Last Sunday, I attended the Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) pre-conference keynote for my state’s annual educational technology conference, PETE & C (Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference). The topic/title of the presentation was “Telling Your School Story.” In general, the focus was school/district branding, communicating with stakeholders, and a look at how social media is changing education.
Anyone who is a part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) knows Tony, the principal of Cantiague Elementary School in Long Island, is a good friend of mine. However, prior to Sunday I had yet to see him deliver a formal conference presentation…To say I was blown away would be an understatement.
For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on five soft skills that made the session memorable. (And, for the record, soft skills can be defined as “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people.”)
- Keep the focus on the students: Before Sunday, I had no doubt Tony’s students are the driving force behind all of his education related work. (Seriously, just check his Instagram and you will know exactly what I mean.) This feeling was further cemented by Tony’s presentation because (1) he continuously discussed how all decisions are made with the best interests of the students in mind, (2) it was obvious he has taken the time to get to know many of his students on a personal level, and (3) photographs and videos of his students were featured throughout his slide deck…When presenting, always make sure you are doing so for the right reason(s).
- Tell stories: Rather than reading bullet points off slides, Tony communicated the majority of his points through stories, which were prompted by visuals, videos, or key quotes. According to Tony, these inspirational stories are what “tug at the heart strings,” evoke audiences’ emotions, and make them want to strive for better. A similar approach was used by George Couros (@gcouros) in his Tuesday keynote. Also, through story (as opposed to research and theory), Tony was able to demonstrate he has truly lived, breathed, and experienced the topics on which he was presenting…When presenting, “attack” the heart with emotion and the head with logic, but mostly the heart.
- Share your family: A more specific way to “tug at the heart strings” is by incorporating family members into your work. Yes, this strategy might seem like a “cheap” ploy to get an audience to react, but what better way to strike a chord with others and relate to a topic than by discussing how it impacts those who are closest to you? I did it in my last keynote. My friend Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) did it in his PETE & C presentation on Monday. And Tony did it as well. Regarding Tony, one specific story he told involved the painful evenings endured by him and his son, Paul (@crazytoyandgamerdude) as a result of an overabundance of homework on a nightly basis. Also, these types of narratives humanize presenters, which makes them more accessible to those in attendance…When presenting, “use” your family members.
- Emphasize “we” over “I”: A lot can be learned from the subtleties in language used by school/district administrators during their presentations. For example, it is more likely you are listening to someone who is a team player and collaborator when “we” is consistently (and almost subconsciously) used in place of “I.” While Tony did his thing, not only did he always emphasize “we,” but he was able to regularly talk about his school’s accomplishments in such a tactful way that by no means signified bragging, but rather pride for what everyone was able to collectively accomplish…When presenting, emphasize progress, not credit.
- Don’t be a salesman: According to Professor Albert Mehrabian, 7% of communication is defined by what we say, 38% by vocal tone, and 55% by body language. In other words, it is not what you say, but how you say it. While it is not possible to precisely quantify the effectiveness of Tony’s presentation, I can say without hesitation he first and foremost comes across as a humble educator who is proud of what his school has accomplished, and he simply wants others to benefit from what he has learned. All of his gestures/movements/actions were not so much to persuade, but rather to emphasize the passion he has for what he does. As a result of this down-to-earth approach, audiences are more easily able to relate to him, and therefore listen to what he has to offer…When presenting, be true to your profession. Don’t be a salesman.
As previously mentioned, to say I was blown away by Tony’s work would be an understatement. And, if you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, do it!
While the man is well-versed in branding, communicating with stakeholders, and social media, what sets him apart are the soft skills he leverages while in front of others. In addition, we (and our audiences) can all benefit from incorporating these skills into our presentations in one way or another.
What are you thoughts on the five soft skills? What presentation tips can you add to the list?
Connect with Ross on Twitter.