What type of presenter are you?

What if there was a magic mirror into which presenters could look and determine what kind of facilitator they were?  And what kind of facilitator they aspired to be?

Unfortunately, no such magic mirror exists, but the following model could help move presenters down the path of reflecting upon two very important questions before they begin to map out their lesson:

  1. How much respect do I have for the people who will be in my audience?
  2. How involved do I want my audience to get into my presentation?

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You know you’re a “Sage on the Stage” (which is not a term I’ve coined, but it’s a very apt phrase) when you’re planning to lecture to others.  You may spend a significant amount of time preparing your slides and have loaded them with information, though you’ve probably spent very little time figuring out how to deliver your message in an engaging way.  You design your presentation around telling your audience what you think they need to know.  Audience members who are very interested in your topic will probably pay attention without checking their phone or their email too often.  Of course, you have no way of knowing whether that smile on an audience member’s face is because you said something entertaining or if the audience member is daydreaming and thinking of something funny that happened earlier in the day.

You know you’re a “Scaffolded Skill Builder” when you’ve spent some time putting together a presentation designed to help learners try out new skills.  The “scaffolded” support you give to the audience gradually recedes during a presentation (or series of presentations) once it becomes more obvious that the audience is proficient in the use of the skills you’ve been teaching.  Activities such as case studies, role plays and discussions followed by corrective feedback are hallmarks of this presentation style.

You know you’re an “Engaging Storyteller” when you have an opportunity to address a group and actual interaction (through handouts, discussion, other activities) is not possible, yet you still wish to have your audience hanging on every last word.  Prime examples of this style are 15(ish)-minute TED talks as well as storytelling sessions.  Though dialogue between you and your audience is not possible, you’re able to craft a message that captures the audience’s imagination through guided imagery or a well-crafted plot.

You know you’re the “First Among Equals” when you’re able to guide a topic and you believe allowing your audience to contribute to the conversation will lead to a much more powerful learning experience than you alone could possibly provide – in short two (or ten or fifty) heads are better than one.  More so than any of the other styles, First Among Equals presenters must have the courage to give up control and “air time” in order to allow the audience a voice and the opportunity to build upon your content or even create new content.  However, being first among equals also includes the responsibility of keeping conversations on topic and correcting comments or information shared by the audience that is not accurate.

I don’t believe there is ever a time or place for the “Sage on the Stage” style, though it’s still quite common.  The other three styles are very much situational and it’s impossible to declare any one style to be universally better than the other two.

What’s your style of choice when you gear up to present to an audience?

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