I have recently had to make some presentations, including a keynote speech at a conference. No doubt I will have to make more soon., and sometimes I find myself with a bit of “writer’s block” for new ideas. So I want to use this blog entry as an open call for any brainstorms you readers have for things to try. To give you an idea of what I have in mind, here are the types of things I’ve done at presentations in the past:

 “Questions and answers”:  For this part of the presentation, the floor is opened up to questions and answers from the audience. It’s sort of like the old “Carol Burnett” show, for those of you old enough to remember Carol Burnett.  But my version is a little bit different.  I have planted in the audience people I already know, and they have pre-written questions.  For example, one time I had a student placed in the audience with a planted question that was technically complex.  Much to the amazement of the audience, I then proceeded to answer this difficult question, and by wild coincidence I even had a slide in my powerpoint which illustrated the answer.  For questions and answers, I’ve also had my boss ask a question about why the work wasn’t done, and my wife ask about when the dishes were getting cleaned.

State-specific insults”:  I was honored to present the keynote speech at a conference luncheon in Rhode Island, at one of the spectacular Newport mansions.  So of course I trotted out my best Rhode Island jokes, you know, things like:  you’re driving on I-95 and five minutes later you’re in Connecticut.  Well, it was funnier the way I told it.  In addition to Rhode Island, New Hampshire and especially Maine are good for this approach.

 “Where are they now?”:  This was really for a class I taught, but maybe I can adapt it for a conference presentation as well.  At the end of the course, I prepared a special powerpoint.  I downloaded pictures and quotes from the students’ Facebook sites, and gave a talk about how the students ended up in the future (like at the ending of “Animal House”, where John Belushi ends up as a senator)

 “Audience participation”:  I stop the talk, and invite a member of the audience to participate (thus, “audience participation”).  I ask who wants to participate, and then call up a volunteer who is farthest in the room from the podium.  The eager volunteer struggles to cross the room, banging into tables and other audience members.  Finally, breathless and full of nervous anticipation, he makes it to the podium, and then I announce, “Thank you.  You can sit down now.  That concludes ‘Audience participation’.

So, readers, if you have any good ideas for things you’ve done, thought about, or would like to see at a presentation, please share.