Public speaking is an important—though sometimes overlooked— part of working in education. Teachers speak in front of their classes every day. Administrators present to staff members, parents, and community groups. Presenting is a major component of teaching, so teachers have to be mindful of the ways presentations can go astray.
It’s natural to emphasize the content of what you’re going to say—what math skills should you teach next? How will you tell the students’ parents about the new homework policy? But the way you handle the presentation will also affect how much people remember.
Robert Jolles, a speaker, consultant, and author of books including How to Run Seminars and Workshops: Presentation Skills for Consultants, Trainers, and Teachers, explains several common presentation mistakes—and how to avoid them.
Teachers don’t want to bore their students with too many facts. But long lists of state standards and other requirements sometimes lead them in that direction. “They are required to teach an enormous amount of information,” Jolles says. “They’re losing the hearts and minds of their students when they robotically cover too much material.”
Since teachers often have a set of skills their students must learn and may not have much leeway to simply cut some of them out, one solution may be to divide the information up. Teach some in presentations, for example, but have students explore other material in small groups.
“If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing,” Jolles says. “The idea is to inspire, the idea is to motivate.”
Instead of relying entirely on a PowerPoint presentation that is “numbing the audience,” Jolles suggests using a variety of visual aids. Options include white boards (traditional or electronic), flip charts, objects that you pass around, and demonstrations.
One advantage of many of these is that they get the students moving a bit. Students can get up and write on flip charts, for example, or pass around an object. They may have to turn their heads to see a different section of white board. This change in movement can help keep their attention.
To open up great conversations, engage students with questions that go beyond whether they remember the facts you presented. Ask them to make comparisons or analyze a case study.
“The world doesn’t run just on facts. If we really want to do our jobs as teachers, we want to say, ‘Now that I’ve taught you this, what would happen if this occurred?’”
Don’t let your lesson plan or the clock dictate exactly when to take a break. Instead, watch your students. If they appear to be losing interest, either take a break or, if the timing isn’t right, switch to an activity that will get them moving around. For example, you can ask them to pair up with the person next to them and answer two questions.
“I can’t always take a break,” Jolles adds, “but I can get them up, moving, and turning—doing something other than sitting and looking at me.”