From Rags to Eloquence

So, I stood at the head of a room full of people on May 9, 2011 under the assumption that I, Lassana Magassa, the poet did not have to dedicate much time to prepare for a fifteen minute talk on my research interests and progress. Boy was I wrong! (Of course I learned this the hard way.) As it turns out, even I (Lassana Magassa) have to put in time to prepare for presentations.  Although some people may disagree, I believe it was a disaster. A disaster that was recorded and will indefinitely live on the Information School’s website.

That was last week, one week later, I had to do another presentation on my research interests and my progress in the PhD program at the University of Washington’s Information School (iSchool). Unlike last time, this time was very successful. It is no accident that this is the case. Following first presentation, I searched high and low for someone who would provide me with the sort of critique that would help me strengthen similar presentations.

To my surprise, finding this type of feedback proved quite challenging. I was bombarded with comments most of which said my presentation was “OK”. This was a little troublesome because I felt otherwise. Then finally I found someone who agreed  😀 (Thank you Natascha). And it is with her (and her colleagues) feedback/insights that I create this entry.

During our discussion, Natascha highlighted several flaws in my presentation. From this, I have ascertained that there are at least three things that EVERY presentation should include:

1. Motivation
2. Precision
3. Neatly weaved narrative

1. Motivation: Simply put, “what factors motivate your interest?” I made the mistake of assuming that since everyone knew me, I did not have to explain what specifically it is that I am interested in and what motivated that interest. Based on Natascha’s feedback, this was one of my errors. My assumption led me to brush over the importance of my interest and prevented me from getting everyone else excited about it.

2. Precision: Here the word “precision” is really getting at the importance of accuracy/exactness. Being sure to use the words that are most effective at conveying a thought or an idea. Natascha’s comments implied that my talk was choppy, that in between abrupt pauses that I seemed to be scrolling through my mental rolodex searching frantically for the right words. It probably doesn’t have to be said, but attempting to do this in front of your audience is NOT fun.

3. Neatly weaved narrative: The importance of this cannot be understated. Being able assemble a coherent effective talk often involves an element of storytelling. This was certainly true in the case of the two presenters–Beth Patin and Marisa Duarte–who preceded my talk. They did a phenomenal job of painting pictures, evoking thoughts, ideas, and feelings starting at their opening sentence and ending at “Thank you, any questions.” I must agree with Natascha who felt I moved from one idea to another with no clear path in mind.

Moving ahead with the feedback and memories of my poor performance, I told myself I could NEVER let such a thing happen again. And so I didn’t (at least not today). Today, Monday, May 16, 2011, I stood before a crowd as I did the previous week. This time having employed the suggestions of Natascha et al I was prepared and felt more confident. I spoke for the allotted time period, answered questions and then took my seat. I knew immediately that it was a successful presentation.

So, that’s it! Include motivation, precision and a neatly weaved narrative in your presentation and watch that magic happen.

If it doesn’t work, drop me a line and we’ll go hunt the Natascha down together.

Till next time,

Good times!

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