Thursday, August 6, 2009

Presentation Skills

One of the first series of lessons I created as a computer teacher were for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. I had seen many presentations in my time in the business world and found most adults did a fair to poor job. They had too many words, their images were blurry, they jingled change in the pockets as they spoke, and they had many other little "sins".

First Year
The first year, I created a project I called Dinner with Famous Guests. I got the idea from a book I had purchased. Unfortunately, I don't know the name. It asked, "Which four famous people would you invite to dinner and why?". I asked my friends and family the question at dinner one night and it became quite a lively and interesting conversation. I used that question as the basis for this project.

All three grade levels had a great time creating and presenting their four guests.

Second Year
The second year, I had to come up with a new twist to researching and creating a presentation. I had become familiar with the students and thought it might be interesting to learn more about them. The Something You Probably Don't Know About Me project was born. I have learned about the many talents and interests of my students. Each year, I start the project with my own presentation and I've come to rotate them based on the group of students. I either share my minor ability to play the piano, my travel to visit my father's family in Ireland, or the collection of paper money from around the world that I started when I worked for the container ship company, Sea-Land Service.

This presentation helps the students review the PowerPoint skills and talking in front of a group.

Third Year
Finally, I had to find a project for my eighth grade students. As they enter high school, they may have to create a more research-based presentation. I had found a web quest called the Time Travel Agency. It was the jumping off point that I needed. I have the details on my wiki. It is called Welcome to My Decade. In order to be fair, I group the students with one or two partners. I find out who is interested in a particular decade. If only one group is interested in a given decade, it is theirs. Otherwise, we draw from a hat. They are to gather research to make the idea of traveling to another decade the most interesting. After the presentations, we vote on which decade the most students would like to visit.

Changes From Year to Year
At the beginning, my rubrics were related to the operation of the software. As time has passed, I've become more interested in the stories the students are telling and how they relate to their audience.

This past year, we were very lucky. We received two Sony digital video cameras. I had the students learn to use the recorder. I dumped the video to my hard drive and edited them so that each student had one short video. I paired the students up and had them watch their video and their partner's video together with a rating sheet. You'll find the rating sheet on the wiki in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grade PowerPoint section.

Next year will be the first year the students are armed with a reminder of their previous year's presentation. It will be interesting to see what impact it has on their presentation style.

More Improvements for the Year Ahead
This past year, we received 20 tablet PCs from the Win a Wireless Lab promotion. It has run every year for the last six or seven years from January until early May. If you are not aware of the promotion, it is amazing! Be sure to enter every day.

As a result of presentations given to the eighth grade social studies teacher, I learned that the lessons I am try to teach about keeping words on the slide to a minimum and images to a maximum are not translating out of the computer lab. I will have to make a bigger effort in leading a discussion around this topic. I will probably show the video at the top of the screen to the students before we work on PowerPoint this year. The comedian, Don McMillian, has a newer version on MySpace video. Since MySpace is blocked at school, I will have to use Zamzar to download the video. It might make sense to start with the newer video before our work. As a recap, I can show the video at the top of the screen to close out our work. They can complete a self survey at the end to rate themselves on how successful they were with their slides.

As I was searching for the video to embed it here, I found this fantastic slide set on the Life Hacker web site. It has some interesting tips on the 61 slides.


  1. I was laughing so hard watching the YouTube video for this. I commit those same mistakes too. Over the years, I've learned from watching other people present their topics using PowerPoint or SlideRocket etc and therefore helped me improve how to create, prepare and present a topic. That is why teachers (and tech coordinators) collaboration is a must. Thanks again, Ann.

  2. Great demonstration about the mistakes people make. How many times have we seen these mistakes made and it can really kill the speech. I remember getting carried away with the flying words with sounds in the beginning. Not anymore. Good tips thanks!