Why, oh why?

My take on the effects of PowerPoint and overhead projectors:

– Though ostensibly “aids” to the presentation, they prevent both audience and presenter from focusing on each other. The audience stares blankly at the projection while listening to a disembodied voice explain what they’re seeing, and the presenter moves frantically between his notes and the projection behind him to see what’s going on. I’m sure it really helps to establish the authority of the presenter when he’s continually craning his neck around to see what lies behind him . . .

– All attempt at eye contact and speaker/audience is abandoned. The presenter stares fixedly at his notes, so all the audience sees is either the top of his head or the big blue screen behind him.

– The presenter either repeats the text that’s written on the projection (yes, pal, thank you, we can read) or does an awkward dance between reading what the projection says and interjecting his own elaborations. This has the nasty effect of tying him fiercely to what is written on the projection even as he tries to show that he has more to say than the twelve words that fit on the PowerPoint slide. I have never seen a presenter who managed to make it clear to the audience that he was in control of the projector, rather than the other way around. It too often seems as if the words on the screen came from on high and the presenter is left scrambling to adjust himself to them. We end up with a nasty tension between the nicely-formatted words being projected and those hastily interjected by the presenter from the dark.

– That’s another thing. Why is the presenter in the dark (audience too) while the projection is the only thing illuminated? With overhead projectors, it’s even worse: the machine casts weird shadows on the presenter’s face, making him look more like a Halloween ghoul than an authority, and he’s immediately cast into shadow anytime he raises his arm to emphasize a point. Come on, people, this isn’t a seance!

– Rather than allow the presenter to hide behind the props, these “aids” often reveal somewhat embarrassing flaws in him. If he’s nervous, the audience will be able to see his hand shake as he works with the projector or maneuvers the mouse. If he’s left something embarrassing on his desktop or doesn’t know his way around a computer, the audience gets a very different show from the one intended.

– The projection gets the front-and-center position, and five technicians and the presenter fuss before the talk to make sure that it gets the prized spot. The presenter then stands off-center or behind a small podium or behind a computer. Very Wizard-of-Oz.

As you can tell, I’m not much impressed by what technology has brought to the world of academic conferences–and, increasingly, everyday life!


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