I almost stopped writing, as this image just makes me want to be in a world where presentations are this exciting. Frankly, now coming up on 18 years in the ed tech game, the differences from the experience of my very first educational conference to my most recent is perhaps better quality projectors. We still stand up and point at slides of Japan and work our audience up into a lather, right?
While I’ve been in agreement with Martin long before he even posted about being done with conferencing — I too sport a GUILTY sign for really not doing a whole lot about this, besides the yearly whinge blog post on this topic.
There definitely has to be a better model than the One with The Slides in front of the Ones in the Seats for 45 minute segments.
At the same time, we know the are people who excel at getting up and doing this. So its not all the problem with the format. And it certainly is not the technology or platform (when we move to talking about online presentations).
Instead of better slides and videos and twitter back channels, might we need more of this?
I’ve been reflecting on the presentations, both in person and online, from the past few months, and trying to zero in one a few things. First of all, I don;t know where The memo came from, but speaking in a monotone (or worse) reading from a sheet of paper, is a signal of a snoozer. Even if the ideas are good. Where is the truth that speaking in emotionless flat voices is a sign if superior intellect?
I’m thinking of one person who serves as a star model for presenting ideas– Bryan Alexander. For those that know him or have hear him, you know he is a sheer force of a personality, and flows with energy. You will never catch him monotoning it. But let’s take a closer look. at three bits of Bryan-ism.
In person, speaking, he exudes dynamism- he paces the room, he waves his arms, he draws you in with a depth of knowledge and history, he pushes 60 slides per minute of mostly visuals. He’s also one who always give you a way yo access all his resources, be it on wiki, slideshare, etc. But what he does mostly is share his ideas in a very Bryan and human fashion.
But he took that to a new level at the May 2010 Northern Voice conference, where his keynote took place in a very lovely and daylight filled atrium at UBC- and slides were not possible. As he described it, he was “powerpointless”. Yet he carried his message out in the oldest form, the spoken word. Slides were not even needed. The sheer force of personality.
I don’t think I’ve ever even tried presenting that naked of media. I think we need to do more of that.
The last bit is how Bryan brings his message in an online conference. Our 2010 NMC Symposium for the Future was held in Second Life, and environment that Bryan does not hold back his criticism of. We had some major challenges with the client software and his audio, but he thankfully persisted.
The platform only conveys his ideas, it becomes a secondary factor- he really transcends the platform and technology with the richness of his message, and mostly, again his human side oozes from even an avatar. You can hear it in the audio archive.
So you might say, sure that’s Bryan, he has that cool beard and all the occult/game interests.
Take a listen to a different presenter from that same NMC online conference, my friend and colleague Sian Proctor, who I arm twisted to share her experiences and perspectives on the future, from her being a participant in the Discovery channel’s reality show, The Colony. See the videos, slides, and hear the audio from her session on Post Apocalyptic Technology ““ What does that really mean?
What she did so well was to speak in her natural voice, and show again, genuine excitement and passion about her topic.
Or catch the archive of a recent Connect@NMC session with Lynda Weinmanwhere she told, again in a even, but animated and human voice, her own story and ideas on changing education. Humanness radiated the session.
I am really thinking many of us (me first) need more experience at improv than at making slides.
Before moving back to face to face conferences, I will share you one thing that works horribly in online conferences – playing videos longer than a short clip. We tend to hold the illusion that these synchronous environments can broadcast video like a TV signal, that people will see it smoothly from start to finish as we do on our desktops. From where I live with marginal broadband at home, I can say for sure that one’s experience of video varies wildly with variance of network connectivity. Invariably, some people will see video smoothly from start to end; others will have longer play times with more buffering, and others will see almos nothing.
If a video is that crucial, make sure you send the URL via chat and make it available later, but honestly, unless you can be sure every audience member has the same quality connectivity, playing a video, specially something more than a few (I’d keep it to 1-2) minutes, is a killer.
But really, the format is stale as that mystery vegetable in the back of my fridge. There has to be different formulas that a steady pummeling of 45 minute mono-sessions. Don’t get me wrong, the organization and offering a the free Global Online Conference is on a scale I’ve never seen or imagined, something like 400 sessions, 60+ keynotes. it’s a huge world-wide opportunity– yet I’m getting worn out just thinking about looking at the program. Of course, with an event like this, you can pick and choose the 3 sessions you want, and get a ton out of it.
Yet it is the form again that has not changed. One or two, maybe three people talking over slides to an audience for 45 or 50 minutes. Repeat 400 times. It will take 14 days of full time watching to see all the archives (make sure someone brings you food and water).
My recent experience at the TEDxPHX was a tiny bit of a different and fresher flavor on the format, for at least a shorter form, and mixing up live sessions, with music performances and shared videos (in this space, videos worked great!). Yet… there really was no role or thing for us as an audience to do except to be an audience. They presented, we watched. Not much interchange.
This is all background into some thinking I am trying to do for our Spring NMC Online conference planning. The cool thing about our Virtual Symposia is that we don’t just base it on what we know works as a technical platform, we flip it over, turn it inside out, and re-invent it every few years. That was the impetus that led us into exploring 3D virtual spaces for these conferences in 2007-2010.
it’s time again to mix it up. For me, despite the barrier of entry, the limits on numbers of participants, what was most key about a Second Life virtual conference space was that it persisted when there were no sessions were going on. It was a place, and there were more ways to express oneself than typing in a chat box. When you go to a web based conference (e.g. Elluminate, Connect, WebEx, et al)- when the session ends, pretty much the conference space/place evaporates. Sure people can bounce messages in a discussion forum or twitter streams, but it’s like being at a conference center that disappears when the speaker stops talking.
Synchronous conference software have not evolved all that much in function from the ones I first saw in the early part of this decade. Share slides/media on a screen. Hear live audio or a tiny video of a person in a box, communicate in chat. The differences in the platforms are really more cosmetic than functional.
So because I think it is the force of the personalities that matter, more than the technical platform, it is less of a matter of looking for a new technology, and more a goal of re-inventing the format and activities. Busting up the cookie cutter agenda of keynote breakout breakout breakout breakout. Fold in more smaller activities where more people contribute/participate. Find ways for the space to persist. Break out the session notion of Me on the Stage Telling You Something and move parts of it more to people actually doing something, not just listening to someone talk about something they did.
These are just vague ideas floating around my cortex, but we are going to make our next online conference rather different, and I most want to make the audience experience different.