Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thoughts on PowerPoint vs. Online Presentations

In traveling around the country giving genealogy presentations, I have experienced a wide variety of equipement failures and lack of Internet connectivity. Since my primary computers are Apple OS X based, I always have to worry about connectivity issues. It seems like each time I run into a problem, I add one more level of equipment and possible backup.

For example, for my recent presentations at RootsTech 2013, I came prepared with my MacBook Pro laptop, a Toshiba Windows 8 laptop, a flashdrive with my entire presentation, connectors for RGB (DB15 to DVI) and HDMI, and a number of cables including a surge protector and various charging cables for iPhone, iPad and the laptops. This has become my standard equipment.

Not only do I have to be ready for the presentations, I need to make sure I can use and charge all my devices during the time I am away from my home office.

Originally, I liked to do all my presentations live online using an Internet connection. However, in Springfield, Illinois, although I had access to two different WiFi cards and the hotel WiFi, none of them worked and I lost connection with the Interent in the middle of a presentation. I have learned from that experience and from many others that I cannot rely on having an Internet connection outside of a few very limited venues. This is the case no matter how adamant the conference organizers are that they have a good Internet connection or that their equipment was just tested the night before.

For that reason, about a year or so ago, I began to make PowerPoint presentations for all of my classes except those at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, where the connections are fairly predictable. In some cases, I have planned to do the presentation from a live connection, but had the PowerPoint presentation as a backup.

Using a PowerPoint is both confining and liberating. My wife likes to point out that having a PowerPoint keeps me on track for the presentation and moves through the information in a more orderly fashion. At the same time, I chaff at the confinement and lack of spontaneity of a PowerPoint presentation. Now, I almost always have my entire presentation on a flashdrive for the eventuality that my computers do not work with the location's pre-setup machines and I have to use their computers.

I am certainly not new to PowerPoint presentations. I have used the program since it was introduced back in the dim past of computers. There are several options to using Microsoft's program, but I have found that there is always a slight chance of failure of compatibility if I branch off into another program especially if I am forced to use the facility's computer.

I was looking at a presentation that I did about a year ago and I realized that using the program and thinking about what the audience is going to see, has dramatically changed how I design my slides and what I say. The biggest problem is keeping the slides synchronized with my every changing presentations, since I never say exactly the same thing twice in row. Another challenge is the change in technology. I have had online websites change during the time I was creating the presentation and it is not unusual for their to be several changes over the lifetime of one presentation. I always have to go back and carefully review the slides to update any screenshots I am using.

I must say that I have seen some truly awful PowerPoint presentations (including a few of my own). The biggest problem is usually too many words on one slide. I work on that every time I review an old presentation and update it. I am ambivalent about using "cute" or funny illustrations. In most cases, I feel that they detract from the subject matter of the presentation, but can be used effectively if they don't overload the viewers. I also think it is poor practice to stand in a presentation and read the text from a long slide. The slides should reinforce the presentation, not become the script.

I am still very much in the mode of evolving my presentations and I hope to get better as time goes on.


  1. If you haven't tried Keynote, it can be worth a look. I really like PowerPoint (in part because of the compatibility reasons you mentioned) but Keynote has ways to allow you to be less linear than PowerPoint.

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