Tag Archives: presentations

Why Academic conferences need to change, and why Powerpoint is a dead technology walking

I’ve been travelling around Australia giving workshops to teachers about presentation skills as well as technologies and mental health. Few teachers have ever heard of Apple’s Keynote presentation software, as I discovered when many came up to me after my presentations to ask how I did what I did – the why was pretty obvious!

I’ve also in the meantime been asked to become part of my professional society’s organising committee for its 50th anniversary conference in Queensland in 2015. I was part of the organising conference for its 25th anniversary where I was much involved in both the social program as well as the media coverage.

I think this time around my involvement will be concerned with social media, something that didn’t exist as we know it now all those years ago.

So with this in mind, I was delighted to see in my Zite feed today a blog post from a professor of Sociology, Steven Fuller, now at Warrick University in the UK.

Here is its title, and link:

Six principles for organising academic conferences in the 21st century

When I read the blog entry, I tweeted, “Halleluya, Brother”, so happy was I to see someone who also wished changes for academic conferences.

You can read the bulk of them at Fuller’s blog, but let me highlight (with the author’s permission) his first thee principles for presenters:

1. A conference is a distinct channel – perhaps even genre – of academic communication. It is not a watered-down or zombie version of the academic print culture. It requires its own ‘peer review’ standards that do not simply trade on the conventions of academic writing. Thus, instead of abstracts, prospective presenters should send video clips of 1-3 minutes that convey what will be said and how it will be said.

2. Presenters should be strongly discouraged from reading their presentations. More generally, presenters should be forced to make a special case for presenting material that is already available in print. The norm for conference presentations should be new material – unless a presenter hails from a field with which conference members are unlikely to be familiar.

3. Presentations heavily reliant on Powerpoint should be gathered thematically into what are essentially high-tech poster sessions rather than be given stand-alone speaker slots. This may mean that a larger percentage of the space in the conference facility is given over to such sessions. Indeed, organizers may wish to consider that the explicitness of many Powerpoint presentations render the human presenter redundant. Thus, interested conference goers may simply be directed to a computer terminal where all the Powerpoint-based presentations are loaded, perhaps with recorded voice-overs from the absent presenters.

I like these sentiments – a lot!

Fuller clearly understands that academic conferences need to change, and how presenters are selected and expected to present is different from that which pervades conferences now, based almost exclusively on the same principles as for paper publications.

He recognises that conferences are not the place for the regurgitation of printed articles, but are a meeting place of ideas, and where presentations to large groups need to be exceptional.

Along the same lines, today I also continued to read an eBook by Clive Thompson, called Smarter than you think: How Technology is changing our minds for the better.

It neatly follows my lectures to teachers this past month where I have described the history of moral panics down the centuries when new technologies have been introduced. Whether it be the loss of jobs or whole industries, our brains are changing, “knowledge is power” struggles, or issues of privacy, how we change technology and how technology changes us is an important ongoing discussion we need to be having.

Certainly, technologies like Powerpoint and Keynote and Prezi are changing how we distribute knowledge, and readers of this blog will be aware of my beliefs that it’s not all positive, especially in the case of Powerpoint. While many still follow the meme that Powerpoint is merely a tool badly used by too many, I fall into the camp that it is a very poor tool to begin with for knowledge distribution, especially in an age which is demanding far more audio-visual literacy, as Thompson points out.

A few choice quotes from the book:

thompson ppt



I don’t know that I need to place too much context around these quotes about Powerpoint – the astute reader will get the picture. It’s one of the things I have been banging on about consistently in my Presentation Magic workshops for those who attend: that the world of knowledge transfer, sharing and engagement is undergoing a radical shift and the usual means – i.e., traditional and socially normed – will no longer cut it as the 21st Century progresses.

Using software merely as an advanced overhead projector system – for which Powerpoint was originally developed for the Macintosh in the mid-1980s is a dead technology walking, no matter how you spruce it up, as we’re about to see when the next version for Windows is released soon.

The next generation of learners, employing their iPads in school, will be using Keynote or equivalents available on the iPad since 2010, with Powerpoint on the iPad mainly used by those currently in industry compelled to use the desktop version and needing some sort of tablet parity mobility.

But may I suggest, a whole generation of young people will never use Powerpoint. Kind of makes a mockery of all the educational administrators all those years ago who insisted their schools to standardise on Microsoft products like Word and Powerpoint because “that’s what the kids will be using when they enter the workforce in ten years”.

Yeah, right!

The moment I lost my cool presenting on Keynote at Macworld this year (and why)

Many who attend my Presentation Magic workshops are often in for a surprise. Some come along hoping to learn more about the mechanics of Keynote or Powerpoint; some to overcome their performance anxiety, and others because they’ve been before and want to know what new goodies I may have to share in an updated workshop.

In truth, I cover a lot of these bases, except the one about the mechanics of Powerpoint, but then again there is no shortage of coaches for getting better at working through all that Powerpoint has to offer.

But as I frequently mention, all that sage Powerpoint advice hasn’t improved the “presentationsphere”, especially in the worlds of science, medicine, engineering and the law.

