Presenting ....

Lorcan 2 min read

Although I give quite a few presentations, I don’t really present enough for them to become ends in themselves. I am thinking of this content-wise and style-wise.
Content-wise, I tend to talk about things that are currently on my mind unless I have been asked to describe a particular set of activities or address a particular topic. This means that I have a running set of themes which evolves through presentations. It also means that I find it difficult to go back to earlier themes, even if they remain relevant. And it means that presentations may not have a definitive or conclusive feel. As I say, this is because they tend to flow from current concerns rather than be crafted as statements about a particular topic.
Style-wise, for internal OCLC events, or when I am speaking with colleagues, I will tend to use an OCLC template. Otherwise, I tend to use an evolving one of my own. Partly, I must admit, because fiddling with the template seems a reasonable displacement activity when trying to prepare a presentation 😉 If I did more, I would probably aim for something more definitive.
But that is enough about me …
For the above reasons, I am quite interested in the style of presentations I see. In fact, I am probably more impressed by some nice Powerpoint (it is usually Powerpoint), or how it is used, than I should be. In recent years, we have seen several trends which depart from the heading and bullet-point style ….

  • White on black. Lawrence Lessig changed presentations. Here is how Presentation Zen characterised his style: “His rapid pace and quick slide transitions include a mix of short bursts of text, images, and video clips”. Dick Hardt did this famously. Rather than being a reflection of the words, the presentation is a foil. Now, a Lessig presentation is a unique event. Often we see influences rather than the whole package, as in the now common use of large white phrases on a black background. When done well, this can work nicely.
  • The Flickr turn. It is now common to see presentations that almost entirely comprise text superimposed on ‘found’ Flickr images, where the image is an amusing or amplifying commentary on the text. Again. this can work well when done well. It is less good at leaving a record of the presentation for others to read. And it can also be tedious or distracting, as the relevence or otherwise of the image becomes the main message of the slide.
  • Prezi. And junking Powerpoint altogether, Prezi has recently emerged as an alternative approach, developed, according to the founders, because “they felt slides limited their ability to develop and explain ideas”. Perhaps this is why I have yet to see a Prezi presentation I have enjoyed. It seems that the rationale is to be not-Powerpoint, rather than actually to be something else. And in unsophisticated hands the ‘swoosh’ effect can be offputting. Again, there is a danger of distraction as the medium intrudes on attention too much. And what would it be like seeing a series of Prezi presentations in a row?

Of course, a good presenter is usually enjoyable whatever aid they use. And those for whom presenting is central enough may take more care. That said, it is always nice to see some nice slides …. 😉
(I only recently realized the size of the market for blog themes that the WordPress platform has created. It is really quite interesting browsing some of the design sites of those who appear to make a living designing themes. It is also nice coming across a pleasingly designed blog. I am not sure, but I think that I am less swayed, though, by blog design than I am by presentation design 😉

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