More mainstream media evidence that presentation skills need to enter the 21st Century – looking at generational divides and why default Powerpoint won’t cut it.

Many Presentation Magic readers and workshop attendees will know that I am always on the lookout for evidence for how presentations are changing to suit changing times.

Often, technologies and shifting economies drive the need for presentations to alter, especially when audiences shift in their desires to be informed and entertained.

The last week I have come across three mainstream media articles I wish to share with you now to reinforce the message that audiences are changing and the standard default means of delivering messages via slideshows  – the so-called Cognitive Style of Powerpoint – no longer cuts it.

Media Evidence #1: The Age – Education Liftout, August 2, 2010

Each Monday the Melbourne newspaper of record, The Age, publishes an Education Age liftout looking at all things education, right across the age range.

There is also a blog attached to the section, known as Third Degree. Last week, its author, Erica Cervini, penned an article entitled, Let me entertain you, where she reviewed some British educational research into how students evaluated their tertiary lecturers. The research, by University of Hertfordshire lecturers, Mark Russell and Helen Barefoot, suggested that students want more from their lecturers: they want them to be edutainers, lecturers “who can mix education with entertainment”.

Now this is not the first time I have heard this term used. In my Presentation Magic workshop, I will often refer to unusual places where presentations take place. In one case, I refer to a Fort Lauderdale cruise company, who places entertainers on board cruise ships. Their task is to nightly entertain patrons with illustrated talks on a variety of subjects, from the food they will encounter at the next port of call, to other more esoteric subjects. Above all else, their publicity blurb says… well, here’s the section on the webpage for you to read:

The link to read more of this service, and maybe apply is here.

A few more choice quotes from the Education Age article:

The academics found that students commended their tutors and lecturers for motivating them and for being a ”great person”. ”He is a legend with an incredible sense of humour,” one student wrote.

The students also rated highly a lecturer’s ability to ”edutain” them. They described their classes as ”fun” and ”enjoyable”.

”As a student I look forward to his lectures, his charisma and dynamic teaching style are a breath of fresh air,” one student wrote. ”He adds flair and humour to his teaching making learning difficult subjects seem a little easier.”

Now there will be many a lecturer who will shudder at “giving in” to the whims of students, who can be very capricious with their desires and what they think is good for their education. Unfortunately, particularly at the undergraduate level, students have insufficient depth of subject knowledge nor knowledge of their own learning styles to drive the means by which they can best learn.

Post graduate students, perhaps because they’ve been around a lot longer and are more motivated to turn their education into a career, may be more circumspect about what makes for a good lecturer.

Let me finish this first part of the blog entry with some fine quotes from the Age article:

Lecturers are also being trained to think they have to be edutainers by those in charge of university teaching awards. Australian universities also ask students to nominate tutors and lecturers for teaching awards.

In many universities students only have a minor role in saying who should win the awards. It’s the academics who have the big say. Once they accept their nomination, the lecturers then write a mini-thesis boasting why they should win the best teacher prize.

What are they going to say? That they suffer from a personality bypass and eschew all technological wizardry in the lecture theatre?

The Hertfordshire academics will be presenting their research at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference in October.

You can see Erica’s blog article here.

Media Evidence #2: The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Liftout, August 2, 2010

In an blog article, entitled, “Why is it the the older you are the more you can’t stand ‘Inception'”, writer Patrick Goldstein muses about the Christopher Nolan film, Inception, and how he believes it is dividing audiences.

He writes of discussing the film with “an old Hollywood hand” who had seen the film at a private screening with other senior “elder statesmen” of the film profession, along with their much younger children.

Here is what he wrote:

After the movie was over, the industry elders were shaking their heads in disbelief, appalled by the film’s lack of clarity, having been absolutely unable to follow the film’s often convoluted story.

But before anyone could register their complaints, one of the younger people on hand, flush with excitement, praised the film to the rooftops. To him, it was such a thrill ride that if the projectionist could show the film again, he’d sit through it again right away.

And after discussing Inception’s box office success, Goldstein then writes:

But from the moment “Inception” was released, it was obvious from polling data that the movie had created both a critical and a generational divide. Some critics have raved about the film’s originality while others have mocked its excesses. If you were a young moviegoer, you loved the visually arresting puzzle-box thriller. But the older you got, according to polling data, the more likely you were to detest its run ‘n’ gun, dream-within-a-dream complexity.