No, what attendees get is a day of reasoning about why it’s important to change the way we present, to understand to whom we’re presenting, how to best take our complex messages and make them accessible and memorable, and then see first hand how I think through all of the above, with examples I have constructed, or in the case of others’ presentations, deconstructed.

This year, I returned to Macworld/iWorld after a year’s absence to show how my presentations have been affected by the introduction of Keynote 6 on the desktop.

I drew about 50 to the all day workshop, and SRO to the 45 minute quick look I gave a few days later.

It was at the Quick Look session that I momentarily lost my cool. In truth, I tried to pack too much into a brief session, including how to use Keynote with Green Screen or Chroma Key effects, much like you see weather presenters on the TV news.

I wanted to show how understanding where the presentation landscape was moving – to a much more interactive and less linear style – would drive the future use of Keynote, and change how its users thought about presentations in general.

So I was feeling somewhat under the pump, as the saying goes, juggling a variety of Keynote stacks, so I could move swiftly between ideas.

Things did not start well when I played a game of Keynote-based Family Feud, selecting two member so of the audience to guess the top answers to the question,

What are the best new features in Keynote6?

The intention was to use the Keynote 6-based hyperlinked stack of slides to highlight some of its improvements. This is based on an old stack going back to Keynote 3 or so, when hyperlinking was introduced to Keynote. It’s a way to have fun, and show the power of such a feature to “move around” a slide deck with a live audience and bring more engagement to the presentation.

To do it, I use my iPad to mirror the projector data display, and by pressing on its screen, can either produce a “buzz – you’re wrong” sound, or a “bing – you’re correct” sound, with which a numbered panel “cubes” around to reveal the correct answer and how many votes it got.

Unfortunately, the two competitors I chose were not sufficiently familiar with the possible answers, that I had to return them to the audience and turn it into an audience-wide activity. We got to all fiver answers in the end, and I was able to show some of the features. But it was also clear to me that for many in the audience, the switch to Keynote 6 from Keynote 5 was not the Little Shop of Horrors it had been for power users hungry for an update after almost five years.

Indeed, I would hazard a guess that for many, Keynote 6 and its equivalent on the iOS, was their first experience at Apple’s efforts on the presentation front.

This led me to the next part of my brief talk, and that was the justification for why it’s important to understand and use the best tools available to get across complex messages. As in previous workshops, I showed a variety of scenarios where presentations were being employed in unexpected scenarios, such as cruise ship lectures, sermons and of course MOOCS, the online training courses which have traditional universities quaking.

But I also wanted to say that in the world of science, those who endorse the scientific method, with their publications appearing in scholarly journals written in an academic style – devoid of self-reference and emotion – are coming up against opposing camps who do not have to hold to the same level of peer review,  scientific endeavour, and who are well-funded.

I had in mind a video to show, one which I have used on various occasions, featuring the television performer, Jenny McCarthy, below, speaking on ABC television about dietary treatments for autism. I wanted to hold her up as a poster child for whom television wishes more of, because she brings “easy on the eye and ear” charm, even though her message(s) are often contradicted by the published data in scholarly journals. In the ABC TV news item, only very brief mention is made of a journal editorial in Pediatrics, the bulk of the time going to McCarthy’s personal experiences, which are contradicted by Pediatrics.


Now, almost everything I say in my workshops has been rehearsed and matched to the slides I show. When I go off-script, I usually render the screen black (the B key on your keyboard or a button on your remote) and have a discussion with the audience.

But in preparing to discuss why presenters need to upskill, and with my arousal levels already high with wanting to get through all material I had prepared (which needed a very tight adherence to allotted times), when it came to my introducing the science vs. anecdotal evidence argument (one characterised by Jenny McCarthy’s interview), I blurted out a phrase which I had thought about in preparations, but had decided was too emotional to actually mention.

What I said was,

“There are Barbarians at the Gate”.

 This a two-part reference to firstly, a book and movie of the same name, the story of the leveraged buyout of the R.J. Nabsico company. It stars my favourite Barbariansatthegate-bookactor, James Garner, in a central role as his character orchestrates the aggressive buyout from Nabisco’s shareholders.

The whole movie is available to watch (it being a Made for TV HBO special) on YouTube here:

Barbarians at the Gate

My use of this film title really is idiosyncratic. My thinking was to use the word “Barbarian” in the way many ancient societies had used it to denote those who did not belong to the mainstream society, whose values were uneducated and callous, and who had a disregard to seeking a society’s higher values and ethics.

The term itself has an incredibly rich history as a reading of Wikipedia will show.

…”at the Gate” is a reference to an imminent takeover. It’s my personal reference to the many threats to the pursuit of evidence as orthodox science best offers, compared to anecdotal evidence, folk lore, and that derived from politics, religious belief and the seeking of power.

It was my emotional recognition that contemporary science is losing the battle for the public mindset in such important endeavours as climate change, vaccination, evolution, and evidence-based health care, such as some US states’ refusal to fluoridate their water supplies.  Some would include gun control efforts in health care too.

