Monthly Archives: June 2010

More evidence that the cognitive style of Powerpoint is a thing of the past – evidence from museums and art galleries

I have a new breakfast habit each morning.

Since I purchased my 64GB/3G iPad last week, I now take it with me to breakfast where I read the day’s newspapers on real paper (supplied by the cafe) while the iPad sits at the side of the table, open to email or twitter so I can get my day off and running.

This morning’s Age newspaper’s Arts and Style section contained an interesting article on art galleries and museums, and their curation. In the last few years, the Macintosh User group of which I’m currently President has continued a relationship with the featured museum, Museum Melbourne following an exhibition we participated and helped curate about the history of Apple computers. You can see some of it here.

Today’s Age article, called The Evolving Art of Assembly, featured interviews with Juliana Engberg who is the Artistic Director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and Melbourne Museum’s senior curator, Kate Phillips. You can read the full article from the Age here.

The essence of the article reveals how these two curators in their own styles are radicalising museum exhibiting in order to keep museums relevant in an age of social media and so-called information overload.

Here’s how the article describes Engberg’s work:

For Engberg, (the) process of assembling – ideas, people, work, concepts – has changed radically in the past couple of decades. The days when gallery-goers were content to wander, pausing by a canvas here, an information panel there, catalogue in hand, are long gone. The internet, blogs, social networking tools and myriad forms of multimedia mean we now engage and interact with art in constantly changing ways.

Kate Phillips’ work was described this way by the article’s author, Liza Power:

Curiously, for a place most people associate with ”do not touch” signs, Phillips says the biggest revolution in museum curation in recent years has come from making displays immersive and touchable.

”Kids are exposed to so much media from their earliest years now,” she says. ”They use computers, the internet, they’re accustomed to very sophisticated visual communication.” To engage them, museums have had to up the ante.

Does this sound familiar to Presentation Magic readers and workshop attendees? Of course! It’s the recognition that the display of information, whether it be on screen, on paper, or in a gallery or museum, must attend to the peculiar needs of the humans who will attend. And that whichever means you decide to choose to convey ideas needs to address that peculiar human trait of “engagement” if you’re to be successful in achieving your purpose.

In terms of presentation skills, it’s more evidence from unusual sources that the traditional way of presenting information – what has come to be called the Cognitive Style of Powerpoint – no longer cuts it with most generations, but in particular with younger generations whose media world of information is so interactive and visually rich.

How you keep your audience involved and engaged is the secret to great presenting, not just presenting a message of importance.

Presentation Magic presents to a Coaching audience which includes military Powerpoint users: funny stories of how they deal with the usual “Death by Powerpoint”

I gave a half-day Presentation Magic workshop to about 50 members of the Australian Psychological Society’s Interest group in Coaching Psychology on the weekend. (See the flyer APS IGCP workshop flyer)

Rather than giving them a cut down version of the two day or even one day course of training I offer (such as at Macworld), I gave the introduction session which outlines the essential problems with most presentation nowadays, especially if they follow the traditional style of powerpoint most favoured by academics and within the enterprise setting.

I emphasised the evidence base for a better way to present complex information, and tried out a few new slides for the first time in preparation for an upcoming training I’m offering to a major hospital in Los Angeles next month.

In the audience were many who worked in training for organisations, including the military. Even in Australia, the military perversion of powerpoint training persists, at least as far as I was told by two female staffers at my presentation’s end.

They were fully aware of the demoralising impact of the standard means of information transfer which occurs within military training, and it seems there are times when presenters merely take powerpoint slides developed by others in the military hierarchy and then deliver it without much personal investment. Quite different from my situation where I may be commissioned to do training, then develop the slides and supporting material (handouts, exercises, etc) myself.

One of the military trainers who acknowledged how boring some of these presentation in the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) can be told me it was SOP (standard operating procedure) for soldiers attending presentations, to begin to full asleep whereupon if this begins to happen too frequently, they are permitted, nay expected, to leave their seat and moved to the back of the class to stand up in order to stave off sleep!

In other circumstances, it is permitted to elbow one’s seated colleague in the ribs if they are seen to be falling asleep.

When I asked if this acceptable response to presentation giving is likely to change, the response was that with younger troops enlisting, the ADF was giving thought to recognising that expecting staff to attend presentations (and attend to presentations) needed to be rethought in terms of the style of presenting, ie., a move away from the cognitive style of powerpoint which still dominates especially in hierarchical organisations.

A couple of other humorous discoveries:

1. A number of people stopped me during the presentation to ask what software I was using. This is pretty common when I present to general groups, as compared to Macintosh-specific users. These questioners recognise I am not using Powerpoint (either for Mac or Windows), and some have never heard of Keynote. Such individuals usually work in the enterprise setting, while the self-employed seem to have some awareness of Apple’s offerings.

2. A few people actually asked specifically (during a break) if I was using Keynote. When I asked them why the question, their response was along these lines: “I’ve now been to two (or three) presentations and have been really taken by the change of style and the visual richness of the slides which really engaged me. On both (or three) occasions, the presenter said they were using Keynote.”

3. In the corporate world, the cognitive style of powerpoint still dominates, but there is an increasing acknowledgement that it simply isn’t working and more and more people are turning off and disengaging when they see a laptop and data projector when they enter a training room. They are hungry for change, but simply don’t know how, even though they have a sense of why.

4. I’ll post the workshop evaluations once they’re analysed and sent to me. I’m as curious as you are.

5. Finally, the person who approached me to run this workshop, and stuck her neck out in her belief in me, had asked me in the week before if I would send her a further note she could publish to perhaps get a few more people to enrol. Here’s what I wrote that apparently saw an extra 15 people enrol:

“This workshop will challenge many assumptions psychologists make about presentations, and use highly engaging and entertaining means to demonstrate how best to present to a variety of audiences, using cutting edge awareness of cognitive neuroscience as well as decades-old social conformity theory.

It might sound dry, but Les is invited regularly to the US to give his workshops, something akin to selling ice to Eskimos! You’ll be talking with your friends about this workshop in the weeks after, and wondering if there will be a part 2 to the workshop.”