I’ve had an idea lurking for a while now. It’s this.
The “format” of “doing a presentation” is a tried and tested one. It has been around, probably for millennia. Someone turns up, talks for a duration. Sometimes at the end there a questions.
And to some degree it could be said that the format works. We all know what to expect, how to behave ( shut up and laugh at the right moments ) and we leave, hopefully having learnt or gained something. If you were only mildly entertained most people would chalk the experience down as “not a total waste of time”. Sometimes, on the good days, it changes the way you think, blows your mind and changes everything. Most times are not sometimes.
For the presenter, a presentation is, pretty much a known entity. Often a presentation has been rehearsed or performed before, being tweaked and improved as it goes.
So, if the presentation format works, why fix it?
I don’t really want to change the presentation format as such, but what I’d like to try are some experiments to see if by doing things only slightly differently that we end with a totally different outcomes… for the speakers, for the audience and for the wider world of interested people.
And much of the thrust of this comes from the huge pools of potential that, to me at least, seem un-tapped…
Firstly, there’s the technology: Technology is great isn’t it? And yet most of the time it’s only used to project the Powerpoint slides of the speaker. Some people argue that using slides has hobbled the presentation format and we’ve all been there squirming when someone reads ( badly ) their badly written slides.
I’ve been to some conferences where they display a Twitterfall using a shared conference #hashtag. This can sometimes let the audience ask questions or suggest links. In general it is disruptive because the speaker wasn’t planning on speaking about that then, or because some idiot like me has posted a crap gag.
The problem with technological augmentation of conferences is that it often just makes it worse. I haven’t seen QR codes used at a conference yet. I live in fear. The issue with adding technology… whatever it is… to a conference like event is that in order to accommodate it, the event ( or the event format ) has to change. Slapping technology around normally doesn’t help matters.
But the most obvious problem with technology at a presentation is that it isn’t playing to technology ( or even peoples’ strengths) because it needs to exist in real time… and to be honest, I’d rather set my attention on the speaker than start pecking at an ipad.
Technology, in this case, probably works best asynchronously… before and after the event, not during.
So typically, before the presentations, the presenters may forward their PowerPoint slides. That’s it. The sum total of “using technology” to support the event. Some posher conferences might have a simple site where the speakers and/or delegates are listed so you can nosey around a bit, but this is far from the norm. So if presenters turn up with their slides on a USB stick… then, despite there being ( allegedly ) a whole heap of ways of working together online, presenters either choose not to or can’t.
Surely there must be SOME technology that we might want to use BEFORE a conference/presentation events more than an email with directions in?
Secondly, I believe in people and collaboration: Sure, there are some excellent, charismatic speakers out there but I also like hearing from reluctant speakers too. They may be talking about their life or their work or their passion – it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen and enjoyed too many people like this to think that the slick Steve Jobs delivery is the only show in town.
I also believe, or know, I’m not sure which that lots of people do their best work in collaboration. Often people genuinely don’t think they have a story worth sharing. It’s the “why would anyone be interested in little ol’ me – I’ve been been training hamsters to juggle for years” syndrome.
So if it’s a given that there’s oodles of technological opportunities just lying around AND that there are more inspirational people than the shining polished show offs … what can we do with those two surpluses to stir things up, maybe do something better.
Lastly, I believe in people and collaboration again: Maybe it’s because I’m a big-mouth AND a chicken that I find myself in the audience at a presentation and want to participate more. I may not have anything earth shattering to say, maybe I just want to add a link to what is being said, a quick heads-up type thing but the current presentation format ( except for the twitterfall ) doesn’t really allow that. It’s just not allowed. You are here to listen and shut up.
Again, I’m left thinking that there’s a huge potential here, the audience, just being wasted or at best ignored… and surely, shouldn’t technology be able to allow contribution without ruining the experience.
So What Can We Do About It? Some ideas…
I’d like to be clear about this. I don’t have a clue what I’m trying to do here, except that it’s something to do with the audience being less separated from the speakers, the speakers are more connected or aware of each other and the audience and that the best people are chosen, and they are encouraged ( maybe via collaboration ) to produce their best work… and all of this is enable by some technology… somehow…
What it boils down to is a number of simple interventions, that, by doing things differently, might be incredibly useful… So here goes some ideas…
- What if everyone shared their slides and a heap of URLs before the event? Maybe instead of slides, what if people posted ideas on PostIt notes on a shared wall? Like this. Would anyone take part? Would it change anything?
- What if the speakers could poll the audience before hand… not in a “does anyone like ice cream way?” … but in a more involved way, that might include more in-depth free-text responses? Would it work?
- What if, rather than an event being a collection of presentations or experiences, the end result was a book, with chapters that we would all be co-creating.
- What if there was the idea of an over-arching META-narrative and so rather than the speaker taking up their allocated time-slot, they would fit what they wanted to say into a bigger story.. maybe speaking more at the beginning, a little in middle and just for one slide at the end.
- What if the speakers had to introduce the next speaker up… with some insight?
- What if, rather than working on individual slides, the speakers worked on ONE HUGE PREZI presentation? Would your content occupying the same 2D space as someone else force new connections to happen?
- What if people “pair presented”? Presenters would be matched by people designated to ask questions, join in, maybe refer to the twitterfall for inspiration. I saw Dan Catt and someone else from the Guardian do this and they were brilliant… I wonder if this would work if done cold?
Now of course you might be thinking that all this sounds like a lot of work ( for the speakers ) but I’m not convinced it is.. it might not take much time at all, but it IS a very different way of working – that needs to happen before the actual get together.
My belief is this… that if you can find half a dozen people interested in presenting, who are themselves interested and interesting then isn’t a total waste of the latent potential of 6×6 peoples’ shared power if you simply ask them to fill a time slot?
Getting six people together doesn’t guarantee wonderfulness. Some people don’t play that way. It could end up in a fight ( it often does ) but there is always that potential lurking. I’ve seen it happen too many times not to believe that it is probably there more often than not.
So, finally finally, two questions…
1. Does anyone have any more ideas for ways you might fiddle with the presentation format to get more out of it, to have more fun?
2. Who’s in?