Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Quest to Kill Fewer People at My Presentations.

Earlier this week my colleague, Jodie Reeder, and I held a transition meeting for the students who will be entering grade 8 at our school next year. Our school is a little different as it is a distributed learning school--think correspondence/home schooling but within the public school system. We offer K-12 with an elementary (K-7) section and a high school (8-12) section. We've found that our students often have difficulty with the jump from grade 7 to grade 8, thus the transition meeting. This post isn't so much about the meeting, as the process of putting together the presentation--without any needless PowerPoint deaths...

My Well of Inspiration

Jodie and I spent a lot of time considering what we wanted to convey at the meeting; then it was my job to put together the presentation. Well, lately I've been trying to learn how to put together a really good presentation, or at the very least one that doesn't end up with me had up on charges of 'Death by PowerPoint'.

I've watched the very helpful and humorous video by Alvin Trusty How to Create a Great PowerPoint Without Breaking the Law. I've been to a number of presentations on the brain and learning where the key ideas were that images and (limited) text produce the most learning. I've also been influenced by Dean Shareski and his quest to help people improve their PowerPoint presentations and to make them bullet free :-) (just type in PowerPoint in the search box on Dean's blog and you'll find a wealth of resources on putting together a better presentation). Some other places of inspiration have been ZaidLearn's Is PowerPoint Evil? and Presentation Zen's Brain Rules for PowerPoint and Keynote Presenters.

Armed with the brilliant insights from these sources I set to work. And a lot of work it was! How to say what I wanted to with limited text?! How to find the images I needed (without breaking the law)?

Thank You Flickr and FireFox/Flock!

I've been using Flickr more and more lately for images for my blog and for presentations. I do creative commons searches with keywords for the types of images I'm looking for. It can be time consuming, but also very interesting. Not everyone tags their photos the same way that I would!

Helping in my Flickr search was a Firefox short cut that I'd read about. I forgot to bookmark the original post where I learned about this shortcut (dumb, dumb, dumb!) This blog post by Ted Carnahan, though, explains how you can use an interesting feature of Firefox bookmarks to help simplify searches you regularly perform on sites like Flickr, YouTube and a host of others. The long and the short of it is that now if I want to search Flickr using Firefox (or Flock) I can just type fcc and a space and then the term I want to search in the address window of my browser and bingo! I have my personalized search of Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licensed photos. Yippee! Want a photo of an apple--I'll just type "fcc apple" and viola--lots of photos that have been tagged with apple. I didn't have to be in Flickr already, pretty neat.

So You Couldn't Make it to the Presentation--No Problemo!

It took me a lot of time to build the presentation, but I knew that if I did a good enough job I could use it again next year and I could post it on the school website for those folks that missed out. (One student missed it because she wasn't told--apparently me speaking to her personally by phone and confirming her e-mail address and then sending the info didn't count...) The problem is that if you follow one of the great pieces of advice on doing really good presentations--limit your text--it doesn't come across very well on the web. Out of context, the wonderfully apt images may not make sense and your meaning is lost.

Slidecasting to the Rescue!

There is a way to produce a presentation that works live and on the web. It does take a little more work, but so would producing two entirely different presentations, no? SlideShare allows you to synch audio with your slide presentation to produce a slidecast. I've posted on how to do this here. Basically, I narrated the slides using Audacity (a free cross platform sound editor), uploaded my presentation to SlideShare, uploaded my audio (mp3) to a podcast site (in my case Internet Archive), then on SlideShare I linked the project to the URL for my audio, and then used SlideShare's slidecast editor to synch the audio with the slides. OK, so that's a lot of steps, but it sounds more onerous that it was, really.

Without Further Ado...

So, after all that build up I don't really want to post the presentation. I can promise you that it will not go viral. But it is what it is and if you're interested in seeing a slidecast, why not this one? If you are interested in how to prepare high schoolers and their parents for the world of distributed learning, check it out. If you'd just like to answer the question "why does she have a photo of bran muffins in a transition presentation?" then this is the slidecast for you! If you can't view the embedded slidecast in your reader, then here's the link. You can make the slide cast full screen and you can press the arrows to jump ahead in the show, if for example you are only watching to answer the burning muffin question ;-)

Your Turn

I've never podcasted before, so yes, I need to get a better mike.  If you podcast, perhaps you could let me know what some good (and free) sites are for hosting podcasts/mp3s.  I have used Internet Archive a few times, but I'm willing to try others.

What are your favourite presentation tools and/or resources?  Do you find slidecasts a useful way to get information?  Do you or would you consider slidecasting?

Suggestions on how to improve my presentation skills are also welcomed.

Thanks for reading, and if you watched my slidecast, double thanks!

Post Script

As far as I know, no one has died as a result of watching the above presentation.  I will keep you updated if this information changes.


  1. Cool presentation. I especially loved the photos of the confused baby! I am giving a presentation next week at a conference so am trying hard to keep the 'brain rules' in mind. When I look back on my presentations in the past, I cannot believe how my style has changed over the last year.

  2. Well you can always just host your podcasts on your Edublogs blog :). Just upload the audio/video to a post, give it unique category such as My Podcasts and then burn the RSS feed at Feedburner for that categorgy (make sure you tick yes for Are you a podcaster) and then add the RSS feed to your blog side menu. You can upload files up to 20 MB in size to Edublogs.

  3. @Sarah, thanks for taking the time to watch the presentation! Do you think your presentation style has changed as a result of your PLE? I know that without my PLE, and all the great resources I've found through it, my stuff would be pretty static. The few conferences I've attended this year have had a small impact, but everything else came from my on-line world.

    @Sue, ask and ye shall receive! Thanks for the podcasting tip re: Edublogs. So once it is hosted on Edublogs I can link it to my SlideShare slidecast?

  4. The answer is 100% yes -my style has changed because of everyone I am learning from my PLE. It certainly isn't from people I work with or the conferences I am attending because they are mostly using old style presentation techniques.

  5. @Sarah, there's the power of the PLE then! The amount of professional growth I've experienced since I started blogging is amazing. Being able to learn when you want, where you want, and what you want is really powerful. I still enjoy conferences and networking face-to-face, but... can't beat my PLE!

  6. Even as I teach the odd post secondary course online, I struggle with the flexibility of an online course.

    While it's great to allow students to hand things in whenever, the social aspects of posting content and receiving timely feedback, not just from me but from others, is difficult when students hand in work whenever. Not sure how much social learning you build into your courses but it's a big piece for me.

    I think this is the greatest challenge with distance/online learning.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Dean, thanks for checking out my slidecast. I've gotten a lot of inspiration from your presentations and the links that you post.

    I'm really struggling with the best way to assess my students in a distance learning program. I would like to move to more collaboration between students and designing more authentic assessments. It's definitely a challenge.


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