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Wide Awake Presentations: 3 Better Ways to Share Information Than Reading Your Slides

by Kate Wolfe Maxlow

You walk into a training session or a classroom and the first slides come up looking like this:

…and the presenter starts to read aloud every. Single. Bullet. Inwardly, everyone in the audience groans and inwardly dies a little, knowing that they’re never going to get this hour of their lives back.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a trainer doing professional development or a teacher making your way through the Crimean War–this is a rough way to cram information into your presentation.

What’s worse, is that it’s pretty darn ineffective.

When you have this much information on a slide and are just reading each bullet aloud to be able to check off that you “covered it,” even the few brave souls that are actually listening probably aren’t processing very much. Our short term memories only hold 7 +/- 2 pieces of information at a time and only for about 15 to 30 seconds before either discarding the information or moving it into longer-term memory. If the information doesn’t seem important or immediately relevant, we dump it to make room for new information coming on-board.

So, what the heck do you do when you have a TON of material that you need introduce to your audience AND you want them to actually remember it?

Glad you asked. How about a little role-play?

Let’s say that you’re presenting Malcolm Knowles’ 4 Principles of Andragogy about Adult Learners to your audience.

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning of the content.
  2. Adults are most motivated to learn things that have immediate relevance to their job.
  3. Adults are goal-oriented and need a specific reason for learning.
  4. Adult learning is problem centered rather than content oriented.
  5. Adults are self-directed and need to discover things for themselves with guidance when needed.

(Bowgren, L. & Severs, K. Differentiated professional development: Professional learning communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press (p. 20).

Your audience has never seen this information before and you want them to actually remember it. Resist that first inclination to copy and paste each principle into a separate bullet and read them all to your audience. Instead, try one of these methods that will cause participants to actually use and store the information, instead of it going in one ear and out the other:

1. Rate the Information
Goal: Participants determine what pieces of information are MOST important.

Ask participants: Of the five principles, which do YOU find most important? (Or, put these in order from MOST to LEAST important for you.) This causes the participants to not only read each piece of information, but compare and contrast them. You’ve suddenly moved from the Remember/Understand level of Bloom’s cognitive domain taxonomy to the Analyze level! (Ask them to justify and you can even get to Evaluate).

Note: Keep this quick, and emphasize that there are no right/wrong answers! You don’t have to do a full group share-out (this can take forever and lose your audience’s attention again); as long as people get to at least discuss with a partner, they’ll feel heard, though you can always ask a few people to share out if they feel really passionately. You can also include some technology in here with something like Poll Everywhere or Peardeck that allows your audience to quickly see overall rankings. Note: I still recommend having people talk to one another; the more collaboration, the more areas of the brain are being used, and the more likely they are to remember.

2. Relate the Information
Goal: Participants relate the information to something in their own lives.

Tell participants: Think of a story from your own life that either CONFIRMS or CONTRADICTS the principles. Think of this story and be ready to explain the story and WHY it confirms or contradicts the principles to a partner in 45 seconds or less. Give participants about 2-3 minutes to review the principles and then to think of their individual stories, and then have them turn and talk.

What this does is connect the information to the person’s memories, therefore engaging more parts of the brain, creating new neural networks, and making it easier for the person to retrieve the information later.

3. Create with the Information
Goal: Participants USE the information in a new, creative, and preferably collaborative way.

Tell participants: Read the 5 principles of adult learning. Working with a partner or small group, create a basic sketch of your Dream Professional Development on a topic of your choice that would achieve each principle.

Depending on how much time you have for the concept, there are a few ways to share this out. 1) You can go old school and have folks write up their descriptions on chart paper, then do a gallery walk. 2) You can incorporate technology and have them explain brief descriptions on something like padletGoogle Classroom, or Flipgrid.

What other ideas do you have for how to share information in a presentation without boring the pants off your audience? We’d love to hear them!

Author Info

Kate Wolfe Maxlow is the Chief Creative Officer at eObservations and DCD Consulting. She has worked as: an elementary school teacher; an instructional coach; a Director of Innovation and Professional Learning; and a Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. She’s taught classes from PreK to PhD. She is allergic to every single ingredient in pizza. She can be reached at

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