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No, I’m not talking about whether we should slide down the banisters of life*, but rather this post (and the next) is a collection of thoughts on choosing the right tools when preparing for presentations…

In June I’ll be attending two conferences, and I am currently in the process of preparing my contributions for them. One of them is a workshop and the other a more traditional presentation, so out of the gate, we are dealing with different types of presentations (or genres?) here. The workshop is a collaboration (and I will post about the prep in more detail as well as about the actual workshop once it happened soon), and when I met up with my collaborator, Katy Vigurs, to have a chat about what we are going to do and how to organise this, she mentioned “our slides” in passing.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t planning to do slides, at least not in the conventional sense. I try to avoid that for workshops. For a start I don’t like projecting something and then having people focus on something that is on the table in front of them. What should you concentrate on? The thing that is projected ona wall or the thing you are working on? What if you miss some vital instruction, so better focus on the projected thing, but that then breaks your concentration of working on the thing! If we had a lot of time, we could work with a stopping and starting model of working through stuff, but we only have 90 minutes and a lot to cover, so that wouldn’t work.

The other thing I don’t like about slides in this context (but that works wonderfully well in different contexts), is that slides have a list approach to information. I don’t mean that text on slides tends to be presented in a list format far too often (although it does), but rather the way they are organised. Each slide is one bit of information and once you move on, you move onto the next bit of information. In a way that sounds ideal for a workshop, but what if not everybody works at the same speed and with the same confidence? Yes, theoretically you can go back to previous slides, but you can’t really show two slides (or even more) at the same time. If you are giving people instructions as part of a workshop, chances are that not everybody is going to work at the same speed – and that is perfectly fine. But to make this as little anxiety inducing to participants as possible, we ideally have to find a way to keep instructions visible, even when we moved on to the next step. We can do this with a handout, but the problem with a handout is that if you give it to people during the workshop, you allow them to not just go back over content already covered, they can also skip ahead. I try to discourage people skipping ahead, because it can end up rushing the people who are going slower – and I have also found that sometimes people don’t do one step properly, skip to the next step (which might seem more fun) and then run into trouble later, because (guess what?) they didn’t do that one step properly. Or maybe I am just too much of a control freak… (definitely possible!).

So what we needed in the context of this workshop was a method that would let us deliver new bits of information in a controlled manner, while also allowing us to keep them visible once we are moving on to the next step. The solution: the humble flip chart. This means we can pre-prepare content, but can also develop it as we go. And while we can hide old content behind new content, we can also keep it visible by displaying it around the room. As it happens I have a roll of the ‘magic’ plastic flip chart stuff that will stick to pretty much any surface, so that will become our information delivery system. And I am also working on a handout to distribute at the end of the session.

Katy was fine with not doing slides, by the way. If we have a computer and projector in the room, we might use it to display this blog 😉

I am, however, still considering slides for my other conference presentation. More on that, prezi, props and slides in teaching in my next post.

 

*For the record, I think we should all try to slide down the banisters of life as often as possible, both literally and figuratively!

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At this week’s HEA Arts and Humanities conference, I was able to present an update of the fishscale research. The title of the 90 minute session was ‘Hunting Seamonsters – how to bust the ghosts of academic practice’, a nod to both the conference theme (Heroes and Monsters) and the strand (Ghosts) the abstract had been submitted to.

It was conceived as a ‘training montage from an 80s movie’ (a format suggested by the conference organisers), and this post is about this format rather than the content of the session. (The content was about the Fishscale of Academicness, if you want to know more about that, check the dedicated page on this blog.)

I love the idea of thinking about a presentation or a workshop in terms of a movie. I’ve been doing something similar with my students when talking about framing and structuring their writing, but I hadn’t quite realised this is also what I do when I plan my presenting. When doing my Post-graduate Certificate in Higher and Professional Education, we were told to vary the activities in a session every so often to keep the attention of students. And we were encouraged to plan our sessions in certain blocks, breaking down the different delivery methods and student activities. This was recorded (and planned) on a form, so basically a list. But there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a storyboard.

When putting together the abstract for this conference, the format of the training montage was incredibly helpful. I co-wrote this with a colleague from our School of Education and we wanted to bring in different perspectives of the Fishscale – the initial inspirations, the problem, the context, what other people are doing about this, the fishscale concept itself, the different activities for the students to consolidate the learning, the feedback from students, the feedback from other staff, an analysis of how the fishscale is working, and an idea of the research we are in the process of doing in order to evaluate whether it is actually working. This is a lot of stuff, even if you have 90 minutes to do it. Having the training montage in our heads, it became much clearer that we need to think not about all the content we have (or could have), but about editing it together. This was not going to be a documentary on one specific process, it was about selecting one important image/issue that could represent an area (and I have done a number of presentations that look at just one aspect of the fishscale). We are not shown every push-up that Rocky makes to get in shape, after all.

So in a way, we started planning with the cuts. We wanted a clear change every time we altered the perspective, and we ended up with six sections, alternately delivered, each time also swopping the delivery method – ranging from powerpoint presentation, to prezi, from group activities to discussion with the whole group.

Thinking about this planning as a training montage meant that my thoughts shifted from all the stuff I could have put in to just the most important things: what would give a flavour of this data? what do people need to know about in order to understand the fishscale? – How many push-ups do we need to get a sense that push-ups are being made regularly? How much can you reduce information to convey push-up-ness?

This is not a big shift from planning a session as a list, but I have found that story-boarding mentally can really help to condense and refine your content to make the most impact it can. So I will in future be conceptualising my session planning more as two parallel storyboards – one narrative of what I do as a presenter, and one with what I task my audience to do.

 

P.S.: while the Hunting Seamonster session went well, it had to be replanned last minute because Katy was ill and couldn’t do ‘her’ scenes. But while not all of the ‘cuts’ were as pronounced as they could have been, with me delivering most of them myself (I had another colleague standing in for some bits, but there wasn’t sufficient time for a full brief of everything), the integrity of the montage stayed intact, and this was a very different session than if I had planned it for myself without thinking about the visual of the training montage.