Rod C. Taylor, Ph.D.
How to Kill Anyone with a Presentation (and Get Away with It!):Part 2—Keep It Old School!
A Satirical Look at Presentations and Why They Bore Us to Death
We live in an age of fast-changing technological advancement. As such, it could be tempting to try and keep up with the latest, greatest improvements in presentation software, but you need to resist that impulse. I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t buy or download the latest PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote software. In fact, many businesses and schools purchase the latest presentation software for their employees, but that’s nothing to be worried about. The beautiful thing about presentation software? Despite all the advanced tools it offers users, it’s not difficult to simply use the entire thing like a digital overhead projector from 1977. I should point out that even back then there were people looking to unnecessarily expand the way people utilized that technology. Take, for example, Lee Green’s 1982 book, 501 Ways to Use the Overheard Projector.
Now, that’s 500 more suggestions than we need to get the job done. I’m happy to say, though, that—like now—not many people choose to complicate their understanding of presentation technology back then. The deadliest presentations rely on the adage, “Don’t get creative.” If you keep that front and center, you can’t go wrong. Things get a bit riskier when you begin to think of the presentation software as offering anything beyond a digital overhead projector, which many presenters back in the day just treated like a projected version of the classroom chalk board. The main function of presentation software should be to project text (and the more text the better). In fact, if you think of PowerPoint as simply a clever way of digitally projecting a handout, you’re on the right track (and, think of all that paper you’re saving as well).
In post WW II America, early adopters of the overhead projector provided us the perfect approach to using advanced technology without really letting it impact you or your audience. In fact, in some cases the technology can even further advance the mission of “Death by Presentation.” Take this picture, for instance, from 1945.
Now, in a normal situation, the presenter might be on his feet, roaming the front of the stage, animating his talk and keeping his audience engaged with the aid of body language. But notice the way the projector allows him to sit comfortably, relax, and get on the same level with his audience. Now he can save that energy for something else that’s more important to him. No need to worry about needlessly exciting an audience.
And don’t let the rapt attention of the young men in this picture fool you. I can guarantee that this picture was taken at the beginning of the presentation. If it had been taken 15 minutes later, I think we could expect to see a very different scene. As a child of a 1980s secondary education, I can attest to the way in which 40 years later many presenters kept it old school when it came the overhead projector—and enjoyed the body count that resulted (Take that, Lee Green!). In fact, during my entire junior year of high school, I never once saw my Algebra II teacher stand. Not once. And any memory I have of that class ends 5-7 minutes after it started every day—a testimony to chloroform effect such an approach has (If, like me, you are inspired by the early practitioners of “Death by Presentation,” often lovingly referred to by later generations as the “Death by Projection Pioneers,” you can read more about them here).
The key, then, is to not get distracted by the interactive and engaging features that modern presentation software provides its users. You’ll hear about them here and there, for sure, even if you don’t try to find out, and your personal curiosity is likely to tempt you to try some out—but resist. In fact, let’s just get just a few of these out in the open so you don’t have to wonder. Most presentation technology offers the following tools:
The ability to embed short videos into your presentation for greater visual impact (Pro Tip: If you are forced to use a video for some reason, don’t use a short one or one that’s been edited down to it most salient parts. Just throw up a long one on the slide and let it run while you enjoy your coffee off to the side. Even better, don’t embed it in your presentation but rather hyperlink to it on the web so it will require buffering, thus giving you more free time during your presentation).
The ability to create interactive surveys your audiences can take in real time.
The ability to design slides that simultaneously convey information via text, audio, and video, which allows you to tap into more than one learning style at a time.
The ability to collaborate remotely with a partner on the design of the presentation.
Various interactive tools that can allow you to create quizzes or short contest that engage you audience.
Tons of slide-design features that allow you to match your content with the aesthetics.
A presentation preview feature which can aid you in making smooth transitions.
I could go on, especially with some of the features in Prezi, but you get the point. Modern presentation software provides numerous ways of getting sidetracked from our mission, but if you’re strong, you can keep your focus on doing what so many in the early nineties did and continue to do today. Rather than imagine what the new technology offered in terms of presentation, they stayed true to the mission of the overhead projector. In fact, I’ve seen many presenters sit down behind a laptop while they present. Now that’s keeping it old school. Also, don’t forget the lights! Keep them low. The darker the room, the better.
In the end, if you find yourself being drawn toward experimenting with the numerous tools that modern technology provides presenters, just keep repeating this mantra: “If it was good enough for 1945, it’s good enough for me.” That will keep you on track. Next time, we’ll discuss how the power of words, especially in high volume, can be one of the best arrows in your quiver when seeking to hit the bulls-eye of boredom.
Read Part III here:
A Satirical Look at Presentations and Why They Bore Us to Death—Part III