My Shortest-Ever Post On Presentation

The conversation in my ILC recap has taken a few predictable turns, namely the one where I expect too much of presentations, that I need to lighten up on the presenters. I don’t know how to relax my standards or if that’s even a good idea. I do know how to distill everything I have ever enjoyed about any presentation into two steps. I don’t care what your presentation covers; if you manage these, I will love it.

  1. Unless your presentation is billed as “beginner-level” don’t include information I can easily Google. What I mean is, while I know nothing about Photo Story, it was painful spending seat-time on a tutorial for adding narration to Photo Story, which is Google’s top result for the same query. I can get that anytimeThis was the most dissonant element of ILC. Half the presenters told me not to tell my kids stuff their steroidal smart phones could tell them. The other half were doing the opposite..
  2. Instead, cover the stuff I can’t Google, that stuff that makes your presence worth my district’s money and my time. Here’s an easy outline: a) why Photo Story; what problem were you trying to solve? should I care about that problem? b) what complications did you encounter while implementing Photo Story? how did you overcome them? c) what did you learn?

This particular outline forces you to reckon with audience expectations and puts you in a position to satisfy them. It would have improved fourteen of the eighteen presentationsNone of which were about Photo Story, okay? I attended at ILCThough this outline is useless if you turn your back to the audience and read aloud from a slide titled “What I Learned.”.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I think my taste in presentations is similar to yours but the challenge for the presenter is that even though we may not want the beginner stuff there is a significant portion of the audience who does want it.

  2. Umm, I’m with you on the boring presentation and death by powerpoint, but the reality is, AND I WARNED YOU ABOUT THIS, those how-to type sessions are NOT for someone at your level of knowledge, even if it’s about a software you are unfamiliar with. Mathew is entirely correct about this being where most attendees are at. BUT, you and Scott are right in implying that if this is the case, what are we doing for folks who don’t need this level of handholding?

    There are some other ways to approach this for conference organizers and presenters:

    * Leave beginner how-to’s to the paid workshops. If you need that level of hand-holding that’s the pedagogically correct place to do it.

    *Weave in a few beginner tips with the more generalized info about theory, and other big picture issues. Hall Davidson is the master of this, showing quick how-to tips, wrapped around info about digital learners.

    Mathew’s CUE session on film making in the classroom in Spring I think didn’t even show how to use Movie Maker or iMovie, but instead talked about why you would make films with kids, how to structure it, resources, and some tips on how to make a more professional product (lighting and sound issues).

    *Show beginner stuff, but make it fresh enough and weave in some more advanced tips and tricks to keep your whole audience mesmerized.

    I would say this can be the *hardest* type of presentation to do. Glancing through the session offerings, the majority of presenters/presentations are doing these intro to an app/tool presentations.

  3. @Alice,

    Yes, I believe I presented as Dan suggests. I talked about barriers to implementing video podcasting in the classroom, how to overcome those barriers, how to make it work in the classroom, and I used my own classroom videos to demonstrate video.

    My presentation was well received. However, the few negative comments I got on evaluations were things like “you didn’t tell us how to set up an RSS feed” or “session too advanced”.

    So, that’s where I’m coming from…not every one is as knowledgeable and if they knew how to use Google to find the answers they would have already found them.

    On a personal note, to avoid frustration I don’t go to sessions on things I already know about unless I know the presenter. So, for example, at our CUELA conference I will avoid anything about moviemaking because it’s a generally frustrating experience for me but I don’t know anything about Alice (open source animation program) and so I doubt I’ll be disappointed at that session.

  4. As a conference attender I have always felt that if I’m interested there isn’t enough time spent and if I’m not interested there is too much time spent. As a presenter I prefaced with “this is a workshop with ADD unmedicated. I’m going to tell you what I know and give you the resources to find the information when you get home, that way if you are interested delve more, if not forget it.” It’s always worked for me.

  5. Dan, you are young and will learn how to attend these conferences with a more experienced hand. One tip I have, as a very elder attendee (in other words, doing these conferences for over 20 years, on both sides), is to attend only those workshops on presentations where I know the presenter. I don’t mean as a good buddy because I wouldn’t go to some of my buddies’ presentations, but rather, I know the way the presenter works and I like what I have seen in the past.

    I go to very few conferences any more unless I know I am really going to get a lot out of it, and I rarely present any more. For a few years there, our team was gone more than we were in class and I said, “enough, let people come see me work in my classroom.” My kids deserved me more.

