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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2009

Softening Up a Tough Audience

How to be a dynamic presenter.

How to be a dynamic presenter -- image shows a microphone in front of an audience.As a third-grade teacher in Compton, California, where most of her students are English-language learners, Kimberly Adame-Davis faces a tough audience each and every school day. A former accountant, Adame-Davis experienced a change of heart after the birth of her son and decided to pursue a career in teaching so that she could return to her roots and help change the lives of culturally diverse students in her native Compton. The lessons she has learned in the classroom and through her coursework at Walden inspire her work in a family involvement program that equips parents with tools and activities to encourage English-language development in their children. In weekly sessions, she leads groups of parents, most of whom are acquiring English language skills along with their children.

Throughout her career, Adame-Davis has attended her share of professional conferences and acknowledges there is nothing worse than a presenter who is anything less than dynamic and engaging. She believes the same strategies she applies to students in the classroom can be employed to keep any audience interested and involved.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes. When I develop my presentation, I often put myself in the shoes of audience members. What would keep me interested? What do I want to hear? I want my audience to be informed and share the presentation highlights with others. I am also respectful of how valuable time is to everyone these days. As a presenter, you must be on time and be prepared.

Involve Your Audience. Once an audience tunes you out, it is difficult to pull them back in. I like to spend a minute or two getting a read on my audience and learning what I can do to reach them and make the presentation fun for them. Try something new, whether it is using music or introducing a dance step. As I get into my presentation, I typically slow down at three different points to ask the audience a few questions and check on their level of understanding.

Break the Ice. For smaller groups, participants may need help warming up to you and to each other. You need to move people out of their comfort zone. That's when a tried and true icebreaker comes in handy. I like to give each person a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and have them choose a partner. Then they have two minutes to draw each other's portrait without the pencil ever leaving the paper. As they draw, they talk, make excuses for their drawings, and share a few laughs. As portraits are shared, the group bonds and it gives you a chance to bond with your audience.

Give Your Audience Something They Can Use. You want to convey meaningful information that your audience can immediately apply to work or to home. Tweak your presentation to be sure you are meeting the needs of the audience and giving them useful skills. When I work with parents who are teaching reading at home, I often share takeaways such as reading packets and timers that parents can use with their children.

Reward Their Attention. Eliminate the tendency for side conversations, texting, or cell phone use during your presentation by offering your audience an incentive. There are just too many distractions with technology today. I typically give each audience member a ticket as they enter my presentation and alert them that if they maintain the ticket throughout the presentation, they will be eligible for a prize—a gift certificate from Starbucks or something similar. As much as teachers lecture their students about paying attention, they can be a tough audience. If a cell phone rings, I take the ticket and the prize is forfeited. It helps keep people alert and on their toes.

—Nancy Grund

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