P3: Illustration and presentation

Medicine progresses as evidence is accrued to support improved practice – it is supposed. Yet psychological science has long shown that standard “powerpoint” presentations are a very poor means of data transfer: different visual and auditory inputs cannot be processed at the same time. Moreover it is impossible to internally question data or remember data due to this cognitive load.

The p cubed value of such presentations is limited and poor.

Where does the problem lie? How can it be corrected?

The current standard of illustration in a presentation is annotation, often in exceptional detail. Presentations supported by text based slides negatively influence data retention. Blank slides are better than text based – just think about that. Have you ever listened to something, closed your eyes and held tight onto the words to make sense of them?

Using illustration is better than both text and its absence.

Why do so many people use so much text? The completeness of detail on many slides is excused either as an alternative to listening to the speaker, or for printing the slides as a handout. This fails scientifically and effectively particularly when this script is read out verbatim. The supportive media (p2) should illustrate what is being spoken not annotate it.

The illustrations in a textbook are sparse, additive and specific. Slides in a presentation should mirror this. It is not necessary to provide a commentary, plan, script or a description of every spoken word. The “powerpoint” should be constructed after the message has been storyboarded and seek to highlight specific points. Consider the purpose of each slide and how it adds to the message rather than mirroring it. Images are much more effective, allowing complex constructs and stimulating data retention than lists. Illustrate the presentation, don’t annotate it.

Annotation should be in a handout and this constructed separately to the slide set. (There is a separate section in the software, do not simply print the slides). Supportive media (p2) greatly enhances a presentation.

A presentation that looks different to the standard powerpoint will immediately seize the attention of the audience. Without a screen that requires constant attention the presenter can engage the audience with eye contact and even move out from behind a podium to physically engage. Such simple body language dramatically influences the reception of the presentation. With a message rather than a list to read a presenter has an opportunity to inspire.

The nature of delivery of a presentation belongs entirely to the presenter. Few recognise this. The environment including lighting, temperature, position, comfort and even physical alertness of the audience and even position of the speaker may all be improved by an adroit speaker; it needs to be grasped and used.

Clearly there are limitations at major scientific meetings but for the majority of instances the presenter can maximise the reception of their message by attention to the environment of the audience. Simply asking the audience to change seats between 2 lectures brings about remarkable physiological and psychological changes.

Taking such opportunities to increase the quality of delivery of presentation (p3) is clearly a good thing.

Standard presentations fail because of their construction. Changing the approach to imparting a message (p1), effectively illustrated and not annotated (p2) will allow for a delivery (p3) that is different, engaging, liberating and ultimately more effective (p cubed).

This is what audiences want and presenters seek.



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