Settling in to Present One Year of Learning in 20 Minutes

I’m thinking about presenting. Still deep in Masters mindset, I’m looking ahead to my last task – the comprehensive ‘exam’, which, it turns out, isn’t a traditional ‘exam’ at all.

The comprehensive exam is a demonstration of learning. To quote the course outline, it is ‘a presentation of significant understandings about education…and a demonstration of your systematic, critical, creative, and reasoned thinking about your inquiry as applied to your own inquiry and educational practice’. We have 20 minutes to present one year of learning, followed by 20 minutes of questions from our profs and a student reader, then 20 minutes of open questioning from anyone in the room.


To prepare, I’m re-reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. I’m going through his blog too. I’m not even halfway through the book, but I already have a list of things I want to include in my presentation:

  1. Acknowledgements Collage – I’d like to do a digital photo collage of all those who helped me with the coursework in the last year. If I can’t find photos of everyone, I was thinking a Wordle of everyone’s names would also have a nice visual impact.
  2. Story – Reynolds refers to Daniel Pink’s six senses from A Whole New Mind, one of which is story. In An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Kieran Egan writes about the power of story too. From reading Pink and Egan, I have, in the past, integrated story telling into lessons and I’d love to try it in this upcoming presentation. Story is an efficient way to condense large amounts of material. More importantly, it’s a much more human way to connect with an audience; everyone loves a good story.
  3. Visuals – Anyone who knows me will know to expect photographs and a other visual representations of information. One of my three strands of research is visual literacy and arts based methods and my over-arching metaphor is that of the photographer; visuals are deeply ingrained in who I am personally and professionally. And, again, visuals are an efficient way to communicate a vast amount of information in a singular way. In particular, I want to create my own series of ‘through the lens’ altered photographs inspired by these photos here.
  4. Simplicity – I love the quote at the start of the book – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci. Reynolds talk about the importance of “deciding what matters and letting go of the rest” (p. 17). I often try to pack in too many words, too much information, and this time I want to emphasize the essence of my research and let all the rest go. If anyone wants to read my thesis or talk to me about all the other amazing things I learned, they are welcome to, but for the presentation I’d like to focus in on what really matters.
  5. Emotion – I want to connect with the people in the room at an emotional level. I want to invite them, draw them in, so that they experience a little piece of my learning and want to know more. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, as there will be at least 20 others in the room, each with their own beliefs, assumptions, and lenses. I know it will be challenging to evoke an emotional response from every person, but I’m going to try.
  6. Enthusiasm – This one won’t be a problem. I could talk, very excitedly, about my Masters research for hours, days, weeks! I know the power of positive energy and I will be sure to bring that to the presentation. I’m going to need it, too. I have the last time slot of the day!

Despite my efforts to do no Masters work for a week (I submitted my thesis a few days ago and had vowed to take a break), I can’t stop thinking about the upcoming comps presentation. I’m still mentally exhausted from writing the thesis, but there’s a nice settling of information in my head. I guess I’m settling in to present one year’s worth of profound learning in only twenty minutes.

Fortunately, it feels like the presentation is already starting to take shape, and I think it’s going to settle into my mind almost entirely on it’s own.

Image “Twenty Minutes” by me.

2 thoughts on “Settling in to Present One Year of Learning in 20 Minutes

  1. I really like the first idea. It’s an excellent way to honour those who have contributed to your life in a significant way.

    In terms of emotional engagement, I often start workshops by projecting a jarring piece of art that is ambiguous in its message before I start, and giving people one minute to look at it before for the first minute of the presentation without talking about it. They are to decide what it means to them. Then, after a minute, they are to talk to someone near them for a minute and I walk around and listen to them. Then I get one or two to share their ideas, and we talk about diversity, and we begin. At the end I try to tie the core idea in my presentation to the art, my interpretation of the art, and their interpretations of the art, but I also try to sort of leave it hanging (both the topic and the meaning of the art) so that it still tickles their brain after the presentation is over. My favorite piece to do this with was by Bunky Echo Hawk, who you can find on Facebook, and it’s the profile pic 116 from July 13th 2010. I’m very strict about time, so it takes less than five minutes and is worth every second.

    While I was moving I found the Guided Research Inquiry Project that I did for my BEd. We had an hour to present. I wanted interaction and participation so we did a talking circle and they filled out a graphic organizer on the topic (integration of Aboriginal curriculum and pedagogy for student success… I’m nothing if not consistent!) and shared their ideas.

    The hour allowed us to have a series of conversations around the inquiry question. If I had twenty minutes I’d probably talk really fast :p

    Good luck!

  2. Hi Starleigh,
    Thanks for sharing that Bunky Echo Hawk piece – powerful! I definitely want to tell a story with the imagery but also have the imagery connect with those watching. That’s a great idea to get people to emotionally engage! I’ll start looking for just the right image tomorrow.

    I saw a tweet recently that challenged people to not use any words, only images, in a presentation. I may try that. Or I may take Seth Godin’s advice to only use six words per slide and just talk a lot (I’m good at that!).

    Thanks for your comment! I’m glad we can stay connected this way with you far, far away now!

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