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Presentations to a Wired Audience

December 17, 2011 at 4:26 am in Executive Speaking, PowerPoint, Speechifying, Toastmasters by John Freisinger | No Comments

The lighting in the room was greatly augmented by the glow of dozens of laptop and iPad screens. Eyes down, transfixed by the screen images, if you had walked into the room at that moment you would have assumed that the audience had long ago stopped listening to my presentation. You would be wrong.

I have been experimenting lately with ways to take advantage of a wired audience’s propensity to watch their screens and have come up with a few ideas. These are not yet fully formed techniques but I am playing around with them to see how they work in different settings.

First, I begin with the mindset that the click of a keyboard is actually a good thing. Initially my speaking ego was a bit bruised when I would see audience members paying more attention to their devices than to my slides but overcame those misgivings quickly. After a recent presentation a pair of students, who had been buried in their laptops for the last hour, approached me with some very insightful questions. They referred to the copious notes they had been taking on their laptops throughout the lecture and wanted more information. They had even taken the time to look up one of the resources I referenced and ask which edition of the book they should purchase.

On a second occasion a “distracted” audience member raised her head long enough to ask a question, “What’s your Twitter handle so I can tweet some of the great things you are saying?”

And then last week one of my audience members asked me for permission to post portions of the workshop we had just completed to his company’s internal website. He had been recording our session with his laptop webcam (he had swiveled it around to face me) and wanted to include some of the video clips in his notes. I enthusiastically said yes because I had been looking for an entrée into his company and he was willing to walk me right in.

The webcam request was my first but I am finding the Twitter and laptop note-taking to be a much more prevalent occurrence. So I am now beginning my presentations with a couple of new strategies. First I give my Twitter tag up front, @JFreisinger, so that the Twitter-savvy participants can add to the conversation.

I choose the the term “conversation” literally. During a presentation, I have my Twitter app up on my iPhone and will check it during the breaks that I have scheduled into my presentations (these are usually quick “discuss with your neighbor..” activities), or I will take a tweet break to check in to let the audience know I care. The tweets help me understand if there is something that needs to be expanded or if we are getting bogged down on one topic too long. If no one is tweeting I ask why. Often they are looking for permission.

The side benefit of actively seeking tweets from your audience is that it creates a record off what the audience heard. I use the tweet history as a debrief on what the audience heard and how they responded. Sometimes I read the tweets after a session and realize that their rephrasing of an idea is more succinct and memorable than the mnemonics that I used.

The second technique I am experimenting with is to host my materials on my website and invite the audience to download them for use during the presentation. Typically what they will find are a few Word documents (because handouts should be done in Word or Pages not PowerPoint) that have some of the essential anchor points and plenty of space for notes. These online documents are derived from the physical handouts I also provide but I have found that some audiences prefer the electronic version to a paper copy, which is a nice cost savings for me.

In one of my first efforts to provide an electronic “follow along notepad”, as one of my students called it, I spent quite a bit of time formatting the notes fields so that they produced bulleted lists. The overwhelming feedback was that the group did not like the formatting because they changed it anyway. Some used hierarchical numbers or letter formatting. Some used bullets. Some used complete sentences. Now I just provide blank areas next to key phrases, images or diagrams so that there is ample, unformatted space for the audience to note-take in any form they prefer.

So those are just a few of the things I am testing with my connected audiences. I still haven’t come up with a strategy for the camera note-taker but maybe one of my upcoming audiences with tweet a solution.

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