Apply the Goldilocks formula to engage listeners

A daylong event to interest girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics was great fun for my daughter and her friends, but like most conferences the presentations had highs and lows. One presenter, in particular, created the ideal mix of information and activity.

A presentation can be:

  • Too hot, with lots of “Wow” but little learning. All of the speakers offered hands-on activities, and the more you can involve the audience’s senses, the better. The girls will remember eating ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, but they learned little of the science behind that experience. If you can play a video in your presentation instead of flashing a photo or telling a story, that can be a great choice. But don’t let the show overpower the substance.
  • Too cold, with a data dump. Speakers who are passionate about their subjects sometimes miss the clues that the audience is starting to tune out while they talk. Even with an audience of adults who are interested in what you have it say, mix up the style of your presentation every 10 to 15 minutes. Assign them an exercise to complete, switch speakers or do something else so that you aren’t speaking for long stretches.
  • Just right, with a mix of information and application. The best presenter of the day took the girls on a journey in the form of a murder mystery. Whether they watch one of the CSI television shows or read Nancy Drew mysteries, each could relish the role of playing detective. Step by step the presenter introduced them to soil science as they tested samples and narrowed the suspect list. She explained and asked questions, requiring them to think and draw their own conclusions. Not every subject lends itself to handing out pipettes and PH strips to the attendees, but you can involve the audience members in their own learning.

How do you find the right mix of speaking and other activities during a esentation?

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