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Technology doesn’t stand a chance with some of my colleagues…

December 1, 2009

OK, I am honestly not trying to be rather thick, but  I’ve got a big dilemma. Let me tell you about it – maybe getting it out of my system may help me work something out… maybe some of you will help me out… maybe both. I work in a training department in a university – so in plain English I train teachers. Remember that! It’s important! 😉 It’s also important to realise that what’s being written here doesn’t apply to all my teacher colleagues. By no means!

At first I wanted to focus on good old PowerPoint. Then other stuff cropped up… stick with me, please.

Disclaimers now out of the way, here is the story:  I’m still as keen as ever on creating as good a PowerPoint (or something else, for that matter – Prezi looks super cool!) as possible. As I’ve told you already, the Duarte way of thinking has won me over within about 5 seconds of starting to listen to Nancy and her team.  I’ve seen their stuff in pretty much every media that was published on and I’ve also been looking around elsewhere. This 18-slide presentation of Steve Jobs’ presentation ‘secrets’ got me thinking further about what I do and how I can improve it. Now I’ve just seen that Kineo have got ‘telling a good story’ and ‘making a big impact right from the start’ at pretty much the top of their list in their latest guide on how to create e-learning that works (well, they call it something a lot funkier: “10 ways to yawn-proof your e-learning”).

So what am I doing now? Getting my story to make sense, be easy to follow and be relevant to my audience (well, I am definitely trying to do that, for those sniggering doubters out there ;). Looking for visuals that have a high impact and are also relevant to my story. Giving the boot to 37 of my 40 words / slide (whenever possible, of course). Building in a bit of audience interaction every 15min or so. Setting as much time as possible (read: about half a day, usually, because of the other ton of stuff I need to get through) to rehearse. Success? Well, you’d hope so… at least I would, anyway…

What do I see and hear in the face-to-face sessions? Some quite positive feedback (I trust that only to some extent, as British people are ever so polite), eyes shining a bit and moving quickly from the new slide back to me (trust that a lot more – yey! got the 3-5 sec guideline covered ;)), people talking when they’re meant to (again, to some extent, as some prefer to vote anonymously rather than chat, but that is understandable – in some cases they’ve never seen me before; so we have both e-voting and chatting).

All good? In the face-to-face, pretty much. What if I transfer some of this stuff online (create an Articulate thing, for instance – I know, I know… shamelessly plugging my support website again…)? By no means I am putting a 2-hour thing, but rather a 10/15-minute resource, combining sensible visuals with audio, and little text. Clickable stuff, too. Lots of it! Students? They love that stuff! They think it’s cool and helpful. Teachers? (these are my main customers, remember?) Well, the situation is a bit different here… some say they don’t have time/headphones/patience to focus for 10/15min (and they’re picking on the students! LOL ;)) Some say they would really want to be able to read my PowerPoint and get it over with. Bullet points are ok, they want bullet points. But I don’t have too much text on the PowerPoint. Well, I should always have a transcript (mea culpa, I rarely use it in an anticipatory manner and realise I am extremely naughty doing that…). Would that make everything ok? I’m not sure…

The habit of being able to print PPTs is quite overwhelming in a university environment (this is only my personal view). Lots of people wish they had a rather vicious squirrel to throw at the presenter pretty much 10 min into any presentation, but at the same time are not too happy if the PPT is not there in a self-sufficient form after the presentation. I empathise with my colleagues, though: you’re often really busy and rather than creating an engaging PowerPoint (plan+storyboard+source graphics+rehearse until perfect), additional web resources (reduced Articulate with narration script, quizzes and engaging interactions + learning mazes + bibliographies annotated with sound and text in the VLE/LMS), as well as separate handouts – gapped or otherwise, you put together a PPT with bullets and links, impart knowledge for 2 hours, and then put it up on the VLE/LMS.

As much as I empathise with that approach, I must say that it sucks. Like Nancy Duarte says: students don’t actually learn too much about presenting in school – and I’d personally narrow it down to Higher Education (HE) – but secretly hope with all my heart that this does not happen in Graphics Design, Media, etc… (- must ask!) If you’re a student and you work out the courage to keep a steady voice, have well-aligned bullets on a PPT and tell your side of the story clearly in 10 min, you’re laughing.

Very few people draw around here anymore… I’m passing around Bluetooth tablets to annotate the screen/create mindmaps and the first reactions relate to them not being tablet PCs, the pen not being as accurate as pen on paper, the surface being unfamiliar, etc. Most people are not even interested in looking for the point of using them in the first place!

So how do I get my overworked colleagues to become less of what they are? I very much doubt technology will ever be as reliable, intuitive and user-friendly as some people wish (and they really wish it to be absolutely perfect: read their minds and perhaps anticipate their thoughts, too). Hell, stuff even crashes on Steve Jobs and he’s at the head of a mega technological empire!

I personally see technology as an enabler. If my PowerPoint crashes, it’ll be a bore, but I’ve still got a story to tell. And I’m happy. Yet if my printer crashes and I don’t have handouts, there will be serious complaints, as people are not happy using their own brains to rephrase what I’ve just said. They shouldn’t have to write, either. Still looking for the best way to nudge them in that direction… any ideas (I’ll save mine for another post)?

  1. Technology is just here for help us !

    • True, John. I’m currently doing my best to use pen and paper the best way I can 😉 After reading a few books on presentation design, it definitely makes sense to go back to the young kid mindset and just draw what you’re thinking…

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