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«PURDUE EXTENSION PPP-81 T he M ak i ng of. EFFE C T I VE EXT E N SI ON P R E SE N T AT I ON S Improving Communication Skills with Facts, Flair, and ...»

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T he M ak i ng of...




Improving Communication Skills with Facts, Flair, and Fun

~ Th e Making of ~

Effective Extension Presentations

Improving Communication Skills with Facts, Flair, and Fun

Fred Whitford, Coordinator, Purdue Pesticide Programs

Gail Ruhl, Senior Plant Disease Diagnostician, Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab Kendall Martin, 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator, Dubois County Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, Consumer and Family Sciences Extension Educator, Elkhart County Bob Nielsen, Extension Agronomist, Purdue University Greg Bossaer, Agriculture and Natural Resources County Extension Educator, White County Arlene Blessing, Editor and Designer, Purdue Pesticide Programs Front and back cover photos and backgrounds, headers, and footers purchased from fotolia.com.

Table of Contents Introduction

Personal and Professional Reputations Linked to Presentations

You Can Choose to Improve Your Presentation Skills

Catering to a Unique Audience: the Adult Learner

Successful Presentations Incorporate the E’s of Extension

Gathering the Facts

Organizing the Presentation

Just Before You Go On

Delivering the Presentation

Reflections by the Extension Presenter

Taking Stock of Yourself as a Speaker

Conclusion: We Dream a Better Life for Them


Introduction The Cooperative Extension Service “extends” information and educational opportunities beyond the land-grant university classroom. We take knowledge to the people in our communities — knowledge generated through the landgrant university system. Extension professionals educate by blending research-based information with practical experience acquired by working with clientele on their farms and in their homes and businesses: through personal contact, phone conversations, correspondence, and site visits. E-mail, the Internet, radio and television, podcasts, streaming video, printed materials, and presentations complement our ability to reach the people.

Extension presentations by university-based and regional specialists, county field staff, and program volunteers represent an important function of the Extension Service.

Extension speakers deliver information tailored to specific audiences, offering instruction on agriculture and natural resources, consumer and family sciences, youth development, economic and community development, leadership, and myriad other research-based topics.

Pag 6, top: C. W. Carrick conducting poultry culling demonstration.

Page 6, center: Cattle growers’ meeting.

Page 6, bottom: Farm management school.

Right: 4-H club boys are taught the difference between harmless shrubs and economically dangerous plants.

Historic photos on pages 6 –8 were obtained from Cooperative Extension Service annual reports.

As an extension professional, you act as an extension cord between the research-based university and your clientele, delivering both power and knowledge. Successful programs and presentations allow you to shine and to enlighten your audience. This publication offers tips from experienced extension professionals, tips that can be used at all levels of Extension. The authors’ primary goal in sharing their experience is to help you become a powerful extension presenter with the ability to influence others to act on the information you present.

The success of an extension presentation, whether to a small group or an audience of hundreds, is strongly influenced by the speaker’s ability to connect with the audience.

A successful presentation is not solely dependent on the speaker’s subject or his knowledge of the subject. Watch closely and you will see that certain successful speakers connect with their audience, even before the program, by shaking hands and talking with them. Once in front of a group, these speakers often reveal a presentation style and personality that captivate the audience. They may encourage the audience to answer questions and to feel comfortable in disagreeing with them, and also to ask their own questions;

usually the audience remains good-natured and attentive throughout these presentations.

The audience and this type of speaker may engage in a friendly exchange, each educating the other.

Right: Home canning demonstration.

Consider this scenario. An extension program features three different presenters. The first speaker’s infectious excitement and his passion for sharing his subject matter totally capture the audience. They’re motivated. They’re participating actively and enjoying themselves. And all you can think is how glad you are not to be the one scheduled to follow him!

The next speaker knows her subject well but lacks the passion, charisma, and mannerisms of the first speaker. She forewarns her

audience that she has more material to cover than time will allow:

an ominous sign, and she caps it with, “Please hold your questions until the end.” You watch the audience — just minutes before, engaged and motivated — become disengaged and passive. You witness “Dead Speaker Walking.” The third speaker barely takes time to breathe between sentences, talking nonstop for his entire allotted time. With no openings for questions, the audience watches restlessly as one Power Point slide with graphs is replaced by another with data tables, over and over and over. The speaker says, “I know you can’t read these, but if you could you would see….” His laser pointer shines on specific sections of the graphs and charts, with little effect. As he drones on, members of the audience exit to get some fresh air, make a phone call, or go to the rest room. There is yawning going on, newspapers being read. A few people are nodding off; others are out cold with their heads on the table. Only the tough of mind and spirit manage to sit through the brutal ordeal, glancing at their watches and uttering a silent prayer for the end to come. When the speaker says, “In conclusion,” those who are still conscious clap loudly to speed things along.

During the lunch break, some of the attendees tell the extension program sponsor just how much they appreciated the first speaker’s enthusiasm, humor, and knowledge. They go on to say that the presentation was meaningful and that the speaker held their attention with facts, flair, and fun. A few mention that some of the other presenters should take a lesson from the first speaker on how to deliver a presentation and how to package information that can be understood.

