Janet L. Kayfetz

The art and craft of writing and speaking

Month: February, 2013

Great Presentations Class

We just completed our 5-week Great Presentations class for PhD Computer Science and IGERT students at Columbia University. I was thinking about what the class is really all about. Here are my thoughts:

In our class we don’t simply discuss a checklist of important and useful pointers about how to put together and deliver a good presentation. We actually give presentations of varying lengths. We adjust content and organization; pacing; timing; volume; gestures; movement; visuals; transitions; ends of utterances; gaze; and eye contact. We do it all!

We have the chance to observe and evaluate many different and equally effective examples of how a presenter chooses to organize a story; develop effective slides; and deliver a great presentation.


My primary focus and goal as the Great Presentations instructor is to help students understand that there is no single template for how to be a great presenter, but rather a range of effectiveness. We see that a shy, quiet person is a great presenter just as an outgoing, energetic person is also a great presenter.

So in our class we work on developing the singular unique styles and tones of each student in the group. We want to help each person to be a more excellent presenter using her own individual gifts and personal characteristics.



“Your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.”

“Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful–? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your reader will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an ego maniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show or make you think about? Did you ever admire an empty-headed writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.”

From Kurt Vonnegurt “How to Write With Style” (1985) in Brainpickings http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/01/14/how-to-write-with-style-kurt-vonnegut/


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