[Life Hack] Presentation software?

I like Edward Tufte's point on presentations. One of his reader asks how to make presentations: techniques, handouts, display technologies.In your discussion you seemed to have a dislike for using Microsoft's Power Point. Is there an alternative software package for presentations? Of course the guy misses the point: PowerPoint is not the problem, it's just a software; the idea is rather that using this kind of slide presentation (heavily bulleted) IS a problem since it constrain the information flow/thinking process.

It is astonishing that people have somehow managed to teach and to give talks for thousands of years without "presentation software"! In the first place, don't begin with the question "What presentation software should one use?" but rather with "What are the thinking-learning-understanding tasks that my displays and presentations are supposed to help with?" Answering this second question will then suggest technologies of information transmission.

So if you are teaching a course in art history or architecture, you will need to show a lot of high-resolution color 35mm slides and to provide color thumbnails on a class handout (paper). To present statistical data, you'll need to hand out annotated and sourced tables, graphs, and charts on paper.

If the presentation is about strategic thinking or project planning, you will want to avoid the dreaded bullet list. On how the bullet list makes people stupid, see Gordon Shaw, Robert Brown, and Philip Bromiley, "Strategic Stories: How 3M is Rewriting Business Planning," Harvard Business Review, 76 (May-June 1998), pp. 41-50.

And there is nothing like the real thing; show your audience the actual physical object you are talking about. If the content consists of sound and motion, show sound and motion.(See my earlier response on multi-media for more on this.)

For medical case presentations, see the display in Visual Explantions, pp. 110-111 and the articles by Seth Powsner and E.T. cited there.

Overhead projectors and PowerPoint tend to leave no traces; instead give people paper, which they can read, take away, show others, make copies, and come back to you in a month and say "Didn't you say this last month? It's right here in your handout." The resolution of paper (being read by people in the audience) must be ten times the resolution of talk talk talk or reading aloud from bullet lists projected up on the wall. A paper record tells your audience that you are serious, responsible, exact, credible. For deep analysis of evidence and reasoning about complex matters, permanent high-resolution displays are an excellent start.

For a devastating parody of PowerPoint, see Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint, by Peter Norvig (http://www.norvig.com or a mirror site which you can easily track down in Google).

One more example. If you are teaching math, hand out the proofs on paper at the beginning of class to all the students; then work through the written-out proofs aloud in class, following the proofs on paper. That way your students aren't merely making notes and recording your words; instead they are thinking. I believe that students should THINK in class, not take notes. So give the students your lecture notes and go through them carefully in class, trying to insure understanding of each part as you go. Your voice in effect annotates and explains the material on paper. (Of course, these ideas apply widely, not just to teaching math.)

I have written specifically about making presentations in Visual Explanations, pp. 68-71.

-- Edward Tufte, May 28, 2001