Presentation Skills - Collaborator


“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution -- more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”   -- Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

As Lisa Cron indicates, stories tie us to values and beliefs.  And they tie us to emotion.  And as some of the neuroscience you will discover in the resources below indicates, there is nothing that makes content “stick” like emotion.  By becoming an effective storyteller, you build not just your capacity as a presenter, but the likelihood that participants will remember and connect with your content.   In this section you will find references from different sources of information and perspectives on Storytelling.  Use this section to become familiar with the key understandings for deeper applications later on.

Resources for New Learning

Questions for Reflection

Potential Tasks for Skill Development



  • What are your stories as an educator?  
  • Which are the stories from which others might learn?  
  • How might you weave them into the content you present?
  • What is the impact you want your stories to have on participants?
  • Which stories resonate with others?  How might you find out if you don’t yet know?
  • How will you know if you should keep telling a story?


  • Look at the content you will be presenting at an upcoming event. What stories from your experience as an educator reflect the content of your presentation?  Rank them in order of how compelling they are. Practice telling them to your dog, in a mirror, to a child. Capture yourself telling them on video.  How might you tweak your retelling based upon the feedback (verbal and nonverbal) from your audiences?
  • Watch videos of others telling stories.  What do all of the stories you connect with have in common?  In other words, what do you see as the elements of an effective story?  How might you apply the anatomy of a story to your own stories?


Listening & Responding To an Audience

Thomas Edison famously said, “We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we talk.”  Short of giving an actual speech, these same proportions should hold in a presentation.  Listening and responding to an audience means asking good questions, creating space for participants to respond and leaning in to listen and respond in a way that honors both where your audience is and where they want to go.

Below are a few resources and opportunities to learn more and practice these essential presentational skills.

Resources for New Learning

Questions for Reflection Potential Tasks for Skill Development



  • What does being a good listener communicate?  How might what you learn about being a good communicator help you support your audience as a presenter?
  • What are some ways you might “research” your audience?  What did you learn when you did?  How might that inform the content and/or approach to your presentation?
  • What makes questions effective? 
  • What does it mean to be “responsive?”
  • Experiment with Jim Knight’s listening reflection tools listed in the Resources for New Learning section.  How might practicing listening outside of the context of a presentation serve you as a listener during one?
  • Commit to keeping a question journal.  Write down every question you ask for three days.  Reflect.  Were there trends in your questions?  Redundancies?  Which types of questions yielded the deepest thinking from others?  How might what you learned inform your practice as a presenter moving forward?


Adaptability & Flexibility

I remember reading that the coach of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps used to do things like hide Michael’s goggles or swim cap before an important race.  The rationale was that Michael needed to be prepared for anything and adaptable when something didn’t go as planned.  The only way to be flexible when it counted...was to practice.

No two audiences are alike.  In fact, no two people are alike.  As teachers, we may have infinite patience for varied student readiness and needs.  Guess what?  Adults are simply grown up kids.  They require that same level of patience and ability to pivot based upon interest, need, and level of readiness.  Your ability to adapt and stay flexible during a presentation is key to ensuring every one of your learners walks out with the knowledge, skills and mindsets that are a match to the intention of your lesson.  Check out the resources in this section to become familiar with key understandings around adaptability & flexibility and how to embed these skills within your practice.

Resources for New Learning

Questions for Reflection Potential Tasks for Skill Development



  • What are some of the potential COAs (courses of action) that might present themselves during a presentation?  How might you respond to each?
  • What might you need to give yourself permission to do, say, think, feel as a presenter?  How might giving yourself that permission impact your ability to adapt and be flexible during a presentation?
  • What might you have to unlearn to be more adaptable during a presentation?
  • What does resilience have in common with adaptability and flexibility?  How might building resilience build one’s adaptability quotient?
  • Which of the three types of flexibility- cognitive, emotional, dispositional- is most natural?  How might self-awareness provide a lens through which to view situations and potential responses?


  • Practice facilitating your presentation with a friendly preview audience.  Enlist one of the participants as a co-conspirator by asking them to do unexpected things (pretend to throw up in the middle of your opening, hide your clicker, refuse to give you an HDMI cable, etc.) How does practice with these scenarios help build your capacity to adapt and respond in a flexible way?
  • Generate a list of What If questions.  Try to add at least one question to it each day.
  • Pick one of the strategies shared in the resources from the first column.  Tell a trusted colleague you are practicing a specific strategy.  Ask for them to give you feedback when they notice you incorporating the strategy.


Presentation Skills Toolkit Contact

Sue Schwartz
Executive Director