Higher Expectations For Presentations

Few of us are natural presenters. When you combine that with a growing dependence on PowerPoint visuals that are full of bullet points, the likelihood is that we’ll all be seeing more bad or mediocre presentations than really good ones. Adding to the challenge of pulling off a good presentation is the rising expectation that audiences have for a presentation experience that is engaging (not boring) and informative – and perhaps being informative is not as essential as being memorable (having a style or presence that means audiences remember you even if they don’t remeber much of what you said).

I got to thinking about how these rising expectations apply to the academic library profession after reading a post by Dave Paradi. Are we expecting better presentations when we go to local meetings, national conferences and even participate in webcasts? Does someone going over a set of PowerPoint slides just not cut it anymore? What do we expect? Multimedia extravaganzas? Risky demonstrations? Paradi said:

Being a good presenter is not a matter today of being better than those who are poor presenters. It is a matter of being as good as the best presenters your audience has seen. In today’s world, we are not compared to just others in our own firm or industry, we are compared to the world’s best that we see and hear on TV or the internet.

I think Paradi makes a good point here. It is now much more common to find recorded presentations on the Internet, and many of them feature top notch presenters. Look for any presentation by Seth Godin or Sir Ken Robinson (at TED), just to name two examples of standout presenters. It’s downright rare to catch a presentation by a librarian that comes close to what these topnotch presenters accomplish. This is not a putdown of academic librarians as presenters; I’m certainly not much better than most (although I am working at trying to get away from or minimize text-dominated presentations). And in our defense most of the top presenters are able to refine their skills through the dozens of presentations they do annually. Many librarians present just a few times a year. It’s hard to achieve greatness at anything when you do it rarely. But if expectations are rising for better presentations then we need to start thinking about doing something to improve.

What do you think? Have your expectations for better presentations by academic librarians risen in the last year or two? Do you still tolerate a bad or mediocre presentation, or do you get up and walk out of the room – or just whip out your Blackberry or Treo to check you e-mail? Do you judge the presentations you see at library conferences against those you see elsewhere? If you have some thoughts share them by leaving a comment.

NOTE – comments have been restored to ACRLog. Thanks for your patience.

2 thoughts on “Higher Expectations For Presentations”

  1. My expectations have risen greatly in the past 2 years. I will no longer tolerate a presentation that is read to me off slides or paper. Come on people…this is not grade school!

    I expect someone to put some effort into connecting with the audience. I also want to be entertained a little…one or two laughs go a long way!

    To combat bad presentations I bring my laptop with me whenever I attend conferences or workshops. Once the monotone, lacklustre reading starts…so too does my laptop.

  2. I have given more than a hundred presentations, and I can say that standards have gone up.

    I’m not sure how much this has to do with multimedia.

    When I first started giving presentations (and hence, seeing them at conferences) several things were common:

    – people would actually read their papers (looking down at the paper and reading it word for word, no slides, no nothing)

    – people would mumble, fail to articulate, fail to enunciate

    – people would either speak using jargon and acronyms comprehensible by nobody except intimates, or failing that, speak at a fifth grade level

    What Power Point did was to free people from the tyranny of the printed text (and replace that with the tyranny of the point-form slide). And things got worse:

    – people would put tiny text or incomprehensible graphics on their slides

    – people would read their slides, and more slowly than the audience could read them for themselves

    – people would not know anything about their subject ovre and above what was on their slides

    Over the last few years, however, what has emerged is the power presenter. A Goden, perhaps. A Lessig, certainly. People who:

    – know their subject intimately, and therefore, know exactly what they want to say before they get to the podium

    – say it, clearly and articulately, without notes

    – use the slides as they were meant to be used: to highlight key points, to provide notes, to illustrate and animate the content

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