This is the handout for a workshop I am presenting for the Maynard Academy Thursday at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. This is an updated version of a handout I have used (and posted online) before.
However well you know a topic, you need to master presentation skills if you want to teach colleagues about the topic, summarize something complicated or make your case for a position or proposal. These tips were originally developed to help journalists train their colleagues in workshops, but they can be helpful in making other presentations as well.
Consider your purpose
Determine the primary purpose of your presentation. You may have multiple purposes, but you need to select a primary purpose that will influence the content and manner of your presentation. Some common purposes of training sessions:
Skills. If you are teaching practical skills, you need to make points clearly orally and in writing and include exercises for participants to practice the skills. You need to stress how and why someone would use the skills you are teaching. You need to allow time for plenty of questions and plan to address skepticism from participants who are comfortable with the way they have been doing things.
Knowledge. If you are teaching knowledge or summarizing work that you have done, again you need to make points clearly orally and in writing. Participants will not absorb everything you tell them, so emphasize and repeat main points and involve participants in discussion, games or exercises that underscore the main points. Written materials are important, to help participants refresh and retain knowledge after the workshop.
Inspiration. If you are trying to motivate people to better performance, you must show the energy and passion participants will need to reach higher levels. Written materials may be helpful but are not as necessary. Though your presentation will be mainly inspirational in tone, pay special attention to content. After the excitement of your presentation fades, you want participants to remember some useful advice.
Fun. Training can and should be fun. A fun or humorous presentation should make an important point or two. Though participants may not learn as much as they will in another kind of presentation, a light-hearted presentation can make the key point or two more memorable.
Persuasion. If your presentation is primarily opinion, be sure to understand your audience. Your challenge and your presentation differ greatly if your audience is likely to agree with you, rather than a mix, opposed to your opinion or undecided. If you are hoping to persuade people who disagree or are undecided, your approach needs to be logical and respectful of differing opinions and you need to present facts to support your positions. If the audience generally agrees with you, your approach may be more inspirational.
Preparing your presentation
Set your objectives. Decide what knowledge and/or skills you want people to learn. This is more than deciding a topic. Your topic, for instance, might be story elements, but that isn’t what you want participants to learn. Perhaps you want participants to learn the story elements. That would be knowledge you want to teach. Perhaps you want participants to learn how to use story elements in news stories. That would be a skill you want to teach. You might want to teach both, first the knowledge, then a skill using the knowledge.
Analyze your material. Organize the material you want to teach, whether knowledge or skills, by breaking it down. If you are developing a workshop on interviewing skills, you might break it down into these categories: preparation, rapport, questions, listening, taking notes and following up. Develop a few points in each category. For instance, under rapport, you might discuss the setting of the interview, honesty, making a personal connection and sharing some control with the character.
Prepare a tip sheet. Develop a handout for the workshop, summarizing important points of the knowledge and skills you want to cover. The tip sheet will be a valuable addition to your presentation. In addition, preparing the handout will help you organize your thoughts.
Consider timing of the handout. Decide whether you want to distribute the handout at the beginning of your presentation. For instance, if you have an exercise where people might be writing on the handout, they must have it early. Or you might want participants taking notes in a workbook or following along in the written material at a certain point. Or you may think that the handout will be a distraction, with people reading ahead and stealing your thunder on a particular point. In that case, you need to make sure your notes have a reminder to pass out handouts toward the end of the workshop. Or you enlist someone to pass them out at the end.
Find supporting materials. As you draw on books, articles, Web sites and material you have heard in lectures, attribute appropriately where you are quoting or paraphrasing other sources. Consider whether you should use (with permission and credit) copies of an article as a supplemental handout. Or maybe your handout should recommend further reading material or include a list of Web pages where participants can find more information. If you are posting your handout on a blog, you can easily link to your supporting materials.
