A recent interchange on twitter was sullied by one commenter using the phrase “presentation gestapo”. This abuse was intended to express their disapproval of people who express an opinion on twitter about presentations, an opinion which runs contrary to theirs. Whilst I completely accept that it is reasonable to contribute to a discussion about such matters with differing opinions it is unfortunate when participants stoop to offend and intentionally use terms of abuse. Whilst not named directly I expect the commenter had me in mind. For that reason, I feel it is important to clarify the position from which my stance on presentations originates.
The majority of presentations that are constructed and delivered run directly contrary to a huge volume of psychological literature. It is not possible to read, listen and process and possibly write all at the same time. A text-based presentation causes cognitive overload such that a single modality predominates. This, unless specific actions are taken, will be reading. This process renders the auditory input as conflicting and ultimately counter-productive. It inhibits learning and data processing and because the stream is constant and ever-changing, virtually no data will be retained.
If text becomes the script or script notes of the presenter their delivery is necessarily stilted and less sincere. Both meaning and value are lost in its reception. The artificial structure of such bulletpoints gives equivalent measure to issues that are non-equivalent and further impairs understanding and retention. The delivery of the presenter is fixed firmly within the structure of the slide and any deviation perceived by an audience that has read ahead further devalues the message as received.
The use of images containing vast amounts of information forces the audience to attempt to interpret the whole. Red boxes and laser points do not focus an audience, they actually encourage scanning outwith prescribed areas. Journal articles reproduced in toto invite readers to read, the information subsequently of little value in addition to that already provided but in direct conflict with the spoken delivery. Graphics plucked directly from documents fail as visual aids as their interpretation within an article allows examination over an extended period of time that is not available to a presentation audience.
These are just a simple and limited list of psychological principles the standard powerpoint contravenes. The evidence that such presentations fail is also large and so copious that the psychological literature no longer feels this is a topic of value. Powerpoints as they are currently delivered, fail. They fail, not due to a lack of effort or care on the part of the presenter but due to science. This is not from a position of “style”, being a hipster or of totalitarian terrorism as implied in the offensive phrase “presentation gestapo.” It is from a simple scientific stance, from a position of seeing effort, time and messages wasted simply by poor construction. There is NO single, prescribed style. There is nor forcing others to accept the view from this site as the only approach. There are an increasing voice and evidence speaking against the old ways. Change is voluntary, the results are clear to many. Accepting that is a personal decision. No one should be criticised for attempting to improve communication.
Is it appropriate therefore to comment on slides or presentation? Yes, as appropriate as it is to comment on the message. There is an extended discussion of this as podcast available. If a presenter delivered a message that was great, life-changing or important one would expect it to raise discussion. If the delivery was so bad as to have been impenetrable this would raise discussion. If a slide deck was exceptional one would expect comment. Should comment only be positive? Should it only be with the express permission of the presenter? I don’t believe so. The simple act of standing on the stage and delivering a presentation is to invite comment, not only on the base message but the totality of the presentation. The privilege of being able to express one’s opinion on a topic brings with it the opportunity for the audience to comment. That audience does not need anyone’s permission to share their opinion even if that is negative.
Is Twitter the place to comment? As much as it is the place to comment on politics, gender dysphoria, football teams and cat videos. As an educational tool, it is exceptionally unlikely that a commenter is seeking to individually educate the presenter nor is the presenter seeking that tuition. Clearly identifying and naming a presenter with the intent of shaming them is unacceptable. My experience is that this is very rare and should be no more acceptable than referring to this position as part of the presentation gestapo.
As much as it is important to highlight the use of offensive and bullying language surely it is important to highlight bad and good examples of presentations.? The majority of style picked up by new presenters comes simply from copying both at conferences and images shared through social media. It must therefore be appropriate for comment to be positive or negative, at the conference and beyond. If a presenter does not wish this to happen, they should not offer their own opinion. If commenters disagree with this stance that of course is perfectly acceptable in a mature debate, not resorting to offence and abuse. The aim of p cubed presentations is to help presenters realise their goal of effective presentations, stimulate debate and value effective communication.