Last month, I received an invitation to present at the Graduate Business Services Association Annual Conference taking place in Boston. The topic is one I deeply care about (call it an emotional attachment) and have been personally and professionally engaged with for a long time: jumpstarting the success of international students. The word “presentation” does not accurately reflect what I was preparing for; more accurately, it was a thoughtful and emotional representation of many years of working, learning, experiencing, empathizing, ideating, testing, collaborating, implementing, evaluating, and improving. “Presenting” sounds cold and impersonal, almost forensic. The never-ending cycle of two steps forward, one back, or the lessons of failure and success, are all too personal to my experience to call it presenting. Instead, for me, my presentation is my child.
Presenting your child in front of educated, knowledgeable, and experienced peers is both exiting (from a sharing and learning perspective) as well as somewhat stressful (I find that a healthy dose of doubt about what others think keeps me focused). Like most people, I want to make sure that I put my best effort forward, meet my own standards, and nurture the confidence that Carey’s best practices are going to impress just about anyone in the audience.
First, I had to imagine my child. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. My nature is to start with potential concerns ranging from engaging the audience at multiple levels while maintaining interest and engagement, to mundane variables such as the temperature in the room. Following imagining my child, I needed to figure out what I could control (or not) and then moved to brainstorming. This stage was messy as I started with many ideas and narrowing down to relevant aspects of my child’s best traits was difficult. The work was slow, random, and yet organized. It occurred early in the morning while working out at the gym; it hit me as I was falling asleep at night (I keep a notepad on my nightstand – writing helps me remember), in meetings, with friends, in the car… call it a storm of ideas.
However, the rain did not come until I had to face the looming deadline and actually put pen to paper as a symbol of my commitment to my child and the need to create a memorable experience for my audience. As Adam Grant suggests in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, I was experiencing what he calls “creative procrastination” as I evaluated ideas, recorded them, pondered, tried to forget about them for periods of time, critically assessed and re-evaluated, prioritized, and eventually committed to what made sense and what didn’t. Eventually the storm cleared up and I created my child over the course of two days!
Here is what the rain drops looked like in my mind:
- Audience: Who is my audience and why would they be interested in what I had to share?
- Content: How do I decide what is relevant and what is not when there is too much to say?
- Purpose: Why am I doing this?
- Voice: What voice do I use? Active or passive?
- Length: How do I balance a 90 min experience? Too long can be boring, too short – not enough time to share and get feedback.
- Relevance: Would the content and approach hold a meaning for the audience? How do I make my child an example the audience can appreciate?
- Images versus Text: What works, what is the optimal percentage of each? If I have too much of either, is there a chance I might lose the audience? How do I maintain balance and thus engagement?
- Data, Theory, and Experience: What is most significant? How do I best present it? How would that be helpful to my peers?
- Critical Feedback: What is my peers’ feedback? Their evaluations are tools in identifying potential gaps and help with focus on goal/objectives, and engaging the audience.
As it is with all storms, eventually the sky cleared up and I welcomed my child in a calm, excited and dedicated manner. While imperfection and perfection go hand in hand, a thoughtful and intentional approach has proven the key to creating a child whom I love, on a stormy or a sunny day.