Consider your audience. The experience, knowledge and interests of your audience will shape your presentation. For instance, you would plan differently for a group of reporters covering the same beat than you would for reporters who cover a variety of beats or for a group of editors. And you would have yet another plan for a group of student journalists or for an audience of non-journalists. Try to learn in advance as much as you can about the audience so you can tailor your presentation accordingly.
Consider the scope of your presentation. Learn how much time you will have for your presentation. If you are doing a brief presentation, you have to cut your scope down to size. How much overview do you need to cover? Some overview is necessary in most presentations, but a workshop that is all overview usually isn’t engaging. What points do you want to emphasize? What points deserve the most detail?
Prepare notes. Make some notes to help you during the workshop. The notes won’t necessarily hit the same points as the handout. You might cover some points in the handout that you won’t cover in the workshop unless someone raises a question on that topic. You might have some key workshop points that aren’t going to be as effective in writing. Your notes should remind you of key points to cover and examples and exercises you will use. Note at what times you will want to move on to particular points. If your closing is especially important, note at what time you need to go into the closing. Write large enough that you can read the notes easily without picking them up. Keep the notes brief enough that they remind you of your points at a glance.
Plan examples and illustrations. Think of anecdotes, web sites, newspaper stories, photos, videos, analogies and other devices to help participants understand the points you are making.
Gather materials. Make a list of what you will need to present the workshop. If you are planning a demonstration, make sure you have everything you will need. Bring along any stories you will use as illustrations and any props or costuming you might use. If you are planning a PowerPoint or Internet presentation, make sure the conference room will have the right connections and equipment. Be sure to list any equipment you must bring.
Consider setting. Perhaps you will have some choice in the setting of your workshop. Consider what setting would best help participants learn the skills and information you will be covering. For some workshops, a classroom or conference room setting is ideal. Or a computer lab might be better. Or a field trip. Or some other setting. Whether you choose the setting or not, learn what you can about the setting. What sort of audio/visual equipment does it have? Will it have a flip chart or marker board? How large is the room? How many participants? If you will have a large room and/or a large group, will a microphone be available? If so, will a clip-on or handheld wireless microphone be available? Will you have to speak at a lectern with a fixed microphone? Be sure to visit the setting before your presentation. Make sure that the equipment works and that you know how to operate it. Test the acoustics. Decide where you will place your notes and any props.
Watch the time. You or the organizers of your program will tell the participants how long it will last. Don’t run overtime or people will start walking out before your powerful conclusion. If the room doesn’t have a clock that you can see easily, place a wristwatch or a small travel alarm clock where you can read it easily. Don’t use a watch on your wrist. That makes it more obvious that you’re checking the time. Time your closing so that you know when you need to move into it.
Rehearse. Practice your workshop, at least the key points, especially the opening and closing. Time your closing so you know how much time to leave. Anticipate questions you might be asked and practice your answers. You cannot completely rehearse the parts of your presentation that involve interaction with the participants. But rehearse how you will introduce the interaction and consider some likely responses from the participants and how you would respond to them. If you spend much time driving, this might be a good time to rehearse.
Prepare yourself. Get a good night’s sleep before your presentation. Be sure to take any regular medications you use, especially allergy medicines. Eat a good dinner the night before and a good breakfast that morning. If it’s an afternoon presentation, make sure you eat at least a light lunch. However, avoid anything that gives you gas or otherwise bothers you. Drink enough water or non-alcoholic beverages at breakfast or lunch that your throat will not feel dry, but don’t drink too much. Go to the restroom before your presentation. Place a glass or bottle of water nearby to sip when your mouth gets dry. If you’re really nervous, take some slow, deep breaths before you start. Joke a little with someone before you go on, to break the tension.
Grab their attention
Develop an opening that grabs the group’s attention immediately and focuses that attention on the issue you will be addressing. Some things you may want to achieve in the opening:
Introduce yourself. This may not be necessary if you are training colleagues who know you or if someone introduces you to the group. However, even in those cases, you might need some personal introduction that tells why you are addressing this issue and how you know about it. Sometimes the personal introduction works as a second or third item, after an introduction tied to the topic.