One of the ways it’s losing that battle is the across-the-board poor presentation skills scientists display as they present to themselves, and seem to have very little idea of how to present complex ideas to the general public.

It’s a lament I continue to mention in my own promotional materials for conference workshops were I say that presenters are expected to describe their research conforming to an evidence-base but usually present to their audiences with a distinctly non-evidence based means, the so-called Death by Powerpoint.

It’s a really serious challenge for scientists who hold themselves to a higher level of evidence, who couch their findings not in certainties but in probabilities, and whose language is replete with unemphatic suggestion. Non-scientists in contrast ignore such niceties and speak publicly far more often in certainties, hyperbole, and misleading statistics. They capitalise on the general public’s poor understanding of science, and its methods.

Others have previously joined the chorus, such as Richard Somerville, a scientist at UCSD, and science communicator, Susan Joy Hassel. Writing in Physics Today, October 2011 (PDF), they declare

It is urgent that climate scientists improve the ways they convey their findings to a poorly informed and often indifferent public. 

They set out a number of hypothesis for this declaration as well as ways the indifference of the public can be overcome, especially how science uses language, as seen in this diagram below:


[ASIDE: Thus, I’m certainly not alone in recognising this gap between how science publicly presents itself, and how scientists think when they’re off the record. It’s why attending conferences is so important for professional development because it’s at lunch, or over coffee, or in a low-key networking event that leading scientists will speak more about their hypotheses and opinions – educated ones – and where one can learn so much. As a private practitioner in psychology, I try and abide by the evidence my betters in research provide, but it’s usually  years behind what I’m discovering from my patients.

So while I allow the research-based evidence to guide my practice, thirty years of working with thousands of patients is not to be sneezed at, especially given the research can’t be descriptive of all the permutations and combinations of patient presentations (symptom description) I’ve seen over the years. As one of my supervisors once remarked, therapists learn the most from their patients, then the supervision of their work with patients, then from workshops and other professional development, and least from the first degrees. Professional knowledge “turns over” so fast one might have to start learning facts again as soon as one’s degree course is completed!  END OF ASIDE]

There are very few scientists who know now to work the media, understand its games, and respond accurately yet firmly to journalist questions. It’s as if they’re always fearful their Head of Department is watching or the Fellows committee of their professional society is tut-tutting over some effort to explain complex phenomena in lay terms.

So we have few science media stars, or conversely, the few that exist are trotted out like the Usual Suspects such that in time their important message is lost through sheer familiarity.

What this means is that science and its practitioners must deepen the reservoir of talent who can reach out to the public with understandable and actionable message delivery. They must enrich themselves with stories the public can understand, rather than the story telling implicit in writing research-based publication: Introduction, Subjects, Method, Results, Discussion, References.

They must help the public understand in meaningful, visually elegant ways statistical concepts, probability theory, uncertainty, and confidence limits. So rather than being persuaded that 95% is a high level of confidence in one’s hypotheses, only to have an opponent say “but you’re not 100% sure, are you?”, scientists should offer up an understandable metaphor to throw back at their conservative interviewers:

“If you knew an area you wished to cross was 95% covered with land mines, leaving a random 5% free, would you take the risk of crossing; or, if you wished to swim across a river but knew that of the 100 people who tried before you only 5 got across with the rest being taken by crocodiles would you take the risk? Well, that’s how certain we are of…”

Concluding remarks:

All this means the modern skill set of scientists, at a time when conservative governments such as we have here in Australia are diluting the role of science in society, must encompass more than lab-based endeavours. It means starting with giving better presentations to themselves and the community, and seeing presentation skills as an implicit component of being a professional scientist.

Those in the sciences who dismiss these endeavours as not core to scientific endeavours might sooner or later find themselves without funds to carry out applied research, much less basic research.

To invoke another movie, All the President’s Men, scientists would do well to heed the words of Deep Throat to Bob Woodward: “Follow the money” to see how science is currently confronting barbarians who wish nothing more than to dismiss science’s values, methods and endeavours as an intrusion into their “entitlements” to carry on, business as usual.

With the passing of Steve Jobs, its primary beta tester, has Apple now orphaned its presentation software, Keynote, which hasn’t received a major update for almost three years. Will dissatisfied users abandon it for Powerpoint (which Jobs despised)?

I’ve just finished reading on my iPad and iPhone Walter Isaacson’s superb biography of Steve Jobs. I knew much of the story he told from the various unauthorised biographies as well as individual blogs written about him, as well as movies such as “Triumph of the Nerds” and “Pirates of Silicon Valley”.

I saw Steve a few times up close when I visited the Apple campus in the last few years, but never had a chance to speak with him. I can certainly fantasise that he many have read some of my blog articles about Apple products such as the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and of course his presentation software of choice, Keynote.

