– Accentuate the positive

This week at MIT could be called “Presentations Galore.” In many classrooms, lecture halls, and meeting spaces, day and night, students are making formal presentations to their peers, profs, and even parents, if they want to invite them. My colleagues and I who are communications lecturers have been overseeing a lot of the behind-the-scenes rehearsals and being first audiences for draft presentations. We reserve practice rooms, lug laptops and projectors, cue students, ask questions, offer feedback, articulate our puzzlement, troubleshoot PowerPoint, watch the clock, talk through nerves, and inspire confidence.

And on the big day, the best thing we can do, besides be attentive members of the audience, is root for them, like devoted sports fans. Students do better when they sense our belief in them. They can borrow our positive energy.

So, I sent my presenters an e-mail yesterday morning, just a few hours before showtime. I wanted the message to be practical, positive, and sincere:

Dear [student names]:

I really enjoyed working with you on your draft presentations. I have
learned soooo much from your teams this semester, and I look forward to today’s showcase of your work.

Here is some preparation advice that is most relevant on the day of:

–Drink water. (If your mouth and voice are comfortable, you will feel more comfortable *and* confident.) Bring some with you, so you can keep sipping up until your showtime.

–Breathe. (Some deliberate breathing, in the five minutes before you go on, really helps with gaining your poise.)

–Pick a personally relevant, positive message. (Like, “I will reach my
audience,” or “I will enjoy this,” or, like an athlete, “I’m winning this
thing.” Once, before a good presentation, I said this to myself: “I own this stage.” This seems corny, but, honestly, it WORKS.)

And remember… your audience is interested in your project, and your friends and peers are rooting for you!

All good thoughts,


Thanks to my friend, Jan, who sometimes signs her notes, “All good thoughts,” which makes me, the recipient, feel as though she’s sending some good vibes my way. And if you want to hear Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters sing “Accentuate the Positive” (1944), you could watch this scene from The Singing Detective on YouTube.

3 thoughts on “– Accentuate the positive

  1. I held back giving my swimmers personal notes before last weeks competition – we have a big meet this weekend and I think I will secretly slip a note to them ala Mom style.

    Jane – you make a difference.

  2. A great idea. Education through encouragement. I am a firm believer in this, although recently it has come under scrutiny. A student emailed me to request “more critical comments” so he knows what he’s doing wrong. He was responding to my in-class praise of his presentation (also delivered in class). His three sentence email has been on my mind since yesterday.

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