I’m just about to head into another conference. I have to prepare my own presentations over the next few days and it’s made me think about what I loathe about powerpoint and its cousin prezi.
I don’t mind a set of slides where people just put up a few key points. It helps keep them on track, and me as well. If English is not the presenter’s first language then some simple, clear sides are a good way for them to make sure that they have a communicative safety-net. Simple slides are quite often helpful for an audience whose first language is not English and who have trouble keeping up with native speakers who talkreallyquicklysotheirwordsruntogether, or who have distinctive accents (like me).
And I can handle it when the technology doesn’t work and the video just doesn’t play as it should. I’m sympathetic. That could be me getting flustered and frustrated. I’ll sit there and be patient and I won’t turn into the technological expert who then competes with the presenter to sort it out.
But what REALLY irks me is when:
• a presenter has prepared twenty slides for a fifteen minute slot and they then spend the last few minutes flicking through them to try to cover everything. Hey, do the maths!! Five or six slides is the most you’re going to manage. And if you haven’t got to it, give up and conclude gracefully (and don’t make the same mistake next time).
• people have put too much stuff on one slide – you can’t read something complex and listen to what they are saying as well. You have to choose between reading or listening and this probably isn’t what they imagined would, or wanted to, happen.
• the presenter just reads the slides, one after one after one after one. Give me a break – I can read them for myself, what I want to know is what else you have to add to them.
• the writing on the slide is microscopic. Anything under about 20 point is just inviting the visually challenged (and there will be some in the audience) to turn off, then and there.
• there is too much ornamentation – flashing letters, effects that make the points arrive on screen at odd times and speeds, slide changes that make you think you are in an installation not a conference … then there’s the in and out lurching of prezi… one of those is OK but several prezis in a row is sea-sick inducing. All this visual kitsch distracts from the paper, but if the medium is the message, then presenters really need to consider what the message is that is being enacted through an over-embellished medium.
• people use pre-prepared proprietary formatted slides. These are visual mcdonaldisation, and when you’ve been force-fed loads of them in a short space of time it’s rather like eating too much of anything – you just want to go and sleep it off.
Am I just grouchy? Well yes, but also when I see someone do the slides really well, when they show that they understand the visuality of the medium, it does make me realize and appreciate the potentials of ‘the conference presentation’.
A conference presentation is, just as much as the paper, a re-presentation of the scholar, their work and their desire to communicate with an audience. If time has been taken – either to select and pare down the argument of the paper to some simple points or to explore the possibilities for representing data – and if the audience has clearly been thought about, then they will respond positively. I know I do.
So now for my presentations. Easy eh – all I have to do is to do what I say!!