In more recent years, he spoke of hoping to keep Apple’s DNA alive after he was gone by dint of the new Apple building he has commissioned to be built on some previous Hewlett-Packard land. Perhaps he had read of the “Apple DNA” concept on my blog article in December, 2004, a screenshot of which is below. It is on this website that I first suggested Apple ought to make a tablet (I nicknamed it the iScribe) which would be brilliant for Keynote users to remote use:

(If you can find a description of Apple’s DNA earlier than 2004, please let me know!)

I’m sure many readers have fantasised what they would have said to Steve Jobs if they happened to meet him, and perhaps some of you have! My other fantasy includes him walking into my first Presentation Magic  presentation at Macworld 2008, saying  “This sucks!”, then taking over the show to share his presentation ideas. How I and attendees would have had special memories to take with us had that happened!

But before you think it merely fantasy, others in the health professions have indeed been on the receiving end of Jobs’ “advice” with regard to their presentations, especially when they used Powerpoint.

Walter Isaacson’s Jobs’ biography mentions his distaste for Powerpoint, and slideshow-based presentations in general (save for his own keynote presentations) on six occasions. You won’t find Powerpoint or Keynote listed in the book’s index, but in the iBooks’ version I have, you can of course do a global search for keywords. So, here you have them:

Global search of Powerpoint references in "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

We’ll work our way through some of them because it’s quite illuminating to hear what someone who presentation bloggers and authors rate as one of the world’s best presenters (and the world’s best CEO presenter) has to say about Powerpoint, and presentations in general.

Let’s start with the final reference where Jobs is very ill, and his wife Laurene and others have organised various medical and genetics research staff to investigate where next in his treatment:

One could just imagine Jobs focussing on the expectedly lousy Powerpoint slides of medical researchers while they’re focussing on his genome sequence for which he’s paid $100,000!

But earlier on the book, when Jobs has returned to Apple and is setting about constructing his “A” team to resurrect Apple, we see how he eschews presentations with slideware when he believes it takes from, rather than adds to, the creative process:

“People who know what they’re talking about don’t need Powerpoint”

This might sound strange coming from someone who was the original beta tester for Apple’s Keynote, and who continued to employ it to show Apple’s wares right up to the release of the iPad 2.

But as I have written elsewhere, a Jobs’ keynote does not engage the audience in a dialogue. The audience is engaged with the story he tells of Apple’s products and services, where he employs Keynote like a storyboard, outlining a roadmap. It’s not used as a lecture technology, as an adult training tool, or as a brainstorming of ideas technology. Jobs never hid behind his slides as so many people do, preferring their slides to sell the story. No, Steve emulated for us how the slides were adjuncts to our spoken stories, never getting in the way of what the presenter was saying or doing, but ready to illustrate ideas when words were not enough.

With Steve’s passing who at Apple can carry the torch for Keynote? The obvious answer is Phil Schiller who, after Steve, is most associated with demonstrating iWork in action at Apple keynotes, and showing us updates.

But is Phil invested sufficiently in Keynote to see it continue to be updated with features for a contemporary presentation population, both givers and receivers who have become steadily sophisticated in their expectations.

I say that with some sense of caution however. I was sent a link to YouTube video of several start-ups competing for venture capital, each giving a recent 3 minute presentation.

You can watch it below. But let me remind you that since the release of Lion 10.7 and a point update for Keynote, many in various discussion groups have complained of considerable unhappiness regarding the auto-update feature, which for some means minutes of spinning beach balls for even the slightest of changes to a slide. It has meant on Apple discussion support boards that some have either reverted to Snow Leopard or an earlier edition of Keynote so as to bypass the auto-save feature, or have returned (shudder) to Powerpoint.

So when you watch the video below, bear in mind two things:

1. There is still plenty of room for presentation skills training to judge by the young group of entrepreneurs missing the central point of their presentations, viz.: their failure to appreciate the most important obstacle to overcome as soon as possible is the audience’s fundamental cognition: “Why should I give a $%# about your product?”

2. Feel some empathy for the first presenter, who uses the organiser’s Powerpoint (Mac-based) when it falls over (at 2min56sec):

Notice too what happens when you don’t provide speakers with a vanity monitor, which I have been discussing lately. You’ll see how often the presenters need to look over their shoulder to see what’s happening and lose contact with their audience. Not good when you’ve only got three minutes to persuade people.

You’ll also see many presentation errors with the slides (perhaps I’ll use this as an exercise at my Macworld presentation), which shows I hope that even young, hip entrepreneurs whose presentations really count can so easily be sucked into the Powerpoint vortex of lousy knowledge transfer.

So the mission Steve started in 2003 with Keynote 1.0 is way from over, I believe. Yet the last significant update to Keynote was in 2009 when it moved to version 5, as part of iWork 09, giving us MagicMove (which has become a default Apple transition for their keynotes), some new chart animations, and some remote apps for iDevices.

In two months, it will be three years while its users have patiently waited for Keynote’s multitude of shortcomings to be dealt with in the form of a brand new version, making a significant form and function leap as did Final Cut Pro X.

Yet without Steve there to champion it, as he did in the final period of his life, who within Apple will take it to Tim Cook, hardly renowned so far as a presenter par excellence, and the senior executive team, and offer up an improvement?

