How PowerPoint Is Ruining Teaching: Learning Bad Habits Young

NTEC.001

Think bad slides are only a problem at the office? Or in the military? Here’s a piece by Rebecca Shuman from Slate that describes the use of PowerPoint in the classroom as the “scourge” of higher education–written entirely in the form of a slide deck. But the problems she points out aren’t unique to schools; all of them would be painfully familiar to anyone who sits through business presentations.

Unfortunately, the cycle of bad slides and worse presentation habits has become self-reinforcing. People in the workplace rely too much on PowerPoint instead of creating truly engaging presentations. Teachers and students adopt the technology and all of the bad habits they see modeled in business. Newly minted graduates find jobs and bring their presentation “skills” with them, perpetuating the Circle of Lifeless Presentations.

Luckily for Schuman, she has one advantage most people don’t; she can ban PowerPoint from her classroom. Few of us hold that kind of sway over our conference rooms. So what can you do? Try to show your students, employees, and co-workers that there’s a better, less bullet-riddled way to conduct presentations. Start a more virtuous cycle.

Slate: How PowerPoint is Ruining Higher Ed

Great Presentations: Steve Jobs Introduces The First Mac

In honor of its 30th anniversary, here is Steve Jobs presenting Apple’s Macintosh computer for the first time. Many, many things have changed over the intervening years, but one fact has remained constant: wearing a bow tie is always a risky wardrobe choice.

Presentation Tips: Don’t Rely Solely On A Script

Samsung has been very successful at emulating Apple’s iPhones and iPads. What they haven’t been able to copy nearly as well are Apple’s slick and effective product presentations. In fact, Samsung’s efforts have frequently been seen as strange, awkward, even sexist. But they’ve seldom gone as spectacularly wrong as when Samsung included director Michael Bay in the rollout of new televisions at CES this week.

After getting confused about which part of the script he was reading from the teleprompter, Bay fumbled around and was unable to recover. Trying to help, his co-presenter gave him an opportunity to ad lib by asking, “Tell us what you think,” but Bay was so dependent on the prepared script that he was totally lost. “I’m sorry,” he said as he walked off stage.

Here’s how he later described what happened:

Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.

Unfortunately, the temptation to script live events ruins far too many presentations. Scripts get lost, notes get shuffled, unexpected events interrupt a speaker’s train of thought and they can’t get back on track. While I encourage everyone to write out their presentations as an exercise in working through their thoughts, it’s almost always a bad idea to depend on a script in order to deliver your talk. There are just too many things that can go wrong, and very few of us are good at memorizing or reading a speech in a way that will actually engage an audience.

If you’re giving a talk, it’s your job to know the material well enough that you can speak with a few notes or an outline to remind you where you’re going. And you need to be willing to improvise a little when things don’t go as planned. For example, if you’re the director of Transformers and you’re asked what you think of the giant TV you’re standing next to, say something like: “That TV is huge! Explosions, robots, and exploding robots will look great on that thing!”

Michael Bay at CES

Michael Bay Responds to his CES Meltdown

Remote and Online Presentations: You Need a Plan

Remote presentations aren’t easy. Honestly, I find them terrifying and would much rather stand up and speak in front of a huge crowd than try to train two people on a conference call. You lose so much of your ability to connect with an audience that it often feels like you’re speaking into a void, and there are seemingly infinite technical issues that can go badly, embarrassingly, wrong.

The last time I reluctantly agreed to do remote training my co-presenter kept getting dropped from the call, he spent most of his time offline dealing with the telecom operator, and the presentation software kept randomly advancing my slides. Needless to say, it’s challenging to provide decent training in a situation like that, especially when you’re supposed to be teaching people how to give better presentations.

Let’s hope we can all learn from other peoples’ failures.

This article from Slate describes how a similar situation, an online class called Fundamentals of Online Education, went awry in horrifying, yet predictable, ways. But while my disaster happened with an audience of about 100, this one unfolded in front of more than 40,000 people who had signed up to learn how to successfully deliver classes like the one they were trying to attend.

