Mark Barnes

Teachers, presenters could learn from Adora Svitak

Posted in Conferences, presentations, Recent Events, Teaching Tools by Mark Barnes on February 8, 2010

Twelve-year-old Adora Svitak wowed an audience of thousands of teachers at the eTech Ohio Educational Technology Conference last week. The author/presenter came off much more like a seasoned veteran presenter than a school kid, as she bounced around the stage, smoothly advancing relevant slides and mixing knowledge and humor as gracefully as Steve Jobs rolling out his latest gadget to throngs of CEOs.

To her credit, Svitak is definitely a child prodigy. Nonetheless, she had plenty to teach the more mature and experienced educators in attendance at eTech in Columbus, Ohio.

Many, in fact, should have been taking notes on their Smart Phones, instead of zipping off text messages. After the cool kid finished her polished song and dance, I visited numerous presentations by teachers, who took a whirl at sharing their technology knowledge.

Although there was some interesting information, the presentations left much to be desired in dynamo Svitak’s wake. In fact, it’s remarkable just how weak some teachers were in both their slide shows and their styles. It made me wonder what their students must have to suffer through on a daily basis.

Teaching and presenting are different animals

Perhaps comparing my colleagues to Adora Svitak is unfair. After all, presenting and teaching do require different skill sets. Not to mention that presenting in front of hundreds of educators is a bit more daunting than spilling information into 25 teens. Still, if teachers intend to share their considerable knowledge to others in the profession, basic slide ware skill and understanding of presentation style are a must.

Great presenters are not born

Admittedly, when I presented at eTech a year ago, I was part of the aforementioned group;  my presentation was dull and lifeless. People liked the unique information I shared, as evidenced by follow-up contact, as well as by the myriad of questions I received that day. I could tell by watching the audience, though, that they were bored; some even left before I was finished. I decided that I was going to be better this year.

Enter Garr Reynolds

Months before my trip to Columbus, I began creating my slide show and rehearsing my presentation. I watched many videos of great speakers, hoping to emulate the best of each. Finally, I read Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen — one of the finest how-to books on presenting available.

Reynolds, who has taught Google employees among other big business workers worldwide how to be more effective with both the tools they use in a presentation and in their styles, inspired me to improve my own skills, while providing a very simple blueprint for success.

Now, this is not to say I was spectacular at eTech. I was, however, more effective than I had ever been in front of an audience and, unlike last year, no one left early.

In the end, I left the eTech conference with some good ideas to go with some disappointment over some poor presentations. Hopefully, those teachers were inspired by Adora Svitak and maybe even by this blog post.

Perhaps next year, I’ll witness some real “presentation zen.”