I presented half of a training course a while ago and the other presenter was really big on keeping to the agenda and the times allotted to each topic. I’m a stickler for ending on time, so I respect that. However, the presenter was so committed to the plan that he at several points refused to answer questions from the audience, even when the questions were about the meaning of an acronym or one of the many buzzwords sprinkled throughout his slides and narrative. At one point a woman in the audience insisted that he define the terms on one slide. He cut her off and suggested that she get some outside training on the topic. I was shocked. These attendees were new to the topics. There were no prerequisites to the one day course. If this had been a one hour session at a conference, I could see wanted to defer some questions in the name of time. However, this was an on-site training course for a single corporation. There were big bucks being charged and outcomes were expected in return. This presenter, by insisting that he get through the material whether or not the attendees were understanding what he was saying, was not doing his job.
I thought of him as I was in the process of migrating posts from our previous blog and came across this video on the Turbo Encabulator.
Thank goodness he was responsible for only 4 hours of presenting just like our man in the video. By the time I got up to do my part, the audience was in a fairly unfriendly mood. I had to work hard at establishing some trust with the group to ensure them that my role for the final 4 hours was to ensure that they understood what they were supposed to understand. I encouraged questions, altered timelines when more explanations were needed and responded with ad hoc examples when the slides weren’t good enough to get the point across. And you know what? I ended on time and managed to cover all the material in my part of the agenda. That’s because I had allocated time in my plan to take questions, go back over material and to test audience members to ensure that we were ready to move on to the next topic.
I work really hard when I present to business users to avoid the normal IT bafflegab / dujamakicey lingo, but I know that we all struggle with this.
When I present at groups like DAMA (dama.org), I sometimes get feedback that I’ve used a term, such as ERD or LDM that might not be clearly understood by everyone in the crowd. This is a tough call, as I want to make some assumptions about the audience at DAMA meetings so as to balance time allotted against the desire to deliver content that is useful for data architects. It’s very painful to have a presenter speak at a DAMA or IRMAC meeting and have him spend half the time explaining what a database is and what a data model is.
So while I do encourage attendees to ask if I use a term or concept that is unfamiliar to them, most won’t ask. Remember to watch your turbo encabulators when collaborating with others. We are all guilty of this. I actively encourage audience members to ask questions during my presentations just so I know whether or not I’m being clear. If you are a presenter who does not allow any questions, you need to assume that everyone in the room has an equal understanding of the terms and implications of what you are covering or you need to allocate time to explain more, talk less. In a training course I believe there is no excuse for not taking questions at all during the course.
Some tips on ensuring you aren’t Mr. Turbo Encabulator:
- Review your slides for TLAs and buzzwords. Prepare a glossary for them if you don’t want to define them.
- Find a way to assess the make up of your audience. Either poll the attendees before you speak or ask the organizers who will be attending. It’s always better to poll the audience, though.
- Tailor your presentation (not necessarily your slides) to the audience.
- Don’t try to give the same exact presentation every time to every audience. They are different.
- Don’t be condescending when you explain something that you think everyone should know. Even if everyone should know it.
- Allocate time for questions. Not just at the end, either.
- When in doubt, offer a definition of a term.
- Learn how to be happy-perky when you ask that one guy who is bogging down the presentation with questions/comments to save them for after the session.
- Keep track of frequently asked questions. Consider adding explanations to your slides.
- Thank the audience for asking questions. Nothing says the audience is not that in to you if they don’t ask questions.
Thanks to @ldbjorh for the link to this video.
This post contains some content from an earlier post dated 4 Nov 2009.
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