Unfortunately, experiences like these will continue to be common. Despite the fact that live meetings, training, and presentations are undoubtedly more effective, tight budgets for travel and training mean that more and more of our interactions will be driven to the web. So how are you supposed to make them effective? First of all, you need to have a plan. As one attendee commented on the Fundamentals of Online Education class:

It was not technical issues that derailed this course [which was a symptom], it is the underlying philosophy that many institutions still hold onto—that a MOOC is similar to, or the same as, a course in a traditional face-to-face classroom, and it can be successful using the same structure, same content and similar instructional methods. MOOC courses offered through Cousera and other such platforms, often appear modified to ‘fit’ into a course experience on the Web, albeit with thousands of students.

In other words, you can’t treat a remote class or presentation the same way you would a live one. You have to have a plan for how you’re going to use the technology, how you’re going to overcome the distance between yourself and the audience in order to engage them, what you’re going to do if 40,000 people sign up. Remote presentations create a very different set of challenges than live ones, and you’re going to have to work harder if you want to make them successful.

BulletProof is here to help.

BulletProof Presentations

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/02/05/mooc_meltdown_coursera_course_on_fundamentals_of_online_education_ends_in.html

Visual Aids: Think Poetry, Not Paragraphs

Excellent advice, whether you’re using Prezi, PowerPoint, or a good old whiteboard. Simplify your visual aids and treat them as exhibits for your audience, not as your script.

Think Poetry, Not Paragraphs

Pitch Perfect: Apple’s iPad Mini Ad

Most presentations rely on logical arguments to try to persuade an audience–and that’s one of the reasons that so many of them fail. Charts, facts and figures tend to bore an audience and make them tune out. Making an emotional connection, on the other hand, is much more likely to be effective. It’s something that every speaker should try to include in their presentations.

When it comes creating advertising–which is really just another presentation format–Apple is the undisputed master at making people feel that they need something, even if it’s just a smaller version of something they already own. There’s a lot that any presenter can learn from how they work their magic to create that kind of desire.

Here’s a great example of how Apple deploys emotional content to sell its products. They don’t use any of the new iPad Mini’s specifications in order to make you want the new toy. This ad don’t even use any words other than the product’s name. Instead, Apple appeals to nostalgia with the childhood ritual of learning to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano, using the size difference between the two iPads to suggest a child playing along with an adult. Watching the piece for the first time during the keynote event literally gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, even though I’ve never played the piano.

Brilliant.

Apple’s iPad Mini Ad

Create Amazing Visual Aids For Your Presentations: Mars Rover Prezi

Here’s a great example of how you can use presentation software to create beautiful and engaging visual aids for your presentations. This illustration of the landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity created using Prezi is slick enough that it wouldn’t look out of place on a major newscast, and it does a terrific job of explaining the spacecraft’s descent without requiring any real scientific expertise. Think how easy it would be for a high school teacher (or even a student) to use this presentation to lead a classroom discussion.

But what I like best about this presentation is that it’s created with tools that are readily available to anyone. You don’t have to be a programmer, animator or graphic designer to create a Prezi like this. All you need is a free Prezi account, a little time spent getting to know the software, and some free images that are easily accessible on the internet. While some of the more impressive Prezis that you’ll find online incorporate tricks like Flash animations and video clips, there’s none of that here. The impact of this presentation is created solely with tools built-in to Prezi: zooming, fade-in animations and 3-D backgrounds.

Imagine how you could use a Prezi like this to describe a process that you’re involved with at work. Think about how easy it would be for your audience to follow what you’re talking about step-by-step. Then go create one!

(Click the arrow in the viewer at the top of the page to start the Prezi. If you’re viewing this in an email, click on the link below to view the Prezi in your browser)

Mars Rover Prezi

Previously: Prezi’s Experts Program

Writing Fiction in Slides: Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” PowerPoint

One of the biggest problems with relying on PowerPoint for all of your presentations is that it’s not a very good format for the storytelling that needs to be a part of any persuasive argument. The interruptions between slides and the relentless onslaught of bullets aren’t very effective at creating a coherent narrative. At least that’s what I tell the people in my presentation training classes.

