Friday, September 22, 2006

Guidelines for an effective presentation, which my Balaton meeting presentation mostly ignored

The final day of Balaton Group meetings, as members are preparing to depart, is often a time of reflection. What worked and didn’t work during the meeting; what should be the topic of the next meeting; who should be new members; how can subsequent meetings be made better? People come to the meetings for networking and catching up with old friends, but there is a formal program as well.

The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘leverage points.’ In system dynamics modeling (the sort of modeling I do) a system leverage point might be defined as a point in the system where an intervention can be made to produce a desired result most cost effectively. To ask a question about leverage points is to ask ‘where can the greatest beneficial changes in system behavior be effected with the least effort possible. Introducing new information in a system, creating a negative feedback hoop that changes a decision process would be one example.

My task was to provide a presentation on how ‘systems thinking’ could contribute to understanding the ‘information economy’ and to identify leverage points that could help catalyze sustainable development. My presentation fell so far below the standard I set for myself it embarrassed me and, no doubt, my listeners.

Coaching students on effective presentations is part of every class I teach. My guidelines are straightforward. Here are the most important.
1. Careful preparation – and rehearsal – is essential.
2. The time budgeted for preparation should be longer – far longer = that then time for delivery.
3. Short presentations require more careful preparation than long ones
4. Know your audience and include them, empathetically, in your delivery. Use language and examples that communicate your message – to them!
5. Develop between five and ten clear, focused conclusions. State them at the beginning, develop them, and then reemphasize them at the end.
6. If questions are to be part of the presentation, leave time for them.

I was preoccupied with other meeting activities and failed to follow most of these guidelines, with predictable results..

Some other presentations, too, fell short of this standard and, in our post meeting evaluations, I pointed this out. But I was unconscious of the hubris these comments must have communicated.

My assessment should have begun by looking in the mirror.


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