When we hear the term presentation we tend to think of something prepared; something formal; something thought out and through ahead of time. In essence, something created in advance. We also tend to think of something of length rather than of a spontaneous, on the spot response.
The term presentation also suggests a monologue. A single person or tag team will deliver prepared remarks on some specific subject, often accompanied by graphics of some kind.
There is nothing wrong with a presentation provided it is delivered in the right context, on appropriate subjects and at reasonable length. Presentations are essential to modern-day business and government work.
But they represent a one-way form of communication. Audiences are expected to listen, take notes, stay awake and focused, try to stop checking emails and messages on their smart phones, and hopefully remember some of the important points. Even when a question and answer segment is part of a presentation, the answers are usually another form of monologue not a dialog.
And a dialog is precisely where we stand the greatest chance of learning something important we don’t already know. An effective dialog is a form of conversation in which two or a group of individuals engage a topic and exchange information, facts, and points of view. An effective dialog is one where all parties listen to one another with mutual respect for different perspectives and the reasons they exist. Reaching total agreement isn’t the point; learning something new and broadening one’s own perspective is.
So think about how you communicate with others.
If you are primarily a broadcaster whose main interest is conveying your thoughts and opinions to others — often having and showing little interest in their point of view — you are chiefly a presenter. If you are a manager or executive whose meetings and engagements with others are primarily monologues containing your thoughts, attitudes and opinions, you are usually in the presentation mode. Even those most skilled at delivering a presentation are usually not very effective learners when doing so.
By contrast, the most effective learners are invariably also skilled conversationalists, adept at the art of dialog. They prefer asking far more questions than the number of opinions they express and they listen carefully to the answers they receive. Above all, they weigh carefully the value of the answers their questions elicit and are willing to adjust their own positions when presented with a better idea or information that warrants it.
I have said often in this series of articles that many heads are almost always smarter than just our own. A presentation represents our own thinking. A conversation generates collective thought and often a better, well-rounded perspective on the topic at hand. Assuming, of course, those we are engaging share knowledge of the topic we wish to discuss, a conversation beats a presentation any day when it comes to learning something.