Here to prove me wrong is a chapter from Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad told entirely in PowerPoint. I guess winning a Pulitzer will teach me a lesson!

You can read (view? play?– we may need new language for these kinds of things) the entire chapter here:

http://www.slideshare.net/JenniferEgan/rockandroll97-2004cppt

Imagine my surprise when I turned (flipped? swiped?) a page of the novel expecting to find the next chapter and found myself staring at a PowerPoint slide instead. Because I was reading on my iPad it was even more startling than it would have been if I’d been reading the hardcover. It was almost as if I’d accidentally switched programs and was suddenly  working on a presentation instead of just enjoying a good story by the pool. My brain had to come to a full stop and switch gears in order to recover.

By the way, I’m not a big fan of e-readers, despite many peoples’ attempts to convince me of their benefits. Maybe it’s just my age, but I think it also has something to do with my academic training and the way I learned to love the physical elements of books at the same time I was learning to appreciate their contents.

My skepticism isn’t even about the technological limitations of e-readers– the advantages of certain kinds of screens or the limits of their battery lives. I like to own the concrete book itself, to be able to browse them on my shelves, hoard them, lend them to people I trust, smell the fresh ink when they are new and the dust they collect when they aren’t.

But mostly I like to be able to write in them. As a child I never would have written in my books out of fear of “ruining” them. But more than a decade of college and grad school put me in the habit of making notes in everything I read. I underline sections I think are important, put stars next to big ideas, make lists, brainstorm and note important page numbers on the inside covers.

It’s not like I’m planning to do any work on most of the things I read; I’m not going to write book reports about them. I just like being able to interact with my books this way and feel like it helps slow down my reading so I actually pay better attention and retain more of what I’ve read. Without a pen in my hand it’s too easy to just pass my eyes over the words and feel like I’ve read something and wind up with only a vague recollection of it later.

But last week I was on vacation in Santa Barbara (coincidentally where I picked up my habit of scribbling notes in college) without a book of my own to read and mark up. I did have my iPad, however, and downloaded a copy of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, a novel that I’d given to my mom for Christmas but hadn’t read myself. It’s a good read, cleverly constructed of interlocking chapters that tell the stories of a group of characters from different perspectives.

Not having a hard copy was actually kind of a fortuitous accident. I don’t know if Egan had given much thought to the added impact that PowerPoint would have when the novel was viewed on an e-reader, but it was the first time that I felt I was having a more powerful experience reading something on a screen than I would have in a book.

Confronted with slides, my brain just had no idea what to do and I was suddenly jolted out of my normal reading experience. There was the familiar slide format, the default layout of a title slide, the uninspired choice of font. But what was it doing in the middle of a novel? I even had to turn my head sideways to read the text since the slides weren’t rotating correctly on my iPad.

While the inspiration to write fiction in PowerPoint is brilliant and handled here with great skill, it also gives us an idea of how hard it is to actually tell a story this way. The biggest issue I find with following a narrative in PowerPoint is figuring out how to read the slides. Without a live presenter to connect the dots, how do you know at first glance how one slide follows another? What connects them? Transitions– the ideas, not the animations– are really hard to create between slides when you want to propel a story forward. And how do you even know how to read the elements in a slide? Do your read left to right, across then down? Clockwise? How do you interpret the graphic elements and how do they relate to the words? It’s a totally different way of reading then simply following the sentences that make up a normal narrative.

These issues are something that we all need to remember when we’re creating our presentations. We “read” slides differently than other kinds of texts and, despite the habits of many presenters, we shouldn’t create slides that are covered with paragraphs of text. Slides should be treated as visual aids that support what you have to say as the speaker, not as your script itself. By design, your slides should leave out a lot of what you plan to say. Slides are a framework– as the speaker you need to provide the connective tissue.