Introduce your material. Early in the workshop, you may want to outline some main points and tell participants what you will be discussing. This helps focus the participants’ thoughts. It also might head off questions or comments that are off-point.
Tease the participants. You might grab the attention of the crowd with a tease, introducing a point or anecdote that you won’t explore fully until later in the workshop. You might be able to use the tease to introduce your material or yourself.
Involve the participants. Consider an opening that involves the participants immediately. You might ask for a brief show of hands in answer to a question. Or you might seek oral responses that list issues relating to your topic. People may be hesitant to answer at first. If so, break the ice with a little humor. If it’s early in the morning, you might wonder aloud whether their coffee has kicked in yet. You might facetiously explain the concept of audience participation: “This is where you talk. You answer my questions.” Maybe after the awkward silence you joke, “One at a time, we’ll get to all of you.” People usually will participate with one simple prod. Or you can simply single someone out and ask the question of an individual.
Use some drama. Perhaps an anecdote or a video or music clip or a brief oral reading of a passage from a story will give you a dramatic opening that can lead into or immediately follow the introductory material.
Work on a strong delivery
Speak clearly. If you are not used to public speaking, practice speaking in the setting where you will make your presentation, with a trusted colleague at the back of the room. Speak with and without a microphone. Learn how loud you need to speak, whether you need a microphone and how close to the microphone you should be or where to clip it on your clothes. If you naturally speak softly, practice projecting from your diaphragm. Consciously speak to the person on the back row (and ask if she can hear you, especially if you don’t have a microphone). If you are inclined to speak fast, consciously slow down, especially at key points. Put “slow down” or “speak up” reminders in your notes, if necessary (highlighted in a color that will distinguish the instructions from notes that you might read aloud).
Vary your voice for effect. A monotone will invite viewers to actually nod off or to let their minds wander. A compelling, engaged voice will hold attention. Vary your volume, inflection and speed to emphasize points, change moods, build to a crescendo or create a hush.
Choose powerful words. “Use positive, firm, assertive phrases and words whenever possible. Do not seem uncertain or uncaring,” advises Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group. For instance, he says, instead of uncertain phrases such as “I think we should …” or “It might be a good idea to …” use “power speaking” phrases such as “We should …” or “It is a good idea to …”
Maintain eye contact. Make eye contact briefly and repeatedly with each member of the group, unless it’s too large a group. Move your field of vision around so that no one person feels that you are singling her out, but everyone in the group feels as if you are addressing him personally.
Move about comfortably. Unless you have to speak from a stationary microphone, movement can enhance your delivery and help keep your audience’s attention. Don’t pace aimlessly. Move with purpose, to answer a person’s question, to shift your focus to a different part of the group, to highlight points on a flip chart.
Gesture with purpose. Gestures can underscore points and help engage the audience. They also can distract from or conflict with your message. If you pick up an item for a reason (such as a marker, a prop or a bottle of water), avoid fidgeting with it. Use it for its purpose, then put it down. Gesture for emphasis, but avoid or minimize negative gestures. Pointing with a jabbing finger may feel like emphasis to you and you may feel like you’re pointing generically into the air. But the person you’re pointing at may feel uncomfortable. Acknowledge questions or comments with inviting gestures, rather than merely pointing.
Keep your notes handy. Don’t hold onto your notes. Find a place to put them where you can see them comfortably and refer to them easily without them becoming a distraction. Frequently participants avoid the front row or front table, so you might be able to place them on a chair or table intended for participants if the room doesn’t have a table or lectern in the front for you to use.
Be careful about coarse language. If you’re talking to journalists, foul language may not offend, but swearing can be risky. You hear and perhaps use foul language casually in the newsroom. For an audience of journalists, foul language in the right place might inject some humor or add some emphasis. But if you don’t know your audience, consider whether cursing might offend some listeners. Err on the side of caution in using foul language (and don’t use it at all if you aren’t comfortable with it). Never use offensive language referring to racial, ethnic or gender differences or sexual orientation.
