Between Thanksgiving and my Birthday I had few opportunities to write new pieces, but today I‘m going to reveal some more fantastic secrets!
Today (weighed down by a throat illness and unable to make videos because of that) I‘m going to open up my full inventory on how to be a good presenter (which also ties into how to become a good teacher).
Summarized in one sentence, my teaching and presentation techniques can be summarized as follows: „think about what all of the boring teachers in my life have done, and do the opposite!“. A corollary: to become an encouraging and positive teacher, do the opposite of what the discouraging and negative teachers do.
(My friend Ulf, who is a priest in the Church of Sweden, was taking courses at Yad Vashem with me in Jerusalem [namely, ones about Holocaust history]. He said that „some teachers opened doors for me, and others closed doors for me instead]. I expanded this idea to pretty much everything in your life: advice, articles, friendships, or anything similar that OPEN doors are right, those that CLOSE doors are wrong. You can usually tell within reading one paragraph of an article, if not the headline, and the same applies to presentations).
Okay, you wanted insider tips so here you are:
I‘ve looked at the most subscribed channels on YouTube in multiple languages, and they all have many aspects in common. One of these is the fact that there is almost NEVER a moment that is emotionally „blah“ or otherwise stale.
If you are giving a class, it is YOUR job to keep other people engaged, and you can make ANY topic engaging.
Speak with a theatrical voice, use gestures if possible and DON‘T assume that putting information on the screen or just reading off facts is going to be interesting to most people.
BUT if you bring life into those facts with the tone of your voice, your body language and a general spirit of enthusiasm, you could make the most dreary topics in existence something to be remembered.
Be a lot less formal. Be a lot less like a typical college professor and more like a YouTube superstar. (I‘m sorry to say it, but there‘s a reason that the latter tend to be more well-known. I‘ve copied the techniques and learned from them. And even if you don‘t feel very animated right now, it is a ROLE you can grow into, no matter who you are!)
And here‘s another pointer…
- Keep the Audience Engaged
„How many of you have heard of…“
„I‘m curious if there are people in the audience who know of…“
„Here‘s [name of memory technique / video game / learning app]. How many of you here have used it before?“
One thing that my Jewish background has taught me is the fact that performance heightens memory. Use your senses, your movement and your voice and beyond…the more aspects you use, the more you‘ll be able to (1) engage yourself in an activity and (2) truly create lasting memories of the experience.
If you ask a number of questions to the audience, especially at the beginning, you get them involved on a deep level, rather than too many presenters who often „talk at“ their audience rather than engage them.
And in line with that, there‘s another point of importance. Namely…
- Know that Everyone is a Genius about Something
This is ESSENTIAL to being a good teacher. But also in Q&A sessions, I‘ve too often encountered to many people who have been shut down. In one particularly horrendous incident at Hebrew University, I was told to my face, „I would really have to say that you‘re wrong and I agree with him [indicating someone else]“. Jared: „Can you articulate that further?“ Teacher: „That‘s just how I feel“. (You can imagine how this made me feel inside).
In My Q&A session during the Polyglot Conference, I heard questions about LOLCat and Upside Down English (this had to do with the fact that I had listed the complete list of languages that Minecraft was translated into). I didn‘t know a lot about it, and so I asked the people who asked the questions to provide more. I remember telling one presenter that he should „submit a proposal for next year‘s conference“ on LOLCat.
In line with that: be willing to admit you don‘t know, and encourage your students to explore topics on their own and „let me know what you find“.
- Assume Your Audience Knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING About the Topic [But Don‘t Talk Down to Them]
I speak several languages very, very well. I was an absolute beginner in all of them once. I made silly mistakes with all of them frequently (including with my native tongue of American English, one such example was when I was 13 and I called „Freud“ of psychoanalytic fame „Frood“).
Sometimes when I‘m „not feeling up to it“, I CONTINUE to make silly mistakes with them (including my native language!)
Friday evening before the Conference opened with the 30-Language DJ set, I set aside forty minutes to give a „run-through“ presentation of my talk on Video Games and Langauge Learning. The target audience was, of course, my parents in Connecticut, super-excited for me as good parents should be. My father hasn‘t played a video game since the early 1990‘s, and let‘s not even discuss my mom‘s ability (or lack thereof) to play „Kirby‘s Return to Dreamland“ („If you‘re player 2, no matter how many times you die, you always come back!“).
Basic things that a video gamer would know (the Steam Store, Minecraft, etc.) and basic things that a polyglot would know (what an Indo-European Language is) would be things that I would need to explain very concisely in a sentence each. My prarents are monoglots who know nothing about memory palaces, video game design, fan translations, or anything else relevant to the topic. But by building on their knowledge base in a polite way bit-by-bit, they said that it was „excellently done“ (and many people attended my talk despite never having played a video game almost ever and walked away feeling EXTREMELY glad that they came!)
- If there are visual elements, include pictures of yourself in them as well as a good dosage of „Easter Eggs“
Also feel free to briefly mentioned that the PowerPoint presentation has „a lot of surprises“ and tell the audience to „see how many they can get“.
My Video Game presentation had screenshots from game localizations in many languages (including Hebrew, Polish, Swedish, German, Esperanto, Japanese and Cornish [!!!]). They also included screenshots of games that may be „vaguely familiar“ to most people, even if they‘ve never played a game in their life (Super Mario Maker, of course!)
Your presentation can become a mystery trove that can keep people engaged, wondering if the next slide will be something that will cause the room to burst into laughter.
- Use Extremely Positive Language Referring to the Audience
„Super-smart people like you guys out there…“
„Wonderful students like you…“
„People committed to their goals, just like you are…“
Very, VERY few teachers or presenters do this, and it is an EASY fix that gets people super-engaged because they associate your talking with positive feelings. Don‘t overdo it, though, because only once or twice did someone tell me that I was an expert in „buttering up“ other people.
Am I? No, I just think that there is a lot of criticism in the world and I think that there needs to be positivity to balance out the omnipresence of limiting beliefs. If I don‘t do it, who will? (Well…now there‘s you…I suppose…)
- Draw Analogies Very Often
Analogies, metaphors and usage of the phrase „that would be like…“ bring out the inner explorer in the student. You want that explorer as present as possible.
- Use Jokes and INDIRECT Pop Culture References Often (especially with US Audiences)
This will take work, no doubt. But once you‘ve got the previous seven points down, this shouldn‘t be very much effort at all. Also, watch the sort of presenters and personalities you would like to speak like, because, whether you like it or not, you are what you listen to.
The only imperative is „don‘t be boring“ Oh, and another one, namely „don‘t be predictable“.
Those don‘t tend to help by themselves, but the above points certainly will help. And even if you don‘t see yourself as the variety of person(ality) that can encompassed with ease all of the points above, you can TRAIN yourself to be the presenter that never bores everyone and is super-informative as well, much like I did!