Webinar round-up: The art & science of effective learning presentations

Some highlights from our latest webinar.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 27 October 2020
Webinar round-up: The art & science of effective learning presentations

Dr Will Thalheimer, PhD, is a consultant, research translator and President of Work-Learning Research, Inc. He has been in the learning and performance field for 30 years – bridging the gap between research and practice.

In this lively and interactive session, he outlined his unique ‘presentation-science’ approach. It’s based on the insight that audience members are learners.

When you realize this, you can increase audience engagement, learning, and action. Here are our key takeaways from the webinar.

Presenting is moving online

As Will explained, “The shift to online learning and presenting is upon us. Pre COVID pandemic, we had started to slowly move to a blended and online approach. But now we are being forced to do so with many people working from home.”

On the other side of the pandemic, Will believes the future of presenting will be a hybrid of face-to-face and online presenting/training. Thankfully, the following techniques work when presenting online or on-site.

Here are Will’s tips for preparing your presentation.

1. Get feedback

We asked our audience what frustrated them most about presentations. Their responses included ‘too many slides’, ‘wordy slides’, ‘fast paced presenters’, and ‘dull graphics’. It was clear people are sitting through presentations that simply don’t hit the mark.

Will shared some stories of feedback he received on his presenting style from colleagues and attendees. Some told him they hadn’t gained anything from the programs he ran. And even that he was simply no good!

This feedback made him re-evaluate his own delivery and delve into the science behind presenting.

2. Use the ELRA technique

Will recommends using the ELRA technique when prepping a presentation.

  • Engage – the audience needs to be hooked on what you say and not experience ‘death by PowerPoint’

  • Learn – presenters must be more than entertainers; the audience wants to come away from a session having learnt something

  • Remember – content needs to be memorable and not forgotten as soon as the session closes

  • Act – the audience should be able to act on the messages when they get back to work, and feel energized to do so.

3. Set yourself goals

You should set clear goals for every presentation. As Will says, “Ultimately, the main goal of a presentation is to move people from learning into work.” There are typically six key goals for any presentation. To:

  1. Inform

  2. Educate

  3. Persuade or convince

  4. Activate

  5. Inspire or motivate

  6. Entertain.

Once you know the goal, it’s easier to engage with your audience. One way you can do your homework on your learners is to poll them in advance of your presentation. You can ask what they want to learn – and which ways or media they prefer to digest content.

Top tips for improving presentations

Next, our webinar discussion focused on techniques to further improve your presentation skills.

1. Bite the bullet – and get rid of bullet points

PowerPoint bullet points are boring and painful – as the chat between our attendees revealed. So, turn bullet points into objects – or ditch them. Instead, ask your audience questions. Do that and you'll encourage interactivity, keep them engaged, and maintain your charisma levels.

2. Use the ‘eye path phenomenon’

Our eyes continually scan in all directions. Evidence shows we tend to focus on headers and edges, and don’t dwell on white space.

To hold your audience's gaze, you can space text effectively, add colours that contrast, bold text, and use a mix of upper- and lower-case fonts.

3. Spend time on good design

Good design not only helps immerse the audience in your presentation, but as Will says, “affects the after learning impact.” By using visuals to support your messages, you’ll:

  • Dramatically reduce the effort required to interpret ideas

  • Help brains focus on the ‘stocking process’ and retain information for longer

  • Guide people’s attention to the most important points.

One way to guide people is to use an animation to show one idea at a time.

4. Get past ‘The Forgetting Curve’

Devised by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, The Forgetting Curve formulates the rate we forget information over time.

To help your audience remember better, use ‘spaced’ or bite-sized learning, and repeat content in different, creative ways. The Mind Tools toolkit is one way you can offer this blended approach to learning.

5. Don’t drop the mic

And finally, don’t forget audio! Always do a sound check in advance and invest in a good quality microphone.

A huge thank you to Dr Will Thalheimer for this interesting session. You can listen back to a recording of this webinar right now and look at Will’s presentation slides.

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About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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