The more conservative an industry, the more conservative and unengaging their presentations (sigh)

[I attended an aviation symposium a few weeks ago, and tried out a new text writer for the iPad. How best to try it out other than using it to blog in real time. Below, the results, cut and pasted into WordPress for the iPad].

I’m Sitting in an airline and aviation conference in the Human Factors stream, and being persecuted with poor PowerPoint.

Already we have had to drop out of the show to go in to Windows Media Player to show a humorous video the presenter hoped would stimulate our interest. She succeeded in getting a few laughs due to the slapstick nature of the video (one of those “motivational” slick videos).

The outstanding thing so far, from a presenter’s viewpoint, has been the disconnect between what’s on the slides – mainly text – and what is being said.

What we have been seeing is a slab of text with the usual bullet pointed listings, which is read automatically by the audience, to judge by the audience heads rotating towards the screen and away from the presenter. This is followed by the presenter talking without a script, in ways that have little connection to the words on the screen.

In this way, the presentation becomes a lecture, not an engaging presentation, not helped by the fact we are in a university lecture theatre.

The presenter is also standing well away from the slides, which subtly tells us the slides are irrelevant to what she is saying. This of course is a tad ironic, given we are discussing human factors in aviation disasters! Much of this subject is bounded by issues of attention, getting and keeping it, in the face of potential overloading of sensory channels. If only presenters, especially those who talk about training adults, would apply their own knowledge base to their presentation efforts.

There is also a disconnect when the presenter refers to future slides coming up in the talk. This is ok if you’re asked a question from the audience on a topic which you will refer to later, but what’s coming up ought not to be given away by the presenter themselves unless there’s a very good reason to do so. I think it happens when presenters are unconfident in their ability to tell stories, and thus link concepts.

We are also being given lots of potentially interesting examples but they are not being illustrated, only described with words.

But the examples in fact cry out for a picture, or a short movie, so we in the audience are challenged to change modalities of information transfer, lest staying in the same narrow modality – listening – leads to boredom.

Judging by the lack of spontaneous questions and minimal note taking, I’d say many are feeling disengaged and wondering how relevant this talk is to them personally, and to the subject in general. In other words, did the talk’s abstract meet their expectations upon delivery. Of course, in the aviation industry, aircraft manufacturers are severely penalized financially if their products do not meet promised expectations.

In which case, as her talk was coming to an end, I formulated a fantasy question to ask, (but I was too prudent to actually ask):

“Dear Presenter, if you were to apply your knowledge of human factors to your own PowerPoint, what would you apply first and where?”

2 responses to “The more conservative an industry, the more conservative and unengaging their presentations (sigh)

  1. I’m inclined to think that it’s not really a question of a conservative industry. Rather, it’s that the more insular an industry or organization, the less likely the participants are to examine other studies and practices. They keep going to their own “experts” who recycle the same concepts and think if they use new jargon they are doing something new. They have slides of text (at least following the 6 x 6 “rule”) because that’s all they’ve experienced.

    Universities have the same handicap, but are generally far from what I’d consider “conservative.” And yet, the multi-degreed professors and inquiring students still throw line after line of text onto their slides, doing their utmost to bore attendees out of their skulls. After attending a conference (I wasn’t presenting) last year of very students and professors from all over the world, I asked my fiancé who also attended, “Are my presentations really so much better than what they did, are these degreed professionals terrible presenters, or am I just an egomaniac?”

    She replied that of course I’m an egomaniac, but the presenters only see lousy presentations and that’s all they know. Students mimic their professors’ lousy presentations because they instinctively know that will get them good grades.

    • @don108: I take your point, but aviation definitely looks beyond its own self. Perhaps I can also suggest that the more regulated an industry, the more the penalties for getting it wrong, the more resistant you are to change especially suggested from those outside your own industry or profession.

      In an old blog post on my cyberpsych site, I have a long article on the principles of social conformity which I also explore in my workshops to explain silly unproven 6 x 6 rules. Its title was: “Powerpoint, Obedience and Conformity: Why do smart people feel compelled to use Powerpoint when it’s no longer “best practice”? If it ever was…” here:

      Ta for the feedback. It has confirmed my next blog article formulating currently.

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