Explaining yourself, without Powerpoint

I spent some of this week running training for young scientists on how to present scientific ideas to non-expert audiences.  This particular piece of training runs regularly, but because the people have different needs each time, and the context is altering, it always feels a little bit different.

One of the main things we try to do on the course is remove Powerpoint – participants have to deliver a talk or activity without any Powerpoint whatsoever.  I tend towards Edward Tufte’s view of Powerpoint: I use Powerpoint an awful lot but there’s something about its style that can easily dull your thinking. The folk on the course are allowed flip charts, if they want (I’m not that cruel) and any props they like.    

It works pretty well, I think, because it breaks people out of the normal presentation rut.  It also marks out the difference between presenting to scientific peers, and engaging with a lay or student audience. At the same time, the removal of Powerpoint can be pretty anxiety-provoking for the participants.   Some people love it, some people hate it.   

What people produce under pressure is constantly fascinating.   There are some great, wild ideas that come out of the process: complicated games, plasticine analogies, virtuoso talks worthy of David Attenborough.   I always maintain it’s the quiet folk who are great to watch:  freed up to act,  people who are a little bit shy or a little bit unconfident can produce the most interesting and thoughtful  stuff.   It’s easy to overlook talent, when it whispers rather than shouts.

There has to be another way – oh, wait, it’s the BBC iplayer…

4OD, Channel 4’s TV-on-demand service has to be a corking example of a service which makes life maximally difficult for its users.  I can only think that Channel 4 actually doesn’t want anyone to use it – the whole process of joining up was a bit like Tesco shopping in 1999.

So: to make 4OD work I had to …

  • download software (well, yes)
  • which failed to install and gave me a little Windows cryptic error message
  • so then I checked whether I had all the right versions of all the software that I needed, and updated a couple of those just to be on the safe side, and re-ran it
  • the download still didn’t work so I made my way to the help section (located under ‘Feedback’)
  • searched this section a few times and eventually found an online form for technical help, filled it in (the form was nice) and pressed Submit
  • got an error message and the request to correct some of the information using the Back button and then re-submit the page
  • What back button? (It was disabled)
  • Filled the form in again and re-submitted
  • Got an automated response saying that IF my query was part of their FAQs, then they wouldn’t reply, hahahaha loser.
  • Searched FAQs and  finally tracked down the answer
  • *cough* Followed the minimal instructions to edit my registry using command language, dredging up all my knowledge of DOS in the process
  • Which …worked!!
  • YAY *little dance of achievement*
  • Started up 4OD and then immediately had to fill a deeply detailed application form, including thinking of a screen name when I don’t want to comment, ever, (oh wait! except to COMPLAIN) and then of course the first name I thought of was taken
  • Eventually found the bloody programme (surprisingly hard)
  • Played it and endured a really very heavy duty set of ads before my beloved programme eventually rolled.

I repeat: to make this work, I had to use DOS.  It took me about an hour and a half to wade through all this nonsense, and if I were under 35 I’d be entirely stuffed.   Absolutely unbelievable. 

C4 did send me a helpful email this morning with the command prompts included.  They seem like nice people, but…sort it out, guys.

2008 wrap-up

Well. 2008 was very, very busy.    It was a year in which I did a whole lot of stuff that was new to me, working with new people in new industries on new stuff.    This was a marvellous but very exhausting thing.   It was also a year which marked a real shift from the straightforward world of (mainly) qualitative market research to a more eclectic mix of consultancy, desk research, training, ethnography, analysis, strategy development, and, yes, good old qualitative research.    I worked with some brilliant minds and met a good many lovely interviewees.

I bought a video camera, to film interviews, a new voice recorder, and a digital SLR, to take pictures of people’s stuff.   

Things I did less well: keep up this as a blog (that fell apart in a frenzy of activity just before the summer holidays), and balance busy-ness with sufficient downtime.   

I’m looking for 2009 to involve some regrouping and considering.  Things are tough out there, and will no doubt get tougher.    I think it’s a good time for honesty and commitment.  I’m going to commit to writing much more frequently here – once a week or more – and see where that takes us, see whether it possible to write something meaningful in this space that is more than a harvesting of weblinks.  One post a week.  Or the kid gets it.