This article reports on ways to make a presentation more effective by asking five “W” questions.
There is an old, but true cliché in the newspaper business that reports should answer the “Five Ws.” Those five are “Why,” “Who,” “When,” “What,” and “Where.” The same Five Ws are equally critical to a presentation.
People enter a presentation room as attendees. Some are there because they are eager to learn the content of the presentation. The majority—forced to attend, attending because it is scheduled, or there to accompany friends—have not yet consented to become participants.
By answering the Five Ws, presenters can turn reluctant attendees into engaged participants. The Five Ws follow.
Why … should I pay attention?
Many programs start with learning objectives. These, while important to the organization sponsoring the learning event, do not matter to the attendees. Objectives explain what will occur rather than why what will occur matters.
To answer “Why,” a presenter must dig deeper. It is at a deeper, more emotive level, that attendees become engaged. Connect the content to what matters in the attendees lives and you will have tapped into that deeper, emotive level.
A company training of a new hours-worked software recording system, for example, would focus on the details of the hours-worked recording system. That focus, although appropriate and necessary, does not elicit passion. If the software training was instead built around getting paid correctly so that “you have the money you need to enjoy your life and weekend,” the learning becomes personally connected.
An opening segment that passionately answers the “Why” question, has a greater chance of exciting learners about the material to follow. For more information on developing an effective opening segment, read Ten concrete steps for beginning a learning event.
Who … are you to teach this to me?
This question is important, but often overstated in training classrooms. Traditional instructional methods place introductions near the start of a program. This gives the trainers an extended opportunity to share their pedigree of years served, jobs held, and awards received. It’s very impressive. It also wastes participant time and focus.
An effective opening segment that answers the “Why” question will have already established the facilitators’ presentation ability. Additional facilitator biographical information is relevant only as it relates to material being taught, and should be shared when it becomes necessary. If the facilitators find it necessary to expound on their accomplishments, a bio placed in the handout will suffice.
The participants, assuming that the presentation has started by effectively answering the “Why” question, are eager to begin learning and should do so as quickly as possible. For additional ideas on reducing facilitator talk to the minimal necessary, read True confessions of a talkaholic.
When … will we break and end?
Participants, having biological and social needs, will want to know approximate break, lunch, and end times. Sharing this information immediately after answering the “Why” and “Who” questions are answered will help participants relax so that they can focus on the material to be presented.
What … is the content?
Most training programs, as stated in the “Why” discussion, begin with objectives and then dive directly into content. “What” is, obviously, the most important question to be answered during a learning event. It’s where the meat of the material is taught.
“What” informs the participants of the concepts, the details of the concepts, and the ways in which how the details work. “What” content is of critical importance to the organization sponsoring the event. It is also, once “Why” is answered, of critical importance to the participants. The best approach to presenting an effective “What” segment is the delivery of effective “Why, “ “Who,” and “When” segments. For more ideas on how to make the “What” segment interesting, read Presenting in a diversiberg world.
Where … can I apply it?
The final segment of a learning program should focus tightly on addressing the “Where” question. Participants, in this segment, identify applications of the material to their work and lives.
Sometimes, facilitators, due to an overabundance of “What” material, run out of time and cancel “Where” activities. Other facilitators, in an attempt to share every ounce of information possible, will continue offering new details right up to the end of the program.
Material heard is not, unfortunately, material learned. For true learning to take place, the learner must do something with what they have heard. If you are still providing information with only fifteen minutes left in a program, then you likely have failed your learners.
Reserve that last block of time for participants to identify and share relevance information. Turn the ending of the program into an excitement building, idea sharing, passion eliciting promise to take action on the material learned. For an example of an effective instructional design, read How to design an orientation program in nine steps.
Answering the Five Ws will not, by itself, make you an effective presenter. Persona, platform skills, dynamism, and relevant content all matter. The Five Ws will, however, help you turn reluctant attendees into fully engaged participants.