Today I had a Sudden Clarity Clarence moment:
It seems like lately I’ve been getting a lot of jobs that involve more than just my typical copyediting of scientific journal articles (like helping a student prepare for a Rhodes Scholar interview and working with political candidates to improve their brochures). If I keep making blog posts reminding people that the range of projects I work on is vast, perhaps I need to update how I pitch myself throughout the site in the first place… (Yes, this and a few other site updates are already on my to do list–stay tuned!)
Today I had the opportunity to work on another such “unconventional” project with Dr. Nestor Matthews. Last summer I analyzed and reviewed his recorded flipped classroom lectures and I’m always grateful to earn repeat business from satisfied customers. This time he wanted me to talk with students in his Psych 100 class during one of their writing workshops about what it’s like to be a professional editor and writer. Through the magic of Skype, I was able to be right there with them. I had a great time sharing my perspectives about science writing, majoring in psychology, and more with the students.
We both agreed from the start that we wanted more of an informal discussion than a formal lecture, so making a PowerPoint presentation was out of the question. I still needed a way to organize my thoughts and generally prepare what I was going to say, though, so I made a simple outline in Word. That’s when the realization struck: most academics (my previous self definitely included) use PowerPoint for their talks as an alternative to writing a simple outline!
The entry on creating outlines from the University of Richmond Writing Center does a great job of detailing the hows and whys of outlining and I’m sure most of you smarties already have a firm grasp on that, so I won’t bother recreating the wheel here. And if you need convincing that talks should be accompanied by slides that are mostly visual (e.g., pictures, graphs) rather than word-based, let me know and I will point you to any of the innumerable sources out there about how most people seriously abuse PowerPoint. One of my favorites from my professional development course on scholarly communication is a presentation on SlideShare called “Death by PowerPoint.”
Now I’m not at all saying that PowerPoint is useless or bad. I’ve reviewed some alternative presentation programs (Bunkr and Presenter, which I just learned has been rebranded as visme), but it is definitely possible to make a beautiful, useful PowerPoint presentation.
My bottom line here is that if you’re giving a talk (teaching a lecture, demonstrating a product, whatever!) that does call for some kind of visual aids, under no circumstances should you subject the audience to a presentation that is basically your own outline on some slides! Outlining should be a private first step, not the public final product.