Sorry if the following is a bit non sequitur, but I need to write down an idea that came to me just now. I was thinking of how to stage an apparent technical breakdown in a training situation for high stakes presentations to drive home a point about always providing a fallback for when technology lets you down. Create something that is truly memorable. That led me to think about how to create a very specific fallback, but also an augmentation for my slideument model.
This is where you’ll have to suspend disbelief for a bit, because I have not yet published this model in English. My slideument model is tailored for an office meeting kind of presentation, much in the mold of what Edward Tufte proposes: Don’t use powerpoint, instead bring a printed document with the data and information on it that the participants proceed to discuss in the meeting.
Only that I propose that you bring not only a document to hand out to the audience but also a slide deck that is nothing but closeups of that same document. In the powerpoint version of the document you can animate stuff in sections that are deliberately left blank in the printed version. The audience may then take notes or doodle in those spaces in their own printed version of the document, leaving them with both a task that facilitates information uptake and a deliverable to take home that is perfectly suited to their take on the subject being discussed in the meeting, because they themselves annotated it while watching the presentation.
I have to admit when it comes to Hypertext Theory I am old school: The web is not a hypertext medium.
Be that as it may, one very interesting article I found at the often commendable Content Magazine illustrates how a theory like that of hypertext can (and should) inform our design decisions in how we create meaningful structures. You’ll see that Information Architecture is not something that the advent of the Internet brought about, but rather relies on much older concepts for us to put into our toolboxes, wherever we attempt to work with information.
And if you happened to have paid really close attention to new web projects like Media1 or Anil Dash’s proposal to abandon the web page model altogether,2 well, you may be surprised to find out how much of the sentiment expressed in these ideas has already been around in theory for quite some time.
Kudos to Anil for making the topic popular, but really, the streams vs static pages debate could use some input from information science or other disciplines that have discussed this in the past. Please? ↩︎
What Part Of Your Presentation Do You Want To Be Remembered
My answer is a resounding: It depends.
When you want to maximize the impact of your presentation, you will have to invest some effort and deliberate the design constraints that apply to your case. Generic descriptions of the communication objective and content like “business material” or “memorable” are insufficient to determine how you should tackle the task at hand.
Instead, you will need to consider what kind of information you want to convey and in what context the presentation takes place and then optimize for the objective that will guide your process. Are you giving a business pitch that has to compete with other pitches and needs to stand out? Are you looking to get the brass on board with a strategic decision in an internal meeting? Are you trying to inform different stakeholders of critical information so that they can orchestrate their efforts?
The kind of style that you see in the videos in my lab is geared to work in the medium of web video and thus it leverages the established conventions for the medium that drive user expectations, timing considerations, and so on. Moreover, the aesthetics and pop culture references are familiar to the target audience and serve as a hook that needs to support no more than a handful of points each. Then again, part of the message is: See what you can do with these tools.1 The novelty effect of the style adds a layer of information that goes beyond the content.
That kind of hook is something you may want to consider when your presentation has to compete for attention. Standing out can be a means in itself if you need people to remember just one key piece of information and want to give them an item they can readily evoke and talk about when there is a break in between sessions. Nancy Duarte calls this technique the STAR moment. Give your audience something they’ll always remember, or at least something to talk about for the day, because that’s where audience retention is really kicking in.
In other scenarios the wow-factor can be counterproductive. When you need not vie for attention, giving your audience just one thing to talk about by virtue of a super salient feature in your presentation (like the style) actually takes away attention from the kind of information you could and probably should be conveying instead. Attention is a finite resource. Your job, as the presenter, is to manage it to the benefit of your audience.
My one final piece of advice on the matter of style: Never let the message that you took the effort to shine up your presentation outshine the message of your presentation.
And if we’re completely honest, it’s: Look what I can do. But if you’re willing to invest the time, so can you. If you’d rather spend the money, I’m there for you. ↩︎
The one thing we should never lose sight of when we talk about technological innovation is that technology is never the agent.1 So any process about innovation has at some point or another to account for the intrinsic motivations of the people who use and create technology. Because it may well be that there is a systemic incentive in the decision making process that stops innovation wherever it runs counter to the interests of those who happen to be in charge of funding the development of a technology.2 Part of that systemic aversion to innovation may well be that people simply hate to be proven wrong so much that they rather protect their precious beliefs.
I came to think of this because of the current debate around technological determinism in pop-sociology circles and because I had to immerse myself in innovation literature a bit recently and remembered a nice post from Patrick Meier about how to leverage insights from the decision making process in large organizations for innovation purposes. He pointed to a classic case study from naval gunnery in the late 19th century. It was quite the feat to get the navy brass to even look at the improvements that chance afforded, let alone implement it to advance their battle prowess. A very interesting read that leads you to some more resources about the topic as well.
Please don’t come at me with actor-network-theory about this. My point is about the incentives of agents. Agentivity is not a property of the tool. The tool may shape our perception of the world and influence our actions in it (hammer, meet nail and everything else that suddenly looks like it needs hammering) but ultimately it is human decision making that makes society, complex as it may be. ↩︎
History tells us over and over again that coming up with the concept is far from enough for an idea to take hold. More importantly: great ideas do not always win over inferior concepts. ↩︎
You should know that for all my obsession with theory and methodology I very much value the kind of knowledge that comes with experience. The problem with that kind of knowledge, however, is that it is usually locked into the brain of the person who has accumulated said experience.
This is rather unfortunate, because it is really difficult for us to share information that we use instinctively. Usually we don’t even know how to access that information, although it subconsciously helps us make better decisions. Such kind of knowledge may be called intrinsic knowledge when it is opaque to our rational thinking, like our knowledge of how to walk without falling down.1 It may also be called idiosyncratic knowledge when it is less opaque, but still tied to the individual experience of the person possessing it.