Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The End of PowerPoint

There's lots of advice on the web about how to avoid it. But PowerPoint, or any other presentation tool (check out Prezi) is only as good as the person making the presentation. A great presentation leaves you inspired, gives you ideas, helps you solve a problem, allows you to discover something new. Too often, we use digital slides as a crutch, cram in too much text, jam too many slides into too little time, and do not rely on the power of our ideas, our experiences, and our stories. And, because we try to cram all of that information in our presentation, we stifle questions and dialog. Whatever your calling in the museum field, you most likely have to communicate information to peers, patrons, and/or the public on a regular basis.

At this year's American Association for State and Local History Conference, I attended a session entitled, "The End of PowerPoint." Presenters Lindsay Baker and Linda Norris delivered—and modeled--several good ideas for conference session presentations and for presentations in general. (Linda blogged about it in her popular Uncataloged Museum blog, too.)

Two ideas stood out for me. The first was a demonstration (using "good" and "bad" PowerPoints) of the Pecha-Kucha approach. Basically, it's twenty slides, twenty seconds per slide. The approach is a powerful means to focus what you are saying, using the slide deck as a powerful visual aid, not as a visual crutch. Imagine that. You have 400 seconds-- six minutes and forty seconds--to make your point. Do the standard conference panel math: panel lasts ninety minutes with three presenters. Each presenter uses the pecha-kucha approach and you end up with just over twenty minutes of presentation and nearly seventy minutes to reflect, react, comment, and question. That's a proportion more in line with promoting dialog than the standard conference math: three presenters, twenty to twenty-five minutes each, with only fifteen (often) to thirty (rarely) minutes left for questions and discussion.

The second approach was to present via an interview. At first, I didn't think this made much sense but, as Lindsay interviewed Linda about a project she worked on, I realized the power of it. The agreement beforehand was that there was nothing off limits and they had not scripted or outlined the interview. As Linda described the project (which you can read about here), guided by Lindsay's questions, interest in the attendees led us, without prompting, to begin asking questions about the project. For ten minutes or so, we were not talking about presentations, we were talking about the project. The attendee questions stemmed from the answers Linda gave to Lindsay's questions and provided more detail or further information on that related to the participants’ interests. I think the approach has merit for discussing a project or related projects, and avoids the "show and tell" tendency of panel presentations.

Lindsay and Linda presented other ideas, including a small group activity where we had to come up with alternative proposals for programs based on the titles of actual sessions at the conference. It was a fun, creative way to talk about and think about applying what we had learned, while modeling yet another effective technique for more involvement.

The session inspired me to be think more creatively about how to promote a greater level of engagement in my own presentations at work--or in panels--to instruct, to inspire, and to lead. Why not head over to the "tips for presenters" page on the VAM website and see what is there that will inspire you or suggest resources that work for you. Also check out Linda Norris’ blog, The Uncataloged Museum. She may be putting the slide deck up from the “End of PowerPoint presentation.”

Happy Presenting!


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