Happy Birthday

PowerPoint was born 25 years ago, on 14 August 1984. An article on the BBC News Magazine, entitled “The problem with PowerPoint” points out that “They’re often boring” and goes on to point out the problems with PowerPoint presentations which are too wordy, make excessive use of bullet points, etc.

The Need For Good Design and Visual Impact

Slide by Alison Wildish

Nothing surprising, you may think.  And I too have been bored with such presentations and have been impressed with more visually oriented presentations, in which the design creativity is apparent.

Slide by Alison WildishIn particular I remember how impressed I was with Alison Wildish’s plenary talk at IWMW 2007 – a talk which was radical, at the time, in the summary of how a relatively new institution (Edge Hill University) was embracing Social Web services to engage with students and potential students.

The accompanying slides were also visually impressive, with each slide having its own visual identity and some of the slides challenging the assumptions that a speaker from a marketing background would invariably promote their own institution.

As someone who gives a lot of talks my slides should be more like Alison’s, I can remember thinking at the time. I should ditch the UKOLN template and make the individual slides distinctive, as Alison did. And I should reduce the amount of text on the slides, leaving it to my memory, or the accompanying speaker notes, to provide the details of what I will say in my talks.

An Alternative View

But whilst I’ll acknowledge the impact that good design and visual diversity can have on an audience I do wonder whether the points made in the BBC article start to become slightly less relevant in the environment I increasingly work in, in which ‘amplified conferences’ will be built around the speakers and their slides but the audience may not be physically present in the lecture theatre but viewing the talks on a video streaming service or accessing the slides after the event is over.

UKOLN’s recent IWMW 2009 event was one such amplified event.  And for this event we sought to treat the remote audience watching the video stream as first class participants, providing access to the plenary speaker’s slides using Slideshare, as well as using various social media services, such as Twitter to encourage discussions, etc. Liz Azyan, in a blog post entitled “Iwmw2009: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly…“, picked up on the importance of this approach:

Let’s talk a bit about some of the stuff I liked about the conference…

There were alot of things that this conference did get right in terms of using social media to fully aggregate the workshops content effectively online. Check out how #iwmw2009 came alive online and created real-time conversations and feedback …

  1. Slideshare of all presentation slides (Excellent!) – I always find myself needing to ask for these at events and often take a long time to become available. So, well done!

In a follow-up post Liz, in a report on the opening session at the event, embedded the slides from the two opening talks, thus illustrating how such slides can now be decoupled from their use in the live presentation.

I personally am finding larger numbers of people seem to access to my slides on Slideshare than are present when I give the live presentation. Looking at the statistics I notice that a the slides for a talk on “Introduction To Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges For The Institution“, which was given to a small number (less than 20) of staff at Bath University has been viewed 10,900 times.

Who, then, is my main audience? Should I seek to treat the remote audience on par with the live audience? And if I do wish to do this, will it (should it) have any relevance to the design of the slides?  Perhaps for the remote audience, there should be a greater emphasis placed on the informational content, whereas for the live audience the emphasis may be on engaging with the audience?

And does a personal visual appearance for slides possibly make it difficult for the slides to be reused? For a number of years I have provided a Creative Commons licence for my slides, and have welcomed their reuse. But if they were less neutral in the appearance and contained less content, would this detract from their potential for reuse?

Or are these just excuses for my lack of design skills!?