Saturday, 24 September 2011

CPD23 - Thing 17 - Presentation Software 'ology'

Despite a week or so with no CPD23 Thngs related posts, I am still keeping up with the activity programme. Thing 17 was slightly delayed in being published and I wanted to wait until this appeared so that I could keep with the proper sequence (since I like orderliness).

Give yourself a pressie (or should that be 'Prezi')

Prezi is a popular piece of presentation software which enables you to create dynamic (sometimes rather seasick-inducing) presentations that are not bound by the limitatations of a slide pack as with Powerpoint and similar tools. Its power is in demonstrating connections and is potentially more visual if used well.

Here is my first attempt at producing a Prezi-based presentation:

Prezi compared to Powerpoint

As a first time user, I found Prezi quite difficult to manipulate and you definitely need to take time to plan and think through the structure. Some of the downsides are that there is no spellcheck, limited font and editing capability. There are also the usual plusses and minusses of being available only online.
Having said that, Prezi is cool and innovative. It offers a refreshing alternative to the problems of Powerpoint which include the following:
  • screens detract from eye contact with your audience
  • reading and listening is distracting
  • slides as crutches
  • information overload
  • wordy and bullet points
It's hard to believe that it is over 25 years since Powerpoint was first devised. The idea was developed by Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin, two employees of a company called Forethought back in 1984, before eventually being bought out by Microsoft. Powerpoint now represents almost a 95% share of the market with over 500 million users worldwide and businesses make an estimated 30 million powerpoint presentations each day (facts and figures from BBC website article on 'The Problem with Powerpoint').
No wonder with Powerpoint's reach globally in business and organisational life, people feel frustrated and are keen to seek alternatives. That's human nature. In fact that's why Powerpoint developed in the first place - as an alternative to overhead projectors and acetate sheets (remember those?) and flip charts. (As an aside you might like to know that it was reported in the Guardian on 28 August 2011, that there is an Anti-Powerpoint Party (APPP) in Switzerland who want to outlaw the software).

How to improve the lost art of presenting

While I can sympathise with the APPP,  we have to remember though, that presentation tools are only that - if people are bored by Powerpoint (or other presentation software packages) then is it really the fault of the tool? People are bored by people.
Powerpoint used sparingly and in a considered, structured way can be very powerful. I'd agree that creating presentations is an art and a science. Too many people put no creative thought into the process. But when they do the results can be very appealing and engaging.

This is where I'd recommend everyone to read either:
  • Slide:ology : The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte (who created the Al Gore slides for the film an 'Inconvenient Truth' and who blogs at the Duarte blog)
  • or alternatively Garr Reynolds's book Presentation Zen (who blogs on professional presentations at the Presentation Zen blog).
These books both advocate a more creative visual way of delivering presentations. You can read a review of both books on the Powerpoint Ninja blog.

To see what we are all missing I took the following title to heart and include as an example of the potential of great presentations (rather than the bad or the ugly).
View more presentations from @JESSEDEE

I don't think Powerpoint presentations will die yet given their ubiqutousness, despite the advent of new presentation tools like Prezi (and Google Docs, Sliderocket and others). However we should all do our best to think carefully about audience friendly presentations, bearing in mind scientific opinion and research about cognitive neuroscience which should inform our delivery of presentations (See 'The Scientist' article 'Pimp your Powerpoint').

Maybe there will be a way of integrating Prezi into Powerpoint (if they are bought out by Microsoft?) so we get the best of both tools....and that idea is already taking shape in the form of pptPlex, which is a Microsoft beta version addon that provides similar Prezi-type functionality, although this because it is a test version it has limitations (such as not allowing videos to be integrated into your presentation).

When neither Prezi or Powerpoint will do

It also seems ironic that in this most media orientated of ages we seem to have lost the art of public speaking and delivering confident presentations. As a result, as the journalist Cory Franklin highlights in his article 'Powerpoint: the kudzu of modern communication' bemoaning its dreary reach and strangling of human communication, we seem to value a young novice with highly developed technical skills appears more seductive than a far more polished communicator but who lacks the technical know-how.

In some circumstances we should remember however, that no presentation IT software tool will do. Just imagine our political leaders delivering their major speeches using either Powerpoint or Prezi regardless of their merits in context. Can you really picture when Winston Churchill gave a major war speeh going 'Click' - Next slide: "We shall never surrender." It would never have worked......

Where information professionals can help

As Ned Potter, the Wikiman has shown with his creative Prezi based presentations (such as Escaping the Echochamber), information professionals can aid their organisations in marketing and communications skills (and of course in directing people to using the right tools in the right context). We should continue to seek out these new tools and weigh up their pros and cons to make sure they serve our organisational and personal purposes.

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