Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Improving presentations

I just finished Garr Reynold's book: Presentation Zen.  It's a short read, but it was a good reinforcement of what I believe presentations need to be about. Having read the book, it is obvious that Dean Shareski drew heavily on material from this book for his video:

PowerPoint Extreme Makeover

What were the takeaways from reading the book?  I liked the emphasis on the fact that a presentation should be about storytelling.  Facts and figures are readily available on the Internet.  Where a presentation can make a great deal of difference is when it answers the question of "So what?"  In order to answer this question, the presenter needs to be able to understand what it is exactly they are trying to say and why it is important. This requires planning.  Garr recommends that this planning take place offline, with paper and pencil.  When you move into slideware like Keynote or PowerPoint, you set up three anchors and then use the slideware to build blank slides to follow these anchors.

Some other concepts that Garr explores in the book include signal to noise ratios.  By this he means simplifying slides to their essential elements, and doing away with distracting borders, and clutter.  Although he does not state this explicitly, many of his graphs and charts, in the improved slide have a summary headline.  Instead of "Number of bikes sold 2002-2007", the caption reads "Over 5,000 bikes sold in 2007."  This relates to Dean Shareski's point that if everything has the same emphasis, it is hard to tell what is important. 

Having worked this past year to improve student presentations, one of the questions that came up was what would a scope and sequence for teaching students to do better presentations look like?  For one thing we need to start with presentations taht teh students find meaningful.  For most students especially those at an international school, a presentation on 19th century American reformers has little meaning, and they are not going to be very passionate about it.  It will be interesting to see if I can work with teachers this year on improving presentations.  I like Garr' 4 step process of brainstorming away from a computer, grouping ideas together and identifying the core, and storyboarding (off the computer initially and then in the slide sorter).

Another takeaway was the idea investigating Merlin Mann as a speaker for one of our NESA conferences.

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