Saturday, 26 May 2012

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 1. Don’t sit down!

This is the first in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. So here is a very simple, yet effective technique to get us started. Stand up.

You might think that this one is obvious but I have attended several training courses where the trainer sat down the whole time.

Now there are a couple of good reasons for the trainer to sit down. For example, they are giving a demonstration and are sat at the keyboard typing in some code. On the other hand, they might have broken their leg in a skiing accident and are more comfortable in a chair.

If neither applies, then they should be on their feet.

Incidentally, although most of the technical training rooms at QA currently have desks at the front of the classroom for the instructor, I try and use a lectern where possible so I can remain standing during the demos too.

I have read a number of evaluation forms where the respondent has complained that the trainer sat down throughout the course.

Look at it from the delegate's point of view, if there are two monitors (theirs and the instructor's) between them and the instructor then they will spend the entire course listening to a disembodied voice, unless they want to move their chair into the aisle and I have seen that done before. They might as well listen to a pod cast.

If the trainer is sat down, they are unlikely to be maintaining eye contact with their delegates. How are they to know if the delegates understand what is being said?

So why do I think that some trainers remain seated?

Nerves. They are probably nervous and by sitting down behind the monitor and desk they are maintaining a barrier between themselves and their audience.

Well the best way to overcome the nerves is for them to get on their feet and get on with it. The more they present in this way and the more they realise that the delegates didn't come to hurl abuse at them then the more comfortable they will become. Then again, if their nerves are so bad that they can never overcome their fear of presenting then they are obviously in the wrong job.

Many years ago I was a DJ (it was the 80s and I had hair). I had been working as a DJ for several years and thought I was doing pretty well when I asked a very good friend of mine named Tony Thomas who was a brilliant DJ to give me some tips. He came along to one of my gigs and at the end of the night came over to give me his advice. He had one tip for me. "Open up your set". My standard setup was to arrange my turntables and records (remember them?) on a series of tables across the stage with an array of lights to the front and flanked by speakers. I would spend the entire evening 'behind' the decks flipping through my record boxes thinking about what I might play next. In effect I was hiding.

I followed his suggestion of placing the decks and records on tables either side of me with a gap in the middle. As I had nowhere to hide, I was forced to engage more with the crowd. In no time at all I found that I was having a much more enjoyable night and judging by the bookings, so were the crowd. Within weeks of my changing my approach, the weekly number of booking calls quadrupled and stayed that way.

So whether you're a DJ or a trainer, if you do not engage with your audience you might as well not be there at all.

How about this to help you get started? Before you begin your next course/presentation, remove the instructor chair from the classroom. That kind of immersion therapy will have you sorted out in no time. Either that or you will have realised once and for all that you are not suited to a career in presenting and can crack on and find something that suits you better.

I'll be back as soon as I can with more of my tips and ideas to help you deliver a great presentation or training course.  

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


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