It’s easy to bash presentations. It’s also easy to bash presentation styles.
Included in this process is always the obligatory derogatory comments directed at PowerPoint. Standard stuff.
Of course, much of this consternation towards presentations originates with having to sit through some really bad presentations where the presenters are just awful and have no clue how to communicate and engage an audience. We’ve all been there.
It’s also easy to bash the lecture because everything now needs to be collaborative, on a wiki, shared in a Google Doc, or done together in a backchannel. But I’ve attended some phenomenal lectures, where the lecturer/presenter just had tremendous ideas. Mimi Ito and Connie Yowell come to mind, where for an hour I sat and wrote and wrote and wrote, trying to capture every profound thought. My engagement was with the ideas, and singular. Me. Processing. No one else. Just a stream of ideas, balanced against my beliefs, with individual processing and plenty of time for collaborative discussion later. But for an hour-me, the presenter, and ideas…
Most might look at the room and what was taking place with a presenter talking and people listening and characterize that as a passive learning experience for the participants. But passive? Only if you wanted it to be. It certainly wasn’t that for me-it was very active.
And the presenters used slides. With text.
So I was intrigued by this blog post by John Pederson, who quotes (I think it’s a quote) Heather Gold who proposes something called tummeling.
Basically, a tummler is hired to entertain and make sure everyone had a good time. Sounds really good..you can watch her explain it here. Be sure to also examine her comparison between presentation and conversation, which is interesting, if not outright wrong.
It’s easy to dismiss bullet points. I don’t think they work especially well and a presentation filled with slides of endless bullet points can be absolutely disastrous for a presenter, not to mention the audience.
But let’s not dismiss text. Text and bullet points are two different things.
And we certainly shouldn’t dismiss slides, because slides can carry a very critical element of a presentation.
In any presentation, you are selling ideas. As Seth Godin says: “Communication is the transfer of emotion.”
And that emotion is communicated through two channels: the presenter and through the visual content of the slides, and processed by the 3.5 pound (1.58 kg) processor inside your head, all in an effort to make meaning.
The choice not to use slides, and not to use the capacity of those slides to carry images that communicate visually, represents a shallow understanding of human communication. As the speaker in the video indicated, effective communication is supported by an “emotional substrate.” Yes, that can mean face to face emotion crafted by the presenter.. However, it should also mean carefully selected visuals that enhance the emotion channel of the presentation. Ignoring visuals, or failing to include visuals, means you just ignored or failed to include a very powerful communicative element-an element that might just make all the difference.
To extend your thinking a bit, if you haven’t seen Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, you should. His book is based on “seven researched based principles for the design of multimedia messages” that we should all learn and apply to presentation design. Here are four that I think are most relevant to this post:
1. Multimedia Principle: Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.
2. Spatial Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.
3. Temporal Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.
4. Individual Differences Principle: Design effects are stronger for low-knowledge learners than for high-knowledge learners and for high-spatial learners rather than for low-spatial learners.
Basically, images and text are critical to learning, and especially more so for low-ability learners when the media design is appropriate.
Let’s not forget that presenting is communication. Let’s not forget that presenting has its place.
And there are numerous ways to present ideas, ranging from Twitter to blogging to sitting on a stool, telling a story. You can even…ah…tummel. However, presenting to a small or large audience alike requires, skill, effort, and knowledge as well as an understanding of human communication. It’s in vogue to consider new ways to communicate, new ways to engage an audience, its vogue to present using a test-based wiki for example.
But having an audience walk away with being energized, being challenged to think, being moved by a message communicated through appropriate media, and with the ability to process additional insights that can lead to actionable next steps that they didn’t have an hour ago is also pretty damn good…
Mayer, Richard. Multimedia Learning. 9th ed. New York, New York. Cambridge University Presss, 2007. 184. Print.