Susan Riley | April 2013

Presenting Like the Amish

How do you present without a powerpoint?  There are certainly plenty of alternatives here, so let’s ask another question: how do you present without electricity?  This one is much more difficult, I think.  I have spoken many times about presenting information in ways that engage your audience, but all of them have included some sort of technology.  Several months ago, I was having a conversation with my mom about a conference she had just attended as one of the keynote speakers.  She was explaining that one of the other presenters at the conference was a very engaging Amish farmer.

When he arrived to prepare for his session, the conference assistants asked him for his powerpoint.  When he didn’t answer them, they looked bewildered.  Who doesn’t have a Powerpoint to give a presentation?  He looked at them with just as much confusion.  After all, he was Amish – Powerpoint isn’t really a part of his daily life.  Yet, my mom explained that he was the most dynamic presenter of the entire day.  So maybe there is something we could all learn by presenting like the Amish.

Core Message

When we think about any presentation we are about to give – from a speaking engagement at a conference to a lesson in front of our students – it’s clear that there needs to be a core message that is grounded in a need of the group.  By speaking only in generalities and foregone conclusions, no one will want to listen to us.  Instead, we need to take stock of our audience and think about what their unique needs and concerns are at this moment in time.  What immediate problem or question can you help them to solve?  This should be at the heart of your presentation.

Ditch the Slides

As this Amish farmer so succinctly reminds us, it’s not about the fancy elements.  It’s about what you’re saying.  It goes back to that core message.  You can have the most awesome Powerpoint or SlideRocket in the world, but if you aren’t providing any substance, the presentation won’t matter.  YOU matter.  What you are sharing is what matters and becomes the star of the show – focus on this.  The rest is just the supporting cast.

Don’t be Afraid of Adventure

When we abandon the use of presentation software, suddenly it feels like we are vulnerable.  The crutch has been cast aside and people are forced to place ALL of their focus on us.  Look at this as an opportunity for adventure.  Explore with being able to connect with each member of your audience.  Be open to thinking through their questions with them instead of providing a cookie-cutter answer through a bullet on a slide.  Make each person in the room feel like they are in a personal dialogue with you.  This can be scary, but in the end it’s always more memorable than any image or witty quote you can put on a screen.

These 3 components are not stand-alones.  I’m not suggesting to never use a Powerpoint, SlideRocket or other presentation vehicle.  I use them all the time and believe they can be very effective in communicating a message to the right audience.  But I also believe that we have a tremendous opportunity to connect with our audience or classes by taking a break from the “obvious” and instead going back-to-basics.  It’s a refreshing way to move ideas forward and put people first.

Sound off – do you ever forego the Powerpoint slides?  What has been the response?  Does it make you nervous?

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan