to the actual design of each slide, I also reduced the amount of movement in the slide transitions. Simple transitions, according to Reynolds, reduces the “noise” of the presentation, therefore making it more efficient and effective.
Presentation design is important, but the actual delivery is the biggest challenge for me. In addition to sharing important information that parents need, there should be humorous and emotional connections with the audience. According to Daniel Pink:
“Laughter is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and that is even more contagious than the yawn…”
This presentation “makeover” was an enlightening activity for me. The process directed me to valuable resources and opened a critical eye. These new understandings will surely impact my future presentations and those of my students.