'Odd Couple' keynote engages audience at MIX08
Obama, JFK vs. Bad PowerPoint

Future now: Nicholas Negroponte on technology, entertainment, design

NegroponteNicholas Negroponte is a famous architect, designer, and computer scientist, and certainly one of the most amazing creative thinkers of our time. You may know him as the founder of the MIT Media Lab and the $100 laptop computer guy (he's the founder of The One Laptop per Child association). He was also the original investor in Wired. Negroponte is pretty good at imagining the future it seems as well. This week TED put up 23 minutes of a much longer talk that Negroponte did for the TED Conference back in 1984. (This, you may remember, was the year that Macintosh was born.) Years before the term "convergence" was being tossed around, Negroponte was talking about using technology in ways that today we take for granted. In this talk he makes five predictions about the future. See how many turned out so far.

Negroponte is a smart, articulate, engaging speaker and I really enjoyed this edited presentation.This was before the days of PowerPoint and bullet points, so when Negroponte used visuals on the large screen behind him they were either large photographs or videos. Today we would run these stills and video right off the laptop seamlessly in slideware, but for a guy changing his own laser disks (remember those?), he was quite smooth. Projectors were not what they are today so the room is dark, but as long as the lights are on the presenter it works well. In fact darkness, save for the large screen and the lights on the speaker, give the presentation a feeling of theatre.


Stills from the 1984 talk. Presenting well with simple multimedia and no bullet points years before PowerPoint changed everything.

Negroponte on education
My favorite part of this presentation is his comments on education. Here's my takeaway.

"Good education has got to be good entertainment."

                                                    — Nicholas Negroponte

Child_reading By "entertainment" I think what Negroponte means is "engagement" or "meaning" or "personal involvement" and so on. Education is knowledge and information, but the hunger, drive, and the curiosity in the pursuit of understanding and meaning is emotional, it's human. Entertainment has received a bad rap in popular culture. You know, if it's "entertainment" it can't be good for you. If it is "entertainment" learning must not be going on. Many presentation situations and education in general have a lot in common; there is nothing wrong with entertaining. The thing about entertainment is that it is other-focused, the way it should be. It's not about us, it's about them. Different audiences are "entertained" in different ways—it's up to us to figure out what the most effective methods are for stimulating, affecting, and informing. Entertainment is not necessarily a distraction, diversion, or escape. Entertainment in the best sense is about engagement, connection, and meaning as well.

Are good presenters like entertainers? (PZ 2005)
Learning about presentation from Cirque du Soleil (PZ 2005)


Rus Howser

I don't know why so many people run away from the "Entertainer" label. Teaching is entertaining, or rather, as you said, engaging. It is the ability to turn the bald presentation of information into an engaging performance that defines truly great teachers. If you're not entertaining, you're boring. Nobody learns anything unless they're paying attention.

Steven Hoober

By the mid-80s there were certainly bullet-point technologies about.

You could get (if willing to pay for it) printers that would put full-color, rather nice graphics onto transparency or slides. You can then present these pretty much exactly as computerized presentations are today. Those that mixed video in usually had a second screen for the other projector; a system I think works rather better for viewing and captioning.

Of course, most of these were as bad as the typical powerpoint today. A few good designers could sneak in there, but mostly they were run (or excessively specified) by marketing weenies, and were impenetrable charts and too many bullets on patterned backgrounds.

The best presentation I saw in this era was done by Hallmark in one of their PR centers (i.e. company museum). They had THREE projectors and screens, side by side, and used that (plus far-away projectors in the ceiling) to eliminate the sudden transition issues. May not count to you as a presentation as it was canned (no speaker) though.


Garr, I am playing catch-up as I have been distracted by personal events....
In 1977, I took a post as a university post-grad lecturer. I asked my prof. for some tips on lecturing to students. He thought for a few moments and replied "Your first duty is to entertain them. Your second is to inform them," he paused and then continued "but not too much." He went on to explain that, for instance the laws of thermodynamics are quite challenging conceptually so only do one law per lecture and spend time to simplify the approach to make it interesting and accessible... wise words I reflect on as I charge off on creating a new pack of PowerPoint slides.

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