I think by now you will be seeing the point of including this LA Times article in this entry about changing audiences and the need to understand how one’s presentation needs to address audience qualities.

Goldstein goes on to write that movies have often split audiences down generation lines, citing films which did not enjoy (older) critics’ admiration, such as Bonnie and Clyde, or A Clockwork Orange, both of which found success with younger audiences. (Goldstein discusses how the New York Times put its negative fill critic out of a job when he dissed Bonnie and Clyde).

Goldstein also cites the current youth orientation to social media which can give a film instant weekend buzz or kill it after the first day’s showing:

In the old days, the culture zeitgeist took much longer to coalesce. Now buzz is often instantaneous. “Inception’s” opening weekend was made up of young male zealots and Chris Nolan acolytes. By the time I saw it again last weekend at a local mall, the audience was full of a much broader cross section of moviegoers who simply wanted to find out what the excitement was all about.

But the paragraph if his very good blog article that should be of most interest to presenters aware of their own audience generational gap comes in one of his mid-section paragraphs:

If “Inception” plays especially strongly with a young audience, it’s probably because they instinctively grasp its narrative density best, having grown up playing video games. “When it comes to understanding ‘Inception,’ you’ve got a real advantage if you’re a gamer,” says Henry Jenkins, who’s a professor of communications, journalism and cinematic arts at USC. ” ‘Inception’ is first and foremost a movie about worlds and levels, which is very much the way video games are structured. Games create a sense that we’re a part of the action. Stories aren’t just told to us. We experience them.”

Let me write that last sentence again for you:

Stories aren’t just told to us. We experience them.

This reinforces a message I have given over and over again  in my workshops, with evidence. We are hard wired to listen to and tell stories. Great presenters evoke those brain actions that bring audience attention to bear, such that they feel involved in what the presenter is saying and doing. If you simply fill your slides with words, expecting your audience to follow along as you read them, you are not engaging in audience involvement. You are engaging in audience affront.

There are times I know when I’m presenting where I see quizzical looks on the faces of my audience. They don’t know where I’m going with my current slide and its story, a “Huh?” moment. When they see the connection, they have an “Aha!” moment, and the next time it happens (which is often), they are better prepared but just as eager to see how the mystery of what I’m doing will be resolved, just like a magician when he or she performs their tricks, especially when they require considerable “setup”.

As the session goes on, this game of “Huh? Aha!” becomes involving and enjoyable, and helps get my message across. It’s why I often stop and allow small group conversation to take place before moving on to another section of my workshop. Let me allow Patrick Goldstein to conclude this part of my blog entry:

Even though the density of “Inception” can be off-putting to older moviegoers, it’s a delicious challenge for gamers. “With ‘Inception,’ if you blink or if your mind wanders, you miss it,” says Jenkins. “You’re not sitting passively and sucking it all in. You have to experience it like a puzzle box. It’s designed for us to talk about, to share clues and discuss online, instead of having everything explained to us. Part of the pleasure of the movie is figuring out things that don’t come easily, which is definitely part of the video game culture.”

Media Evidence #3: The Australian – Education section, August 11, 2010

If the Age brings out its Education section on Monday, its competitor, the Australian brings out a much larger section devoted to tertiary education on a Wednesday.

Today’s section caught my eye because I’ve been thinking about this blog article for a few days, readying myself for writing. Because I so often talk about presenting in threes (related to not getting an audience to go into cognitive overload by having them hold more than three concepts in working memory), this third piece of evidence compelled me to get this blog article written.

It features a story by Jeremy Gilling, entitled, Three minutes to present a life-changing thesis.

It features PhD student, Jayanthi Maniam from the University of Sabah in Malaysia, and her work in medical science supervised by Australian professor, Margaret Morris from the University of New South Wales.

Maniam’s thesis revolves around research into rat metabolism, as a model for understanding human behaviour, especially in the area of early life trauma and food choices, particularly, so-called “comfort food”, high in sugar and tasty fats.

Here is how the article sums up her testing of her central hypothesis:

The results support the hypothesis that the behavioural deficit associated with early-life trauma can be reversed by (two) forms of behaviour, exercise and eating comfort food.

