If any lesson fell upon me at my first scholastic conference (April 2011), it was the difference between poor presentations and those well done. Technological limitations, though significant, had little to do with the quality of the presentations; rather the caliber of these scholastic conferrals came down to the presenters themselves. They either flubbed or managed to transfix. Most flubbed.

This in and of itself is surprising considering this scholastic conference included, well, scholars. Nearly all of the presenters taught at the university level, a few at the community college level, and, unfortunately, a few still looking.

I began to ponder on this. Folks with PhD’s and MA’s should not be DOA (dead on arrival) when it comes to presenting their work and hard won research. As a recent MA recipient, the quality of the pedagogy at the university, I felt, was impressive. The professors that taught me by and large worked just as hard in their pedagogy as they did in staying sharp within their research acumen.

Yet, at the conference, session after session betrayed a continuous stream of banality, uncouth, unprofessional, and unwelcome. Nor was age or gender a factor. Whether seasoned veterans or rookie teachers, male or female, the majority of the presentations failed in communicating fully the benefits of their most recent investigations.

A case in point; I walked into a conference session room ten minutes ahead of schedule where I overheard a conversation in French between two professors. What an unexpected treat, I thought, since having struggled through three semesters of college French. Alas, I only caught snippets of the conversation but, nonetheless, was impressed with emotive flow and gesticulation that occurred between the two. When the moderator introduced the first speaker, one of the professors that carried on their conversation in French took the podium. She was tall, confident, and possessed the ability to project. After a few introductory comments, however, this professor picked up her paper and proceeded to read it. Not only read it, but read it very fast. It’s as if she were obsessed with the idea of translating her research – one paragraph and one breath at a time. I was stunned. To this day, I do not remember a single word she said, nor what her topic was about. I am certain that was not her intention.

Thankfully, the following speaker transfixed the room. No paper, no PowerPoint, no need for speed. He moved a chair to the front of the podium, sat in it, looked into our eyes and began with the words, “let me tell you a story.” For the next twenty minutes the audience leaned forward listening intently on a very metered and well-paced oration on prison culture (which I assume is what the speaker before him was also talking about, but I cannot recall).

This contrast in speaking and presentation skills which appeared before me at a four day scholastic conference provided me with indelible lessons on what makes a great presentation – and what does not. So tune in next time, as I want to go over all of my notes and make a concerted effort to teach you just as much as this conference taught me in what makes a presentation sizzle.

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