Alex McLean

Making music with text

Attending to presentation slides

by Alex on August 26, 2011

I had some fun with my talk at ICMC earlier this month.

I started in the usual way with an outline slide, going through bullet points one by one outlining the structure of my talk.  Importantly, I tried to talk continuously while the slide was up.

On the next slide was a picture of a boy throwing a stone into the sea, I talked about it for a while, making the point that it was easy to perceive the image while listening to my voice.  The audience hopefully found they could attend simultaneously to the visual scene and my linguistic speech.

I then skipped back to the previous slide and pointed out that the outline slide actually had little to do with what I had been saying.  Here’s the contents of that first slide:

  • A live coding talk towards the end of the conference
  • Some strange programming languages were shown
  • He made a point about cognition that I didn’t quite get
  • The demo didn’t work out too well
  • I was a bit tired but he seemed to be trying to say something about syntax

This got some laughs.  There were quite a lot of people in the room, and the slide had been up for a while, but as far as I could gather no-one had managed to read any of it.  My contention was that they couldn’t read it while listening to my voice, it’s too difficult to attend to two streams of language at once.  I didn’t really know what would happen, but from talking to audience members afterwards it seems at least some people got a sense that something was wrong, but couldn’t work out what it was until I told them.

This was a nice practical demonstration of Dual Coding theory, and lead into my argument for greater integration between visual and linguistic elements of computer languages.  However there’s probably a point in there about the design of presentation slides.  If you want people to listen to what you’re saying, put short prompts on your slides, but not real sentences, because the audience won’t be able read them while listening to your voice.


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