Naturally, if you’re a health scientist, you’d be inclined to recommend exercise over comfort food. As you’d expect, Maniam’s thesis is heavily technical, not just describing the experiments she undertook, but also the neuroscience underpinning her hypotheses and results.

What caught my eye however was Maniam’s entry into her university’s “trials for the annual three minute thesis competition, which allows postgraduate research students from universities across Australasia to present their topic to a lay audience in a manner that is engaging, informative and as comprehensive as the time permits.” (Bold added).

What a challenge! Two or three years of research and write-up boiled down to its essence and delivered to a lay audience! This puts TED talks to shame, with their 18 minute limit!

The article then discusses Mariam’s reaction to her talk:

(She) found the competition challenging and stimulating: “Scientists generally aren’t all that skilled at explaining their work and the benefits it brings to the community… It’s important (scientists) learn to communicate to diverse audiences.”

She regards the competition as a good training ground in communication, especially with young people: “That’s where we have to start if we’re going to spark their interest in science.”

(The research cited is in the June issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology)

And so we see a further piece of evidence hinting at the nature of presentations, the emphasis on making them engaging, and trying to reach an audience of young people who might otherwise be turned off by dour text-laden slides without a cohesive story to engage them.

Having only three minutes to tell your story will surely sharpen anyone’s storytelling abilities, and cut to the chase quickly and resolutely.

In summary – audience needs are changing

When I see more and more of these stories entering the mainstream media highlighting an urgent need for those in positions of knowledge sharing to sharpen their game, it stirs me even more to try and get my Presentation Magic information out there, whether via this blog, or my workshops.

In a follow up article, I’ll argue why Apple with its Keynote software is in an excellent position to take advantage of this shift.

UPDATE: One of my professional RSS feeds, PsychCentral, yesterday featured an article by Rick Nauert PhD, entitled Medical School Education from Video Games?

In it, Nauert discusses research from an online edition of BMC Medical Education, a journal devoted to open access to peer reviewed research.

The article is entitled, Medical Student attitudes towards video games and related new media technologies in medical technologies, by Kron et al.

One of the centres which conducted the research, the University of Michigan, has released a media release which gives a good coverage to the highlights here.

This article caught my eye because it too reinforces my main proposition that a new generation is coming through the ranks for whom the standard Powerpoint will no longer do the job, and needs to be abandoned. Here are a few choices quotes:

The study helps dispel the stereotype of video games as the exclusive purview of adolescent loners. Instead they may be used as advanced teaching tools that fit an emerging learning style, authors say.

“Due in large part to their high degree of technological literacy, today’s medical students are a radically different audience than the students of 15 to 20 years ago,” former medical educator and president of Medical Cyberworlds, Inc. Frederick W. Kron, M.D., says of the so-called millenial generation. “They are actually more comfortable in image-rich environments than with text.”

Their clear preference is for active, first-person, experiential learning and a level of interactivity that is absent in traditional lectures, but vibrantly present in new media technologies. Thus, the growing movement towards using new media and serious games in education fits well with Millennial medical students’ learning styles.

And further along:

“Academic leadership has called for innovative methods to enhance how medical students access the concepts that they need to become doctors,” says Kron, former assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin. “New media technologies developed by the video game industry hold great promise to helping educators to meet that critical mandate.”

PS I have two blog entries in the holding pattern, waiting to finish them. I assure, you it will be worth the wait.

3 responses to “More mainstream media evidence that presentation skills need to enter the 21st Century – looking at generational divides and why default Powerpoint won’t cut it.

  1. RMIT held their Three Minute Thesis competition final last week – the winner goes to the national competition at the University of Queensland next month. Unfortunately I was unable to attend (and hence could not enter) but the rules are:
    • a single PowerPoint slide is permitted (no slide transitions are permitted)
    • no additional electronic media (e.g. sound and video files) are permitted
    • no additional props (e.g. costumes, instruments [musical, laboratory etc]) are permitted
    • presentations are limited to 3 minutes maximum. Competitors exceeding 3 minutes will be disqualified
    • the decision of the adjudicating panel is final

    Judging is based on communication, comprehension and engagement.

    More details here

  2. Pingback: Are you ready for the third era in presenting?

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