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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

PowerPoint versus story-telling

You don't find many rants on this site, other than political or human rights or religion... okay, maybe you do get some. But this one's new.

I am organizing a conference for about 300 people. There are 20 or so presenters in plenary and workshops. We asked every one of them to consider not using PowerPoint slides at all, to limit to a small number if they do, and in any case, to rely more on telling people what's interesting about the topic. If you can tell an anecdote or story - all the better.

Am I the only person who is sick of these words on a screen? I dislike the flying, spinning ones the most. The only PowerPoints that seem to add to the presentation for me are the ones with beautiful or interesting photos (such as what I posted here). I worked with First Nations communities a bit last year and heard so many good orators and story-tellers (including painful tales), that I felt spoiled.

Oh, almost all of our conference presenters chose to us PowerPoint anyhow, and almost all have so many slides they'll never get to tell a story. Good thing there will be coffee, good food and some interactive sessions. We even have a concert with great musicians one evening - I wonder if any of them will show slides rather than sing... Our conference.

What do you think? (Feel free to tell an anecdote or use a photo...)

I HATE Powerpoint. I've never used it, but I find it condescending and trite when other people use it on me. Especially the flipping graphics. It's just visual blithering to cover up the fact that there's nothing to say, or no one with the balls to say it if there is.
I suppose that was tactless. Sorry. Not very Canadian of me. I hope the Police Politesse don't catch wind of this.
The presentations I *hate* are when they read from the Powerpoint presentation, word for word. It's like chewing gravel.
Madcap - no apologies required. The politically correct police will be at your door tomorrow, but I will activate 1000 Amnesty members to protect you if needed....

Seraphine - yeah, me too.
I am a bad person.
I once made a very impressive PPS of step by step Root Canal( I used to work as a dental nurse) and I did it because I was fed up telling the same thing over and over. some patients really appreciated the information and I was inclined to end the story with 'its your own fault you have a cavity' in my impatience so the PPS saved some grace there.
I have to create power point presentations for my job pretty frequently. At first I tried to spruce them up with beautiful photo backgrounds or with original graphics and graphic movements. Then my boss complained because there weren't enough slide transition effects and he really liked "when the logos twirl around." Not only that, the pictures were "too fancy." He'd rather have it all plain, all 78 slides of it. Ugh. So... I don't really like Power Point anymore. :/
The art of telling a great story or getting your message across with words alone seems out of fashion these days. The few power point presentations I’ve seen were distracting.
Back in university days, I remember being absolutely enthralled while listening to some of my professors’ lessons. No visual accompaniment necessary. “Glitz and glamour” are not prerequisites for effective communication. A good delivery and listening skills are.
Ooooh, we've touched a nerve it seems. To be fair (and thank you Claire for the other side - although 'ouch' for a different reason). Sometimes a visual aid helps with learning and sometimes a few words help focus ideas. Maybe the key is not to overuse these things... and not to substitute human interaction with staring at a screen - we have enough of that with all the other screens already. Hey, even this one!
I use PP when I have to present data because frankly, I thought I would forget all the info if I did not, but there is absolutely nothing more compelling than a good orator, and I am going to practice presenting data without PP to see if I can present data without it. I am curious.
In my personal experience, especially my meager work in the media business, story-telling is always far better than presentations. I have this anecdote for it.

No one reads a guidebook unless they want to find out where to eat and sleep. And you won´t gain any deeper understanding of the place you are traveling. But everyone carries a novel when they´re on the road because it´s more interesting to read, and, god forbid, provides insight.
Hi Gary
Over the past 2 days I attended a conference (3 sessions only) which ultimately will include over 5000. I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the presentations, 2 were around 1 hour each without any overheads, in storytelling fashion, the other of 3 hours involved the extensive use of power point. Here are the details assuming they may be of interest to your conference planning. I think balance and keeping attention spans to reasonable levels are key factors.

The 2 storytelling presentations were entitled “ The Great Divide: Overcoming Adversity, and “The Awakening of the Global Brain” , both were well suited to the story telling style, presented with powerful imagination that held the large audience interest throughout, one over breakfast and the other a luncheon session. One was more information based, looking back at our past brain evolution and considering likely effects into the future to consider where virtual reality is heading. The other was more inspirational in nature. The 3 hour session was entitled Governance Frameworks and Emerging Issues. This power point presentation was split into 5 sections with group particapation (pair off with whoever was sitting next to you) lasting about 10 minute after each presentation with volunteer feedback. Eg 1. What does corporate Governance mean in terms of say Amnesty and how does it apply?
2 What are its Key corporate Governance Principles?
3 What is the organisational framework for Corporate Governance?
4. What governance issues are highlighted globally?
5. What are the main elements of Corporate Governance?
Such a topic that might seem to be rather tedious (but of great importance) and is more suited to say smaller session of say max 100/150. I think balance is the key.
Best wishes
They don't call it PowerPointless for nothing.

But seriously, I never cared for it until recently, and that was because most people do not use it correctly. It's very useful in the classroom if it's used CORRECTLY. If your PPT presentation could run without you, you're not doing it right. Slides should have very few words in the form of phrases and key words and NO sentences. Most of the information should still come out of your mouth. Graphics should only enhance the presentation. I've seen too many presentations with text crammed onto slides and silly irrelevant graphics. I don't need the presenter to read that stuff to me. I can probably read better than many of them, anyway.

I try to mix things up. When I introduce a new topic in class, like, say, thesis statements, I will do a PowerPoint outline of the key ideas that I want the students to take notes on and remember. BUT, I will put a short list of short phrases or words and then elaborate verbally and sometimes even add examples on the chalkboard. Some days, I just use the chalkboard. One good thing about PPT is that I use fewer "handouts," thus saving a few trees along the way. I use PPT to put up examples of material on the board, too, like examples of how to cite sources, etc. Another cool thing I've used PPT for is to actually demonstrate writing for the students. It's so much quicker than scribbling on the chalkboard.

Used well and intelligently, it is a marvelous thing. Used the way most people use it, it's maddening.
Hey, this is a workshop going on here. Using Claire, Lindsay and Scarlet Witch's comments alone, any one of us could put together a PowerPoint show that would be dynamite.

Thanks for the very specific examples Lindsay.
I'm no expert on pps, but have seen too many presentations that have bored me to tears. Luckily I left university before the use of pps "took off". But I do agree with JB - used intelligently it is a useful tool
The thing is, it's been proven that people retain information better when they SEE, HEAR, and WRITE in combination. As a teaching and learning tool, it really can't be overlooked. But we need to be teaching people how to use it best.
i think that if you don't have enough confidence in your topic to just chat about it or 'story tell' about it than you shouldn't be presenting - especially when you only have about 10 minutes!!!! i can only remember the 2 presenters who didn't use powerpoint this weekend - how appropriate!
Oh I've been sitting through them non-stop visiting all these colleges. Just give me a tour please and let me ask questions.

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