February 7, 2005
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Presentation Card

Presentation Card

Here's another Tinderbox Card: a presentation card. It's the first of several related cards.

The core problem with lots of PowerPoint-style presentations is not that PowerPoint is bad. The core problem is that people write what they have to say on the slide, and then they put the slide on the screen, and then they look at the screen and read you what they wrote.

This is what we used to do in 4th grade, and it was boring then. Plus, we've all got plenty of baggage left over from 4th grade, and so invoking grade-school rituals is probably not a very sound rhetorical strategy.

I pay special attention to this in my talks because (a) I have a poor speaking voice, (b) I use lots of hand-waving and American colloquialisms, mixed with (c) lots of technical terms, drawn from computer science and from literary criticism. The amazingly-talented people who do simultaneous translation at scholarly and cultural events have been known to weep when my airplane lands.

What you want to do, if you can manage it, is to tell two stories in every talk. Let the slides carry one story on their own, while you tell a different (but relevant) story. This increases the chance that the audience will hear something new or interesting. Even if they don't it gives them something to think about during your talk, and two ideas, juxtaposed, can create a third.

If you do this with simultaneous translation, warn the poor translator and suggest they stick with you and ignore the slides. Lots of people have enough English to work through the headlines on the slides, and with modern tools your slides should be visually rich anyway.

Computer people put too many words on their slides. The Tinderbox presentation cards are designed to remind you that the impact of the screen needs to come from a few vivid words and from visual impact and variety.

(PowerPoint is pretty bad, because it's so rigid. But even if everyone were using Tinderbox presentations, reading your slides would be a big problem)