Age of Exploration class so far has been focused around research and presentation. Our first in-class presentation was reasonably appalling, and we attributed this to inexperience. However, after having had another month to work on our newest project, about the Renaissance, our presentations have improved greatly. I no longer felt the desire to stare out the window when listening to all-text, boring presentations, because there weren’t any!. We were given two more resources to aid our presentation skills: a document about sticky ideas and a video of a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. I was inspired by both of these resources, and resolved to make my presentation as interesting as Sir Ken’s, using all the tips in the sticky ideas paper. However, both sources skip an important part of the presentation process: the integration of research material. Though my presentation (hopefully) turned out to be engaging to the audience, I later realized that to make this possible, I had sacrificed an important part of the presentation: the information itself.
Now, I’m not saying that the “Presentation Zen” form of presenting is an inefficient or flawed way of expressing your ideas. However, I’ve presented many times in my life, whether formally or informally, and it is my opinion that text, with only the necessary images, is an easier way to convey information to the audience. We’ve been told countless times in class that presentations should not be a regurgitation of information found online; instead, they should be a way for you to express your opinions to the world using little text, engaging graphics, and plenty of images. The effectiveness of this approach, I’ve found, varies with the topic.
The topic I chose for my presentation was “Renaissance astronomy.” This meant not only talking about the lives of famous astronomers, but detailing the progression of their knowledge of the cosmos through the centuries, starting with Ptolemy and Aristotle. The goal of my presentation was to discover how astronomy was a window into the world of the Renaissance. Since astronomy is a topic which is very dull to hear explained technically, and since I was constrained by the “interactive factor,” I had to omit information about history, which “I could just look up on Wikipedia anyway,” and theories, which were “too boring” to explain fully.
Through sources such as “Presentation Zen,” “Sticky ideas,” and others, we seem to be getting the message that text is bad! For those of you who’ve participated in or gone to a science fair, think about this: how would the fair change if you weren’t allowed to use more than a few words of text per slide, and no complex images? Using text is not BAD, and using only images doesn’t automatically make the presentation a good one. Likewise, just because a presentation has plenty of text doesn’t mean the presenter is not prepared or incompetent. Our emphasis is too much on interactive presentations, so much so that we’re even skimping on our content. Is there a way to retain both information and interest? If so, how can we find it?