PPP — Persistent Presentation Paradigms

Today we start a new series, called “Persistent Presentation Paradigms, or The True Reason Why I Bore My Listeners To Tears”. Given that most of the reasons of presentations going sour lie in wrong or outdated paradigms, we are in for some serious paradigm breaking here.

The form of presentations as we know them today evolved only in the last few years — with laptop computers, presentation software, and LCD projectors being the main elements. All three of them haven been developed only about 25 years ago, in the early 1980s. Laptop computers haven been in broader use since the 1990s; LCD projectors became more common even later. As for the best known presentation software, PowerPoint, only since 2003 Microsoft has been emphasizing its place as prominent part of the Microsoft Office suite, thereby acknowleding the latest changes in the field of business presentations.

In order to understand those changes, we have to clarify what we mean by “presentation”. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a demonstration or display of a product or idea”. That involves a visual component, some kind of “show and tell”. Furthermore, we live in a world that is dominated by an abundance of information, and the excessive use of different media, and that is the challenge we face — coping with too much information and rapidly changing technologies at the same time.

We are only beginning to understand the challenge as well as the new rules of this new setup. Of course we will not neglect the “eternal truths” of public speaking from Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca to Dale Carnegie, Mortimer Adler, and modern-day speech coaches. They can teach us a lot, but they are more concerned with pure speeches without any visual aids, not to mention laptop computers, presentation software, and LCD projectors. The use of modern media is being discovered as a subject of serious study by cognitive psychologists as we speak. We would be well advised to listen what scientists like Tony Buzan, Stephen Kosslyn, and Richard Mayer have to tell us.

That’s what we are going to do in our new series, scrutinize old and outdated paradigms from the pre-multimedia age, and replace them with the rules of the new technolgies we use. We will talk about topics reaching from abbreviations, bulletpoints, clip art, and cartoons, over footnotes, graphs, handouts, and improvizing, to quantity (amount of slides), reading out loud (texts on slides), swapping slides, and timeframe. Feel free to talk back to us.

Axel Wendelberger