Personal and Professional Reputations Linked to Presentations As extension professionals and volunteers, you put your reputation on the line every time you give a presentation. The audience attaches a face to your name and to the subject; and a good presentation may incite them to pay more attention to Web pages, newsletters, or radio broadcasts associated with your name. An inspiring presentation may encourage individuals to seek additional resources from Extension, or to call or e-mail you with follow-up questions.

An insightful presentation adds to the prestige and reputation of the organization that invites you to speak; a county extension program, a government agency, or a trade association can be positively impacted by your good performance. And you will be invited back. Conversely, a poor presentation may make it difficult for the sponsor to attract an audience for a future program.

Never forget that the reputation of your landgrant university is on the line along with your own whenever and wherever you speak. You are an extension of the university, and your performance is, in effect, a public relations activity. If you perform well, the university, by association, also performs well.

You Can Choose to Improve Your Presentation Skills People are naturally attracted to programs that provide useful information in an enjoyable format. Most oral presentations include information that is also available in print, and a hohum presentation tells the audience that their time would have been better spent reading a publication on the subject.

A good presentation should bring the written word to life:

• Personalize your presentation.

• Demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter.

• Display your passion for the subject.

• Assemble your information to make a difference in the lives of your audience.

Delivering a presentation that others will remember is within the grasp of every extension educator.

Unfortunately, there are no preset rules or guidelines to make you a more effective communicator. You must acquire the skills and aspire to improve.

As you implement positive changes, you will sense audiences reacting more favorably; as they connect with you, they will absorb your message. A few small steps taken to improve your communication skills will become huge leaps as your presentations become more audience-friendly, more polished, and more effective in enticing the audience to change certain behaviors.

Catering to a Unique Audience:

the Adult Learner Teaching adults is anything but easy; it can be a daunting task. But in spite of the challenges, winning an audience is invigorating and rewarding. Winning a difficult audience means building their trust to the extent that they recognize you as a passionate, informative speaker with an important message to impart.

Identifying characteristics of adult learners is a first step; following are some examples:

• Adults understand that education is an important way of improving their personal lives, their careers, their business ventures, and their recreational pursuits.

• They have access to many sources of information in addition to Extension.

• Their education ranges from school dropout to those with advanced college degrees.

• Adults are most concerned with practicality and usefulness.

• They need to be convinced that something is important before they will open their minds to learning about it.

• They have a wealth of life experiences that influence what they are willing to learn.

• They respond differently to various presentation methods; what works for one person may not work for another.

• They will ask tough questions, especially when they interpret something to be different from what they had believed or from what someone else has told them.

• They will lose interest when a speaker rambles, becomes repetitious, or is not prepared.

• Each person is unique in what he “wants” to learn.

This is a formidable list, but the wall separating the speaker and the audience can be broken down, brick by brick. It can be penetrated when you package your knowledge and conviction into a well prepared presentation powered by passion, energy, and joy. First of all, it is critical to be honest and to believe in the message you deliver. Your sincerity will allow people to let down their guard and become more naturally attentive. A positive approach is essential, regardless of the subject matter; and you must deliver a presentation that is both informative and fun for the audience.

Extension is storytelling at its best. We are always trying to introduce new concepts and new information to our audiences. And we agree that communicating effectively is a difficult task.

It would be easy for us extension educators to read from the extension storybook, word for word. But without energy our words leave the audience with glazed eyes, drooping eyelids, and nodding heads. Storytelling without excitement imparts words with no meaning. Our words, chapter by chapter, have to paint the picture that we’re trying to convey. And at the end of the story we must deliver the moral — the punch line — to bring it home to the audience. If we can make our audience hear, feel, and see our story, the seeds we plant today will germinate tomorrow into ideas that grow.

Think for a moment how many new ideas the following presenters are able to get across to their audiences. There’s the one behind the podium who never looks up as he reads every word of a prepared script. There’s the speaker who turns her back to the audience to read each slide, and the one who reads from an overhead with words so small that even those in the front row can’t make them out. Better yet, there’s the guy who stretches his 45-minute presentation to 60 minutes without ever giving the audience a chance to ask questions. Finally, there’s the person who answers the question, Does 1 + 1 equal 2? by saying “it all depends.” Dullsville. Anybody can talk, but few can teach.

Young children hearing books read to them for the first time do not instantly memorize words, pages, and pictures, nor do they grasp every new idea and concept. But in time children begin to mouth the words, point to the pictures, and name the characters out loud. It’s our opinion that adults learn the same way. Issues need to be discussed repeatedly as information is added to their book of knowledge, bit by bit, chapter by chapter. The more we bring up the subject, the more they learn.

So it is still our opinion that Extension and entertainment have more in common than the letter “e.” Having fun with the facts means entertaining our audiences so that they recognize the relevancy of our words to their own lives. Extension can succeed if we employ the same teaching methods that our mothers used on us: facts and energy intertwined as a story.

Speaking to the Individual in the Audience As an extension professional, you must connect with people.

Speaking to an audience may be easy, but communicating with individuals within a group can be a challenge.

Your audience needs to know that you are speaking directly to them. Each person, knowingly or unknowingly, comes to a program with an invisible brick wall around himself. Specific bricks in the wall might represent personality, life experiences, personal interests, educational level, work experience, etc. Each brick can be a distraction that prevents the listener from engaging with you. This wall between you and the listener can limit communication and learning.

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