Move away from the PowerPoint
When I suggest that someone could try presenting without PowerPoint, they usually look at me like I’ve lost the plot. Without the prompt of a bullet point, they worry they’ll forget what to say.
This confirms my theory about slides – that they act as a visual aid for the presenter rather than the audience. Freeing yourself from the screen can be liberating for both of you.
Presentations usually involve sight (you as the presenter and your slides) and sound (your voice) but rarely engage the other senses. But the more you can connect your ideas with sense memories and emotions, the more likely they are to stick with your audience. Much more likely than yet another deck of slides.
Back in the days when we could do such things, I gave a presentation to a group of teachers about how the sensory challenges of autism (a condition my son has) could be affecting some of their students. I agonised over stats, researched theories and created a lengthy and detailed presentation. Then one day, my son refused to come into the house after school because he could smell the cheese I’d had for lunch. I realised that the only way the teachers could understand what might present as illogical behaviour was to experience it for themselves. Here’s how I started:
Who has a label in the back of their top? Are you aware of it?
(hands round several scouring pads)
Now I’d like you to rub this on the back of your hand. How does that feel?
Now imagine that the label in your top feels like that scouring pad all day, rubbing away at the back of your neck. A bit distracting? Well that’s reality for many young people with autism who are hugely sensitive to the feel of fabrics.
When I came into the room this morning, I opened a bag of Quavers. Who has been aware of that smell?
If my son was in the room, he wouldn’t be aware of anything else as he has a huge sensitivity to certain smells and finds them both overwhelming and disgusting. Imagine that’s you and you’re trying to concentrate on your times table if the child next to you has just eaten crisps at break.
Now I’d like everyone now to close their eyes and stay quiet for 30 seconds.
(after 30 seconds) What did you hear?
For many people with autism, the sounds we filter out, such as radiators, sound as loud as the teacher’s voice. Imagine trying to concentrate when all that’s going on in your brain.
It was one of the simplest yet most impactful presentations I’d ever done. Since then I’ve become a lot more aware of how much more memorable a slide-free presentation can be. I do still use slides sometimes but they’re never my default choice. It’s a bag of Quavers and a scouring pad for me all the way.