An interesting Nesta event in Wales yesterday moved me to write this post.

Here are some suggestions for academics or experts needing to present to a broad audience:

Signpost For User Experience

Your audience, or users, may be from such a broad base they don’t understand the relevance of your subject. It will help your cause to demonstrate this. Use an equivalent of keywords and tags when we first hear from you, so we know the key ideas in your domain.

And also helpful at the outset to set content in context of the whole event theme, which is what will have attracted many of us to be there.

Like web design, a presentation is a container for content: we need to understand how we share a path through this.

Show Don’t Tell

Academic acclaim may come through rigour, analysis of much detail, and giving a full picture. Presentation acclaim from a broad audience, is unlikely to…

Clever thinking in web design and presentation design comes from incisiveness and asking ‘ What is my user group/audience’s most pressing interest on first encounter?’

If you can’t answer this, then – doh – maybe you forgot to ask the organizers for a list of attendees beforehand – or maybe, you just shouldn’t be presenting. Your thing could be irrelevant to why people are there…

Here’s information told, and then shown:

And appropriate images = impact and stickability.

Extract Your Key Learning And Direct Us How We May Use It

If we’re still listening after you’ve been going for five minutes, this is good, and possibly shows we’ve accepted your expertise. We’ll want greater engagement and indicators as to what we can do with what you’ve learnt so far. You’ll need to empathize with, and research us, to do this.

Web designers know that if visitors are spending time on sites, they need to be provided with links and content to continue the conversation and come back for more.

Be Human

Showing how smart you are, and distinguished from the rest of us, is a form of defensiveness. Most of us will be there with hope of some sort of collaborative learning and problem-solving occurring…what might they be?

Good web design shows that glib and gimmicky interactive techniques don’t further conversation and engagement with users. Considered discussion and comments do.

To end with a plea then. Please can academic presenters everywhere drop the protective cloak of ‘I who know best’ and venture out to us metaphorically naked. We’d like an offer of ‘I hope to have some sort of clue about where you may be coming from’.

We’ll love you for it and want you to come back for more.

By szcz

4 thoughts on “What Academic Presenters Can Learn From Web Design”
  1. Well done Philippa. “Show don’t tell” should be tattooed on every presenter’s hand. I have sat through thousands of presentations of bullet-points: if you’re reading them you’re not listening, and if you don’t read them then why have them? Give me pictures and explain them to me!
    Now, when I do presentations, I ask myself “Is every word really necessary and is it adding anything?”.

    1. Hi Richard

      Thanks a lot for this helpful idea. It’s exactly what good web copy is about too. Suspect some presenters get confused between ‘denying complexity’ and ‘shaping complexity’. Ruthless editing and focussing content is actually rigorous and demanding.

      Will get down from soap box now before I add anything unnecessary and wish you a good weekend.

  2. Somewhat similar to the advice my old college tutor gave me regarding the way to answer an exam question; 1. Reflect on the question and say what you are going to say, especially by contextualising it. 2. Say it. 3. Summarise, by saying what you have said. It seemed to work for most of us.

    1. Thank you Penarth Man. Seems like a perfect formula if the question becomes conference theme.

      May only fair winds blow on your pier this week – and delighted you could pop by.

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