Blog FPO

We need to be inclusive speakers

This guest blog is by Lowell Aplebaum, CEO and strategy catalyst at Vista Cova. He’s also a facilitator. See the original post on his LinkedIn page.

If you have ever presented at a conference, you know the routine. The request for early submission of slides, trying to fit in last-minute tweaks, getting to your room (typically set in the same manner as an audience about to see a performance) and trying to make sure all the technology is actually working – all before the attendees filter in to their seats. Rinse, repeat. 

As educators, we give so much focus to the quality of the content we are presenting that all-too-often we don’t pay enough attention to the learning experience we are creating in the presentation of that content. 

The truth is, we don’t always know who is going to be in the room as a learner – and we certainly don’t know what challenges they may have learning in this typical format. As the educator, it is up to each of us to not only present the best content possible, but to do so in a manner that will account for the varied learning needs of our audience. It is up to each of us to be more inclusive speakers. 

Here are just a few thoughts on how to adjust our presentation approach to account for varied needs:

1. Use a Microphone – We may perceive that it is a small room, not a great deal of attendees or that we have a naturally booming voice. We may even ask if someone in back can hear us if we don’t use a microphone. Here is the thing: If someone does have a disability where they can’t hear well, they may not want to publicly raise their hand. If there is a microphone available, it is not a blow to a speaker’s ego to use it; instead it allows everyone to hear a speaker better, accounting for all learners’ abilities to hear well. 

2Font Size Matters – While the amount of copy that should be on a slide (or using slides at all) is a whole separate post, let’s assume for the moment that slides with copy are still some part of your presentation. As you create those slides, is the font size ideal for you sitting in front of your computer? If it was projected and you were in the front row? We know that room configuration varies – sometimes the learning space is long and narrow so that those attending may be a far distance from the screen. If they can’t see what the slide says, then whatever it was meant to teach will not land. We don’t know what visual obstacles our learners may have, and while there are a number of ways we can try to help them see what we are presenting, at a bare minimum our slides should be able to be read just as easily by the person in the back of the room as the person in front of the room.

3. Stretch Break (i.e. It’s no fun to be a sardine) – While the exact timing of how long an audience can remain seated, without moving, and still be mentally engaged is a point with many opinions, as speakers there are a few reflective questions that can help. Is my session so long that people would appreciate a five-minute bio break? Are there subject matter transitions in my presentation where having the audience stand and stretch for a moment (and even give each other a hi-five for interaction) could serve as a brain sorbet, cleansing the mental palette for what is coming next? Are people seated so close to one another that taking a moment to stand and stretch (or sit and stretch!) will help them re-engage with the learning?

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