Great learner-centered presentations for EMS presenters

Follow these five tips to captivate your audience, include easy-to-see visuals, follow the rule of sevens and avoid panel discussions that will put your audience to sleep

Hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to attend a few great presentations during your EMS career. For me, it’s a great presentation when I learn something that’s meaningful to me in a way that captures my attention so deeply that I can’t be distracted. I’ve been fortunate to see several great, a lot of good, and a few too many painful talks over the last 45 years.

Just like there’s been a move toward “patient-centered” medicine over the last few years, it’s time to move to “learner-centered” presentations.

If you’re nervous about your talk, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you’re really worried about. At least 99% of the time, the answer will be something about forgetting your lines, going over your time limit, being embarrassed or some other self-centered thought. Your presentation isn’t about you, it’s about your audience. Keep your focus on providing real value for them and you’ll find the nervousness dissipates while the quality of your presentation improves.

Just like there’s been a move toward “patient-centered” medicine over the last few years, it’s time to move to “learner-centered” presentations. (Photo/PxHere)
Just like there’s been a move toward “patient-centered” medicine over the last few years, it’s time to move to “learner-centered” presentations. (Photo/PxHere)

5 keys to a captivating presentation

Here are the keys to success when presenting in front of an audience:

  1. Stephen Covey, Ph.D., had it right when he said, “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s essential that you have clearly articulated what you want people to learn from your talk. One of the more captivating presenters I’ve ever heard, Richard Heckler, Ph.D., defined learning as, “The ability to take a different action tomorrow than you can take today.” One trick is to write down what you’d like folks to be able to do tomorrow based on your presentation.
  2. Figure out your delivery method, something that works for you and your audience. This could be storytelling with no visual support. You could “chalk talk” where you draw and write on a flip chart, white board, tablet computer, etc. while you present. You can use PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, or some other slide style presentation strategy. Some presenters use a facilitation approach where the audience does most of the work. And a few folks can mix and match methodologies in the same presentation.
  3. Design some variety into your presentation. At least every 10-15 minutes, have a story to tell, a video to show, a question for the audience to answer, a surprise slide, or something to break up the flow and keep people’s attention.
  4. Get to your presentation space early to make sure that the projection, microphone and lighting technology works and is optimized for your presentation.

Visuals that rock

If you’re going to use visuals, make them learner-centered. People get irritated when they can’t see or read words on a slide and irritation interferes with learning. Learner-centered visuals are easy to see – people in the back row can read them, even the ones who’ve forgotten their glasses. That means the fonts are big – really big. Anything less than 24-point font is criminal.

The contrast between the background color and the letters of your words should be significant. Black on white or white on black has the most contrast. While you’re not limited to these colors, you should strive to come as close as possible to this level of contrast.

Follow the rule of sevens. No more than seven new words appear on the screen at one time. When seven or less words appear, it’s easy for the learner to read them so quickly that it feels like they can read while you’re talking and can pay attention to both.

If there’s more than seven words, they can either read or listen, and if you’re talking while they are reading, it’s irritating. Irritation interferes with learning. If you’ve got a bullet list with 68 words, make at least 10 slides so that no more than seven show up at one time.

Using this rule, if I were making this paragraph into slides for a presentation, I’d have to make 18 slides for this one bullet point:

  • If you can use an image to share a concept rather than words, use the image. People like pictures and a well chosen one will stick in their memory longer, resulting in better learning.

The downfall of an EMS presentation

On the other hand, if you’d like to put your audience to sleep, try one of these six presentation killers:

  1. Create visuals jam-packed with small words that can’t be seen.
  2. Set the screen up in the corner of the room (I don’t know who came up with the idea that a projection screen would be good in the corner of the room rather than smack dab in the front, but if we find them, they should be given an unsatisfactory annual performance review.)
  3. Use a podium set up across the room from the projection screen (The audience likes to watch the presenter’s facial expressions, gestures and the slides at the same time. Forcing them to be like a referee at a ping pong match is a sure-fire recipe for frustration.)
  4. Have a panel discussion
  5. Give the slides to the audience before the talk, so they’ve already read everything you’re going to present and there’s no surprises
  6. Use a template to design your slides.

One last tip is to watch some epic TED talks. They will inspire you to up your presentation game and it’s likely that you’ll learn something cool in the process.

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