(Re)Constructed Memories of PowerPoint

14 10 2008

          Tufte has made me reflect on the best PowerPoint (PP) presentations I have seen. The first one I remember was not, I don’t think, an actual PP presentation. At least seven years ago—maybe longer—I attended a Children’s Literature conference at the University of Redlands where Sheri O’Sullivan gave a presentation entitled “The Hero was a Girl.” It became the impetus to a number of my research projects since.

          At that time, I had been pretty well versed in Joseph Campbell’s analysis of archetypes, especially that of the hero quest. Indeed, his The Hero with a Thousand Faces is probably one of the most influential works I have ever read. I like how he finds the same storytelling structures throughout cultures; this implies that humans are essentially the same as these stories flesh out similar hopes and desires.

O’Sullivan, however, drew from Carol Gilligan’s feminist theories to argue that the hero quest was different when the hero is a girl. She used numerous examples from Young Adult Literature to bolster her case, and I was intrigued since I was familiar with most of the works she cited.

Her presentation was also powerful. While I cannot remember whether she used a computer slide show or overheads (I suspect the latter), I do remember the points, largely because she followed many of the techniques any good presenter follows. First, she framed her discussion in outline form, telling us what she was going to present. Then, she gave us a copy of her paper so we could follow along. Her paper was engaging, and it outlined Gilligan’s argument before O’Sullivan applied it to the novel The Moorchild. She then recapped the information and opened the topic for discussion. Her use of frames—announcing, repeating, following a linear structure, the hard copy, the summary—all helped make the information memorable she also had samples of books spread out on a table as visual aides and for closer examination. I can still hear her voice and see her leading the discussion. In all, she did everything “right”—Tufte would have enjoyed it.

The second PP presentation that made an impact on me was one I saw about five years ago. A newly minted Ph.D. graduate was giving a teaching demo to get a position at my college. She presented on Emily Dickinson (ED), a poet I had up to that time struggled with. However, Dr. Veltman used the PP with confidence; she also seemed to know her topic well, and she had timed her slides to match her off-slide material. She used many of the bells and whistles of PP such as various transitions, as part of the job requirements demanded a skill in current technology. I learned more about ED in those twenty minutes than I had in quarter-long English classes, and I had a lot of fun. Dr. Veltman did not just follow the slides, though; she engaged us through activities and questions, so we became part of the learning. I remember almost everything that was on the slides to this day and have since become much more of a fan of ED.

Both of these presentations have stayed with me long afterwards; both also influenced my thinking. A large part of this is because both were engaging, something I have tried to do when I get up in front of people. I realize sometimes PP can be a crutch, but it can also be a powerful tool when it’s used well.

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