Repeat important points. “Repetition can be a powerful technique to build interest because the audience is systematically reminded of a key point,” Weiss advises. “It is best accomplished with a single, simple sentence that the audience can easily remember.” For instance, recall the powerful repetition of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Smile. If you are nervous, you may look grim as you make your presentation. Consciously smile a few times. Perhaps you need to put a reminder in your notes occasionally. Use some humor, so that you smile and they smile, helping everyone relax.
Avoid nervous mannerisms. If you are aware of nervous mannerisms you might have, be conscious to avoid them. Ask a trusted friend if you have any nervous mannerisms you might not be aware of. Nerves frequently show when you have something in your hand. Avoid holding anything (pens, paper clips, markers, water bottle) beyond the moment that you are using it. Videotape a presentation and you will see your nervous mannerisms right away.
Reinforce points visually
Think of ways to make your points visually as well as through your spoken words. You can do this in several ways:
Handouts. As described above, develop a handout that will repeat the main points of the workshop. Your handout might also provide some supporting material beyond what you actually cover in the workshop. Or the handouts might be some published stories that illustrate points of the workshop. Depending on your material, your budget and the size of your audience, you could put handout material on a CD. While they aren’t as cheap as short paper handouts, CD’s are relatively cheap and they could hold long articles as well as searchable databases and other kinds of material that would be cumbersome, expensive or wouldn’t work at all on paper handouts. Keep in mind, though, that more people will read the printed handout than will insert the CD into their computer and use the material there. You can also post a handout on a blog or use a document-sharing site such as Scribd.
Flip charts, marker boards. You can write down main points on a flip chart or marker board. When you write something down, that emphasizes it and makes participants more likely to write it down themselves. Writing can be distracting, though, and it turns you away from the group, breaking eye contact and making you harder to hear. If you can, write the material in advance. When you come to that point, you can turn the page to reveal the material. Or if the points are already written on a marker board, when you get to the point, you underline in a different color or place a check mark in a different color next to the point. Generally, write your text in black ink and highlight using other strong colors, such as red or blue. Write legibly. If you cannot write legibly, don’t use these visual aids. You will write more legibly when you can write in advance of the workshop. As you write more hurriedly during a workshop, you might misspell a word. Note it with self-deprecating humor (markers don’t come with a spellchecker) and move on. Don’t cross the word out and try again or turn the flip chart into a scribbled mess.
PowerPoint. You can make the same written points and more on a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint offers advantages: You can make all the material legible. You can prepare it in advance so you don’t distract the participants by turning away from them to write. You can check your spelling. You can use graphics and illustrations. You can highlight important material effectively. You can print out your slides as a handout and/or embed them in your blog. You can post slides at Scribd or SlideShare. PowerPoint also has disadvantages: Animation can become gimmicky and distracting. You feel tied to the order of the presentation, so if someone asks a question about something that’s several slides ahead, you may not be as flexible and responsive as you want to be. (Actually, it’s more effective usually to be flexible and responsive, addressing the issue immediately without the slides, then moving quickly through the slides when you get to them.) Wordy PowerPoint presentations can be ineffective and hard to read. PowerPoint has been overused and someone else’s ineffective presentation hurts the impact of your effective presentation. Consider breaking up the PowerPoint presentation with some discussions and group exercises. Power Point also requires advance preparation to make sure that the conference room will have an LCD projector and a computer (unless you will be bringing your own).
Props, costumes. Consider whether a prop or a piece of clothing (I use a cap in one of my presentations) might help participants remember a point. They might add a bit of humor or interest to a presentation. Or they may become a visual symbol that reminds participants of a point of your presentation.
Graphics, illustrations. Consider ways that graphics and other illustrations might help participants understand material or remember points. Numbers are usually best presented graphically, especially if you are using a PowerPoint presentation.
