Thursday, August 17, 2006

How Not to be a Presenter

I'm no expert, nor do I play one on TV, but after last week, I might as well be one. I spent last week in lovely Salt Lake City, Utah at a conference dedicated to eLearning, which happens to be by occupation, but I honestly never have been specifically trained in the tools, techniques, and terminology of the craft. I basically took up the job because I started tinkering with web design twelve years ago and somehow ended up at Nationwide---oh and the pay is not bad. History and Poly Sci grads can't be too choosy, so I'm quite happy. Don't get me wrong, I'm real good at what I do, and from my experiences, I have a gift for training. Anyway, I'd like to think I fall well short of what a presenter in a conference has to offer (especially being a generalist without a well defined niche). I'm wrong.

None of the people I flew cross country to see and my company paid good money for had anything real useful to offer. I saw some new tools and got an idea or two, but generally they were no thanks to anyone, just me stuck in a room with a wandering mind. Most work for companies they own, and from the likes of it, I'm overqualified to own an eLearning business of my own. They boast of slaying dragons I conquered years ago or never considered to be obstacles. They name drop lands far and wide where their services were needed (I don't consider dazzling 3rd world slave drivers a feat to be proud of), and they run in fear of the greatest evil of all, details. Most dress horribly, yet the greatest fault of all is their presentation skills. As a presenter, you must be ready to present. That starts with looking decent, but it also expends to verbal communication skills, well designed Powerpoints (being familiar with them is a plus), and lastly if you're gonna hook your personal laptop up to a projector, don't have all shorts of shit on it. From AIM clients, to bad music (Abba, Michael W Smith, Celine Deion), to saved email forwards, it just isn't becoming to share that. Oh, and if you're using your own company's software, make sure it doesn't cause BSODs all the time. Oh and by the way, if you're talking about podcasting, don't just show someone how to save an audio file.

In the end, I had to fill the little shoes that the presenters chose not to step into. In the aforementioned podcasting presentation, I had to explain why people do it, how it gets done, what tools are needed, and how to get it done quickly and efficiently in the real world. Lastly, I was able to talk about real world experience. Is this too much to ask of another? It must be, as before that ill-fated presentation the presenter asked a show of hands for those who had done it before, and then she said we (with our hands up) likely already knew a whole lot more than her. Are you kidding me? Why volunteer to present, and why do so on a subject you've only read about or dabbled with?

All was not lost, as I learned I'm at the top of my field instead of in the middle or worse, and I saw some new tools (some with promise and others to avoid), and I got to see some mountains. Sadly my quest therein did not lead to finding bigfoot, which ultimately makes this all a disappointment.

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