Friday, February 17, 2012

Presentations & the Land Of Nod

While I was trying to find the land of nod last night, I started thinking about what I should blog about this month.  I need to do a Super Bowl wrap-up -and I promise one is in the works- but it wasn't what had me rolling ideas around in my head at 1AM.  A conversation with a fellow faculty member was keeping my brain spinning when it should've been finding the dream fairy.

Our conversation was about presentation styles and tools.  Now, as you know by now, I'm a gadget-girl.  I love trying new things -and if it is connected to computers and electronics, even better!  My colleague, though tech-savy, used more tried-and-true measures.  Some of our differences are definitely related to the subject matter we teach.  Being a marketing professor has the bonus of creativity being an underlying part of everything we should be doing, which let's my gadget-geek girl run wild when figuring out my presentations.

I'm not going to tell you that every presentation I have done has been great - or even kept people awake.  There are days when I feel like I am the one helping people to the land of nod.  But there are times, when I connect and things sizzle.  The creativity bounces around the room and I know my presentation is having an impact that might actually be remembered later - perhaps when they are finding the land of nod unattainable because they can't stop their mind from spinning about that presentation.  So, here is my take on several different presentation tools out there.

PowerPoint - We all know it, we all use it, frequently with horrible results.  It's the thing "creative" presenters are running from, and one of the most mis-used tools in business and most likely education.  Now, as much as I'm not a fan of Microsoft, I will say there is a lot to like here - and I do use it (though the Mac version).  Where people go wrong is by incorporating walls of text in their presentations.  Remember folks, it's about the highlights.  Less is definitely more with PowerPoint.

I can't say I haven't fallen into the traps of adding too much information or using non-related-cheesey-graphics-for-having-a-picture sake in my PowerPoints.  Right now, I know I need to redesign my Theater PowerPoint for my Entertainment Marketing class - particularly those slides about the average theater goer, where perhaps I went into a bit too much detail on screen.  But we shouldn't throw the baby-or PowerPoint-out with the bathwater.  It can still be effective, and it does have some nice whistles like easily recorded audio, a neat presentation tool for distance learning or corporate presentations.

If you're looking to get some inspiration to spiff-up your PowerPoints, check out Microsoft's free templates.  Nothing says blah faster than a standard, over-used PowerPoint template, and worse, nothing makes you blend in more than when you arrive at presentation day only to discover three other groups'  presentations look exactly the same.

Besides being gamger-girl-gadget-geek, I'm also a Mac girl who drank the kool-aid long, long ago.  I was using Apple, when Apple was far from cool.  The main reason was because I thought like a Mac, not a like PC.  The Apple "Think Different" campaign was all about how I think and how that pairs well with Mac/Apple products.  Apple's presentation software is called Keynote.  Hands-down, I like it better than PowerPoint.  It's cleaner with newer and fresher templates, but it isn't the standard in business, and does have translation problems when you convert into PowerPoint (some of the images you easily dropped in using Pages will disappear when you go to PPT because they aren't supported).  When I want a sleek, clean looking presentation, I use Keynote - especially if I know I can connect my laptop or iPad to the projector.  It's part of the iWork suite of products and there is an app I can use to create presentations on my iPad and even iPhone - so it wins in the portability department as well.  Also, you can open PPT presentations in Keynote and turn Keynote presentations into PPT slides in reverse.  I will admit that even if I create something in Keynote, I will post it in my on-line classrooms in PPT.

Speaking of sharing slides with others, let's take a look at SlideShare.
SlideShare is a portal where you can up-load presentations to the web to be accessed by others.  It's a great place for conference presenters to upload their PPT presentations (do it as a PDF to make it easier on you and others) for attendees to access after the dust has settled and they are trying to remember a key-point or long-forgotten factoid.  What is frequently lost at SlideShare is the commentary - the value-added by the speaker information.  If you are using SlideShare to disseminate your presentation after the presentation itself to your audience, more power to you, but if you are using it as a communication method you will need to think about how to redesign your presentation.  Jon Thomas from the socialFresh blog wrote a post giving some handy tips on creating better SlideShare presentations - take a look if you want more info.

But what is different out there?  What are presentation gadget-geeks talking about around water coolers?  Most likely the answer is Prezi.
I have been using Prezis for over a year now, and I finally have some idea for when they are best used.   I have watched students use them effectively and ineffectively - and I have fallen into the trap of using something new and shiny for no other reason than that it was new and shiny.

When is Prezi effective?  I love to use it when I'm a presenter at a conference.  It's different, keeps attention better, and creates movement that PPT and Keynote just can't.  BUT it has some drawbacks - though YouTube videos and images are easily uploaded and included, arranging things takes more time and consideration of perspective.  Can I create a quick Prezi?  Sure - but it may not be the best Prezi.  Perspective matters here - and if used effectively can make a real impact.  My biggest complaint is that I can't link a url to a word or graphic.  Instead, I have to put the entire url text in the Prezi and click on it.  BLEH and ugly - but I do it because the pluses out-weigh this negative in most circumstances.

Prezis work great when you need to incorporate YouTube videos and images or you are frequently linking to web content.  Last night, I used a Prezi presentation in my Advertising class.  I thought Prezi was more effective because it allowed me to embed the YouTube commercials into my presentation as well as print ads and photos of billboards.  It made my presentation easier than if I had done it in PPT.  Also, the large canvas - everything in the presentation can be seen at once - helped me to organize things easily. If I had been using PPT or Keynote, I would have been switching between different slides and most likely getting frustrated and losing content.

Remember those walls of text that are horrible in PPT?  They are worse in Prezi - don't use them - you'll regret it.  There is also a tendency to use way too much movement in Prezi.  An audience that is queasy and on the verge of losing the lunch they had before your keynote presentation is not a happy audience - so use the movement features judiciously and to make an impact.  Also, don't use their multi-user editing tool amongst users at the same time.  One editor at a time, and your presentation will stay in tact.  If you need to create a presentation using multiple users, try Google Docs.  I've had the best luck with not losing changes with multiple editors working at the same time in Google Docs.  

SlideRocket is another newish presentation method.  I will admit I have not used this one yet, but it is on my radar.  It looks to be sleek and easy-to-use, but I'm not sure about the cost of this one.  Let me know if you've used it or take a look on their website.  Here's an example of a SlideRocket all about being single on Valentine's Day:

Now, that the birds are up tweeting, and my furry kids are in the middle of their mid-morning naps, I think I'll find a cup of coffee and rework on those over-verbose Theater slides.

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