Video. A video clip might help make a point. However, keep the clip short. Music also might help you make a point. In both cases, be sure to prepare so you have the necessary equipment available, with the volume set appropriately for the room and the video or CD cued to the selection you want.
Involve the participants early. Audience involvement requires more than an invitation to ask questions. Invite questions and you may get painful silence and blank stares. Actively involve people early in the workshop and the audience turns into participants. They will interrupt you with questions and comments and turn a lecture into a discussion. After your opening, or as part of your opening, involve the participants immediately in a discussion.
Introductions can involve the participants. Early in the presentation, you can involve the group by introductions of themselves or the material or both. With a small group, you can ask people to give their name, where they’re from and one other piece of information. Try to relate the information to the topic. For a workshop on social media, you might ask participants to give their names (or perhaps Twitter user names) and identify which social media platforms they use daily (or in the past week).
Respond to questions. Unsolicited questions may interrupt your flow, but they are essential participation that you must address. If the questioner raises an issue you hadn’t planned to cover and aren’t prepared to address in detail, you should address it at least briefly before returning to your planned presentation. If the questioner raises an issue that you hadn’t planned to address but could address in detail, address it at a length that seems appropriate to the group’s interest. If only this one person seems interested, keep your answer brief and invite the person to discuss it afterward – in person if you have time or by e-mail if you’re leaving immediately. If the group seems interested, discuss the issue in as much detail as seems appropriate. You can adjust your plans to whatever length seems to suit the group’s interest and your competence with the issue: answer briefly and return to your planned presentation, answer at moderate depth and trim your planned presentation or scrap the rest of your planned presentation and address the issue on the group’s minds. If someone raises an issue you had planned to address later, you can do one of two things: change plans and address it immediately or say you will be addressing it shortly. If you address it shortly, note to the original questioner that you’re now addressing that issue.
Restate, respond, review. Weiss recommends this three-step process for addressing questions:
- Restate the question, not necessarily in the participant’s exact words, but in your understanding (condensing if the question was long). After restating, ask if you understand the question correctly. This restating process gives you a moment to think about your response. It gives the questioner an opportunity to clarify or confirm the question. If other participants did not hear the question well, this helps them understand the context of your response. (Think how often you’ve heard a speaker start out immediately answering a question you didn’t hear.) If you’re extracting a question from a long, convoluted statement, this helps you confirm that you got to the heart of the matter.
- Respond. Answer the question or respond to the comment.
- Review. Ask the original questioner whether you have answered the question or addressed the issue sufficiently. If she is not satisfied or has further questions, try to address them. If the discussion starts to drag and you sense that the group’s interest is not as strong as this individual’s, invite the questioner to discuss the matter with you further after your presentation.
Keep feedback positive. You must react to audience responses. If someone nails it, thank him or applaud him or have some fun with the perfect response. (Candy or some sort of prize can strengthen feedback.) If someone gives a lame or off-target response, don’t put the participant down or dismiss the answer. You can ask why the participant would do what she is suggesting. Perhaps with explanation the initial answer might make sense. Or you can throw the question open to the other participants: “Can someone think of another way we could address this?” If someone else gives a stronger answer, you can discuss the merits of this approach without dismissing the other one. However, if someone is suggesting something unethical, dangerous, unwise or otherwise unacceptable, you need to deal with it directly. Explain why that approach is unacceptable, then ask the person who proposed it for another approach, so you still end with positive feedback for this participant.
You don’t always have to answer. Other participants or sometimes the questioner himself might have better answers than you have. Sometimes you can bounce a question right back at the participant and ask, “What would you do?” or “What do you think?” and have a brief discussion where you lead him to answer the question himself. Or you can try what Weiss calls the “volleyball” technique and throw the question open to the group: “Has anyone had some experience with this issue?” These methods are especially effective when you don’t know the answer or want some time to think of your answer. And it’s fine to admit you don’t know the answer. The audience will respect your candor. And if you try to answer when you don’t know, someone will recognize that you are faking. The volleyball technique is effective even when you do have a good answer. You can invite answers from the group and add your own if someone else doesn’t give a similar answer.
