Engaged OR Enraged? How Can We Do Presentations Better?

Engaged OR Enraged? How Can We Do Presentations Better?

death by powerpointTo be honest I did feel that John Larkin was being a bit harsh when he said “Enough of the “world changing” five minute videos and please do not pad out your presentations with one video after another during a keynote at a conference unless you were the author of the included video(s).” But after being in conference workshops for most of this week, admittedly not with a lot of video, I do agree that presenters really need to think about how they present. [Image by Nick Hodge]

And lets just start with a disclaimer, the problem is not entirely with the presenters, we are also talking about me! My brain is so used to the high level of multitasking now that you REALLY NEED TO BE good to keep me engage. I switch off incredibly quickly if you fail to continue to engage me. And when I do come to conferences it does make me reflect on how my students may be feeling in my classes and how I do my own presentations.

So what is working for me? Well some obviously forgot to read the memo about:

  • The banning of bullet points! – ok will accept a few provided that there is minimal text
  • Extremely long text – totally can not focus on what is being said and the text
  • Bullets of long text and then reading it!

Please guys Powerpoints are ok but use of Presentation 2.0 method is far better!

I can see why John highlights his concern now about video because with so much great ones being available to use we are tending to grab for a video to enhance our presentation. But are we really enhancing it if every one it automatically grabbing a video. So now you have death by powerpoint mixed with killing with video. Is that like a double murder?

Am I any better? Probably NOT. So am now seriously concerned! Next week I have to do a presentation for our e-learning showcase (1 hr presentation followed by 1 hr hands on). The hands on will be fine (ROFL provided enough computers that actually work to record audio for podcasting). But what about 1 hr presentation?

So please help me by telling me!

  • What is engaging you in presentations?
  • What is enraging you enough to switch totally off?
  • What has been fun in terms of how a presenter has made you interact during the presentation and what has REALLY TOTALLY ANNOYED YOU?

PS Alan you were really good, for someone like me – even being unwell!

21 thoughts on “Engaged OR Enraged? How Can We Do Presentations Better?

  1. Talk about rants! I need to have a word with James Farmer. I commented you about 10 great web reference links, and edublogs barked telling my I had to remove the “http://” when I clicked back, my comment was munched. It would be better design if the comment field told a user not to enter the “http://” for a URL!!

    That said, a few references- you cannot go wrong from Kathy Sierra

    Presentation Zen

  2. Good points, Sue. I like your death by powerpoint, killing by video – a double jeopardy.

    I’m co-presenting a paper in a few weeks, so would appreciate feedback myself on a strategy I’m trying out.

    I’ve suffered death and disengagement, educators turned administrators can be the worst presenters. Especially off-putting is blocks of tiny text, accompanied by a spectral voice reading it word for word, presenter jingling keys and coins in pocket with back to audience.

    I’ve been enraptured by clever presenters that have powerpoint as a background displaying stunning images, highlighting key points.

    So I’ve taken the notes my friend and I wrote together, searched Flickr for ‘concept’ visuals, arranged slides in order, and redistributed text to suit slides.

    I copied relevant parts of the speech to each slide, shrunk text to 8 points and ‘hid’ it behind the image. Thus when ppt is uploaded to SlideShare, the full text is displayed (if you need to read it) but only images and some headings are displayed.

    So then the speech can be presented with only a glance at the screen to confirm the correct slide is displayed.

    I’ve linked my work here: co-authored paper http://tinyurl.com/2fsrmj & slideshare http://tinyurl.com/2mxahu (can’t get that last slide to load) and would appreciate comment about this delivery method.

  3. I’ve thought about doing away with Powerpoint entirely in my presentations, but kept it because:
    1) I’d need palm cards otherwise and PP slides look much spiffyer
    2) I like to have something to look at when I’m at a presentation – so I’ll use a large, interesting, relevant image and maybe just one word nowdays. As a multitasker, I find that looking at a large picture, while I listen to a presenter and try to decode their body language/expressions – and probably drawing doodles on a notebook – gives me just enought stimulation that I’m not bored s**tless, but also don’t let my attention wander and try to find something else to “do”.

