TED Conversations

Maureen Dilger

Innovation Leader, Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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Why are text-heavy presentation slides so common in the workplace?

I just finished reading Garr Reynold's book, Presentation Zen. It's great inspiration for anyone looking to deliver simpler, more effective presentations.

I've put his principles into action and am determined to continue to push further as the rewards are evident. It does make me sit back and wonder:

* Why is it acceptable to deliver text-filled presentations?

* Why isn't the art of storytelling on performance reviews?

* Why isn't this taught throughout our educational career?

* Isn't TED a proof point of how 18 well thought out minutes can make a difference?

* How can we start a movement to make it better?

I have some thoughts but would love to hear from you. Tag, you're it.

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    Jun 29 2011: It's part of our aesthetic habit to make things simple and elegant. This is kind of like applying the Occham's Razor principle applied to presentations.

    The only conflict I can note in these simple presentations without text is that you have to compromise information. This doesn't always have to be the case, a well written text can sum up the idea better than a longer text that is redundant but between two pieces of information that are written equally well the shorter one should contain less information.

    However there is also information which can be inferred by the reader. If you tell me something like "there was heavy rain and thunderstorms outside of Billy's house" I can assume that it's also very cloudy and the sun is not visible. etc.

    So balancing those out would be probably the most important part of composing a simple presentation that gets the point across. There are also problems with iteration, the meaning of iteration can change with respect to cultures and upbringing or even historical context. But I won't get into that.
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      Jun 29 2011: Waker of Peace The Healthy (aka Budimir) - I don't know what I like more - you're response above or the picture you painted in your bio.

      Your comment on short, well written text reminds me of the "six words" concept which is talked about in a 2006 Wired article..."Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and is said to have called it his best work." Check out the article as it asked writers like Stan Lee to Kevin Smith to Frank Miller to give it a go.

      http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html
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        Jun 29 2011: Hello, finally someone who appreciates my profile description.

        These remind me of aphorisms. They are pretty cool, some are deeply philosohphical as well. But it takes a certain kind of mind to comprehend them. :-)
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    Jun 28 2011: easier to refer to the content?it takes a creative mind to present ideas/information.
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      Jun 29 2011: Agreed. I also think we all have it in us. The hard part is stretching that part of our brains. I think it was in one of Sir Ken Robinson's talk where he tells the story of if he asked a room of 5 year olds if they can draw and they all raise their hands. Interestingly, when he asks a room full of adults only about 2 raise their hands.

      Just today I tried a little experiment during a meeting and served up a question. When various people responded, I handed them a post-it and asked them to draw it instead of telling me in words. Almost everyone told me they couldn't draw and could they just say it in words. For me, I think it's just going to take some energy to get over my bad habits of doing it the "usual" way (as it's often faster - well, in the moment it is). Interestingly, I'm getting faster answers the more visual I serve up the challenging problem/solution.
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        Jun 29 2011: yes, it is in all of us. it often get brought out at the right time with the right tool in safe learning enviroments.

        i like the experiment you tried and maybe sometime the audience gets used to the "usual "ways too

        i found there are so much to learn about effective learning;)
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    Jun 27 2011: People want to play it safe in front of their peers - any slip-up could cost you the next promotion. A script is percieved as a safety net. But if you talk about what you are passionate about you don't need a script no matter the number of listeners.

    So the conclusion is that maybe a lot of people are trying to play it safe in a boring job they can't afford to quit.
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      Jun 29 2011: You're probably right. The sad thing is that it may be hurting their job and/or the perception others have of them. I'm sure you could think of 10+ people who once you get a meeting invite from them re: an hour presentation, you immediately have a sense that it's going to be work on your part as you're in for lots of text/data/stream of consciousness.

      My conclusion...I can only control myself and am going to work like mad to resist old habits and present like a storyteller. I'll let you know how it goes (hopefully, I'll still have a job :)
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    Jun 27 2011: Because that's probably how the presenters received their education and professional development themselves. Not a bad thing, just too involved for our terribly short attention spans these days..
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      Jun 27 2011: I'm curious to know your thoughts given you are a teacher on how we better prepare the next generation given easy access to an abundance of information.

      I was watching on Frontline the other day a series on "The Digital Nation" and how our educational system is based on old models (memorize history/information) and instead needs to better prepare kids with the ability to hone in on key information (vs. all), problem solve and collaborate to find the answers. Do you see that happening?
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        Jun 27 2011: Definitely - it has started already.

        I've seen exactly the same thing happening on the Professional Development circuit through teaching. Ironically, for PD in Information and Communication Technologies, many teachers still meet face-to-face and are not taking advantage of the very technology they are supposedly learning about.

        Don't get me wrong - the general attitude is positive acceptance and a genuine desire to make good use of technology for the purposes of teaching, but the current generation of teachers seem to prefer content delivery from an 'expert' at the front of the room with hand outs or overheads. Gasp!

        But we can't knock any learning styles, including the ones we consider 'last century'.

        New Zealand has a great curriculum - very focused of Key Competencies, skills and processes rather than content. Content is still vital, as that is what motivates students - special interest - but it's much more open and available than in the past. Access no longer bottle-necks with the teacher.

        Ultimately, it's about changing habits - which is the hardest thing to change. Also, the scope goes far beyond the classroom but the renaissance will truly start with the kids - as long as they have guidance from us oldies..
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          Jun 29 2011: Totally agree about habits. I'm trying to kick mine and rebuild the storytelling muscle. For me, it doesn't matter if slides or technology are even used at all. In fact, some of the most memorable presentations or teaching lessons I can recall are the ones that didn't have any slides and/or they blended seamlessly into the story that I was wrapped up in.
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        Jun 29 2011: I have always had great success 'engaging' ("to use the parlance of our time"- Geoffrey Lebowski) kids in my class by telling a story.

        It can be a new one or one they've heard before. They love it. Absolutely focused and that's 100% of the class.

        It is, in fact, one of the few activities I've done as "a teacher standing at the front of the class" that engages everyone in the room.
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      Jun 29 2011: To clarify, I completely agree that there is a time and place for text-heavy documents that are handed out (and ideally provided as a pre-read). I'm more trying to understand why "slideware" (power-point/keynote) with lots of text is used when presenting in front of a large group.

      Whether it's for social fun or serious work place situations, I've learned that slideware is most effective when it's presented simply and touches an emotional cord. Hence, why I'm scratching my head as to why I along with others have been abusing ppt for so long (sounds so dramatic, but you get what I mean).
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      My simple conclusion is that it's because the old way is easier to do in the moment but may add more time later as you have to continue to remind/retell/etc. Thus, I'm trying hard to resist the urge and to start building the muscle of the simpler more effective route earlier.