Presenting on a Grand Stage

After presenting at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last week, I wanted to share some takeaways/tips on how academics can make a more engaging presentation (particularly on a grand stage like ISOJ). I could easily title this blog post “Presentation Tips (Do What I Say, Not What I Did).”

ISOJ brings together some of the world’s leading journalists, news execs, journalism scholars and students. For the most part, the non-academics delivered far more engaging, dynamic memorable presentations than the academics (myself included). Academics are accustomed to presenting research to a small group of peers deeply entrenched in a core subject area. ISOJ is a whole different ballgame. The crowd is large (350+ in attendance, plus thousands more watching on two livestreams- one in English, one in Spanish). The audience is diverse (people from 30 different countries were present and a mix of different professions as previously noted). The coverage is intense (expect to be tweeted, recorded, blogged about and so forth).

Academics who get the privilege of presenting on this grand stage (acceptance rates are low so it truly is an honor to be selected) should heed the following advice, IMHO:
 
1)Forget the standard academic format. Yes, you’ll want to talk about the background, your research questions and what your findings are, but doing so shouldn’t follow the standard cookie cutter approach that non-academics either don’t understand or eyes glaze over at the verbose language.
 
2)Own the Stage: If you’re like me, you’re used to hiding behind the podium. The podium is a place to see the complex underpinnings of the research you’re describing, or place notes/talking points. Most of the non-academics owned the stage. They stood out front and center with the big screen behind them, much like you often find at a TED talk.

Make Like Don Draper: Channel your inner "Mad Men" when making a presentation. The fictional ad man is brilliant at making a pitch.

Make Like Don Draper: Channel your inner “Mad Men” when making a presentation. The fictional ad man is brilliant at making a pitch.

 
3)Be Tweetable. Have at least one “killer quote” that’s short, memorable and likely to be tweeted- and shared (getting your message to a wider audience).

David Ho of The Wall Street Journal had at least two such moments:

“The first step in thinking mobile first is don’t think mobile last,” he said.

 “The mouse is dead,” he also declared

Longtime Guardian staffer Emily Bell made a great NBA analogy for journalism, declaring “The power has gone from the league to the franchise to the individual.”

Deseret Media CEO Clark Gilbert had a great line about disruption rendering really smart people completely incapable.

4)Think Visually. Graphics and visual imaging tell a story and are more compelling and engaging than text-heavy slides (we all know not to use a bunch of texts but the standard academic study privileges findings).
 
5)Know Your Audience: A typical academic conference is to a small group of scholarly peers that know the subject you’re talking about. At ISOJ you have a mix of students, scholars, journalists and managers from industry and the academy. Keep your language simple and stay on message. Tell a cohesive story in whatever short amount of time you have to do so.
 
6)Show Passion and Personality: Yes, we’re discussing serious matters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also have fun in doing so. The Washington Post’s Joey Marburger explained how the Tardis time machine from the long-running television series Doctor Who is an example of how mobile devices connect people to the rest. Even Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, responded to a question by saying “Whoomp There It Is” (which naturally prompted a tweet with a link to the Tag Team video). Don’t be afraid to use humor in your talk or to show a lighter, more personable side.

In looking back at the video of my presentation, I #fail(ed) to do most of these. After two presentations at ISOJ, I’m confident that the third time will be the charm.  I look forward to the next time I get the opportunity to take the stage in Austin and some stellar presentations from ISOJ2014.

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One Response to “Presenting on a Grand Stage”

  1. Cómo los académicos pueden hacer mejores presentaciones (en inglés) « El arte del buen decir Says:

    [...] Claves para presentaciones de académicos [...]

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