Apple keynotes themselves have settled into a very predictable pattern, with incredibly overused build styles, such as the “anvil” whenever amazing financial figures are displayed. In the last few keynotes we have not seen any hints of new effects or styles, although  of course there could be events happening outside of visual awareness, such as the much sought after timeline for more precise animation and build timings.

What’s worse, Apple’s own internal briefings using Keynote which I get to see when my MUG has an official presentation from an Apple rep., are merely Powerpoint converted to Keynote, and I recall conversations with my iWork contact who lamented the generally low level of presentation skills using Keynote performed within Apple’s various divisions. It’s probably why people like me and Larry Lessig were invited to present to the Keynote team, not just to discuss what we wanted in future Keynotes, but for the team to witness how to Present Different.

Prior to the current version 5, the longest time in Keynote’s history  when its users had to patiently wait for a new version was twenty four months, between versions 1 (released January 2003) and 2 (released January 2005).

There were some minor point updates in that time, more for stability than features. Version 2 was a huge improvement, almost like going from OS X 10.1 to its first really useable, put away System 9, version 10.2, Jaguar.

Three years is a very long time, although if one lives in the Windows Powerpoint world, where in the last decade you go from PPT 2003 to 2007 to 2011, it’s not so remarkable. And in the face of continuing updates of significance to the iPad version of Keynote, perhaps not all hope is lost.

But unless we see something new soon, and the current Lion auto-save issue is resolved, I fear issues of abandonment will continue in the face of Apple’s seeming orphaning of what appeared to be one of Steve Job’s favourite applications he loved using himself; one where we watched its use in amazement not just of the products he showed as emblems of Apple’s DNA, at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, but of the “how” he showed them, the likes if which in a CEO we won’t see for a long time.

Vale Steve.

Vale Keynote?

Enhancing presentation skills by acknowledging your various audiences – using the iPad as a presentation tool to enhance connection with your audiences (even when others criticise this approach)

There’s a reason why I give away my information and experience on this blog for free, without expectation of reciprocal exchange.

It helps me bring my ideas to paper, to sort them into practical “chunks” so that when I give paid workshops, there’s a place for people to go to investigate more of my ideas and practices. The blog brings me no income, as you can see, containing as it does no Google Adwords or other sources of money, not even a tip-jar.

There’s also an area after each blog entry for readers to both make comments, and to pass on to others the entry link to share around.

So, when I read a blog entry from another presenter which is critical of my endeavours and yet offers no opportunity to respond directly, I have to use my own blog to open up the discussion and see where it takes me and my readership.

Such an event occurred today when my twitter feed showed the following:

Hmm… Something I’ve shown hampers public speaking inadvertently? Well, colour my curiosity piqued!

Heading to the linked website, reveals a blog link on José Silva’s Scrapbook which examines my recent APEX presentation in Seattle which I uploaded to YouTube and blogged about in much detail, describing my choices along the way.

Here’s how José begins his blog entry – and I’m grateful he gets to the point and doesn’t make me wait around too long!

Presentationist Les Posen inadvertently shows why one of the products he recommends is likely to make presenters worse public speakers.

I like Les’s Presentation Magic site (on the internet we’re all on a first name basis, right?). I think it focusses a bit much on presentation sizzle, but then most sites on presentations do. Tufte and Norman, when they discuss presentations, are the exception.

Les gave a presentation about fear of flying where he used a product he recommended before, the iKlip. From the video of that presentation he appears to stay mostly in the same place, standing at parade attention near his stationary iPad.

If he sat down on a comfy chair it would be less distracting; it would at least feel natural.

The iKlip in question is merely a holder for my iPad attached to a microphone stand. It facilitates using the iPad as a vanity monitor so I can best know what’s happening on the main screen behind me without turning my back to the audience.

Previously, I’d either use my Mac in presenter mode – something which means you’ve got to stand within easy sight – or bring with me my own vanity monitor and a switch box so the feed to it and the data projector match. Most conference venues will nowadays supply with you a monitor but it’s expected you’ll use it in mirror mode, something I believe is unhelpful to professional presenters when compared to being in presenter mode, previewing the next build or slide.

The iKlip merely allows me to position the iPad in such a way as to facilitate presenter mode, although because I also use the Doceri software package, I can annotate the slides at will. I’m sure many in education will find that facility very useful, and if one’s running an all day workshop, you could add a white slide to the end of your Keynote or Powerpoint stack, and use Doceri as a whiteboard.

Returning to José‘s critique, he observes something I had not perceived or received feedback from others: that I appear to be standing at “parade attention” due to needing to be in close proximity to the iPad, and this is not good public speaking practice.

Personally, I don’t experience my presentation that way, believing myself to be quite animated using hands, body and voice appropriately. Jose would prefer me to have my iPad in my hands and move around the auditorium, freeing up myself and not appearing so stiff and “unnatural”.

