You’re Batman, The Slides Are Robin

This week, I gave a presentation on using Twitter in the classroom.

It’s been ages upon ages since I’ve done any public professional speaking, and what I used to do was dreadfully dull though entirely traditional in my field: the academic stands at a podium and reads an academic paper from beginning to end without changing the style or format at all to take the live, present audience into account—an audience that does not have a copy of the paper. I have no idea why it ever seemed like a good idea to anyone to read dense academic papers aloud to people: academese isn’t a spoken language at all, and it’s unfair and a bit silly to expect an audience to listen to an academic paper read aloud and be able to follow the intricacies of an academic argument without viewing the paper.

So I knew I wouldn’t be writing and reading an academic paper.

I’ve also been to plenty of presentations that have been designed for a live audience but use slides to take the place of the written paper: each slide is crammed with words, and the presenter basically reads the slide rather than gives a talk. That’s also terribly tedious, because I can read quite well for myself.

Good speakers don’t read papers or read slides: they give talks. I attended several presentations at the NCTE conference last November that used slides effectively, so I have an idea of what to aspire to, at least. I’m not a natural public speaker, so I like the idea of having slides to provide some support, a background outline, a crutch for my talk. But I do want to talk, not read.

Luckily, you can find plenty of advice online about how to give presentations that don’t suck. Here’s what I tried to keep in mind as I prepared my slides:

  1. You’re Batman, the slides are Robin. I saw this slogan in several places, so I’m not sure who to credit it to. The audience is coming to hear you talk. You’re the star of the show. The slides should be a background, an outline, something to keep the audience engaged and interested, but your thinking process and big insights are shared conversationally, not in bullet points on slides.
  2. Keep the slides simple: no more than a few words per slide.
  3. It’s ok to use a lot of slides and move through them quickly. I viewed one slideshow of 94 slides, but the presentation was only 20 minutes. That’s about how long I want my presentation to be, so now I know I can include up to 94 slides.
  4. Storyboard the presentation first.
  5. Find a key concept or idea to convey on each slide.
  6. Find an image that illustrates the key concept or idea.
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