Watch my presentation or I’ll shoot this dog . . .


National Lampoon once ran a cover of a nice, spotted mutt, tongue out, looking sideways at a pistol pointing at its head.  There was a sort of a caption:  “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

That’s one way to try to boost circulation!  I first saw the magazine on the rack in a small pharmacy in Colorado Springs, across the street from Colorado College, between rounds of the Colorado College Invitational Debate Tournament.  Being short of cash and in sore need of eye drops, I looked at the magazine but put it back on the rack.  The woman at the cash register watched me carefully.  When I got to the register, she said, “You know, they’ll do it, too!  They’re just the sort of people who will kill that poor dog!”

(I imagine that woman has led Colorado Springs’ dramatic move to the right in politics.)

The publishers got that woman’s attention, didn’t they?

Cartoon by Mark Goetz, on the failure to heed Edward Tufte

Comes an article in The Scientist, “Pimp your PowerPoint.” It’s a news story based on a book by Michael Alley.

In the middle of the 19th century blackboards were all the rage. According to Pennsylvania State University engineering communication professor Michael Alley, it was common for universities and research institutions to proudly advertise that they had the only slate writing board in a 100-mile radius. Scientific lectures became more engaging than they’d ever been.

More than 150 years later, there’s still room for improvement. “People are not anywhere close to tapping the potential that a PowerPoint presentation offers,” Alley says. “We have a tool that can do an incredible amount, and people just waste it.” Who hasn’t been lulled into a somnolent state by some well-intentioned scientist presenting his research to a captive audience by reading a seemingly endless stream of bullet points?

Any media, done well, can be wonderful.  P. Z. Myers’ paean to Prof. Snider and his color chalk artworks reminds us that even a chalkboard can be a place of art, in the eye and hands of someone who gives thought to the work and practices the skills necessary to communicate well.  Looking around my classroom today, I note that better than half the whiteboard space features paper maps held to the board with magnets (which the kids like to steal).

Sometimes a flipchart is all you have, and sometimes a flipchart is all you really need — again, with thought to the ideas to be presented and a bit of polishing of the skills.

The piece in The Scientist relates useful ideas to help somebody who wants to make a better, less sleep-inducing, communicative PowerPoint (or better, maybe, KeyNote) presentation.

Unplug, think, and write
According to Galloway, using PowerPoint to make a great presentation starts with powering down the laptops and writing out an outline on index cards or a legal pad. “People have to shut off their computer and go away as they’re writing their PowerPoint presentation,” he says.

Establish your assertion
Alley says that he starts planning each slide by writing down a single sentence stating the idea he wants the audience to take away. “You have defined what it is you need to support that statement,” he says. “That’s where it starts.” Alley adds that the sentence should only take one or two lines, should consist of only 8–14 words, and should appear in 28-point font when inserted in the final PowerPoint presentation.

Assemble the visual evidence
Let the assertion sentence for each slide guide your decision as to which visuals should accompany it. Use “explanatory images”—not decorative or descriptive images—to support each assertion, says Joanna Garner, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University. When describing the context or methods of your research, photos and movies are ideal pieces of evidence; when presenting your results, elements like graphs, tables, or charts (appropriately highlighted to emphasize key points) will do the trick.

Read more: Pimp your PowerPoint – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/article1.jsp?type=article&o_url=article/display/57186&id=57186#ixzz0oSXiXCT6

Two things you gotta have first:  Something to say, and a desire to say it well.

Resources:

The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid, by Michael Alley, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2003. $39.95.

Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, by Garr Reynolds, New Riders Publishing, 2010. $31.49.

slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol, Calif., 2008. $34.99. (She’s got a blog, too.)

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn., 1983. $40.00.

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7 Responses to Watch my presentation or I’ll shoot this dog . . .

  1. [...] “Watch my presentation or I’ll shoot this dog” [...]

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  2. elektratig says:

    I’m old enough to remember when that issue of The National Lampoon came out. 1970? That has got to have been the greatest magazine cover ever conceived.

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  3. mark says:

    In the middle of the 19th century blackboards were all the rage.
    Perhaps this helps explain Glenn Beck.

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  4. John Mashey says:

    Oh, my comment was just an offhand joke…
    But of course I should have been worried….
    But the Norvig version of Gettysburg does have some resemblance to SBOE’s rewrites…

    Like

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    SBOE worried about the phrase “conceived in liberty.” Contrary to the abstinence training program that has delivered Texas to #1 in the nation in rate of teenage pregnancies and students pregnant with child (not questions).

    Like

  6. John Mashey says:

    1) Tufte gives a great all-day course, which includes copies of his 4 books, and is well worth it. Those 4 books are beautiful and instructive. Book #4, “Beautiful Evidence” has teh chapter on Powerpoint:
    “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.”

    2) However, PPT can be useful if you break most of the marketing-style rules of which Tufte complains. Marketeers used to complain that some of my slides had more than 3 bullet items, and were filled with dense tables and complex graphics. I pointed out to them that those slide sets tended to be the ones for which customers most frequently requested copies, and they might ask those customers why they wanted those, rather than some far prettier marketing slides. That took care of that.

    3) But, no discussion of this topic can be serious without Peter Norvig’s Gettysburg Address, in Powerpoint. Oh, maybe the SBOE has banned Gettysburg as well?

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  7. Really I liked your writing skill..

    Like

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