Stop filibusters. It’s your program. If someone is trying to dominate or is going into a long or off-point anecdote, gently but firmly interrupt and bring the workshop back on topic. When the person pauses for breath, ask if anyone else has some thoughts on this (if the person is on point but just going on too long). Or if the person is off point, thank him for his contribution and steer back toward the topic. If you see a glimmer of a point in the monologue, you might say, “Let me help you summarize,” then summarize and move on.
Illustrate with examples
Use your own experience. Find examples from stories you have written or edited or research you have done to illustrate the points you are making. You know these experiences best and can address them in the most detail. Examples can help participants understand how to use a particular technique. They can help participants understand context. They can help participants understand why to use a particular technique. They can help participants see results. Personal examples help strengthen your credibility and give participants greater understanding of the knowledge and authority behind your presentation. However, use personal examples with care. You don’t want them to come off as boasting or as a string of war stories. Tell success stories where they illustrate points, but tell them in a manner that emphasizes what you learned from them, not what a great journalist you are. Also tell some personal examples of lessons you learned through mistakes. Use some self-deprecating humor.
Cite others’ experience. Use examples from colleagues’ experience, too. If a colleague you know has told you a useful anecdote that illustrates a point, name the colleague and tell the story. Or maybe you recently saw a story you liked and want to use that as an example.
Examples from the web. Sometimes you can provide an example quickly on the web. Be sure that you check the Internet connection and/or wireless signal in the room. Hotel conference rooms can be especially tricky. Also, load the page and test it before your presentation (sometimes a page can change and you don’t want to waste time trying to find it or waiting for it to load). If you don’t need to demonstrate the interaction, perhaps a screen shot in a slideshow will do the trick.
Use the group’s experience. Ask the participants if they have examples. Be sure to ask about techniques used, or point out the technique after the participant provides the example. You want other participants to see how the examples can help them.
Exercises help lessons stick
Doing helps people learn better than hearing or reading. Develop some exercises to help people practice at least part of what you are teaching.
Involve the audience with each other. You foster group discussion and group learning by having people work in groups of two or more. For instance, Miguel Morales, former editor of the Campus Ledger at Johnson County Community College, had his staff the first week of school pair up and interview each other briefly about an interesting incident in the person’s life. Then each person had to write a headline about her partner and read it to the group. The group would decide whether they wanted to read that story. If so, the person had to tell the partner’s story. If the headline was not sufficiently enticing, the whole group would work on a stronger headline. The exercise served as an ice breaker, while also practicing interviewing skills and stressing the importance of headlines.
Try role-playing. Role playing can help participants practice various skills such as interviewing and coaching. Limit role-playing exercises to just a few minutes and tell the group when it’s time to switch roles. If you’re doing a lengthy training session with several exercises, move the group around so people don’t always get the same partners.
Practice writing. Lots of writing skills lend themselves to practice exercises, using computers if the room is so equipped or if participants can bring laptops or using notebooks if that’s what the participants have. Again, limit the exercises to a few minutes. Afterward, have some of the participants read part of what they have written (you can do this in pairs or in the group at large) and discuss what they’ve learned from the exercise.
Competition heightens interest. Break the group into teams for a game or competition. Maybe you can devise some Jeopardy-style questions about the material and keep score with two or three teams. Maybe you can have everyone work on leads for a story, write them all on the screen and vote on the best. Writing coach Jim Stasiowski has participants come up with story ideas from what they see around the conference hotel and neighborhood. If you’re using competition, be sure to have multiple winners or at least a winning team. And stress the content and competition of the game more than the actual victory.
Remember rewards. A bag of candy or some silly gifts can add to the fun and heighten participation. Newsroom trainer John Hatcher rewards everyone who speaks up at his workshops with some candy from his “bag of bribes.” Rewards are essential if you’re using competition. Stasiowski awards amusing gifts to the people who come up with the best story ideas.
