Have you ever sat through numerous presentations in a row where people killed you with Power Point? Sometimes I think Power Point should be banned from the workplace and the classroom. Presentation after presentation from kids, or adults, reading from slides with their backs to the audience can be enough to make anyone want to jump in front of a moving U-Bahn.
We tell ourselves, “This pain and suffering is worth it because they need to learn to do presentations!” But really, is it worth it to bore your students with this stuff? No learning is happening when a student is reading from a screen to an audience. No information is being transferred when the slide is full of text cut and pasted from Wikipedia.
Think about the presentation skills a person needs later on in life.
Most of my students will probably go into some aspect of business. Whether they become bankers, government contractors, journalists, chemists, or product developers, they must learn the valuable skill of pitching their product or idea to an audience. Standing in front of a screen and reading from slides will not captivate any audience. It will just make the audience feel like their valuable time is being wasted.
We need to teach our students to pitch their ideas in exciting ways, to give them better presentation skills than “just use PowerPoint.”
Why not try doing presentations in the style of a product fair? Imagine students working in pairs, lively presenting on a specific topic. Half the class presents on their topic, while the other half moves around the room listening to the various presentations. When all have visited each booth, the students switch roles. Those traveling present the topic; those that were presenting now travel to hear presentations.
The students might have a box with artifacts to use as presentation tools. They might have a brochure outlining their key ideas. They might use costumes, props, and gimmicks, to try to convince you to buy their product. Regardless of their subject, all can be engaged, have fun, and learn.
Recently my students were presenting on the Achievements of Classical Greece. Each group filled a museum box with a specific aspect of that period of history. Architecture, Drama, Philosophy, Sports, Sculpture and Religion were all represented by groups of 3 or 4. Students showed off 5 artifacts that helped them share the importance of their specific topic. And each group provided a parting gift to help the visiting students remember the importance of their topic. Questions from real philosophers, olive branches, and candy, were all given away.
When teaching American Colonial history, I have had students encourage people to move to their colony. Students used a brochure to help guide their sales pitch. This allowed them to convince the listener of why it would be great to live in their colony: government, climate, religious affiliation, land availability. They closed their presentation with a jingle and offered a sales gimmick to make people commit to their colony: extra land, money, or even keys to heaven.
Teaching about sustainable energy sources can be quite a dry topic. So I had my students become experts on a type of green energy and then create three-minute sales pitches to sell their type of energy. The students, in the fair setting, pitched their energy type to visiting leaders from other countries looking to invest in new sustainable energy technologies.
Did the students learn presentation skills? Yes. They learned to condense their knowledge into an entertaining and lively 2-3 minute speech. They learned that note cards and looking at their audience was an effective means to deliver information.
Did they learn to work together as a group? Of course. The planning and presenting style ensures that all must participate to complete and perform the task. No one was able to sit passively or just listen. All presented and all had to work toward their group’s success.
Did they problem solve creatively? No doubt about it. Students used their creativity to find and make props to use to support their presentation. They realized gimmicks, jingles, and the perfect visual are much better at grabbing their audience’s attention than a slide of text.
The bottom line is that this style of presenting is never boring. It is real life. It will make the students laugh, and it will make the information memorable for all.
What do you think are the key skills our students need for the work force today? Is a good presentation as important as good writing?