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3 Proven Ways to Give an Effective Short Talk

Focus on 3 points

I recently gave a 30-minute talk to a group of English second-language teachers about the features and benefits of using Moodle, a popular learning management system (LMS). The e-learning software tool was developed to help educators create online courses. I use it extensively in my own work. So I wanted to share my thrill in experimenting with it.

It is a challenge addressing college teachers who have other things to think about than using some relatively new software. “Moodle? Is this going to complicate my life when I’m already so busy? Do I really need this?,” they’re probably asking themselves, if you succeed in catching their attention in the first place.

So what are some ways to give a captivating short talk that has the English department head raving about your talk? “Fantastic job, Frank,” she commented afterwards.

1. Start with a Bang

According to Meyers and Nix, the authors of As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick – one of my favorite books on public speaking, you have seven seconds to engage listeners in your presentation or risk losing them.

To catch listener attention you have to make the topic relevant and interesting right from the start. Don’t expect listeners to be as thrilled about the topic as you are.

Remember that teachers, students, business people, or potential clients are motivated by WIIFM – the acronym that stands for “What’s In It For Me?” They want to know how something will benefit them.

I like to hook listeners up front by asking questions. This puts the focus on the listener rather than on me. In the article, Structuring a Presentation, I talk about other enticing other ways to introduce a talk.

For this presentation, I began by asking a series of questions:

  • How do you present your students resources, such as PDF files, videos and websites?
  • What kind of communication tools do you use? Email, forums, or a blog?
  • Do you do online formative (ongoing) or summative (for marking purposes) evaluation?

I put the focus squarely on my audience by using YOU more often than I.

Then I asked teachers to imagine an online tool that would support them in doing ALL the following things with students: present a variety of resources, communicate in different ways, and offer online quizzes, essays and other forms of evaluation.

Finally I said, “Well there is one – Moodle!” Now that caught their interest.

2. Narrow the Topic to Three Points

Research on listener attention shows that people can’t absorb more than three main points in any given presentation. I know for myself when a speaker begins by saying I’m going to talk about these 10 points, I wince and dread what is about to follow.

So in this talk, I divided the topic into three sections: resources, communication and online evaluation. Neat and simple! I first presented some of the main features of Moodle. Then I briefly stated some of benefits that teachers and students would find useful.

Resources
Features:

  • Focus on Three Points

    allows you to share PDF files, videos (from YouTube, for example) and links to educational websites.

Benefits:

  • allows you to organize neatly your material on a weekly basis or thematically
  • allows students to follow a clearly laid-out course plan

Communication
Features:

  • allows you to interact with students through email, forums in which student share ideas and opinions, and personal blogs or journals.

Benefits:

  • allows you to send and receive messages to students in one place
  • allows students to communicate easily with you or other students

Online Evaluation
Features:

  • allows you to prepare your own custom-made quizzes and tests – that if done objectively can be graded automatically, and essays that you can provide in-text feedback.

Benefits:

  • allows you to provide timely feedback to students on their performance
  • allows students to see where they need to improve

3. Be Enthusiastic

One of my main qualities as a speaker is that I’m always passionate and enthusiastic when I talk to groups. I’m also confident when I speak – partly due to experience as well as good preparation.

According to Mark McGuinness, a top business coach and trainer, enthusiasm is far more important than confidence.

He gives five reasons why you should always be enthusiastic whenever you give a talk:

  1. Enthusiasm puts the focus on your topic rather than on you.
  2. Enthusiasm strengthens your interaction with the audience.
  3. Enthusiasm can be infectious – your dynamic, energetic manner can transfer itself to your audience.
  4. Enthusiasm can be creative – especially when you can soar above a scripted text.
  5. Enthusiasm makes what you’re doing fun.

For more from Mark, check out his article on enthusiasm.

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