I have had a lot of bad experience of Presenters, Speakers and Teachers over the years that I thought to write about this. You know, the Student Presenters who are given a ten minute time slot to present, and then complete 25% of their presentation in that ten, and insist that they have many additional important things to conclude? You know, the professor who goes over the ending time of class, or even worse the break time, and will not extend the break? You know, the audience isn’t desperate to hear, but the speaker is certainly desperate to speak, and even more desperate for everyone to understand it?
I am not talking about the Professor who is overly (or obsessively) passionate about their topic and wants others to share in that passion. It is very different. It is a Teacher (or any of the above) that is obsessively convinced that their topic is of urgency and significance, and were it not for that Teacher, they would be lost. Simply, the Speaker is convinced that the audience is bereft of knowledge or abilities without the speakers comprehensive life-saving presentation. Maybe it’s a Messiah complex that has little regard to the audience or assembly’s capacity to receive the message, but it is certainly about the Teachers desperate neediness to be the herald of some perceived significance.
Most Public Presentations Are Awful
For instance, a student, or a group of students, present on historical developments of liturgical music in Christianity. There is a 10 min requirement, with a few extra for questions. One student is well versed on the topic with a great degree of depth. For the sake of saving his classmates, or for the sake of illumining the ignorant, the student feels compelled to elaborate with wordy powerpoint slides, and address some more obscure, complex details of liturgical music. He goes well over with wordy powerpoints, and obscure complexities, disconnected from any concern of anyone in the classroom.
The fact is, we live in an information overload age, where people are adept at tuning out uninteresting data. Likewise they are exhausted from massive amounts of data impounding and invading their lives. Not only are people more technologically literate and well connected, it is more important that people are connected to the resources that matter. Rather then your audience becoming immediately proficient in your passions, it is more important that they know where to turn to access more meaningful data. Most of all, people will be looking for an idea or two to take with them. This boils down to each person probably not absorbing 80%-90% of whatever you say. If they are not being tested on it, perhaps they will not retain 95% of what you say. If you have nothing relevant they will not remember anything.
Desperately Needy Messiah Complex Preachers.
If you are, however, about the work of the Gospel, keeping in mind all of the practical things I have said, I have to add to it. I have been on many retreats, where we were behind schedule, and we cut out significant personal reflection and small group process times. Speakers were convinced that they were the sole possessors of some profound life changing truth that MUST be spoken to them, even if we have to go overtime, and force them to hold out on the bathroom (so they won’t even pay attention).
If there is a message or truth that God wants to share, that you believe you are the most important person for God to transmit through, then you have a problem. If God has an important message, remind yourself, wouldn’t God’s great message or Truth, beyond your own capacity, make it’s way to their lives REGARDLESS of what you say or do? I am humbled that God trusts his Sacraments, and his Mission to such lowly incapable beings. However, I am even more humbled that God is not ANTICIPATING THAT I AM THE LAST RESORT. You, are not the last resort. If you think you are, you have a problem.
Basically it goes like this: If you insist on burdening the time, energy and anything else of your audience with your ultimately urgent message, you are saying that God is so powerless that he needs you. You are saying that God is so small, so powerless, so insignificant, that God will never be capable of unveiling whatever urgent insight or message. Giving yourself, or your message, that much credence, is idolatry.
I thought I might come up with a quick list of points to keep in mind. Everything I am saying here is in reference to public speaking and presenting, and therefore whatever advice I give cannot be equally applied to faith sharing conversations between individuals or small groups. So here are some ideas and perimeters to keep you from conflated self importance.
1. God will certainly speak through you. God will say something through you, even if it is not the profound thing that you intended God to say. Keep that in mind, especially when you accidently neglect a major point, or run out of time.
2. You are NOT God’s Last Resort. You do not know the state of the souls of large groups that you are speaking to, and cannot presume to divine some sort of profound truth that will cause them to convert or whatever. God will always have a way of reaching out to people beyond you personally. Besides, thinking yourself God’s Last Resort can cause you to come off as intimidating and people will tune you out.
3. Avoid Powerpoint presentations and handouts with Too Much Information. Instead of people engaging with the dynamism in your talk, they will probably read the information you put before their eyes. I am personally against using powerpoint except for pictures or quotes.
4. Avoid filling up your entire lecture, lesson, or presentation with your words. Listening to one voice talk for too long will cause people to tune out.
5. Avoid, at all costs, going over your allotted portion of time. If people are required to sit in on, or participate in your presentation then sometimes you can consider finishing a minute early.
6. Avoid the standard manner of presentation. If you are one of many presenters in a class or seminar, they will all blend in the minds of the audience and will remember less.
7. Avoid the basic stuff. If you are presenting something around a topic that your entire class or group has studied or been a part of, cut through all the rudimentary stuff they know and get to your point.
8. Avoid Rambling. Get to your point! And on that, yeah, say your main point, or main points a few times, make a few lists (like this one here).
9. Make Dialogue, Questions & Comments important for your presentation. Each person will most remember the idea that answers or connects to their questions and concerns.
10. Learn about techniques in Public Speaking, Orality, & incorporate a presentation that engages a variety of learning styles. (For instance, some people are more analogical learners, some require more logical deduction, some require more poetry and music, etc.)
11. Surprise your audience. Give them something they have never seen or experienced, which is relevant to your topic. Something that will connect them to your idea.
12. Resources Resources Resources!!!! I can say the most important thing is, (in our technologically literate and information overload age), connect people to resources that matter.