Perfect Presentations Through Technology: Part 2
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Stages For The Perfect Technological Presentations

In real content, speakers can monitor how a presentation is received from the audience's facial expressions, body postures, and movements. In an online format, this is more difficult, although the chat function does provide a system for feedback. Therefore, it is vital that the input is carefully considered, and preparation is the key for listener engagement. Part 1 considered the communicative process and competencies required for this and in Part 2, the implementation is discussed.

The 3 Stages For Presenting Online (Sage, 2000, 2020)

1. Planning: The Time For Questions

  • Goal: What is the purpose? What outcome is needed?
  • Cross-curricular issues: How does the input connect with other subject studies?
  • Transferable competencies: How will the presentation encourage these? (Communication, problem-solving, cultural awareness, leadership, data analysis, time management, work ethic)
  • Multi-modal: How will auditory, visual, and haptic (feeling/space) input be provided?
  • Differentiation of tasks: How will tasks for a student's cognitive-linguistic range be provided?
  • Evolution: How does this input connect with past and future learning requirements?
  • Assessment: What is an appropriate test of input understanding?

These questions are important to pose for effective input. If queries reflect a holistic learning approach, not only will students engage but will remember the content. The mantra see, hear, say, and learn follows brain information processing. However, learning activities generally exclude the "saying" element. Unless students have the opportunity to speak about what they have learned the chances are the information will be soon forgotten.

2. Presentation: The Structure Of The Teaching Session

  • Overview
    With online presentations, a session summary must be provided, as reduced face-to-face opportunities make orientation more important. Questions must be posed. A platform facility can check that students have accessed the session summary before the online input. This feedback can be made a small percentage of an assessment grade. (See example in the Appendix)
  • Modeling
    Demonstrating information is vital and brief video clips are useful for this.
  • Direct Instruction
    In face-to-face situations, PowerPoint inputs accompany direct instruction with the presenter judging reception from verbal and non-verbal audience feedback. This is not easy on a web-based module. Make sure written input is presented first with time to absorb before speaking. Make the explanation, with a 5-minute maximum, before a break, which could be a question with a video clip illustrating an answer.
  • Paraphrase the main points after each section, asking what listeners have learned (different for everyone).
  • Assessment: In some nations (e.g., Italy/Japan) oral as well as written assessments are seen as important. In UK College of Teachers online courses, students produced short videos (3 minutes) explaining what had been gained from teaching and assessment. These were screened for clarity, content, conventions, and conduct and with practice were quickly examined. The IDIAL European project (2009-12) demonstrated the importance of this (Sage & Cwenar, 2011).

3. Performance

A consistent finding of studies of student attention spans is that variability arises from differences in teacher performance (Bradbury & Franklin, 2016, Keyton, 2002, 2010, 2011). Certainly, the most interesting material, if performed in a dry and dull manner, is a turn off for any listener. What is the difference between an online and a face-to-face presentation is the emotional buy-in. A lively, inspiring teacher motivates students to delve more deeply into the content and provides a more satisfying experience than can be gained from passive materials. When presenting online the following issues need addressing to help overcome the problem:

Camera Angle

This must be at the same level or above the face. Raising the computer will be necessary. A laptop stand, a box, or a book stack will enable the camera to be right across the face. The light source should come in front of you as back illumination produces a scary silhouette. A Diva Ring Light is ideal as it enhances facial features and highlights eyes by casting a flattering beam. Choose a suitable background—people do not want to see piles of washing up, an unmade bed, or even a row of books, as these distract. Choose a background that is neutral and does not fight with your face.

Think About The Audience

Take time to imagine you are talking individually to those tiny squares—think of them as "friends."

Smile And Make Eye Contact ­

...and keep smiling as it is easy to present a panicked face as you worry about software and whether it will let you down. Assigning someone to deal with glitches can take the worried look away but this may not be possible, so make sure you are familiar with web functions. When looking at the black dot (camera) at the top of the computer screen the audience will feel like you are viewing them. You will need to gaze at the computer or elsewhere on occasions but make sure that you regularly look at the camera. This helps to make contact and connect with the audience to keep them engaged.

Posture And Appearance

Dress up rather than down as a web presentation is a formal occasion and how you look supports this. Wearing something that flatters you is important as it improves posture. If sitting, make sure your back is straight and you stretch up from the waist so that your lungs can take in a maximum quantity of air to sustain speaking. Otherwise, your voice will tail off at the end of a sentence and be difficult to hear. If standing, check legs are about 20cm apart with weight over the balls of the feet to release muscles that control volume and speech rate. Keep the neck straight to project the voice well.

Grab Attention

Smile and make a strong phatic introduction of welcome and pleasure at an opportunity to share knowledge. Show an outline of the presentation, giving time for the audience to read it before making explanatory comments. This includes the topic, purpose, central idea, and main points. Starting with "Today I am talking about X" is not arresting. Use a startling statistic, anecdote, or quotation to focus interest. Check that everyone is comfortable about seeing and hearing you and mention that the chat function should be used for feedback. A convenor can be appointed to monitor this. Try to promote active discussion with questions.

 Voice

Make sure you vary the pace, pitch, and power so that speech sounds lively and interesting. The same sentence can have a very different meaning depending on which words are emphasized and the voice tone used. With age, our voice range decreases without vocal exercise, and actors do warm-ups to ensure their words are striking. Find your high and low notes, and practice extending the range (see Sage, 2000). Personality comes through voice, so ensure you sound real by telling stories, anecdotes, and jokes (if appropriate) to enliven material. Non-verbal communication carries most of the message. Good delivery conveys ideas clearly without distraction. Lack of clarity and cohesion results in poor decisions and confusion.

