I see bad habits

Keynote Notes
All presentation software allows you to add speaker notes to a presentation, why doesn't anyone use this feature?

Wednesday night my wife and I headed out to the Middle School parent’s orientation.  I’ve been a bit leery about this transition, so I was looking forward to getting into the school and seeing what was up.  The evening began with a series of presentations which were redeemed by presence of personality in the speakers.  Nevertheless, each of the presentations was an example of a bad us of projection.  So much so that my wife, who normally tells me to behave myself (she has to because I rarely listen), pointed out one of  the worst offenses.  Let me run down some, not to show how awful the people presenting were but to encourage anyone who reads this to approach creating a presentation differently when given the chance.

First, the screen in the auditorium was rather large, and dominated the stage area.  The angle of the projector also allowed people to walk in front of the image without being blinded or casting a shadow on the screen.  The set up of the screen elements was well done – but fell flat at the moment the computer was connected. There were two main flaws in how the computer was connected to the system.

  • There were six separate presentation files which were thrown up on the screen.  In addition to these, there was also a movie file played on screen.  These separate presentations should have been stitched together into one whole, in order to avoid the jarring pause when one presentation came to an end and another was loaded.
  • The first problem could have been alleviated some if the computer’s display settings were set to extend the desktop, they weren’t.  Instead, the laptop was set to mirror the display on to the projection screen.  This meant that whenever one presentation ended, the audience got to watch as the computer operator moved their mouse around looking for the next file.  This a huge, but common, blunder, because so few people even know their laptops can be set to use multiple monitors (and, to be honest, in Windows it’s a pain to search for).

The result of these two issues was the creation of a sloppy feeling regarding the hand-off between speakers, one which could have easily been avoided.

Second, the presentations were 90% text, and far too many of the few graphic images used were generic clip-art.  Each presentation contained at least one bullet-point list of multi-sentence elements, often shrinking the text to the point where it was unreadable.

The generic images made the slides feel oddly impersonal in a world where a classroom may have several dozen cameras at any given time.  As a parent who has a child arriving in that school next year, I would have liked to see what her classes would look like when in session, or what her workbooks are going to look like.  Generic clip-art fails to help create the emotional connected needed for good communication.

While the bullet-point lists were often difficult to read, it was obvious they weren’t designed for the audience anyway.  As my wife pointed out to me, “Everyone had their backs to us and just read the screen!”  This is one of my pet-peeves in public speaking, and I see it all too often.  Whenever a speaker creates a bullet list with massive amounts of text they are tipping their hand regarding the purpose of their slides.  While the audience can see such slides, they are really nothing more than publicly displayed speaker notes.  Speakers flood their slides with lists like this from a fear they will “miss” something.  When slides are used this way, speakers too often cease communicating, and join the audience while the crowd reads through the notes.  A good lesson to remember is imagery created by the word “bullet.”  Bullets are fast, and a list of bullets should have elements which can be glanced at and understood in a moment.  This frees the audience to return their attention to the speaker. I typically tell people avoid the temptation of bullet points all together – but if you want to use them, you might as well use them as intended.  Speakers who want to have their notes with them can put them on their screen or print them out – a projection screen should be used to communicate with the audience, not the speaker.

I could go on, but those were the major snags.  We met some clearly dedicated people on Wednesday night, but they suffer from the same systemic problem I see in every other venue I find myself in.  Too many organizations assume the presence of technology is enough to create communication, there isn’t enough being done to teach people how to use technology wisely in order to facilitate it.