  6. Great ideas, Dan. How can they be applied in the classroom? Much of the algorithms and examples can be Googled, so why do students need to listen to you or I? I think this is what you have been trying to advocate for on this blog. Give the students an experience IN mathematics that CAN’T be Googled. Kudos on your inspiration of your students and teachers like me!

  7. @mathew That AMAZES me, because you made it QUITE clear from the beginning that it was not a how-to use the software preso.

    Another thing amazing me, there were NO eval forms at ILC for concurrent presenters, so I only have ONE person who used my online eval form at my training blog (

    This is JUST WRONG! I have one person, who gave me a very high rating, except for organization which is “okay” I can’t figure this out (which is a comment on my poll, not on the person responding, thank god she did), and an “n” of 1 is way too small. Maybe I should bribe folks with chocolate, I don’t know?

  8. Along with Matthew and a few other commenters, I find when I present that there is inevitably a few attendees who will flip out (and I mean flip out) if I don’t show them what I would consider obvious or easy to Google. Its just as annoying to a presenter as I am sure it is to other attendees. However, much like with my 8th graders my goal is to help everyone be successful.

    Alice, I like the idea of providing your own evaluation for your session. ILC08 was the first conference at which I have presented where there were no evaluation forms. I live off feedback and I am disappointed not to have more than the few comments and emails I received over the weekend.

  9. I think a lot of blogging teachers are on the bleeding edge of tech transformation, even though we don’t recognize it. I grew up surrounded by technology, so it baffles me when the teacher down the hall doesn’t know that Google does more than search. No one can be an expert on everything, so I help out others where I can and assume that at some point, when I have a question that Google can’t answer, someone will be willing/able to help me out…

    As a presenter, I find that if your synopsis is very clear, there won’t be as many false expectations. I’ve done a couple of sessions on the basics of multimedia production, and I’ve had questions like how to select multiple cells in a table in Dreamweaver… fortunately, everyone in the session was on the same wavelength (or at least if they weren’t, they didn’t say anything – I had pretty positive feedback).

  10. To Alice, Joe, and the other seasoned presenters, speaking hypothetically, if your session synopsis clearly outlined your goals and if you gave a quick preview at the start of your talk specifying that it would be a poor use of your experience to talk about things you could learn from the manual or from a Google search (and by the way, here’s a delicious tag featuring links to all of those tutorials) could you then get down to the business of 1) here’s what I wanted to do, 2) here were the challenges I faced, 3) here’s how I got past them, 4) here’s some neat stuff I’ll try next time?

    Obviously you can wedge in a few tips for the first-timers, but that intro-level stuff was the rule and not the exception in the sessions I attended at ILC.

    Mike, the best two sessions I attended at the only two conferences I have attended in the last year both proposed sending students home with the textbook or a podcast to learn on their own and then, the following day, class time was spent dealing with the unGoogleables: meaty problems, complicated labs, that sort of thing.

    It’s compelling. Here is one session summary.

  11. Dan, thanks for this post. Your original about ILC, well….frankly…it bummed me out. As someone who is preparing presentations for local and state conferences, I felt your expectations were a little too high. I’m not a professional, and the fact that I can engage a room full of middle school students does not necessarily make me engaging enough to entertain a bunch of really smart educators. This post makes me a little more hopeful. I’ll be sure to include lots of examples in my presentations, and stay away from the “googleable” stuff. Luckily, you won’t be at the conferences that I’m presenting at, and even if you were, I’m sure I have nothing for you, so my fragile self-esteem wouldn’t have to be repaired from your snarky tweets. Keep up the good work….you help us all.

  12. Honestly, Nadine, I’m close to feeling bad about all this if only I could answer two questions: a) how high are expectations that are just high enough? and b) is this is any time for lowered expectations?

    I think the real issue here is how we issue criticism. I don’t have any problem with anyone’s criticism of my work so long as the criticism is a) clear and b) actionable. Under those two conditions, it doesn’t matter to me how high someone’s expectations are. I may regret not having more hours in the day to assimilate that criticism but I’d rather have more to work on not less.

    For example, Tom Hoffman disagrees with my writing 90% of the time. His only appeal to me is that he (usually) outlines his criticism with clear writing and actionable follow-up, criticism that is in unfortunately short supply. cf. Darren Draper who, at one point, called my writing “pointless blather” without qualifying that with any specific disagreement or follow-up. I hope that my criticism falls into the first category more often than the second.

  13. Dan,

    The best two sessions you described sound like they were teaching in a Harkness Method environment. We could all go a LONG way in teaching our students how to learn if we adopted some Socratic and Harkness teaching styles. Too bad we cannot do that in a conference preso. Or can we?