Delivery

Reading from a script fractures the interpersonal connection. Maintaining eye contact with the audience keeps the focus on yourself and the message. A brief topic outline at a level of your face prevents bending down and losing audience attention. Gestures are important to reinforce points but can dominate in the small screen space, so use sparingly. Check the rate of delivery and speak more slowly than in a face-to-face context, as without the real context processing cues are reduced. Short sentences and regular pausing help the message transmit effectively.

Use audio-visuals sparingly, as too many break the direct connection to the audience. They should clarify and enhance the content, or capture and maintain attention. Give time for them to be scanned before expanding on them with comments. The presentation should have limited talk periods, with continual summaries of main points with reflective questions in between to give listeners the opportunity to take stock and review what has been said. Video clips are useful illustrations to make the material real. Finish with a final review of main points and discussion of the questions asked.

Questions

During a presentation pose open-ended questions which encourage further points and details. Probing questions require more thoughtful responses such as "Think about the process of…" A mixture of questions including clarification of "what if" scenarios and open-ended ones help to make sure that one achieves the presentation goal. On a webinar, these can be posed and responded to on the chat function to then be discussed before the summary.

Communication is never perfect but putting effort into preparing a presentation and thinking about making a good performance pays off with a positive impact for students. People seem more nervous about online activity and you cannot shake this off entirely but aim to minimize.

Review

Technology can foster improved communication in online presentations, as it gives speakers the opportunity to assess their performances from recordings. In the digital age, technology critics claim that it is ruining interpersonal communication. It is certainly changing it and can be for the better by making us more aware of issues that help or hinder exchanges. Effective web presentations, that are recorded, give people a chance to review for as many times needed to comprehend the material. It is a skill to learn the different types of technology for communicating and learning effectively. Usually, this ability is picked up haphazardly, so there is a need for continual training.

As technology becomes more integrated into life the skill of using it becomes essential. The COVID-19 pandemic has relied on teaching through technology and blended learning has advantages in allowing learning flexibility. It has the means to teach communication to varied audiences. People have always had communication apprehension and anxiety talking to others, particularly in large group settings. Some students show this in classrooms but are fine outside in more informal contexts.

Anxiety is fear of the unknown. When interacting face-to-face, the feedback that a sender gets from the receiver is uncertain. In order to reduce uncertainty, people stereotype to reduce worry. With technology, it is easier to communicate because people do not have to cope with that initial face-to-face reaction when they are remote. Although technology has downsides in the rise of cyberbullying, respect for others and responsible use must be emphasized in learning contexts. Undoubtedly, teachers will be relying on blended learning in the future to cope with a continuing rise of students and this can support face-to-face learning if effectively used.

References:

  • Bradbury, N. & Franklin, R. (2016) Attention Span During Lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more?  Adv. Physiol Educ 40: 509–513, 2016; doi: 10.1152/
  • Keyton, J. (2002). Communicating in groups: Building relationships for effective decision making (2nd ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  • Keyton, J. (2010). Case studies for organizational communication: Understanding communication processes. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Keyton, J. (2011). Communication and organizational culture: A key to understanding work experience. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Sage, R. (2000) Class Talk: Successful Learning through Effective Communication. London: Bloomsbury
  • Sage, R. (2020) Speechless: Issues for Education. London: Legend Group
  • Sage, R. & Cwenar, S. (2012) A Communication Course for Teachers: Research on the Impact on Practice. IDIAL EU Project 2009-12.

       APPENDIX: Example of a Pre-lecture Information Sheet

        COURSE: UNDERSTANDING COMMUNICATION

                Module: PHATIC COMMUNICATION

Phatic language is used for general social interaction, rather than conveying information or asking questions. Utterances like: "Hello, how are you?" and "Nice day, isn't it?" are phatic. Although seeming to have little purpose, small talk helps to bond, define relationships, and categorize social position. It lubricates interactions, relating to a need to maintain a positive face.

The session has 3 topic sections:

  1. Conversational patterns: Introducing Grices’s Maxim of Quantity
  2. Gender differences: Collaborative styles of women vs. competitive ones of men
  3. Culture differences: Small talk rules and topics vary widely across the world

Module Aim: To understand the importance of phatic communication and how it can be improved to establish effective relationships.

Questions: Why is phatic communication important? What are your observations from real-life situations on the use of phatic communication? What makes phatic communication effective? Has knowledge of this process changed your views about communication? How will you improve your phatic use?

Useful reference texts for these 3 areas:

  1. Ventola, E. (1979) "The Structure of Casual Conversation in English," Journal of Pragmatics 3: pp.267–298.
  2. Grice, H. (1975) "Logic and Conversation,"  in: P. Cole & J. Morgan (eds.) Syntax & Semantics: Speech Acts, Vol.3, Academic, NY.
  3. Tannen, D. (1992) "How Men and Women use Language Differently in their Lives and in the Classroom," The Education Digest 57,6.

Assessment

Choose one of the three topics that interests you. Review the literature and provide a practical example from a real-life situation to illustrate. Produce a final reflection on what you have learned from your topic study and the competencies you have gained.

Pre-lecture task

Get in touch with your lecture "buddy" and exchange thoughts about the lecture topic. Briefly report the conversation on your reflection log.

Post-lecture task

Prepare a 3-minute presentation on your assessment task for your personal learning group.

Competencies practiced:

  • Knowledge of part of the communicative process, transferable competencies, observation studies, literature reviews, reflection, spoken, and written reporting.

From a B.Sc - Medical and Communication Sciences.

Dr. R. Sage, Head of Clinical and Educational Studies.

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