The problem with many presentations is that people simply try to say too much in a short amount of time. Most people struggle with practicing restraint in the preparation stage—including myself—and have a hard time making the tough choices about inclusion and exclusion before the presentation. Often no time is given to the idea of exclusion and paring down. As a result, audiences all too often get more than they want, need, or can comprehend. We know this is true of many executive presentations, sales presentations, and conference presentations, etc. In The Craft of Scientific Presentations Michael Alley touches on a similar idea. In this book he suggests that you can go deep (depth) or you can go wide (scope) but it is very difficult to do both in, say, an hour lecture or conference presentation. The key, then, is to set realistic goals, and if you decide that you need to go deep then you have to seriously consider reducing the scope. Sometimes, in life as in presentations, you just have to make a choice about what's important, and let go of the rest (at least for the time being).
Slides adapted from The Craft of Scientific Presentations.
And in the classroom?
I have often wondered if this idea of including a very large breadth of material in a short amount of time is a problem for teachers and students as well in traditional classroom settings. Now, teaching daily lessons is a different animal from the kind of presentations I generally focus on here, to be sure, but I have wondered for the longest time if teachers — especially college professors — attempt to cover too much ground (and not enough depth) per semester. That is, do too many classes sacrifice depth and understanding for scope? Yes, it depends on the subject I suppose, but is it better to learn, say, only six core ideas deeply and repeatedly or is it better to cover as much ground as possible and go for the greatest breadth in the time alloted? Great scope certainly makes for an impressive syllabus and perhaps even a feeling of accomplishment for those who pushed hard and got the highest marks. But how many of the students who got a 'C' or better will actually remember what they studied a year later?
What got me thinking about this again was this presentation by economist Robert Frank speaking at Google.You already know about the talks available at TED, but you may not be aware of the hundreds of presentations and speeches available for free that are part of the @Google Talks including [email protected], [email protected], Candidates @Google, etc. (I have been ask to present for Google as well and will be there hopefully later in the year). Except for the all too familiar PowerPoint style, Dr. Frank gives an interesting talk. But what I found compelling in the talk were his comments concerning depth/scope and narrative learning theory. I invite you to watch his presentation, but you can see the gist of the points I'm referring to below in his slides (click for larger view).
Watch Robert Frank's @Google talk below.
The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas by Robert Frank
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