Monday, April 20, 2009

A Conference Without PowerPoint?

My quixotic quest for adding some more zip to museum conferences by subtracting PowerPoint (or at least really lame PowerPoint --- like reading off your bullet points...) from the equation looks like it's starting to bear fruit. I started instigating a year ago with a posting on ExhibiTricks before the Denver museum conferences (see the original blog entry below.)

Here's an update from some recent events: I'm happy to report that the recent MAAM "Creating Exhibitions" conference had a large number (a majority?) of non-computerized presentations that actually fostered conversation and interaction amongst the participants.

For those of you heading to Philadelphia next week for this year's ACM and AAM conferences, the fine folks from ACM allowed Peter Exley and myself to host an officially sanctioned Pecha Kucha event on Monday, April 27th from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the "Philadelphia Ballroom" on the Mezzanine level of the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center located at 17th and Race Street. If you're registered for ACM, come join us! (Did I mention Cash Bar?)

I also hear rumblings that ASTC will be holding some Pecha Kucha and other alternative presentation formats at this year's conference in Fort Worth.

I don't suppose we'll ever get the "Museums and the Web" folks to release their death grips on their laptops and LCD projectors, but at least we're off to a good start with moving beyond talking head PowerPoint presentations at some of the other museum conferences...

Soon two of the big museum conferences, The Association of Children's Museums (ACM) and The American Association of Museums (AAM) will be taking place. And many, if not most, of the presenters at both these conferences will be packing a laptop loaded with PowerPoint presentations.

Even if each of these PowerPoint presentations is able to start smoothly without technical glitches involving projectors, connectors, and software, usually a big IF, I'll ask the question many of the folks trapped in the conference rooms will be thinking: "Why are some of the most creative people in the world using such powerful computer technology to present such boring, non-interactive speeches?"

Honestly, when is the last time you did something more at a conference presentation than sit on your fanny and stare at the screen and speakers on the dais for 75 minutes or so before the moderator apologizes for running long and leaves only time for one or two audience questions, if any? Most of the time, the talks could have easily been given, and often greatly improved, by eliminating PowerPoint.

Couldn't we just BAN PowerPoint from Conference Presentations?

Lest you think I'm a raving Luddite, I happily embrace computers and technology in all facets of the museum world, but I just think that the staid PowerPoint approach stifles creative presentations and dialogue between conference participants. (And, after all, even such eminent thinkers as David Byrne and Edward Tufte have wildly different takes on the topic.)

Even if you don't believe the museum world is ready to go "cold turkey" on PowerPoint, there are less drastic alternatives.

Mary Case, of Qm2, put me onto a short WIRED magazine article (and video example, seen at the top of this posting) about a presentation technique called "Pecha Kucha." As the article notes, pecha kucha (Japanese for "chatter") applies a simple set of rules to presentations: exactly 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each. That's it. Say what you need to say in six minutes and 40 seconds of exquisitely matched words and images and then sit the hell down. As a quick Google search indicates, pecha kucha is catching on around the world. Why not give it a try at museum conferences to wean us off of bloated corporate-style presentations?

Another way to open up the conference format to alternative presentation styles may be as simple as "A Day Without PowerPoint". Pick one day during the conference that ALL presentations must be done without PowerPoint (or similar computer tools like KeyNote, for those trying to weasel around the ban!) Add a check box on the conference proposal forms that allows session chairs and participants to indicate their willingness to present sans PowerPoint and go from there. As a bonus, you get monetary and environmental gains from eliminating the projectors and associated technologies from the conference sessions for one day.

So, I beg all of you filling out evaluation forms at ACM or AAM to write "A Day Without PowerPoint" on each one you turn in, or better yet look for ways to eliminate PowerPoint from YOUR next talk!

Have some presentation tips or tricks you'd like to share? Let us know in the "Comments Section" below.

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