In preparing my response, I was reminded of my training in Family Therapy more than twenty years ago. This therapy developed in response to an increasing medicalisation of behavioural issues, especially in children,  as well as institutionalisation of those with serious mental illness issues.

Rather than seeing a child or adult as being ill, Family Therapy asked therapists to look at the presenting problem in more systemic, global ways, so that the individual was referred to as the “Identified patient” but treatment involved the entire family. The idea was to remove stigmatising and paralysing “blaming of the patient” and look to see how the whole family interacted and to give the family work to do between sessions to ameliorate the “identified” problem behaviour.

This was a radical approach at the time, and required radical interventions. One of these was the Greek Chorus and the one-way screen. Essentially the therapist interacted with the family while a team behind a one-way window observed the family-therapist interaction, using a two-way intercom to call attention to behaviours not necessarily witnessed by the therapist as well as offer questions and observations, hence the Greek Chorus, as it was termed.

Such devices are great for therapists in training, even if it’s a rather nerve wracking experience. Those behind the screen also had much learning to do, sharpening observational skills, formulating hypotheses about what they were witnessing, and providing feedback and guidance to the therapist in the room with the family.

There was one thing though one learnt via this experience: ultimately, the therapist in the room was best placed to “feel” the ambience and mood in that room, something not experienced behind the screen. Whatever advice they received via the intercom, it was their choice as to what they acted upon, sometimes discarding it completely.

Later, in the group debrief, they needed to justify their actions, and the “you had to be in the room” explanation was used sparingly, since it’s hard to put into words the “being with the family” experience.

This is my rebuttal to Jose. What he’s seeing is a video of what happened in the auditorium where the presentation took place. I was there, and responded to the experience as I felt best at the time.

Let me get more to the point, so we may all learn something here.

How I chose to move or not move around the auditorium was determined far less by the iKlip and Doceri than Jose would have it. It was more determined by the practicalities of my audiences. Yes, audiences.

You see, going into this presentation I had in my mind several audiences whose compositions and needs I could only guess at. The first audience was the live one in the room, composed of aviation personnel. As it turned out, they were not a homogeneous group, but came from many areas of aviation. They were seated in a very large room, which held 250 people. The room setup was to place the presenters on a podium, the guest speaker behind a lectern, stage right, and the slideshow way over on stage left.

I was probably the only speaker on the day to get down with the audience, and use Keynote, not Powerpoint. (Many conferences I attend either expect you to bring your own laptop and do all the tech support; or they go completely into control freak mode, and expect you to hand in your Powerpoint which they place on a central server to be played on their supplied PCs.)

So that’s my primary audience which will give one instant feedback as to one’s presentation, and either charge you up or deflate you as you go along.

But I also prepared, when constructing the presentation and its delivery, that I would have at least two other audiences, with quite different learning expectations and priorities…. and these would not be in the live audience to give me instant feedback.

It was my plan to video the presentation and give it to the APEX education committee to place on their private site, for members to watch and download at their leisure. What I was told was that my slides were required for this exercise. And of course I know that if I just sent them just the plain slides without builds and transitions or the accompanying stories, so much would be lost in translation. Of course, being steeped in the cognitive style of Powerpoint (having seen previous APEX slides), their expectation was that my slides would contain all that was needed to convey my story, without my narrative or voice-over. I knew otherwise, so had planned to video my presentation with me on the floor, and cutting in live-action video with my Keynote slides to make it a far more engaging video.

If you go back and view the video on YouTube, you’ll see why I had to limit my movements, so as to stay in camera shot. My iPhone was stationary and set by me to record, with no one to track me as I moved about. Hence, the need not to move out of camera range. That would be fine for the live audience, but the audience watching on YouTube would find it frustrating just to see me move in and out of camera. Here’s Jose himself in action from a camera’s static position, with an hour’s lecture sped up to take just a few minutes (much like we see how Boeing or Airbus assemble a plane in a two minutes.)

Firstly, here’s a screenshot from the video of Jose out of screen range:

This is what I tried NOT to do, and if one of the resultant effects was to come across stiffly, I was prepared to pay the price.

Here’s his YouTube video, and I’m not sure when I watch what is the message behind speeding it up. Note also the hulking and distracting video monitor stand in the centre of the video. Give me my less intrusive iKlip anyday 😉

I mentioned earlier three audiences I was addressing: (1) the live audience, (2) the aviation audience who would watch it on the APEX members-only website, and (3) now a third audience: my own presentation training audience who would watch the video on YouTube where its subject, fear of flying, was merely a vehicle to illustrate my presentation ideas.

For them, how I constructed my slides has always been of interest, but this would be the first time many who had not attended a Presentation Magic workshop would witness me interact with my slides and a live audience, and then read about what and how I did what I did moment by moment. If you can find another presenter who has done this naked work (so to speak) please send me a link so I can put it here and share it.

(This is likely why Jose’s blog entry confused me, focussing as it did on such a small element of my presentation, and making a big deal of something, warning other presenters their’s might be negatively affected.)

I want to focus on a couple more comments Jose made on his blog entry. He asserts I would have come across as more “natural” had I sat in a comfy chair and opined.