Egan talks about this discordant effect that including a chapter written in PowerPoint has on her book in an interview that’s posted on Amazon.
 Writing in a non-traditional and “difficult” format like PowerPoint highlights the gaps, awkward spots and changes of style and tone throughout the whole novel. She even says that she didn’t really understand the overall structure of the book until the rest of it was already written and she was working on the PowerPoint section, that the whole novel is about the kind of discontinuity exhibited in this one chapter. PowerPoint lets her really highlight this effect.

“PowerPoint is not continuous,” she tells her interviewer:

“It is not a flow. It is a series of images and moments.  Which is really how the whole book works.”

“This book is all about the pauses.  A lot of the action takes place during the pauses and we visit people at other moments after these pauses or before they begin.  I think it really is the lynchpin.”

The challenges of telling a story in PowerPoint, the problems of making transitions between slides and bullet points, are exactly what she’s trying to demonstrate.  They’re at the heart of the book.

There are at least a couple of things that presenters can learn from this novel experiment.  First, despite my insistence that PowerPoint isn’t the right tool for telling a story, it can be done. But it requires a lot of thought to do it well. It also helps to be an experienced and much-awarded novelist like Egan.

Second, it can be really useful to think of the pieces of your presentations that you don’t put up on screen in the way that Egan talks about the “pauses” that contain much of the action from her story. As the speaker you have to tell a compelling story, but you don’t have to put everything up on the screen.

Actually, an experiment in storytelling through PowerPoint makes a great exercise if you feel like giving yourself a little homework. Think about a story that you know really well. It could be anything: a fairy tale, the story of your prom date or the plot of a Seinfeld episode. How would you tell it in PowerPoint? What resources would you use? Visual aids? Bullet points? Sound effects or video?  What would you put on the screen and what would you just tell your audience in the “pauses”?

The bottom line is to figure out which parts are really important and are likely to be interesting and influential to your audience. Then try to create all your presentations by telling your stories that way. It’s not always easy, but finding a way to structure your presentations as stories is one of the best ways to ensure your success.

Egan on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m3HNDLRWFAAVU3/ref=ent_fb_perma_icon/182-3704468-9257619

Avoiding Public Speaking Disasters: Prepare Your Technology and Bribe the AV Guy

The Times‘ David Pogue offers some great advice for speakers in Technology, or Lack Thereof, at the Podium. Some of his anecdotes will be hilarious and painful for anyone who does much public speaking because they’ll recognize that moment of dread when they know that things aren’t going to turn out the way they’d hoped. My most recent painful encounter with an AV guy happened when I was scheduled to give a talk at an big technology company. I was prepared with all the right dongles (Pogue is right– Macs tend to make AV people panic, so be sure to let them know you’ve brought your own ASAP) but asked my host to send someone to turn on their projector and sound equipment because I didn’t want to screw anything up.

The guy arrived quickly, but was obviously already stressed at 8:30 in the morning. He grunted, flipped a switch or two and greeted me by saying “they never should have scheduled you for this.” Luckily his attitude softened a bit when I flashed my dongle and he saw that I wasn’t a rookie who would be requiring a lot of hand-holding. Still, what a warm greeting and great way to start the day….

The key to avoiding the kind of technology disasters Pogue describes (and ingratiating yourself with the AV guy) is to be as prepared as possible. Visit the room in advance so you’ll know what you’re dealing with. Bring printed copies of your presentation as a back-up plan. And make sure you have all of the equipment you’ll need by checking in advance with the people running the facility you’ll be using. Even better, bring everything you need with you. It’s not a bad idea to arrive with your own cables, remote, even your own projector if possible. An iPhone or iPad can make a great remote control or act as a the kind of “confidence monitor” that Pogue describes. I’ve even used them as teleprompters for recording video.

Whatever you do, make sure to befriend the AV guy. If it’s a catered event offer him a doughnut or a sandwich. You need him on your side!

http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/technology-or-lack-thereof-at-the-podium/