People don’t present like that because…

In   response to a tweet publicising the recent podcast “Why do people present like this” one tweeter replied as below:

Which of course is valuable counterpoint to the unopposed opinion expressed through this website. And for that I am grateful. It is important to recognise that other opinions exist and that the reality of a valuable presentation rests solely with the audience: the p cubed value of a presentation takes no account of the perception of the presenter of the story, the media or its delivery. If the audience take little away from a presentation, it has little value.

I would like to explore these various statements about a text based presentation.

a) Easier to understand
It is clear that an annotative supportive media (p2) may explain a concept in further detail and perhaps deeper context  than an illustrative presentation can do. In reading, the audience may gain deeper insight, further clarity or more facts than are available from the spoken word of the presenter. The reality is that such a presentation simply is a poor representation of a document, itself a superior mechanism for transferring complex data than a presentation and this poor document will be read by the audience in lieu of listening to the speaker. It is not possible due to cognitive load to read and listen to different inputs at the same time. A textual presentation must be maximised to ensure the reading audience receives a message and the question then is raised at the value or conflict caused by simultaneous speech.

A poor p1 will obviously be improved by a dense, text based p2. As will a poor delivery. If all that is required is transfer of data, this is best achieved via text, send a document. A text based p2 is a poor substitute for an excellent document and its delivery accompanied by speech will be of lesser value than a simple document diue to the time involved and distracting, metachronous p3 being delivered as the audience are challenged to read and listen at the same time. The scientific evidence is clear that two such inputs present a major cognitive challenge. This is without the extra computational load of cognition. A text based p2 is inferior due to cognitive load and this make it harder to understand a topic, rather than the converse.

b) Easier to remember
There is a perception that if something is read it is more easily remembered. This is the basis of most “study” where students pore over textbooks in pursuit of knowledge retention. The evidence of this value is held to be exam results; a textbook was read, data was retained, the exam was passed. The reality for presentations however may be different. There are few students who report effective “studying” whilst being distracted by a contrary input. The enforced silence in public libraries is not simply about a need for silence : “Quiet please, I’m trying concentrate.” Data retention is maximised if the brain is allowed to focus on one single processing channel. In a presentation, it is not possible to listen and read at the same time and thus cognitive process must focus on one or other channel to maximise result. If the chosen input channel is auditory, a text based p2 cannot be processed at the same time and is therefore distracting. Unfortunately, due to the nature of visual processing, text demands attention and therefore a text based p2 will be processed in preference to the auditory input and thus cognitive processes will be focussed on reading and not listening. The presenter becomes redundant.

c) Clearer take home message
If a clear take home message is on the last slide of the p2 of a presenter this is clearer than a picture of some robot in some film. It is essential in constructing a presentation that there is a clear message. This is the sole purpose of a presentation. There is no value or excuse for simply making “pretty slides.” The p2 must support the p1.Images themselves do not convey meaning. The purpose of p2 is in adding to the overall value of the presentation. It is not merely decorative. A presentation that has simply eschewed text is of lesser value and little message will be retained or “taken home.” The challenge of an alternative presentation style is in understanding that the message is central to the value of the presentation (for the audience) and that everything, p1,p2 and p3 are solely directed towards this purpose. The “take home message” is the purpose of the whole presentation and if this is not clear or retained, the presentation has failed. Simply writing the message on the slide set neither makes it clear, nor memorable. Simply reducing the amount of text is similarly useless. The message, in any presentation, must be transferred and retained by the audience as they leave. Writing it out and then reading it out neither makes it clearer or better retained.

d) Not as much fun for the presenter
There is little doubt that casting off the shackles of a text based, p2 presentation frees the presenter to engage with the audience. The resultant presentation is often more fun for the presenter and for the audience. It is an interesting topic of debate as to whether fun has any place in learning. A recent twitter discourse highlighted two sides of that discussion.

Fun in itself is of no educational value. The purpose of a presentation is usually not simply entertainment. The concept and value of the combination of entertainment and medical education edutainment has been discussed elsewhere. Can education happen whilst we are having fun? Can presenting be fun? The answer to those questions really lie with the audience.

e) Not as much kudos for the presenter
If kudos is a reflection of the value “given” to the presenter is it not a reflection of the value of the presentation as perceived by the audience, the p cubed value? A presenter is valued because of their presentations. How one quantifies and attributes such a value is essential to this discussion; developing the interest of the audience in a topic; stimulating further research by the audience into the topic; passing on a message that is understood, memorable and retained are all surely of significant value. Is this not the consummation devoutly to be wished, the glory of effective education, the aim of every presenter?
So, why don’t we present like that (with text based p2)?

why don't we

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