Recently, I think I am starting to get more and more of a sense of what people think constitutes a good presentation – e.g. delivering a paper at a conference. I guess it was only recently that I started to get explicit, direct, tips or guidelines as to the Do’s and Don’t’s of presentations.
And I think it hilarious how totally contradictory the advice is from different corners.
An art history professor who I respect very much, who always gives excellent presentations, and who I basically just really trust to know what she’s talking about and to truly represent what the art history discipline expects, told us the following:
*Black backgrounds for your slides makes your images pop better, and makes the colors look truer. Any extra light created in the room by having white backgrounds on your slides will wash out the image.
*Read from a prepared speech – not from the written paper as it would be submitted or published, but from a version explicitly created to be read aloud. But, still, read, don’t memorize, don’t use notecards, don’t go extemporaneously. This will help you speak smoothly and eloquently, to use all the proper discursive phrasing and perfect word choice you want to use.
*Avoid if at all possible any text on your slides, outside of things like labelling the image (title, artist, date, media, collection, size), and transcriptions or translations of inscriptions, things like that. No Bullet Points, and definitely no slides full of text.
This in complete contrast to a “how to attend conferences strategically” workshop I attended where a professor from the education department talked about using bullet points, about not reading from any kind of notes or notecards at all, nor memorizing the talk word-for-word, but using your slides to jerk your memory, and often just reading from the slides. Her presentation was itself very smooth and energetic and engaging, all in all very well done, but it wasn’t quite the same kind of scholarly, professional style that I think I really ought to go for.
Then, today, I get an email from a conference I’m presenting at in September, with tips for the powerpoints. The very first tip was “do you really need a powerpoint? Would your presentation do better without it?” HA. I laugh in the face of that suggestion. Images enliven a presentation and help the audience know what’s being discussed, keeping them from getting lost. I can say from personal direct experience attending the Assoc of Asian Studies conference earlier this month (wow was it really that recently!?) that papers delivered with no slides are very difficult to follow, and can be boring and sleep-inducing as soon as you’ve lost track of what the speaker is talking about.
This set of guidelines goes on to say that white letters on a black background is a no-no. And while I believe them that it may be the case that black letters on a white background present the best contrast and readability, white on black works well enough, and is far less distracting than any kind of colorful, business-meeting-gimmicky border or background or “theme” they may be suggesting. And, once again, the idea of the black background being best for not distracting from or washing out the image holds true in my mind.
Then there was a whole bunch of stuff about what kind of bulletpoints to use, how to format them, how long they should be (no more than 15 words a slide it says. I can agree with that.) ….
I just find it funny how different sources, different disciplines, can be so completely differing on this, and yet so self-assured that they’re doing it right, like “we always see people doing it wrong, no matter how many times we tell them otherwise. so here are some guidelines. please follow them.” Like hell I’m going to follow your guidelines. lol.
I may consider myself more historian than art historian, depending on what day of the week it is, but if there’s one thing from the art history discipline that I will hold fast to, it’s never presenting without slides, and always using a black background, with large images and a minimum of text.