A Few Tips for Teachers Giving Presentations

Conway Grammar School Staff at ASCD Empower18

It seems to be more and more common for teachers to give presentations to adult audiences. Whether it’s sharing with parents at an open house night, making a persuasive speech at a school board meeting, facilitating part of a faculty meeting, or presenting at a local or national conference, there’s a good chance that as a teacher you’ll end up presenting to an adult audience at some point.

It’s also not uncommon for teachers to panic (or at least get really stressed out) when giving presentations to adult audiences. I’ve heard many teachers lament, “I spend all day in front of kids. Why am I so nervous when I have to get up in front of a bunch of adults?” And when we panic, we tend to forget all that we know about good teaching and learning. We talk too much, share too much information, and don’t give the audience a chance to process. The end result is a presentation that doesn’t teach or persuade.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind if you are going to give a presentation.

Introduce Yourself

It can be easy to be so caught up in what you want to say, that you can forget this essential part of your presentation. Here are a few elements to include:

  • Begin with your name and role. Of course, tailor this to your audience. If your sharing ideas at a faculty meeting, and all faculty know each other well, this may not be necessary. At an open house night or at a school board meeting, don’t assume that everyone knows who you are.
  • Build credibility. Why are you the one giving this presentation? Are you the head of the department? Have you been studying an issue for a while? Do you have a passion for the topic you’re sharing about? Some audience members will be better able to listen to what you say if they know a bit about your credibility with the content.
  • Be personal. Share a bit of personal information if it’s appropriate for the situation. At a conference, you might share where you live and something fun about yourself, for example. Some participants need to feel that they know you a bit personally to listen to what you have to say professionally.

Be Proactive with Group Management

It’s easy to assume that an audience of adults knows how to participate effectively and respectfully in a presentation. However, not all do, and your expectations may be different from others’. Participants often come in with other things on their minds, and texting with someone in the middle of the presentation might not cross their minds as being disrespectful. Take some time to set your audience up for success!

  • Offer a few guidelines.
    Consider sharing a few suggested norms for behavior with the group as you begin your presentation. You might say, “Here are a few ways we can have a great session together,” or “Here are a few norms that might help us all be on the same page as we work together.” Even simply posting the norms and mentioning them briefly can help remind everyone to be thoughtful of others as they participate.
  • Set up management protocols. You might have just a few management protocols such as partners for turn-and-talks and a signal you’ll use to get the attention of the group (so you don’t have to talk over people to get their attention). Take a few minutes to set these up, and you’ll save lots of time during the presentation.
  • Explain how questions will be addressed. Nothing can derail a presentation more quickly than a tough question asked at the wrong time. So, before you begin your presentation, let the audience know how you’ll handle questions. You might have people hold questions until the end of the presentation, or you might take questions at certain points as you go. Another idea is to have people to write questions down and hand them to you later. Whatever the case, let your audience know ahead of time, and then stick to your plan when an audience member forgets and asks a question at the wrong time.

Use PowerPoints Well

Some will argue that PowerPoint presentations shouldn’t be used at all—that they’re a sure-fire way to lull an audience to sleep. I’ve certainly seem some that did just this. The problem isn’t PowerPoint itself (or Prezzi or Google slides or Keynote). The problem is poor use of these electronic visual aids. Here are a few tips for using these tools well:

  • Keep them text-lite. The fewer words on your slides, the better. People get overwhelmed if there’s too much writing on a slide, especially when the font is small. Use a few keywords or phrases instead of sentences or long lists. This has the added benefit of not allowing you to read slides aloud. Speaking of this….

    Use pictures to emphasize key ideas in a presentation.

  • Don’t read text on slides. There may be some exceptions—you might read a powerful quote aloud for impact. For the most part though, slides should be a visual way to emphasize key points you’re presenting—they shouldn’t be the presentation itself. An alternative to reading a slide is to have participants turn and talk about key ideas on the slide.
  • Use pictures. You might use a background picture that emphasizes the main idea of the slide or a picture that illustrates an idea you’re sharing. Pictures are powerful! Only use pictures that really enhance your presentation however—don’t use ones that distract from content.
  • Avoid “cutesy” elements. Clip art looks unprofessional. Animations that cause words to fly or bounce and are accompanied by goofy sound effects also come off as unprofessional. These can distract from content and turn some audience members off.

Keep Content Reasonable

There’s just so much information that can be absorbed, especially through an oral presentation, at one time. This is why TED Talks are capped at 20 minutes–which is on the high end of the amount of time people can pay attention. If you stuff people too full of information and don’t give enough time to process, they’ll get what Bena Kallick refers to as “cognitive indigestion”. Here are a few ways to keep content reasonable:

  • Keep the heart of the content in mind. If people were to walk away from your presentation with only one or two key ideas, what would they be? Keep these ideas in mind as you structure your talk. Emphasize these.
  • Provide resources. If you have a lot of information to share with people, create a handout or an online set of resources you can share. Then, during your talk, summarize the key ideas without overexplaining. People can refer to the resources you provided, and you won’t feel the need to say everything you think they need to know.
  • Give chances for people to process. If your presentation is longer than 10 minutes, give people a chance to consolidate and process. You might have people turn and talk with a partner to share key ideas or generate questions. Or, you might have people explore a handout and discuss key ideas in a small group. If there are multiple speakers in your presentation, you might give audience members a chance to process after each speaker.

You may have noticed an important theme running throughout the suggestions of this post. When we give a presentation to adults, we shouldn’t forget the key elements of good teaching. Helping learners get to know us, setting up management structures, and using effective and interactive teaching strategies are what we do every day with our students. Adult learners benefit from these same strategies!

For a more in-depth exploration of good presenting strategies, consider How to Make Presentations that Teach and Transform, by Robert Garmston and Bruce Wellman. It’s a classic!

  • Mike Anderson
    Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including What We Say and How We Say It MatterThe Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.

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    Mike Anderson
    Leading Great Learning
    Durham, NH
    Phone: +1 413.658.7907

    Leading Great Learning

    Mike Anderson is an energetic, experienced, and highly sought-after educational consultant who helps facilitate great learning in schools all over the United States and beyond. He has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, consultant, presenter, and developer and has authored many books and articles about great teaching and learning.