my problem with presentation software (with solution)

posted on April 18, 2007 - tagged as: software

Presentation software is linear; presentations are non-linear. Most of my ‘presentations’ are in the academic setting where I either lecture or give an overview of a project I’m working on. In either case, it is useful to evaluate the attention and interest of the audience and alter the presentation on the fly. This may be as simple as spending more time on one particular idea, but it may also require referring back to previous diagrams that capture the spirit of the presentation in a high level view. Traditional presentation software does away with this give and take, and instead forces an ordering of slides (ideas) on presenters and ‘presentees’. Sure we can go back to previous slides, but this is tedious as the software does not take this into consideration.

I think one solution comes from wiki software. Imagine a presentation as a set of wiki pages (small, maybe 10-12 pages). The pages would not only contain normal slide material (maybe we shouldn’t use bullet points, but that’s for another day), but also links to other slides. The perfect presentation software would parse these wiki pages, presenting each as a slide in a graphical cluster ala Exposé. Links would be represented as simple lines drawn between the slides, and some nice graph theory would place the important slides (those with more in/out links) closer to the center of the screen. Selecting a slide from this global view would bring it into the traditional full screen mode, and as the wiki and therefore the slides are completely flat, there would be no meaning to ‘next’. Instead, presenters would navigate by selecting a link on the slide or returning to the global view with a key stroke and selecting a slide from there. The global view would remind us of what we’ve seen and let the presenter return to previous ideas as needed.

I should mention that there are many others with thoughts on PowerPoint. After Chris Grubbs Michael Greene mentioned the work of Edward Tufte, I spent more time thinking about this issue. Tufte’s article, ‘PowerPoint Is Evil’ serves as a nice starting point, and I think that we could gain a lot by spending more time considering how to display information.

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