Cognitive Systems Design
Copyright © 2015 by Gavan Lintern
I recall my first presentation only too well. I prepared exhaustively, but leading up to the event, I was almost incapacitated by anxiety. I stumbled through the presentation barely surviving the experience, or so it seemed.
Somehow, the world did not end that day.
The experience improved only marginally over the next two decades. My anxiety blocked my ability to think on my feet and I recall asking myself on more than one occasion why I tortured myself by undertaking what was essentially an optional activity.
I was not doing well, and I knew it. Following a presentation, I was always troubled by the fact that I had missed important ideas I intended to mention. I was also painfully aware that I was not engaging my audience. I had interesting material but my presentations were not working. I improved over time but, in relation to the distance I had to go, progress was miniscule.
I sought advice and assistance where I could; all the right places. Nothing helped. I now realize that almost no-one, not even the professionals who are supposed to know how to do this, know how to help someone who is struggling. All the advice I received sounded sensible, but it did not address my problem. In retrospect, I now see that much of it was misleading.
My breakthrough came at a weekend presentation workshop. Two days do not offer much time to repair a decades-old problem, but the facilitator offered a few nuggets that helped me restructure my approach. I realized that my presentations were overly complicated and that my ideas did not build on each other. I packed too much in and I did not engage my audience with any sort of compelling narrative.
The workshop facilitator suggested a particular type of narrative structure that I will introduce to you in chapters 3 and 4. I found that when I used it I converged rather quickly onto a less-complicated argument that more readily facilitated a flowing narrative style. I noticed the difference in my very next presentation.
I reflected on that new experience with considerable pleasure. I imagined I had completed my transition from dismal to competent. Now, 15 years later, I realize it has been a journey. Certainly a transition, but one that initiated a developmental process. I have built on the insights I gained from that workshop ever since.
I have come a long way since then. I still do not relish the experience as do many of my more outgoing colleagues, not even after a career of 35+ years in which I have made hundreds of presentations. Nevertheless, I am no longer afflicted by that extreme anxiety I once experienced. I am confident I can prepare the right sort of material and I am comfortable while I am on stage. I can now think on my feet and can adapt to audience moods and to issues that might arise.
While development of a presentation remains serious work, I get considerable satisfaction afterwards as I contemplate a job well done. I am gratified when the feedback I get suggests to me that many of those attending my presentations have found them engaging, interesting, and even stimulating. I experience it as something of an accomplishment that my ratings as an instructor, once dismal, have pushed against the top of the scale over the past several years.
I now appreciate my opportunities to present but also strive to improve on every outing. This book is largely about what I have learned during that journey. While I did not want to make this book overly personal, what follows is largely about what I have learned from my experience as I have first struggled and then progressed towards a more effective presentation style.
Does anything in my early experience ring true for you? Can I help you make the transition that I have made? In fact, can I help you make that transition more quickly than I did; over several presentations rather than the scores I needed? That is my primary aim for this book.
If all works as I intend, my book will help you move towards viewing a presentation as an agreeable, even rewarding and possibly enjoyable experience.
Nevertheless, remain aware that achievement of competence, even excellence, is always a journey. You may become discouraged from time to time, but if you take the lessons of this book seriously, you will experience an early boost. Then, if you keep working at it, you will move through a process of steady improvement. Within a few years, you will hardly remember how dissatisfied you were with your own performance.
If you are struggling with this, and especially if you are not making much headway, you may be tempted to accept that this is something you will never be good at. Why does it matter, anyhow? After all, nobody really cares. Most presentations are terrible. Why would you want to be better?
For me, delivering a high quality presentation is a matter of professional pride. Is that true for you? Do you want to be good at this? Some competence with presentations is especially important if you are in the early stages of your career. Is it too much to hope that you can be competent, even excellent?
If you do want to improve, now is the time to start.
You may request a complimentary copy of my book, Presentations for the Knowledge Professions. In return, in an electronic handshake agreement, I would like you to let friends and colleagues know that this book is available. I will provide an email flyer you might send anyone who seems interested.
Email me if you would like a complimentary copy. I will send it by email in epub format (iBook compatible).
If you read the book and like it, I will appreciate any supportive comments you might offer friends or colleagues. I will review and reflect on any comments you send me.
This book has now gone through two rounds of reviews. I will set to work on editing and adjusting in response to reviewer comments in mid-February with an aim to making it available in January 2016.
I plan to format this as an epub, using InDesign CS6, in preparation for publishing it as an iBook through iTunes and as a Kindle through Amazon.