    Don’t know whether it is engaging, but when I present, I try to make eye contact with the audience and make them the centre of the presentation, rather than me – hard to explain, but it’s to do with affirming that they are the important bit of the proceedings , not me. I try to ask questions that require yes/no answers and pause afterward and respond to the shaking/nodding of heads by acknowledging what most of the audience says.

    Also – as Miles Burke has said – reheasring, rehearsing, rehearsing is essential if you want to pull off that – “I’m casually talking straight off the cuff” impresssion.

    Having said that, I have no time to prepare anything for my Podcamp presentation and will be going in cold and breaking all my own rules. Will have to find some new tricks up my sleeve.

    What don’t I like? 1. Reading aloud a paper. 2. Slides unconnected to what the person is saying. 3. Too much text on the slides – I WILL try to read it and ignore the speaker 4. The “wise person on the podium” approach 5.People who just quote factette after factette but are obviously unfamiliar with the material and haven’t applied any original thought (happens when senior people who should know stuff, but don’t are asked to speak) 6. Presentations that I think “well neither of us needed to be here in person for that”.

    Wow – long rant there 🙂

  4. I should point out that it’s impossible for Emerald to do live presentations, as she is a Second Life avatar…although she has helped me do a mixed Real Life / Second Life presentation.

  5. what works is telling stories – engage the right side of the brain – for usually what is an audience whose left side is already overly tired. do it well and it doesn’t matter so much how good or bad the powerpoint is.

  6. Sue,

    Give lots of practical examples, differentiate for many types of learners (yes, teachers as learners need a variety of formats,too!), make sure there is a source list – paper, electronic, or both – for later exploration, remember that not everyone has the same resources so offer high- and lo- tech options.

    If only I could follow my own advice.


  7. Do you mean something specific by ‘Presentation 2.0’ or more of a ‘lets be a little more imaginative’ when we make presentations?’ Will be watching these comments as I have a couple of presentations coming up so am very open to new ideas.

  8. Sue

    most of the other commenters have hit the right buttons. I’ve conducted many workshops with colleagues on presentation techniques, and here are a few things I’ve found to be useful.

    Everyone can benefit from rehearsing your stuff. Speak it out loud and learn where to hit the button for the next slide; a lot of colleagues are astonished at this suggestion. Really, an awful lot of wrinkles (including performance anxiety) are ironed out during this phase of your prep. Timing is also very important.

    What works for me as an audience member is the concept image with the presenter speaking to the meaning … “an image is worth etc.”; large fonts please with only one or two text lines; DON’T read the text, speak to it.

    Learn to speak clearly and don’t rush (timing again) and yes, eye contact works really well if you can see the audience. Sometimes the lights are turned out for presentations, and you can’t see a thing in a big room. A tip here to make everyone feel you are contacting them, sweep across the audience with your eyeline just about the heads of everyone. It works.

    And don’t forget that it is the human presence, the dynamics of communication which is paramount in all this. Don’t be killed off by your own slide-based presentation.

  9. Hi Sue,
    Thank you for the feedback. Harsh perhaps but that is how I feel. In fact your blog inspired me to be more vocal. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, as pointed out by Alan, does provide very useful information regarding presentations.

    Back in April there was an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding powerpoint. It supports the view for better presentation. Little or no text.


    One of the researchers was John Sweller from the School of Education at the UNSW.



  10. Sue,

    In answer to your questions…

    What is engaging you in presentations?

    I become engaged when the presenters tell a story as they demonstrate or support their views with stories and anecdotes. Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk is great example.

    Live demos also engage me. The demos given by Anand Agarawala and Jeff Han on Ted Talks are good examples.

    What is enraging you enough to switch totally off?

    As indicated by others Powerpoints characterised with small fonts and a variety of noisy transitions annoy me, particularly when the text is typed “live” via animation.

    What has been fun in terms of how a presenter has made you interact during the presentation?

    I have been to a few presentations that involved “clickers” and the immediate graphical feedback from the audience was very engaging and informative.

    What has really totally annoyed you?

    As I indicated in my original post the use of a variety of “message videos” during the course of some recent presentations did annoy me. I frankly felt that I was not getting value for money and that my time was being wasted.

    Most certainly I was entertained but I was there to see a living, breathing educator share their experiences and not to watch a video that I could view at leisure afterwards. I would prefer the presenter to really tell the story. They could refer to the video, provide a link to it, but not actually present it in full. It would be more useful if they provided their own interpretation and analysis of the message.


