Preparing Students to Take Their Presentations to the Next Level
With the right preparation, students can be ready for any audience question—even if they don’t know all the answers.
In the real world, most presenters don’t have the luxury of just saying what they want and sitting down. Even receiving a few questions at the end of a presentation is a rarity. Most of the time, we face questions early and often and are expected to engage with our audience. Put differently, most of the time we encounter dynamic presentations rather than static presentations.
Let’s define these terms.
- Static presentations are ones in which the presenter is not interrupted or directly questioned before, during, or after the presentation.
- Dynamic presentations are ones in which the presenter is interrupted and directly questioned before, during, or after the presentation.
During my time as a teacher, school administrator, and author, 90 percent of my presentations have been dynamic. This was often linked to my position, the issue, and the audience. In a democracy, power or perceived power is challenged (which is a good thing!). When issues matter to people, they want to ensure that they understand the presenter and that the author understands their background knowledge and needs and interests.
Furthermore, the audience may vary from a client, a potential client, a staff working with leadership, or a community group listening to leaders. As such, their needs vary, and they likely want to be involved in the presentation.
I often use the mantra that clarity comes through conversation, not through presentation. If we view presentations more as a conversation, then we are setting ourselves up for success.
To best prepare students for the real world of presentations, we need to give them the tools, the opportunities, and the feedback to engage in dynamic presentations.
4 Ways to Prepare Students for Dynamic Presentations
1. Ensure the work in “low stakes” mode. Lowering the emotional threshold for students to engage in dynamic presentations is critical. In addition, students should be assured that any changes that occur during their presentations will not influence their grades. Students should know they won’t face any penalties for “going off script.”
2. Present in “draft mode.” The best time to give people feedback is when they are still working on their presentation. Set up short two-minute presentations on a daily basis in which individuals or groups pitch one or two minutes of a presentation. During that time, interject one or two questions, and see how they respond. If they don’t know the answer, then share with them that they should say that to the audience. “I don’t have the answer to that question. I will look into it and get back to you by ____.”
Being able to practice handling interruptions will give students the experience to handle them in real time. This will also provide you and them with formative information on the quality of their presentation and their depth of understanding of the content they are presenting.
3. Utilize a red team. As students are getting closer to presenting, they should present with another group that is designed to ask them difficult questions. One way to do this is to conduct a “red team” protocol. Red teams are used in journalism to poke holes in the validity of an article.
To prepare for a red team, give both groups (the one receiving feedback and the one giving feedback) the exact questions that will be asked. Next, have one group present, and prepare the other group to interject with a mix of questions. Here are a few:
- The accuracy question. How do you know that the background information you are using is valid?
- The process questions. Who did you involve? Where in the process did you involve others? How did you use that feedback in your decision-making?
- The perspective question. How have you ensured that you have listened to varying viewpoints and perspectives in this process and in your solution?
- The range question. What other solutions did you consider? What other examples have you leaned on to make this decision?
- The implementation question. How will you ensure high-quality implementation?
- The accountability question. How will you ensure observable impact? How will you make adjustments along the way when things start to change?
4. Plan for what-ifs or utilize “the situation room.” Scenario planning is critical in dynamic situations. What if you are in the middle of presenting and a situation occurs that influences your decision? Imagine that you had just extended the closing of schools and the news that vaccines were available emerged, or you find that your proposal for building new homes is disrupted by rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve?
This happens all the time. To prepare students, create a list of five to 10 scenarios and place them on cards. Hand out the cards, and ask students to prepare to adjust their presentations. Next, have them share their changes in small groups and/or conduct a share-out with the class. During formal presentations, you may provide a what-if and observe how they handle the situation. Here are a few shells for creating scenarios for students:
- The funding shell. There has been an increase or decrease in funding your solution. What will you do?
- The popular sentiment shell. Your idea, organization, and/or you have fallen out of favor. What will you do?
- The flank shell. As you are preparing to present, a new issue emerges that requires your attention.
With all of these ideas, it’s important that teachers model these practices themselves and show models of others navigating dynamic situations. We never put students into dynamic situations without the proposed support, and one of the best ways to start is to show them how you engage in a dynamic presentation.