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A little clarity

From time to time, I’ll post something that could best fit under the topic “a little clarity”.

In my search for a book on information graphics, I’ve just stumbled across a book by Edward Tufte that tears apart bad Powerpoint presentations. At the most basic level, its recommendation seems to be that a good handout is better than a bad Powerpoint presentation. To verify that assertion, one Amazon reviewer took it upon himself to present a paper handout at a presentation, and make his show without Powerpoint. He was one of a number of presenters.

After the show, the audience was surveyed. It turned out that they preferred Powerpoint presentations (even the bad one) to his handout-only presentation.

Here’s my point: was the purpose of the show to entertain the audience during the presentation or to affect their performance in the office after the presentation? If the audience retained nothing of the Powerpoint shows, yet retained the information from the handout, then in my opinion, the handout was more successful …

… assuming that retention, not entertainment was the point of the whole thing.

The survey should not have asked which presentation was most liked, but it should have asked the respondents to recall as much as they could from each presentation.

So. We need to be more critical of information which is presented to us, and we shouldn’t automatically accept somebody else’s framing of a situation.

I understand that sometimes we need to take a new instruction on faith, but my main issue is with those who repeat those instructions without knowing the worth behind them. This is how misinformation (not disinformation) gets passed on by hasty teachers and instant experts.

As for big-mouth bloggers like me, I do my best to ensure that a technique works for me before I pass it on. There are a lot of things that I’ve been taught that I’d like to pass on, but I’m holding my peace until I can back them up.

Less, talk, more practice.

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  1. paul
    March 11th, 2010 at 16:38 | #1

    My experience is that my audience retains more by the very fact that my visual aids keep them entertained: it keeps them from tuning out. Maybe that’s the guy’s implicit point? Of course, I am very conservative about PowerPoint design: a pretty photograph at low brightness as a background, but otherwise just soft but clearly discernable colours and large, easy-on-the-eyes fonts for my dead language quotations. All static: no animations, no audio. In fact, I always present from a pdf-file in a fullscreen Adobe Acrobat window.

    Here’s a decade-old comedy routine about bad PowerPoint presentations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BP2HlNmRJ4

  2. SteveR
    March 12th, 2010 at 14:20 | #2

    Yep, engaging the viewer is good, but I view it as the first step on the path to retention. If I engage my students, that’s good, but if their work doesn’t improve, I’ve missed the target.

    That’s the “refine” part of “refine and repeat” as it relates to communication: know where our target is so we can refine our aim.

    Restrained presentation design is good. It comes down to signal-to-noise again, doesn’t it?

  3. SteveR
    March 15th, 2010 at 12:18 | #3

    By the way, thanks for the link, Paul. He nailed it!

  4. paul
    March 21st, 2010 at 08:35 | #4
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