Sitting in chairs has the purpose of making a presentation more intimate with strangers. We’ve seen this when the Apple executive team demoed the iPad in keynotes, and more recently, it’s the setup Walt Mossberg took at his and Kara Swisher’s All Things Digital conferences, such as their recent one in Hong Kong.

Here’s Walt and Al Gore in conversation in front of hundreds of high powered Asia-based tech executives:

So sitting down has its place in public speaking in order to create an intimate dialogue when in front of a rather formidable audience or in a friendly small setting, because you want to create a special feeling in the room.

In my presentation at APEX, I was not interested in an intimate dialogue. I was challenged with 30 minutes to convince three audiences of the worthiness of my ideas, and my authority and authenticity in at least two fields: aviation and public speaking. It was not a time for intimacy.

Let me finish this critique of Jorge’s critique with his final words:

For me, Doceri won’t help. I use either a real teleprompter, the eyes-only presenter screen on large monitors at the ten-and-two positions on the floor, or — overwhelmingly — good memory supplemented by notes.

This is all well and good if you are repeating lectures in a familiar environment. But if you’re a public speaker as I am, most often – actually invariably – you are not given these tools Jose relies upon. So, I have to be inventive and the iPad, Doceri and the iKlip take me a long way to being self-sufficient as a presenter while hopefully delivering high quality presentations to diverse audiences on diverse subjects in diverse and sometimes hostile locations.

I appreciate the value of a great memory (which is why I rehearse so much as its an aide memoire), as are notes as long as they don’t interfere with you connecting to the audience.

But I fear that there is only so much of a rapprochement possible here. Focussing on such a small component of what I think is a rather complex, multilevel presentation with numerous audiences in mind doesn’t give me a sense of optimism.

Your comments are welcomed.

Are my Keynotes killing Hollywood’s senior actors?

Those of you who’ve been following my treatises on presenting or who have attended a workshop I’ve conducted on presentation skills, will know the emphasis I place on story telling.

I’m certainly not alone in this endeavour, and others like the Heath brothers have talked about the importance of story telling in their recent book, Made To Stick.

I’m always trying in my workshops to come up with new ways to persuade people of the importance of letting each slide become part of the overall story you’re telling, be it to sell ideas or goods, educate and inform, or brief an audience on your current research. And that each slide in its own way has a story to tell, or at least assist you to tell.

At Macworld 2008 where I presented on presentation skills (evaluation form available if you want to see it courtesy of IDG Macworld), I had planned to introduce a few new slides to illustrate to the audience, by involving them in a “theatre of the mind” activity, just how important story telling is in our world.

But I pulled the slides the night before because of worries over copyright, once I knew my presentation would be recorded. They were to be clips from well-known movies which were to illustrate my point, but being unsure of what constituted “fair use” in the USA I pulled the slides.

Later in Australia only a few days after returning from the US, and with no possibility of my all day workshop being videod, I included the slides, to great effect.

Here’s what I was trying to do.

Over several slides, I showed excerpts from films important to me, covering more than 40 years of filmgoing. Some of the actors in the clips were still alive, some had already passed on.

Not all in the workshop knew all the films, but most had seen some of them, enough to get my central idea of the importance of story telling.

I chose clips which were film highlights, perhaps even passing into common speech. But for this audience of mental health specialists, I let them know these clips told a lot about me, the presenter, because of what they all had in common. These clips illustrated not just memorable scenes, but collectively, they represented a peak in the story arc, an “Oh my gosh” moment where the story zagged into new narrative territory. These are scenes you wait to see again, even if you’ve seen the film many times. They are an emotional highlight.

Let me illustrate with some stills from the movies:

1. In the Heat of the Night (1967) – Sydney Poitier


Martin Luther King was still campaigning for human rights when this Academy Award winning film was released.

In this classic scene, Sydney Poitier is confronted by a Mississippi small town police chief, played by the late Rod Steiger. An industrialist bullding a new plant has been found murdered in the small hours of the morning, and Poitier has been taken in for questioning having been found waiting in the train station by Steiger’s deputy, and with more than a hundred dollars in his wallet. (This is 1967 after all).

Aggressively questioned by Steiger (who thinks he’s got his murderer standing in front of him) about where he got the money, Poitier tells him he earnt it, only to be rebutted with “Colour can’t earn that kind of money.” Asked what work he does to earn the hundreds of dollars now on the table, Poitier responds, “I’m a police officer!” Soon enough, Steiger discovers that not only is Poitier a “colleague” but he is Philadelphia’s finest homicide detective.

Later, after he’s seconded to the case against his own wishes, Poitier doesn’t hand over some FBI lab evidence he’s sent for. Steiger makes fun of his first name, Virgil. “Now that’s a funny kind of name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia. What do they call you up there?”

To which Poitier replies with a phrase that becomes the title of a follow up movie, “They call me Mister Tibbs!”

2. Planet of the Apes (1968) – Charlton Heston


A year later, the first of a franchise of science fiction films featuring the evolution of man to ape began when Chartlon Heston landed on a planet where the apes ruled, and humans were mute and experimented upon.

