Why Yes Means No

By |2018-10-10T09:32:21-07:00March 8th, 2012|

When I am asked to present, I am often asked to provide my materials ahead of time for the conference committee to preview or to put in a file for participants.  I gladly provide them with my materials, but then usually get a call.  Often, the presentation that I send doesn’t make sense to the people who are previewing it.  They often call and ask for me to send my notes along as well.  This is when I politely, but firmly tell them “no”.  Yes, I want to present for their group and assist their educators in understanding my materials, but no, I will not provide the verbatim information that I am going to be sharing.

This seems contradictory.  After all, how are people supposed to walk away with anything if they don’t have exactly what you said with them in the end?  But I don’t buy into that.  I have developed a great method for presenting and sharing information over the years; it’s part of what makes me a great teacher and I’m going to offer you the exact recipe for that method here today.  It’s why yes means no.

Present – Don’t Read

The first thing to remember about any presentation is that it’s an outline.  Whatever you develop, whether it be a powerpoint (yuck) or a prezi or a blog, it’s there as an outline for you to do your thing.  Once you stand in front of a group, use each piece of your presentation as a starting point for the true bulk of your information.  People will never engage with you or truly learn that material you are presenting if you make them read it.  If you walk in and have your information in bullets on some slides, what gives people any incentive to listen to you?  They can read it and then zone out.  Instead, create a great presentation with….


On each slide, choose an anecdote, comic or big idea to get you started.  Often, I use a particularly relevant comic to the overall idea of my slide to get people interested in my information.  It pulls them in, loosens them up, and prepares them to trust me as a presenter.  It also connects my ideas and information with something memorable, so when they leave my session I know they will walk away with something tangible in their minds.

Choose a Theme

This is some of the most fun that I get out of creating presentations.  Each one that I do has a theme around it, which I stick to.  I’ve done things like building a custom car to talk about creating an Arts Integration program, using Sesame Street characters to describe the personalities in a building, or even using different cameras and lenses to describe how to change perspective.  Whatever theme you choose, stick with it throughout your presentation as a common thread that ties everything together.


For me, I always budget one slide for every 2-3 minutes.  So if I’m giving a 60 minute presentation, that’s 20 slides MAX to leave room for questions.  And remember – each slide will only have big ideas and an engagement item (picture, comic, video, etc) so that you can really delve into your information and get the audience listening.  This way, you can be assured of garnering some high-quality questions and feedback at the end.

Get Moving

In my presentations, I usually also allot some time for my participants to DO something.  Whether it be an empathy map to think about the information from a different point of view, a gallery walk where people share their ideas on post-it notes throughout the room, or some simple Arts Integration strategies such as call and response or mirroring, I get all of my participants to do a low-risk activity to interact with my information throughout the session.

And that’s it!

I keep my presentations fairly simple but crammed with a lot of information.  This method works so well at engaging each person with the information, making it personal to them while at the same time, ensuring that I am more than a bland powerpoint.  I get to be the person that fosters their active learning of my material.  Which means I will say Yes…and No…every single time.

Want to see this in action?  Come join us for EdCampAI on April 14th in Baltimore, MD!  Register online for this free conference where I will be presenting right here.


  1. Rosalind Flynn March 10, 2012 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Hello Susan–I agree with you completely. On every point you made in this post! Because it is so rapidly easy to share the documents and presentations you’ve slaved over for hours to create, many people think you should just send them EVERYTHING! Doing so can have detrimental effects for presenters.
    Once, for example, a conference I was to present at told me that if I sent them my handouts in advance, they would duplicate them and provide the paper copies. What they did not tell me (or ask permission to do) is that they made my print materials available to potential workshop attendees online prior to the conference. I only found out incidentally that many people downloaded my very clear materials and then chose to attend a different session because they felt that with my materials in their possession, there was no need to attend. They were wrong, of course, because there is so much more to the work than can be conveyed in text, but this is a cautionary tale for presenters.
    Do as Susan advises and 1.) give people some pertinent support materials, but hold on to the presentation pieces that make YOU as dynamic presenter the glue that holds it all together 2.) resist the pressure to reveal everything about your presentation in text or PowerPoint or Prezi or iMovie, and 3.) see Susan’s presentation tips above.
    And an aside to presenting organizations: Please respect the ownership of any materials sent to you electronically and do not post them on a web site or forward them to anyone without the expressed permission of their creator.

    • Susan Riley March 11, 2012 at 5:18 am - Reply

      Thanks, Rosalind! I KNOW you understand what I’m talking about here – you are such a seasoned and well-respected presenter. I’m so honored that you stopped by and added your opinion to this conversation. I actually noticed what you were talking about with people just looking at the handouts and choosing to go to another session at the NAEA conference. They pre-loaded the presenter’s handouts onto the NAEA app and then people went to a different session, thinking they didn’t need anything else than the handout. While it’s cool technology, it’s disappointing to the presenter. Thanks for sharing your expert opinion and providing great points, Rosalind!

Leave A Comment

Share This