  11. An engaging presentation has little to do with technology and everything to do with the person giving the presentation. Great presents will be affective with or without slides, which is also an argument for minimalist slides if slides are used.

    Many might be tempted to create the slides and then build the presentation. I think a more effective way to approach presentation preparation is akin to the waterfall model for program development. PLAN what you want to say to exact specifications. This allows you to organize without be confined to slides. After you know what you want to say, then think about how slides can enhance your presentation. Enhance is the keyword. Slides shouldn’t be the focus of your presentation…your presentation should be the focus!

    I think slides should be simple and relevant. Images on slides should be selected because they are effective at burning your message into their visual memory.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Great slides don’t make great presentations. Great presenters make great presentations.

  12. I agree with Joel – a great presentation is about delivery, not technology. Great presentations can be done completely without the use of visual aids (and, indeed, the greatest speeches in history, almost without exception, were).

    By way of ilustration: the whole *princple* of “Technology 2.0” is to put the power of creation in the hands of users. No PowerPoint slide, with however many pictures, will accomplish that. If anything, the reverse is true: by removing the informational content from slides and turning them into
    a photographic slide show, the listener becomes even more reliant on the presentation and delivery skills of the presenter.

    A *TRUE* “Presentation 2.0” should involve the audience – if not in the creation of the content itself, then certainly in its delivery.

    Also, I should add that just as the modern principles of adult learning puts the onus (and power) to learn in the hands of the learner; so too, the onus is as much on the audience to extract and interact with a presentation, in whatever form, as it is on the presenter to deliver it! While everyone appreciates a great presenter, the days of “spoon-fed” teaching have surely been replaced by a paradigm in which the learner (or audience member) is equally (if not more) responsible for extracting meaning and constructing their own understanding!

    A great presentation aid (e.g. PowerPoint) will aid that task for audience members, but can never (and probably *should* never) be a substitute for either the presenter’s duty to deliver well, nor an audience member’s duty to listen actively and extract their own meaning.

  13. I’m fully agreeing with the whole story telling thing but am thinking that shock value is of real value. Shock! – It arcks up everyone to think – just when they feel like snoozing. What about stories of a real stuff ups an then images that are equally shocking/confusing/hilarious – enuff to make people’s heads start working (= engaged) and then work it in with the heated/passionate discusssion that will soon follow, either through questions or comments, depending on the size of the audience (= collaboration and networking). In summary, bounce off the walls and let it get messy – it lends for some real cool learning. You know…..on reflection…the feeling I’m left with after these types of presentations is the same as when I leave an ‘art house’ type film… you start off kinda confused and end up thinking about it for weeks on end.

  14. I will continue to watch this post with interest, and will probably blog about this topic myself this week, when I’ve had a chance to follow all the suggested links. I am somewhat confused by this whole topic. I have presented extensively over the last couple of years, and I always seem to get good feedback after my sessions. But I struggle to follow several of these new ‘PowerPoint rules’. I never read my slides, and I always feel I am comfortable just discussing the topic, adding anecdotes etc. I do however, find myself having bullet points in my slides. And, as much as I have reworked and reworked my presentations with the idea of replacing majority of text with images, in most cases I cannot think of an appropriate image to insert. (Its funny – I remember a couple of years ago reading research that said the only images in presentations should be specifically relevant to the topic…). So, I find myself in a quandary – I feel like I present well, but that my PowerPoint’s would not come up to scratch under scrutiny. Maybe they work because I generally run hands on workshops, and give the participants a copy of the presentation on CD or online, so they can follow all the links and engage with the activities. When I use bullets its just a brief word, to jog a readers memory when they are looking back on the resource, trying to remember what I said.

    And I feel concerned at the moment – I have one or two of those inspirational videos in a presentation I am preparing for next week… and while I agree you could watch it in your own time…many teachers who attend my sessions would say they would not have time.

  15. Greeting. The happiest is the person who suffers the least pain; the most miserable who enjoys the least pleasure.
    I am from Namibia and now study English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: “There are tons of ways to get cheap airline tickets to anywhere in the world.”

    Best regards :P, Brandie.

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