Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's wrong with your presentation?

(And what's that got to do with screenwriting?)

The  Teacher has had to do two presentations in the past few weeks - and she'd never used Powerpoint. In fact, I likewise had to do a presentation recently and I'd never used it either.

Both of us have been using computers in business environments since the mid-80s. We both have lots of experience talking in front of audiences - my largest was about 3000, and you can stick me in front of an audience with nothing prepared and I can just talk. The Teacher has spoken in front of a BAFTA audience, and done TV as well.

Speaking in public holds no fears for either of us. But neither of us had used Powerpoint.

The technology of it was no problem - we've used more different software packages than the average person, and on half a dozen different platforms (some no longer extant). Just not Powerpoint.

I hope the Teacher doesn't mind me saying that her first presentation did not go well at all. And it was not the technology that was the problem.

How many times have you seen a presentation where the person threw up slides covered in text and simply said what was on the slide? Does that remind you of anything?

Bad voice-overs.

There are those that say all voice-overs in scripts should be banned. This is nonsense of course, because there is a right way and a wrong way to do voice-overs. The wrong way is to describe what's happening on the screen - telling the audience what they can already see.

The right way is to have a voice-over which adds to what's being shown.

The same thing applies to presentations. What you say should not be what's on the slide, what you say should add to what's on the slide.

That's all. (I know I'm not the first person to say this.)

But there's more. The second presentation by the Teacher went swimmingly, she enjoyed it, the audience enjoyed it. The difference was not only that what she said added to what was on the slide. It was the fact that the slides she created were far more visual - appropriate pictures. The images were bound thematically throughout the presentation - and, to some extent, they told a story.

After the disaster of the first presentation the Teacher and I spent some time analysing the whole presentation thing. While it does depend to some extent on what you are presenting, the closer you can get to proper storytelling the better.

Imagine that each slide is actually a scene. It has its own beginning, middle and end - can you create a conflict on each slide, as well as through the whole presentation?

Can you get the audience emotionally involved? (Humour is always good for this.)

And it's at this point I start to step away from myself in horror.

Because this comes horribly close to the thing I loathe about certain TV shows - they do it on the talent shows a lot, but they've also been doing it on Great British Menu, and other competition cooking shows.

Creating stories that don't exist. For example, in GBM, inventing some issue with the cooking by a certain chef; that something is difficult when there's no evidence that it is; that something may go wrong; that there is risk and danger - which isn't really there; trying to play up their efforts to win, the level of competition.

The hand of the producer is very obvious. These "stories" are utterly fake and it grates. When it's false you are betraying the audience - you are lying to them.

So, if the idea of creating a story doesn't apply to your presentation (it didn't apply to the one that I did) then please please please be clever and don't fake it.

What's on the turntable? "Amalpura" by David Bowie (Tin Machine) from "Sound and Vision"



Having been to a few academic conferences, I've sat through far too many DeathByBulletPoint presentations. Where possible, I now use a method nicked wholesale from a great ppt I saw by a Brit professor based at a Canadian university, talking about Crash by Ballard/Cronenberg:

It was just pictures.

No text, no bullet points - just visuals. He knew his subject well, had a copy of the paper for his own reference. But mostly he simply spoke to the visuals, which were striking and told their own story.

Adaddinsane said...

Yes, I think that would be the pinnacle - the Teacher and I independently thought how useful it would be if one of us was an illustrator.

We aren't. We do words.