How To Plan A Group Presentation That Doesn't Suck
Several years ago I was teaching an art history class that had a group presentation component: each group had to present on a 20th century art movement. Back then I was relatively new to teaching and didn’t realize that group work – and the corresponding presentation – was one of the most dreaded types of assignments a student could encounter. As I described the assignment I could see the look of horror and dread cross even the most optimistic students’ faces. Despite years of indoctrination about how marvelous teamwork is (there’s no “I” in team, guys), group work inevitably brings out the worst in us. And often we don’t know it until we’re standing in front of an audience, giving a truly terrible presentation.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve watched college students prepare and deliver a stellar presentation for an advertising competition, and I’ve watched C-suite executives have a public meltdown over a difference in opinion – in the midst of their presentation. The difference isn’t in what they plan to present, it’s in how they prepare for the presentation.
Therefore, here are a few key tips for how to plan a group presentation that doesn’t suck:
First, choose a leader who will keep track of all of the components of the presentation
Here’s what typically happens in a dysfunctional group project: the team meets once, no leader is chosen because no one wants to come across as “bossy” or “controlling,” that person inevitably fills the role anyway because other people aren’t stepping up, chaos and resentment ensue, and by the end the group delivers a terrible presentation and no one is happy. Sound familiar?
Try this instead: at the very first planning meeting, choose a leader who will keep track of the moving parts, hold everyone accountable for meeting deadlines, and keep the team working towards the goals everyone agreed upon. If you have a strong sense of responsibility and are good at keeping things organized, then step up and offer your services. And if you know that you don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or desire to fill the role, then make sure you’re supportive of the person who does by doing what you say you will and by the deadline.
Next, identify the clear objective everyone is working towards
What is the primary goal of this group presentation? As in, what is the key takeaway you want the audience to have when you’re done? I recently completed a group presentation with colleagues from my advanced Toastmasters club; we were asked to lead a training at the spring conference. Before we began planning what we were going to say and who was going to say it, we identified our goals: Primary – teach the audience the components of a great story. Secondary – demonstrate for them how coaching can support them becoming great storytellers. Tertiary – explain the benefits of joining our advanced club. Because we knew exactly what we were wanting to achieve, every decision we made as a group had to support these goals, in that order. Based on the evaluations from the audience, we were successful.
A key component of planning a group presentation that doesn’t suck is making sure everyone is working towards a clear, audience-centric goal.
Then, find out what everyone’s strengths are, and use them accordingly
The most common mistake groups make when planning their presentation is trying to give everyone an equal amount of speaking time, and then just dividing up the presentation by minutes. Inevitably someone will deliver a lovely 5-minute segment, immediately followed by someone who stumbles their way through their part. Instead, during the first planning meeting find out where each member excels and assign roles accordingly.
For instance, if someone has a natural sense of humor consider giving them an emcee or host-type role where their easy wit supports the flow of the presentation. If someone is really good at explaining things simply, give them one of the complex pieces of info to break down for the audience. And if there is a member who is terrified of public speaking, but has great design skills, have them handle making the visuals. I’m all about getting out of your comfort zone, but group presentations are typically not the place to push someone into the deep end before they’re ready.
It’s not glamorous, everyone thinks they don’t have time, and it can be tedious. But at the very least have a conference call where everyone goes through their role and the kinks are worked out. This is a great opportunity to make sure everyone is working on their part, there are no unpleasant surprises, and ensure you are indeed achieving the goal you agreed upon at the beginning of planning the presentation.
As a new teacher, when I assigned my first group project I had no idea what kind of chaos would ensue. I was bombarded by endless emails over who wasn’t doing what, after class I was cornered by angry/crying students because of group work drama, and the presentations were awful (I once had a student answer his cell phone in the middle of his group’s presentation – it was bad). Once I learned you have to teach effective group work before you can assign a group presentation, everything changed. Using the planning strategies above the group work went from painful to productive, and the presentations actually achieved their goal: teach the audience something new and valuable.