Experiential learning and informal learning are the new watchwords for education, but presentation still has its place. Learners need context to anchor their learning and presentations can create this context.
But if just hearing the word “presentation” makes you flinch and your eyes glaze over (and you’re the presenter!), remember that presentations can be
How can presenters achieve this ideal when their learners are already squirming in their virtual seats?
Using a digital storytelling model
Presenters today are digital storytellers, yet for many, there’s a focus on the materials of the story versus the story itself. What do I mean by materials? It’s the data, the text, and even the images that exist in the scrap pile of the “need to know” information you feel you have to push to learners. As learners ourselves, we all know that a response to be being pushed is to resist.
So how do we overcome this instinctive reaction of our learners? One way is to embrace the idea that the story comes first and if it’s a good story, learners will be engaged by it and draw upon it to create their own version of the story. (If the idea of a story disturbs you, remember that stories can be non-fiction and that telling a story doesn’t have to mean exaggeration or leaving out critical facts.)
Framing the story
The presentation platform is probably the least important element of a good presentation. Although technology can certainly enhance storytelling, most of the story’s impact rests in the voice (whether virtual or real) of the storyteller. The presenter needs to weave together a number of elements found in all good stories.
This is the world in which the story takes place. It can be a world in which learners currently reside or a world they’re about to face. As in any good story, the setting has to feel real and be relatable.
The learners are often the heroes/heroines of the story and interact with other characters who matter to their lives. But learners may not always be the central characters of an instructional story. For example, sometimes the central characters are the clients the learners serve. In any case, the motivations of the characters have to be well-understood so that the way they behave makes sense.
This is the problem that the instruction will address and it needs to be a problem learners care about.
A bit of foreshadowing
Even if the presentation is a prelude to an experiential learning scenario, the presentation needs to provide learners with the basic tools they’ll need to solve a problem or at least make the route to these tools transparent. Learners should be introduced to the facts, concepts, and principles they’ll need to engage in an experience to be successful at it.
The story should have that postmodern flair, i.e., no neat endings, since the learners will be expected to mull over where they’d take the story next. However, there still should be some sense of closure. Learners have to believe that they have the power to create solutions.
This is the thread that ties all of these presentation elements together. It can be enriched by voice, by carefully chosen text, by illustrations, by music, and/or by video. When you check the flow of your narrative, you step back from the individual components of whatever instructional design model you are using to consider the whole again. And, as any good writer knows, any element that doesn’t move the story forward should be cut out, even if it’s a particularly beautiful visual element.
Developing digital storytelling skills
An excellent site that I’ve run across is designed for younger students, but I think it has a lot to offer to anyone trying to hone their presentation skills. Beyond Digital Storytelling offers resources and interactive exercises that can help you create presentation stories that matter. The site even provides a compelling hook for trainers. In its Web page, Stories Worth Telling, Margaret Parkin’s work “Tales for Trainers” is cited. As Parkin’s noted, when presenters use stories, students make fewer mistakes, apply concepts to wider ranging situations, and generally exhibit better recall of concepts when compared to students who listened to traditional lectures. All the more reason to put your storytelling hats on the next time you develop a presentation.