Contingency Plans and Slideuments

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.

The slide deck is designed in word. Think about it. Having the prototypical office drone prepare one or two pages in word as the base for a presentation can be a huge boost in efficiency in certain office settings. My model contains the information architecture needed to make those documents parseable both in printed form and in closeup zooms on the projector.1

Right, back to the contingency plan. Technology is error prone, so the more low tech you go, the more dependable your backup plan becomes. In case of the slideument you already have a solid fallback for when the projector or your computer lets you down. Bringing a flip chart or a chalk board so that you can draw the diagrams that were meant to appear on the screen will provide a solid experience that comes rather close to a meticulously planned slideument presentation with animated information layers.

As for my idea to stage such a breakdown as a teaching method, only to emerge on the other side and showing the upside of what technology can afford us: Prepare a document in the mold of a slideument that you hand out before the session. Place each document in a writing case that doubles as a blotting pad and provide a pen. Ask your audience to take notes and doodle right in the document, but not to remove the paper from the writing enclosure. The paper must remain in the writing enclosure because, as you can reveal at the end of your session, it transfers the writing to another sheet of paper underneath via carbon paper. Low tech, remember?

After the session you can scan the notes of each participant to create a digitally annotated pdf of the handout, encapsulating the information of your session in machine readable form. You are back to the paperless office and yet, you are never dependent on technology to not fail you. At least in case you bring replacement pens for those that break.


  1. A proof of concept will eventually find its way to my lab, but right now I don’t have the time to work on it. Sorry if this seems a bit abstract and hard to imagine. ↩︎

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