Thursday, April 27, 2006

Presentation anxiety

Or lack of it. I am giving an online presentation today. I'm not nervous about it. I've been giving a lot of presentations lately and I have two more, one each in the next two weeks. I've gotten fairly good at putting these things together. But it's been a long road getting to this point.

My first presentation ever was three and a half years ago. It was my job talk. For that, I was extremely nervous. After all, a job was on the line, a job I really, really wanted. I practiced with Mr. Geeky, who told me quite honestly I kind of sucked. I cried. He told me how I might rethink it. I redid it and eventually, it was good enough to land the job.

In the humanities, we read our papers generally. The first presentation I gave at a conference was loosely based on my job talk. It was at the 4Cs in New York (2002?). All the conferences I'd been to before, the usual method of presenting information is to read a script, something like a paper, but more conversational in tone. Thus, when I got to my job talk, I hadn't presented information without a script since my speech class in high school.

Mr. Geeky was telling me that his students were struggling to present their final projects. Most of them have never done this before. He was surprised when those who have very visual projects did not have a single image to show the group. This is a skill we almost never teach and yet, it's a skill that's often required in multiple settings, whether it's an academic job talk, presenting material to a board or to one's colleagues. In many disciplines, we are still focused on text as the primary way to convey information. In particular, we are still focused on the academic essay as the primary way to convey information. We ignore all the other types of texts we might write and all the other ways we might convey information. And yet, all around us, we absorb information in multiple ways. Television news gives us still and moving images and sound. Even newspapers provide a number of images. Most of us consume a varity of media. And yet, we rarely ask our students to produce that variety. Doing so, I think, would provide them an opportunity to really think about the messages they receive via the multimedia they consume every day.

I am not discounting the importance of text, but I plan to, next semester, ask my students to do at least one multimedia presentation and to think about the difference between that type of presentation and text. Partly, this comes out of my own experience of feeling at sea in putting together my first presentation, but I also really believe that students shouldn't just learn to create and critique text in school.