Saturday, April 22, 2006
A different kind of "word" issue
When OmegaMom was in her second stint at college, at Loyola University in Chicago, she took a psychology class. Her professor, a man who signed all his commentary on term papers "Dr. Robert H. BlahBlah, Ph.D." (gimme a break! Picture OmegaMom rolling her eyes bigtime on that one!), regularly stood in front of the lecture hall with his big stack of index cards... And read each one... Word for word. I had another professor, a computer professor, who did this in my final college stint at CalState Hayward. He accompanied his reading with overheads. (Do you rememer overheads? How twentieth-century. These days, he'd have a PowerPoint presentation.) Again, word for word. Sheesh. Just give us the overheads at the beginning of class, then let us go outside into the sunlight and read them on our own, why don't you? We had students in that class who sat at the back and slept through every one of his lectures. At the XYZ conference, we had one presenter who did the same thing. Well, almost; he had a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points, but he also had a sheaf of paper on the podium before him, which he read... Word for word. Sigh. He was obviously--obviously--incredibly knowledgeable about the subject. It was a subject that my boss and I were desperately interested in. We really wanted to hear what this guy had to say, how he approached the questions inherent in the subject, how he solved problems we have already encountered. The presentation style, unfortunately, detracted from the gist. (The upside is that we have the presentation in electronic format, so we can read it at our leisure, and we can call him up or arrange a meeting to dig into his expertise further.) The problems with reading your presentation directly from your crib notes: 1) Some people just can't read out loud. Sorry. That's just the God's own truth. 2) The presentees could get that directly from the notes; give us something more to chew on, please. 3) Often, the presenter can only get partway through the presentation--if you're doing it on-the-fly, you can glance at your watch now and then, estimate how much time you have left, and adjust your presentation accordingly. 4) If you're reading from your notes, you are not connecting physically with your audience. In a presentation, you need to be looking at people, using their body language as a gauge to determine if you need to expand on this point, or keep it short and sweet on that one. Outlines are Your Friends. Trust me on this. Do a high-level outline in your PowerPoint. Do a more detailed outline in your notes. Then wing it. If you know your subject dead cold--which this guy did--you'll do just fine. I learned the art of outlining in high school, and have found it to be an invaluable resource in the years since. (Just like typing. Word to the wise: Have your kids take a typing class. It'll be boring, but oh-so-useful.) How did I ace essay tests on a regular basis? I would read the question, and immediately write an outline on the inside front cover of the Blue Book. Higher-level, then bullet points beneath. I'd do this for each question. Then I would write the essay, a paragraph or two for each sub-level. The outline ensured that the essay would be coherent and that I'd cover all the important points. Basic tools from school: Reading. Writing. Arithmetic. Fractions and the art of outlining.