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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Every Presentation Should Be Like a TED Talk

By Peter DeWitt — May 11, 2016 4 min read
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The date is chosen. After applying or being recommended, you hear that you have been chosen to do a Ted Talk. You know, Ted Talk...THE Ted Talk...that phenomenal moment when you have to put together an outstanding speech that will engage an audience for 18 minutes or less.

It’s exciting. There is no doubt about it. You have come up with the most creative idea you can think of, and hope that no one has presented on that topic before. You want to knock it out of the park in a way that will make you the next Sir Ken Robinson.

After you’re chosen you write out the presentation, then put it on slides, and find outstanding pictures from Creative Commons. You gather your friends, and perhaps some family members, and have them listen to your every spoken word. They give you feedback, praise, and tell you how proud they are of this accomplishment...as they should because it is a great accomplishment.

But here’s the thing...every time you present should be like a Ted Talk.

An Audience of How Many?
It’s intimidating to present. Whether you’re presenting to peers in a faculty meeting or strangers at a conference, the whole situation can be scary. Have you prepared enough? Do you really have something worth to talk about? Will people show up?

A few years ago after Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (2012. Corwin Press) came out, I was accepted to present at the iconic ASCD Conference. When I went to check out my room I was amazed to see that the capacity of the room was 800. I knew ASCD was a progressive conference but I didn’t think 800 people would attend the presentation. Could I be wrong? Did the people behind the conference know something I didn’t know?

35 people showed up...

I had to get over myself because the room wasn’t even filled 10%. We sat in a circle and shared our experiences. I left feeling it was an outstanding discussion, and made connections with people who I still talk with today. Instead of focusing on who didn’t show up, I had to focus on who did.

That’s not the issue with a Ted Talk because those talks bring in a large audience, but we should approach every presentation...every keynote...like it’s a Ted Talk.

Whatever presentation you’re doing, whether it’s for a large national conference or a small presentation to your faculty; go with the same excitement as though you’re presenting at a Ted Talk. The people in the audience deserve it.

Don’t Lose Your Purpose
During these times of increased social media and reality television, it’s easy to lose our purpose and collect speaking engagements like shoes, or at least appear to collect speaking engagements by how we market ourselves through Twitter and Facebook. Some get caught up in being edustars instead of focusing on being educators. We should always focus on our purpose.

Instead of focusing on being the best out of everyone else in cyberspace, we should focus on being the best we can be for the audience that we are fortunate enough to work with on that given day. The reality is that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and many of those that came before us paved the way for what we all speak about now.

We all have a passion area that was somehow inspired by someone before us, and our ideas may not be as original as our egos lead us to believe. Many of us have just expanded on ideas that were forged long before we stepped in the classrooms. We need to respect that.

Every time we present to a small or large audience we have a responsibility to the audience, and not to our egos. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are offering up ideas that they can build on when they leave us. It’s not about our ideas being the best, or our books being the most successful books ever published. It’s about the ideas we inspire in others.

Presenting, when done correctly, are supposed to offer reciprocal learning. Yes, we do the learning as we go through the process of preparing, but we are supposed to learn when we have dialogue with the audience we are working with. The true power of any presentation is the collective power of the room.

In the End
Just like we expect teachers to bring their A-game to their students every time they spend time in the classroom with them, we need to bring our A-game to every workshop or presentation we do with leaders and teachers. That same energy we put into a Ted Talk is the same energy and excitement we need to put into our every day workshops. And we should always thank the people who came before us who inspired us to build on the ideas that they inspired us with.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (2012. Corwin Press), Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel (2014. Corwin Press), School Climate Change (2014. ASCD) and the forthcoming Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Activedia.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.