Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Slide Deck Style

Mary Kelly and I do a lot of speaking at library conferences on behalf of our other blog, Awful Library Books. We enjoy it, and hope to continue traveling to several conferences each year. Our presentation style has changed and developed over the years, which is what I want to write about today.

There is a movement in library conferences away from standard Power Point presentations with bullet points and a few clip arts thrown in here and there. Thank goodness, right? No one wants to listen to a speaker drone on and on when they can read the screen on their own perfectly fine. You don't need me, the speaker, if you can just read the material. Reading is what blogs, journal articles, and books are for. Ned Potter (@theREALwikiman) said it best in this presentation, titled "Stop Breaking the Basic Rules of Presenting."

Speakers are now encouraged to use something engaging like Prezi (which just causes motion sickness if done incorrectly...) or a slide deck. Basically, you use an image to relay the theme of the slide, and the speaker fills in the content. The pressure is on the speaker to make sense of what the audience is seeing on the screen through a verbally eloquent presentation. Done well, the audience really pays attention to the speaker and is more invested in the information and the concepts being shared - and less invested in what is on the screen. The screen becomes secondary; a visual cue that only hints at what the speaker is saying.

There are two down sides to this style of presentation:
1. It's much more difficult to time a presentation when you find yourself very conversationally talking about your topic. You have to have pretty good notes for yourself to stay on-topic and not give away concepts that you intended to use later in the presentation. The beauty of bullet points was that the presentation flowed as intended and the speaker tended to stay on track. You really have to practice your material to do a slide deck style presentation properly.

2. When the audience goes to look at the presentation later (because who provides handouts these days?? It's online, people!), they can not make any sense of what they are seeing. It's just a bunch of images. Unless they took really good notes, going back to see the presentation online is useless. If you missed the live presentation and go online to catch it later, you've really missed out on the content.

Mary and I have started doing more slide deck style presentations in the last year. We revised every presentation in our arsenal so that they weren't just a bunch of bullet points. We've gotten much better at just saying what we came to say. In the past, we were guilty of reading the bullet points on the screen and maybe adding a few examples. We really try to avoid that now.

We're still working on this style. It isn't easy, and we have been guilty of miss-timing presentations, giving away each others' examples too early in the show, and relying too heavily on our notes. We will keep practicing and getting better at it, but I admit that I miss the days of bullet-pointed Power Point. It was a safety and a crutch. We are definitely all-around better presenters without it, but it is something we have to work at. I hope that the information we are imparting to our audiences is more passionate and more pure. The words that come out of our mouths are more organic and inspire more conversation than rehearsed bullet points ever did. When one of us starts talking about something that the next slide was supposed to be about, we both have to think fast and come up with something relevant to talk about when we get to that slide. We've come up with some of our best examples in those moments, and new concepts that we hadn't thought of before.

As Mary says, it's "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" - and I like it!


  1. I use this style pretty much all the time now, but I don't actually write that many notes. I go over the slides so much and practice speaking out the main points that it begins to solidify in my brain. None the less, my presentations do have something of an improv feel to them. I say different things depending on how the audience responds.

  2. I learned how to do this as a seasonal park ranger in the 1980s. After you do presentations this way, you have no tolerance for people who read the slides.