In February I wrote a tips piece on the subject of pacing the amount of time per slide in a presentation. This is one of those areas where the the special needs and technical concerns of a web-based audience force a different recommendation than when creating a presentation for live or recorded delivery.
I made reference to a presentation I had seen and lost. I can now follow up with a huge thank you to Joanna at the TLT Group for correctly figuring out exactly which presentation I meant and sending me a link I can pass on to you. This is Dick Hardt, presenting at OSCON 2005. Hardt in turn gives thanks to Lawrence Lessig, the "founder" of this general style of slide delivery... Lots of short call out pointsthat highlight words in the speech.
The always excellent Presentation Zen blog by Garr Reynolds covered both Lessig and Hardt in an October 2005 article.
I'm a bigger fan of Hardt's slides than Lessig's slides. Lessig tends to do the equivalent of the old Evelyn Wood speed reading technique. He selectively highlights key words in the stream of text to focus comprehension while ignoring "filler" content. It's very easy to create such slides, as you don't have to spend any time working on finding, scaling, and copying source graphics. Hardt makes much heavier use of pure imagery, which supports his speech with concept groups that go beyond a single word.The combination of his vocal delivery in words and the visual aspect in pictures works nicely. It is a combination I recommend to my clients in preparing content.
But let's take a closer look at Hardt's presentation. First I'd like you to try an experiment. Let it run for a minute so he's really rolling in his wry delivery style. Now mute the volume on your PC and just watch the slides go by. You'll find that they are useless on their own. In fact, you'll probably get bored. This highlights the fact that a good presentation makes a bad handout. If you can supply your audience with just a copy of your slides after you're done and they have all the information they need,you have designed a poor presentation deck. If a takeaway handout is important, write it separately.
Now turn the sound back on and close your eyes or cover the viewing window with your hand. You'll find that Hardt isn't a very good speaker, taken from a classic presentation standpoint. He speaks in something of a disinterested monotone, uses too many qualifiers and fillers in his speech, and goes too fast for you to remember and take note of specifics in his presentation.
With two supposed "strikes" against him, why then does the combined presentation work so well? Mainly it's a matter of preparation and practice. Hardt has a full script that he knows and has rehearsed to the point where the delivery sounds natural and spontaneous. It sounds like he's just talking about the topic material off the top of his head. Obviously he isn't, as each one-second image has to come up just as he hits a particular word in the delivery. The combined effect is breathtaking, as it seems likeHardt somehow knows the images your brain is forming by itself as you process his words.
Most people have a hard time reading a full text script out loud and making it sound like a spontaneous delivery. That is why I usually argue against using a complete presentation script. But if you want to make the best possible presentation, this is the way to do it. Write out your script. Make sure everything segues smoothly and naturally. Design images that support and highlight key concept points. And then rehearse it until you are positively sick of it and feel like you can't possibly do it one more time.Record it and listen to yourself. Does it sound like you're reading? Then you have to practice some more. Eventually you will get to the point where you are saying the words instead of reading them. The text on the page then becomes a memory jog instead of an exercise in sight reading.
When words and images work together, they create a whole that is much more than the sum of the two parts. The way the brain processes the information in each receiving channel supplements rather than overlaps. You hold your audience's attention and focus their concentration on your material.
As I wrote in February, Hardt's presentation wouldn't work for a live webinar. I'm not suggesting you create a few hundred slides for your next webcast. But there is a lot to study and learn from here, and it's darned fun to watch him pull it off!
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