06 August 2009

Modern presentations

Alex Pang blogs on writer, Rachel Toor's, comments about presentation style at conferences: on the one hand the extreme of 'I just wrote this last night' and on the other the straight reading, rather than presenting, of a paper. Toor thinks both behaviours are borne out of lack of regard for the audience. Both, of course, also signal insecurity.

Spare us, though, from death by PowerPoint as an alternative. BBC's Word of Mouth this week reflected on the impact of PPT in domains other than the business world it was originally intended for. The programme included some new (for me) discussion of PPT's influence in the Bosnia conflict, where it was introduced into staff briefings. Wonderful quote from former NATO Chief of Staff Major General John Drewienkiewicz 'we went down to Bosnia with overhead projectors and transparencies and then PowerPoint hit us'. (Introduced by 'the Americans', of course.)

According to Drewienkiewicz PPT became a 'ritualistic format', lacking subtlety as bullet-pointed arguments replaced long-hand cases (the PPT became the case, rather than a summary of the case, so there was no further detail to go back to). Verbs such as 'must, might, could, should, ought' etc. were replaced with arrows indicating 'leads to'. And because the PPT output itself became the focus, late breaking content couldn't be added to the presentation.

(The programme also discussed the disastrous space shuttle mission, Columbia, considering how engineers' PPT presentation of highly condensed information to mission managers during the crisis may have obscured the risks of the damaged shuttle attempting a return to earth.)

Jens Kjeldsen described PPT as a presenter- rather than audience-oriented tool since it makes presentation easy, without necessarily doing the work to join up the thought behind it. He laments its use in schools; it doesn't encourage dialogue. As a side effect he notes it robs the speaker of the possibility of delivering charismatically. (Indeed, rarely seen in TED talks; maybe they discourage it.)

Finally, on the more general point of illustrated talks, Rich Mayer, explained how high quality visuals can distract from rather than enhance comprehension. Yes, diagrams and illustrations can enrich processing but too much multi-media has a simple enjoyment, rather than encoding, effect.

I commented to a friend this weekend "I never go anywhere without a PowerPoint." Am thinking about that.

No comments:

Post a Comment