In one scene, Heston, playing astronaut George Taylor, is captured and taken to the centre of an adobe village where he is taunted by the local adolescent chimps. Mauled once too often, he screams to an astonished crowd, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

But the scene I included comes at the very end of the film, where Taylor (Heston) has captured the Minister for Science, Professor Zaius, whom he thinks knows the answers to how the planet is the way it is, with simians running the show.

On horseback, armed with his rifle (of course), and local female companion, Nova, he confronts Zaius for the last time:

George Taylor: A planet where apes evolved from men? There’s got to be an answer.

Dr. Zaius: Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.

A minute or so later, as Taylor rides along the shoreline, he confronts the explanation for the planet’s situation. (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it).

3. Jaws (1975) – Roy Scheider


Several years later, Steven Spielberg took a rather unknown novel and turned it into box office gold, keeping people away from beaches for years.

In the scene I’ve chosen, the fish hasn’t been sighted, his presence known to the audience by a musical phrase which must be one of the best known after the opening sequence of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. Scheider, playing a small town police chief joins old shark hunter Robert Shaw and young rich scholar of things fishy, Richard Dreyfuss, out in open waters to hunt the shark down.

In the setup to the scene, Shaw is quietly repairing fishing nets, Dreyfus is playing solitaire on the deck, while Scheider is “chumming”, throwing out offal to attract the beast. When he does, he and the audience share in the frightening moment, with Scheider slowly backing into the cabin, not taking his eyes from the ocean, before uttering the words, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

4. Capricorn One (1978) – Sam Waterston

Almost ten years after the first manned landing on the moon, the general public had become a little jaundiced with NASA’s continuing Apollo launches. Mind you, some had put forward conspiracy theories that the landings were all faked, so taking this as a story plot, Peter Hyam’s film constructs a manned mission to Mars. But NASA’s budget has been cut to the bone, and so its director, played by Hal Holbrook, sets up an elaborate scheme to fake a landing and safe return, expecting the three man crew, played by James Brolin, O.J. Simpson and Sam Waterston to go along with the plan, for the good of the company.

When Holbrook suspects Brolin’s character, Colonel Brubaker, will not keep the secret, he unrolls plan B which will see the astronauts disappear. Breaking out from their desert-based Mars simulation, the astronauts escape in a sleek Learjet, only to crash land it in the desert when it runs out of fuel.

Each astronaut goes their separate ways according to the compass in the hope that one of them will make it back to tell their story. O.J. is captured first, while Waterston finds that his chosen direction takes him to a huge outcropping he’s got to climb. Exhausted and dehydrated, he begins the climb, telling himself a joke in the form of a long-winded story about how to to gently break bad news. As he reaches the punchline and the outcropping’s peak, he looks over the edge, only to find…

I won’t spoil it for you, but the camera pulls back from Waterston’s character and we get to see what he has just seen… and we know then that Brolin will soon become the last man standing.

An irony in the film is that Brolin’s character is eventually rescued by a journalist played by Elliot Gould who has been suspicious all long. Do you know the connection in real life between Brolin and Gould? (Hint: She’s a rather funny girl).

5. History of the World – Part 1 (1981) – Mel Brooks

...these fifteen.. oy..ten commandments

I had planned to show a scene from this film to 120 lawyers at a professional meeting on teaching presentation skills… but I chickened out. I was running short of time, having condensed a day’s workshop into an hour’s presentation, so decided to discard this sequence.

I wanted to draw the lawyers’ attention to man-made commandments when it comes to slides, especially the ones that say “follow the 6 x 6″ rule, no more than six lines per slide, with no more than six words per slide.”

I wanted to say that presenters follow this mantra as if it was a commandment, but it’s a hoax, with no evidence to support it. In the film clip, Moses, played by Mel Brooks come down from Mt. Sinai carrying three tablets, of five commandments each.

But as he speaks, he drops one: “Here are the fifteen (drop, crash).. oy… ten commendments the lord gives us.”

I wanted the audience to equate this humorous piece with challenging “laws” of presenting which have no foundation.

And so, in my workshops where I use these clips, I ask participants to share with their neighbours films like these that have them pausing to watch and wait for their favourite scene, to emphasise the power of story telling, and how it’s so important to acknowledge when presenting.

Oh, and the title of this blog entry? A few weeks after I presented this workshop, Roy Scheider from Jaws died, then a few weeks later after another presentation, Charlton Heston died. I am hoping like crazy I haven’t put the mozz on any surviving actors in my slides.

UPDATE: September 28, 2008 – I had thought of including the famous scene in “Cool Hand Luke” where the prison superintendent, played by Strother Martin, says “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Strother Martin let's Paul Newman know of a failure to comminicate.

Strother Martin lets Paul Newman know of a "failure to communicate".

I include mention of it in this update to honour the passing of a true acting mensch, Paul Newman, on September 26.

What are your favourite scenes you would use if you were running a workshop like mine?