Focus on the future. You can heighten the value of your workshop if you focus exercises on the immediate future. If possible, have an exercise or discussion use a story the participants are working on, a personnel challenge they are facing now, an upcoming assignment.
Presenting as a team
When you will be part of a panel discussion or one of several speakers in a program, you want your presentation to dovetail well with the others. This frees you from the pressure some inexperienced speakers feel to try to cover a topic completely. Learn what the other speakers will be covering and just focus on covering your slice effectively. This requires thoughtful preparation:
Study the program. Look through the lineup of speakers and their topics. If someone is covering a topic you might have addressed, you need to either cut that topic from your plans or coordinate your presentation with the other person.
Contact other speakers. Using email, phone or social media, you can get in touch with other speakers in advance and discuss your presentations so you can coordinate them.
Study other speakers. Especially if you are unable to get in touch with other speakers (if they don’t respond or if you are preparing your presentation at the last minute), you can probably find some information about a speaker’s take on the topic online. He might have posted a slideshow of the same presentation at SlideShare. Or someone might have blogged about a previous presentation on the topic. Check a speaker’s Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook page to see if she has links to articles or blog posts.
Address overlap. You don’t have to avoid overlap entirely. You bring a different perspective to the topic and your points can complement what the other speaker presents. If the other speaker is following you, you make your point briefly and say your colleague will be covering the topic in greater depth later. If you follow the speaker, remind participants of her key point and say you wanted to share an illustration.
Address disagreement. You won’t necessarily agree with other speakers. Your advance research may turn up some significant disagreements or you may hear something during a presentation that you think is wrong. Don’t feel as though you need to address every disagreement. The event planners asked you to address one topic and the other speaker to address another. If your topics don’t overlap, the best course is usually to address your own topic and leave the disagreement unspoken (but don’t shy away if it comes up in a panel discussion or in questions from the audience). If your disagreements are central to the issue you were asked to discuss, address them squarely but respectfully. State your case strongly, but keep in mind that you might be wrong. You can see how I addressed disagreement with a previous speaker in my blog post, “Google’s no threat to press freedom.”
Listen to speakers who precede you. Unless you are the lead-off speaker, take some notes as you listen to the other speakers. Consider how you might build on the points they make or whether you need to adjust on the fly and eliminate a topic that they covered thoroughly and well.
Consider another topic. If you think the potential overlap with another speaker is too heavy, look over the program and suggest another topic you could cover to fill a possible gap.
Leave them thinking
You want a strong closing that emphasizes your main point or points. This isn’t Loony Tunes. Don’t let your presentation peter out with a simple “That’s all, folks!” These approaches might wrap up your workshop effectively:
Summarize. If you don’t have a clever or creative way to end your workshop, a summary is effective. Review your main points briefly, reminding participants of possible applications. If you choose another method to wrap up the program, it’s wise to lead into the conclusion with a summary.
Watch the time. Practice your closing so you know how much time to allow. Start the closing in time that you will finish the workshop on schedule. Your closing loses its impact if people start walking out during it.
Deliver on your tease. If you opened with a tease, the closing might be the place to wrap up that story. Make sure, though, that the story relates to a point of the workshop. And make sure that it’s worth waiting for. You don’t want the tease to be an annoyance or a puzzle.
Allow time for questions. You should be inviting and answering questions throughout the workshop. If you don’t, or sometimes even if you do, you should allow time for questions at the end. Consider which is the best way to handle the questions: invite questions for a few minutes and then go into your closing or close and then field questions. If you use the second approach, just wrap up the questions by thanking the group. If you have a strong closing, you want participants to leave with that on their minds, so usually it’s best to have the questions, then the closing.
Exercise. An exercise or game using the knowledge or skills covered in the workshop might be an effective closing, or an effective lead-in to a summary closing.
Use some drama. As with the opening, an anecdote or a video or music clip or a brief oral reading of a passage from a story can give you a dramatic end, either before or after the summary.
