The Presentation Paradox: How can a linear communication become more random?

celtic-knot-basic-linearsvgToday’s tip covers two aspects of presentations and presenting. First, a presentation is linear. Second, the best presenter uses random access methods throughout their presentation.

Let’s start with the presentation. A presentation is a linear form of communication. While you are speaking, the audience has no idea of the words you can going to speak next. They may have an idea of the gist if you are presenting with clarity – but the actual words are unknown to them until you speak. And then, once spoken, there is no way that the audience can go back to what you have just said unless they interrupt you and ask you to repeat yourself (annoying) or they have one of those global remote controls that Adam Sandler had in the movie, Click (freaky).

Compare this form of communication with reading a book. At any time, you can jump ahead to read the next few pages or even read the last page like Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry met Sally. Or if you wish to stop and reflect on a paragraph you just read, you can. This method of communication is called random access. Using the internet is very much a random access experience with all the distractions of hyperlinks.

Today’s digital natives have grown up with a completely different approach to accessing information (learning). In the past, knowledge was passed from one generation to the next through the spoken traditions of storytelling which evolved into lecturing (how did that happen?). This took a further evolution into PowerPoint slides which have done more than any other tool to stifle learning in the business world. It’s not the software’s fault, just the way we use it. Today with the internet, we learn by using wikipedia, accessing interest-specific forums, seeing what our friends recommend and see how other people rate the problems through digg or delicious.

If I want to find a software or fix an IT problem, I could go and listen to my IT guy give me a long-winded explanation about something completely (to my mind) irrelevant. Linear communication. Or I could jump online and google the problem. Check what people with similar problems are saying on computer forums, search computer web sites for software. Check out their credibility on wiki. And then perhaps ask some friends via Twitter and Facebook.  Random access communication.

Your challenge as a presenter is to use more random access methods of communication while you are presenting to give your audience the chance to make the learning experience their own. Examples include, discussion within a group at their tables, doing online research, reviewing notes and re-presenting or interpreting the learning points via a case study or role play.  How else can you provide jump off points for your audience?

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