An APPLE a Day: The Key to a Successful Presentation

My name is Pedro Martin, and I began my career as a programmer in late April 2015, when I started the Web Development Immersive course at General Assembly.

During the course, in addition to classes, we were given talks by experts in different areas. While some of them were able to express domain concepts in simple words, others couldn’t, making it very difficult to understand the subject.

When listening to experts discuss technology, I have often found that they are less able to express themselves in simple terms. Being an expert in something does not necessarily mean that knowledge can be conveyed by such a person in a concise manner.

Before becoming a programmer, I was a teacher of Environmental Sciences in secondary schools in Venezuela, and part of my job was to explain in simple words how complex systems rule in natural environments.

One of my inspirations for becoming a teacher was the late Carl Sagan who, for me, was the perfect example of how to explain complex scientific or technical subjects into little pieces of knowledge. As a teacher, I found the following model, known by the acronym APPLE, to be a great approach to conveying information in a way my students could understand. It is a practical guide to breaking a complex subject down into simple pieces of knowledge, and was first introduced by Karl Ronkhe, one of the founders of Adventure education.

APPLE

Assess:

  • Who is the group?
  • What do they want to accomplish after the talk?
  • How long will the presentation last?
  • Where will the presentation take place?

Plan:

  • How much information do they need?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What sequence of activities will produce the best results?
  • Be prepared to alter your plan on the fly
  • How can you bring fun to the presentation?

Prepare:

  • Preparing, different from planning, begins with the implementation
  • Have a plan B if something goes wrong
  • Ensure location has sufficient facilities to accommodate your presentation

Lead:

  • Set the tone and make people feel comfortable
  • Style: Be clear and simple, be enthusiastic, use humour.
  • Be creative
  • Observe and listen
  • Ask questions, check if your audience is with you
  • Have fun.
  • Do DDADA (see below).

Evaluate:

  • During the program.
  • Monitor the group.

DDADA

Describe:

Present the feature you would like to describe as simply as possible. You can be creative in your presentation, but try not to confuse people with too much detail or jargon. Try also to keep it light, using humour when appropriate helps engage your audience.

Demonstrate:

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. No matter how clear your explanation was, a brief demonstration would clarify even more. As another saying goes, “I hear and I forget, I see it and I remembered, I do, and I understand”.

Ask questions:

Before moving from one topic to another, ask if anybody in the audience needs clarification, and give them the opportunity to ask questions. If you find you’re inundated with questions, it may be worth describing and demonstrating the topic again.

Do:

Play it!, even if certain people don’t get it at the beginning. If you still notice confused looks, stop, describe or demonstrate again.

Adapt:

Check if people are having fun; a big part of the learning experience concerns your audience’s feelings and emotions. If your audience is having fun, their learning experience will the better for it.

Carl Sagan may not have known of these models, but if you were to watch him talk about the 4th dimension, you would see that he takes a similar approach to explaining complex topics:

These guides are here to help give you structure in your presentation, but as you are learning and developing your own style of giving presentations, you may find some parts more useful than others, in which case you shape it to suit your needs.

I hope you will find this as useful as I did.

About the Author

Pedro Martín Valera

Former Software Engineer at Made Tech. Science teacher turned developer. Hanging on ropes from the other side of the pond.

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