Challenge the participants. Close with a challenge for your participants to put their new or sharpened skills to use after the workshop. You can drive the challenge home by making it a written exercise, either distributing index cards or asking people to write in their notebooks or workbooks. Ask them to consider how they will put the skill to work in the coming week and write that down. Give them a minute or two to write, then encourage them to carry out the plan and let you know how it goes.
Thank the participants. However you close, thank the group for their attention and participation.
You don’t want your lesson to fade as participants return to the distractions of the newsroom. Try to help them take their new knowledge or skills back to the job. You can continue the learning of the workshop by a variety of techniques:
Invite feedback. Give participants your phone number and e-mail address, so they can consult with you as they try to apply their lessons.
Send reminders. Gather e-mail addresses of participants who want follow-up communication (you can just pass a legal pad around the room). Send out a few follow-up messages, reminding them of points in the workshop and asking them how they are applying their news skills.
Refer to resources. On your handout and/or in your discussion, recommend Web sites, books, articles and other resources that might help participants continue their learning on the subject.
Focus on the future. As mentioned above, you should consider whether you can help participants apply the lessons by focusing exercises or a final challenge on the immediate challenges they face back in their newsrooms.
Measure your effectiveness. If you have e-mail addresses of your participants, you might devise a follow-up survey to measure the effectiveness of your program. Questionnaires answered at the time of a program measure immediate response. But the most meaningful time to ask is after they have returned to the workplace. Ask how they are applying the lessons of your seminar.
Post slides. If your slides have helpful advice or images that might help remind people of the lessons of your workshop, consider posting them on SlideShare or Scribd, so people can review by scrolling through your slides again.
I have attributed exact words and specific concepts above to people from whom I know I am borrowing them. Much of the material presented here reflects lessons learned in my own experience in presenting more than 300 workshops and seminars for journalists. However, I should note as well that many of these tips I failed to attribute probably are not original with me. Though I am telling them in my own words and adding my own experience, I learned much of the advice shared here from colleagues in newsrooms and journalism training organizations. I am especially indebted in my growth as a trainer to Alan Weiss and Anne Miller, who led the American Press Institute’s “Train the Trainer” program; to Drew Davis, Carol Ann Riordan and my other former colleagues at the American Press Institute; to Chip Scanlan, Roy Peter Clark, Howard Finberg, Keith Woods, Aly Colón, Kelly McBride, Evelyn Hsu, Karen Dunlap and other current and former staff members of the Poynter Institute; to dozens of newsroom trainers who used to discuss these issues regularly on the “Newscoach” listserv and at training conferences, including Evelyn Hsu, Rosalie Stemer, Michael Roberts, Joe Grimm, John Rains, Jack Hart, Dolf Els, Cindy Stiff, Tamara O’Shaughnessy, Miguel Morales, Laurie Hertzel, Kate Parry, Michael Schwartz, Brant Houston, Leisa Richardson, Debbie Wolfe, John Hatcher, Denise Williams, Kevin McGrath, Joe Hight and Sue Burzynski. And I’ve learned from watching outstanding presentations by some of these people and others, such as Don Fry, Eric Nalder, Jacqui Banaszynski, Jim Stasiowski and Michael Quintanilla. Given my middle-aged memory, I doubt this list is complete. I invite you to add your name by sharing with me the techniques you develop in presenting your own workshops.
Resources for newsroom training
“No Train, No Gain,” a compilation of newsroom training materials:
Michael Roberts’ “How to Plan Effective Training Sessions”
Steve Buttry’s “Training on a Shoestring”
API’s “Train the Trainer” materials
Bob Baker’s “Newsthinking”
Edward and Cynthia Miller’s “Reflections on Leadership”
Dana Eagles’ “Tips for Presenting a Newsroom Workshop”
Steve Buttry’s journalism ethics resources
Steve Buttry training and consulting services (it’s promotional, but includes links to handouts)
Steve Buttry’s resources for journalists using Twitter