Not presenting, but teaching (or how I learned to stop worrying about which platform to use)

I don’t know about you, but I feel I’ve always used PowerPoint fairly innovatively. Way back in 1997 I remember surprising a class of executives with a PPT consisting only of full slide images overlaid with minimal text – a style which is of course now ‘PPT de jour’.  Unfortunately, as we all know, familiarity breeds contempt, so when Prezi came along, after 10 solid years with PPT, it was little wonder that I initially seized upon it like an excited schoolboy…

  • A huge canvas – oooh
  • A path rather than linear slides – ahhhh
  • Rotation – oooh
  • YouTube insertion – ahhh

Well you get the idea with that…  So, anyway, I was quickly sold on almost exclusively creating and presenting prezis. And didn’t they go down well?! For one thing,  I felt that I was having to do less work (after I’d spent the time figuring out how it worked) as the prezis seemed to be prompting more intrigued and engaged audiences and a higher appreciation of my presentations. Yes there were one or two people who complained of feeling queasy but they were very much in the minority, the majority of feedback was along the lines of “Awesome presentation!” and “What software are you using? I’ve gotta get me some of that!” I should explain that I chiefly present to MBAs.

However, a few weeks ago I found myself in a bit of a position. I’d been ill, away at a two-day course, and had a ridiculously full email inbox and simply didn’t have the time to create a prezi for a presentation to the MBA class the very next day on research methods.

The presentation was a big deal to me as it was one of those ‘Holy Grail sessions’ , so called by me as it was embedded into the curriculum and also involved:

  • a faculty member being present giving their seal of approval
  • compulsory attendance
  • and, at the end of the presentation, the launch of a week-long information skills project that I’d had the freedom to devise myself

It doesn’t get much better than that does it? Well in fact it did as I had a rather wonderful extra resource on hand – the multi-talented Ange Fiztpatrick just before the end of her time as my maternity deputy (if you ever get the chance to work with Ange seize on it with both hands – she’s bloody amazing!)  I was planning that we would teach the session together. But as I’ve said, there was no time to create a prezi, so… I had no choice but to reluctantly fall back on PPT, using the tried and tested ‘full screen images with two or three words of text model’.  Between us we planned the session from scratch, sourced appropriate images and put it all together in a couple of hours or so. We felt criminally underprepared but had no choice but to go with it and sat together in my office to have a runthrough. Right from the word ‘go’ the presentation just zinged. Despite the fact that we were both tired (and my voice was steadily getting worse) we were really bringing the information alive, playing off each other, bringing in quips and asides and at the end of it we were frankly pretty confident about how it would go.

‘The Loife’ demonstrating stool technique

The following day we arrived for the lecture clutching stools that we’d just filched from the Computing Lab and proceeded to set-up for the session. We had decided to perch on stools, not because we wanted to look like a boyband ready to stand up at the key-change, but because when we ran through the presentation in my office it had been more like a sedentary, almost cosy, fireside chat and we didn’t want to mess with what had felt like a winning formula. Anyway, the next 50 minutes in Lecture Theatre 3 stands without a doubt as one of the most relaxed, hilarious, interactive and rewarding moments of my career thus far. It was like the scales had fallen from my eyes. This was teaching rather than presenting. And to my surprise the PPT helped with that, and not because of the fact that it was PPT but because we were using it as more of a backdrop. The focus instead was on the teaching and the conversation with the audience. I knew of course that this was the theory but had never experienced it so clearly in practice, perhaps because I’d always had too much time to prepare before and had subconsciously chosen not to be so brave.

The multi-talented Ange with her business journal of choice (photo © Rachel Marsh)

There’s no two ways about it, Ange and I were pretty euphoric after the session, we had been more loudly applauded than we could ever have anticipated, there were smiles all round, the faculty member was thrilled and many students came up to us before we left just to say a personal ‘thank you’. One of them even told us that it was one of the best lectures they’d attended on the MBA so far!

Why am I telling you this? Well not because I want to make it clear how fab Ange and I are as presenters, but because like the kid from South Park, we learned something that day: to concentrate more on the delivery, the conversation, the connection, the humour, and much, much less on which platform was the best to use and how to make it do clever things.

The fact that the session could have worked equally as well with a prezi was perfectly highlighted by the fact that one of the students came up to me at the end and said “I love the presentation software you use when you teach us. What is it?” My reply was: “Errr, that was PowerPoint, but before now I’ve been presenting to you with Prezi.” Student: “Oh, right, well, that was a great lecture anyway.” You see the platform hadn’t mattered at all.

5 thoughts on “Not presenting, but teaching (or how I learned to stop worrying about which platform to use)

  1. Thank goodness for your post Andy. You have identified something that has always bothered me about “Powerpoint training for librarians” etc – concentration on the illustrations can so quickly absorb attention away from the content and delivery of the actual talk. I have been amazed in the past to hear that colleagues don’t always run through, or even time, their presentations beforehand. Unless one is a really experienced and confident speaker I’d have thought this essential. Whatever kind of technique you use for illustrations (even slides or flipcharts) it doesn’t really matter as long as the material is appropriate and the talk is clear.
    Bad speakers are bad speakers, and adding PPT or Prezi won’t make them any better!
    Congratulations on getting your message over and engaging your audience!

  2. Very cool! I wish more discussions (and training sessions) among librarians focused on having the “conversation with the audience” as opposed to PPT v. Prezi v. web-based research guides (a third choice for presentation software debates). Cheers. –Steve

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