Friday, November 25, 2011

Know Your Audience

CC Licensed Photo by o5com
Over the past couple of years it has been a personal goal of mine to improve my presentation skills. I found it hard to improve because it was difficult to get honest feedback from participants. Often the feedback came from participants I knew who would say things like 'Good job!'. This is all fine and good, but it's not particularly helpful in finding ways of improving.  I also feel that people who attended my sessions may not have enjoyed them but were perhaps too polite to say anything at all. So, how could I truly improve?

I decided to make a conscious effort to watch presentations that I attended with a critical eye. I wanted to be able to leave a presentation thinking not just that a presentation was good or that it could use some work. I wanted to pinpoint what made the presentation good and what types of improvements could be made.

Today we had a professional development session about autism. The entire school staff was present as were a large number of people involved in special education from around the district and the community. The speaker was extremely knowledgeable about the topic, was well prepared and stopped her presentation a number of times to answer questions specific to what was happening at the school. Unfortunately, most of her talk was so advanced that I, along with others who don't have a special education background, were completely lost. It was clear very early on that she did not know her audience and wasn't able to adapt on the fly.

What did I take away from the presentation? When presenting I need to find a way to get feedback from the participants to gauge where they are. This will allow me to adjust the presentation as I go. I guess in the classroom this is what we call the 'student voice'. If students already know the material, move on quickly. If it's over their head, slow right down.

What tricks or tools do you use for gauging your audience?