Presentation Lessons from a 5-year-old

On Friday, my 5-year-old son gave his “Star of the Week” presentation before 19 of his kindergarten classmates. I’ve taught kindergarten, and let me tell you: keeping the attention of 19 5- and 6-year-olds is no easy feat.

On the one hand, he declined to use my laser pointer in lieu of a more traditional wooden stick-style pointer, which I felt made the presentation appear a little amateurish (don’t roll your eyes at me for criticizing a 5-year-old’s presentation; just because he’s 5 doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement!). There were, however, three things he did during his presentation that I don’t even see on a regular basis from conference presenters and corporate trainers.

Star of the Week

  1. No PowerPoint. True, he doesn’t yet have the computer skills to develop a PowerPoint… but then again, how many people really do have the skills to develop attractive, engaging PowerPoint decks? You don’t need to use PowerPoint. In fact, presentations can be more powerful when you don’t. Here is a list of 10 alternatives to PowerPoint. Next week, my company’s CEO will throw out our traditional PowerPoint deck to present data and he’ll be using Kahoot! in order to get employees to engage with key statistics during our all-staff meeting.
  2. No Bullet Points. True, he doesn’t yet know how to spell many words… but then again, a picture tells a thousand words, right? In order to share his life story, he used a series of photos, then had his classmates on the edge of their seats as they wondered what the story was behind the photos. They also wanted to know how his photos related to them. When he showed a family photo of Hawaii, someone said they were going to Hawaii this year for spring break. When he showed a photo of the Mariner Moose, a handful of students said they’d also had their pictures taken with the moose. And when he pointed to a photo of him eating ice cream, not many people cared (who hasn’t eaten ice cream before?)… until he shared with them that it was a photo of him eating ice cream… for breakfast. The room erupted in “Ooooo’s” and “Aaaaah’s”. Moral of the story: When you use a lot of text or bullet points, your audience is too busy reading your slides to pay attention to you. When you select powerful or playful imagery, you can pique your audience’s curiosity, holding their attention as you share more.
  3. Enthusiasm. My son was so excited to get in front of his classmates and share his stories. True, an enthusiastic 5-year-old is pretty darn cute… but enthusiasm in general is contagious. I’ve seen too many presenters – in conferences, meetings or in-house training sessions – who just seem annoyed to be in front of the audience or they concede that their content is boring (but people just need to know it anyway). If you can’t get excited about your topic or content, why should anyone else?

When you’ve stopped to take a look around, what kinds of lessons have you been able to take from children and apply to your work?

Here are a few other presentation and organizational development lessons from the little people in my life:

  1. Potty Training and Corporate Training: Eerily Similar
  2. 11 Lessons My Family Has Taught Me About Learning, Development, Facilitation, Collaboration and Change Management

2 thoughts on “Presentation Lessons from a 5-year-old

  1. My 6 month old granddaughter has also reminded that Piaget’s theory of moderate novelty is very important. Give her something new from time to time but don’t overwhelm her with too much stimulation. Look for signs of boredom such as lack of focus, squirming, and eventually tears. Similar behaviors with adults as well! (well, ok, maybe not the tears!)

    • Adults may not shed the same tears as a 6-month-old… but they can certainly whine as much as or more than a toddler when it comes to certain activities. I’m certainly one of those whiners, especially if someone is going to lecture at me for an extended period of time!

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