school lunch

Let’s change the world (or at least school lunch)

Let’s say your teacher/boss has asked you to create a persuasive presentation using PowerPoint (or equivalent). What’s your reaction? “Woohoo! I can change the world!” Or, “I don’t know where to begin.”

Crafting an influential message takes focus and skill, and, it’s probably not something you learned in elementary school. And that’s a shame. I’ve been going through the following steps in creating a persuasive presentation with my sixth graders, and I’ll bet they are helpful whether you’re a student or employee.

1. Know your purpose.

What are you trying to accomplish through your presentation? Just bringing awareness of an issue is not enough for a persuasive presentation—you want a call to action. For example, if you want to improve school lunches, what is it specifically that you want to change? Do you want your school to incorporate locally grown produce? Do you want the government to change their guidelines? Do you have recommendations on food choices? Do you want to change the tray color? Knowing your purpose will help you craft an effective message. Write it down.

2. Know your audience.

Audience and purpose are interconnected. If your audience is chosen for you, you may have to modify your purpose. For example, if you are trying to improve school lunches by incorporating local produce, and your audience is your fellow classmates, you might encourage them to sign a petition for more vegetables (good luck!) that you will pass on to the kitchen and school administration. On the other hand, if you are able to select your audience, who would be best? Who are the people in position to make the changes you recommend? In this case, you may choose to talk to the kitchen staff, school administration, or the school board. Then you will tailor your message to that specific audience.

3. Research.

Pulling quotes from a couple of websites is not enough. Learn your topic thoroughly. You need to become an expert on your topic, so don’t skip on your education. In addition to internet research, you may also want to interview people or take a survey to collect data. Don’t forget to study the opposing view—you may want to directly address what they are saying. For example, you may think the school lunches need improving, but what does the food director think? How will you address his/her position? (And as always, save your sources for your reference page.)

4. Organize your content.

Don’t overwhelm your audience with information. Select the strongest three to five points that support your purpose. More is not always better. You want your presentation to be short enough to keep your audience’s attention, but thorough enough to get your message across. Perhaps kids in Greenland have much better lunches than students in the US, but is that a solid reason we should change our school lunches? Probably not—it’s just an interesting fact. Unless, however, there’s data to support a correlation between good lunches and good grades. That would be a strong argument for your position.

Once you have your major points, it’s time to be strategic. How do you want to lead your audience to action?  Organize your points, then flesh them out to engage your audience. Perhaps you want to hook them with humor, like a funny image, then present your data. You could engage them emotionally with a picture (like above) or story. An infographic might be the best way to make your point , such as a chart showing how students rated their lunches or how many pounds of food were thrown away. We’ll be doing more engagement work in the design phase, but have an idea of the direction you want to take your audience and how you’ll keep them moving along with you.

Next time, the real fun begins—design! Can a sixth grader (or you) design a professional presentation? You bet!