Paul Kei Matsuda

LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

I told Aya that I wanted a site like booklog in English and that's tag-based rather than category-based. And she found this site right way--she's great. Then I discovered some of my grad students were already using it. I guess I was a bit behind. Sigh.



Aya is good at finding new stuff on the web. She found this Booklog site, where users can create their virtual bookshelf and share it with others. She's already started one. This is a great idea. I love looking at other people's bookshelves because I think it says a lot about the person. I also want to share my bookshelf with my grad students. Maybe I'll start one sometime.



Preparing a professional-quality presentation is not something that comes naturally to many people; for many, it takes years of practice before they can develop effective presentations.

I've been to many presentations where presenters ramble on--without realizing they are rambling on. They are, of course, presenting something important (at least to themselves), but to the audience, it's not easy to see why the speaker is talking about it or where the speaker is going with it. "Get to the point" is often not strong enough as an advice; its more like "start with the point and work backwards." (There are exceptions, of course, such as when the point is going to be controversial.)

In most cases, I think, the problem is that the speaker doesn't frame the argument well with metadiscourse--overviews, transitions, summary, explicit statements of points and subpoints, etc. The common advice to "tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them" may be too simplistic (it almost sounds ridiculous), but it does seem to be addressing my concern: Before performing a discursive act, the speaker needs to establish what issue or problem is going to be addressed and how. The so-called deductive organization (a misnomer, I realize)--here is my point, here is why--is often useful for this purpose.

Good speakers who can keep the attention of the audience may be able to get away with some digression or unfolding story telling, but when the structure of the implicit argument is not well-constructed, the disappointment at the end is considerable. I hate having to spend a lot of my intellectual energy trying to keep up with the seemingly disconnected ideas only to discover that it is not just seemingly disconnected. A jigsaw puzzle is satisfying only if it can be completed.

Another major problem with poor presentations is the length. People talk too much. Way too much. When poor speakers are given 20 minutes to speak, they often try to fill the time with too much information. (Or perhaps they are "poor speakers" because they do that.) 20 minutes is about 8 pages of script. If it's 15 minutes, 6 pages would be the maximum. When it comes to oral presentations, less is more. As long as the overall structure of the argument is clear, most of the details can be omitted; if it's important, I'd say put it in a handout so the audience can refer to it later. (But don't put everything on the overhead or PowerPoint--it should be kept simple and readable.) If it's important, the audience can ask a question at the end.

When I have something really interesting but not directly related to my main point, I often allude to it or make a brief comment about it and tell the audience that I'd be happy to talk about it during Q&A. (But of course I'm assuming that the speakers know what they are talking about and can think on their feet--otherwise the Q&A session can be a real pain both for the speaker and the audience.)

When I started presenting at conferences as a graduate student, I had scripts prepared. I wrote them specifically to be read aloud--written in short sentences with cues for pauses, emphases, new transparency, etc.). I even scripted and practiced jokes.

After a few presentations, I began to experiment with different styles of presentation. I tried speaking from notecards and handouts. I also experimented with outlines on the overhead transparencies. (Back then, I used Word to create my transparencies.) In a few cases, I prepared two different styles of presentation and practiced both to see which one worked better for the purpose and the material at hand.

All this hard work has not been wasted. On several occasions, I've had to come up with an outline for a whole 20-minute presentation on the spot because of the problem with technology. When something like that happens, I usually create a rough outline on a piece of paper and speak from it.

After gaining some experience with various styles of presentation, I settled for the PowerPoint outline presentations. Joy Reid was a major influence in this development. When she came to Indiana TESOL as a keynote speaker, she brought a whole bunch of transparencies. She was putting them on screen, but her talk seemed to be coming from her head, not the transparencies. She was my hero. (She still is.) I wanted to learn to do what she seemed to do so effortlessly. I wanted to learn to talk as if I was just talking.

One thing I often did in the early years was to practice many times in front of my spouse (who can actually understand and critique my presentations), using the timer on the microwave oven to time my presentation. She was always willing to listen, but if I started revising in the middle of my mock presentation with her, she would tell me to come back when I was really ready. That actually helped me develop my presentation skills.

After years of practice, I have developed a good sense of time during my presentation. I prepare most of my presentations in the form of PowerPoint slides, and I can make my presentation shorter or longer depending on the situation--within reason, of course. Sometimes the previous speaker goes over time. Sometimes the conference organizer forgets to tell me that there is a short ceremony before my talk. I no longer preactice before my presentation (other than going over the PowerPoint slides couple times to make sure it makes sense). But right before each presentation, I quickly divide the time I have for my presentation by the number of PowerPoint slides I have prepared to figure out about how much details to provide for each slide.

I also try to make my presentation on the shorter side so I can elaborate on things that the audence shows some interest. I also make sure to save ample time for Q&A, which is usually the the best part of my presentation. At least that's what I enjoy the most about presenting my work in fron of people--to engage in conversations.

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Last update: January 6, 2008