Old dog, new tricks

One of the focuses on the Business Communications class was doing oral presentations incorporating media and technology. In today’s world of business, there are some great video conferencing softwares available that 20 years weren’t even imagined. Some take this for granted, but those old dogs like myself learning new tricks appreciate how far along technology has come in communicating. Take a look at how YouTube has evolved from an artistic creative studio to a full-blown platform for soap boxing anything you are passionate about. Of course, sometimes the best video software available can be a toe stubber when you need to upload the aforementioned carefully crafted and edited video to your course DropBox only to discover that the file size exceeds the 15MB limit allowed. Alas, sometimes the Golden Oldies can’t be beat for practicality and universal application!

I am an old dog at public speaking in front of a room so I tend to go about it on autopilot, but upon reflection, I realize I do have a strategy for preparing them. My No. 1 tip to anyone is to prepare and plan and practice well before you need to actually give your presentation.

For many years, I would use just one index card with several cryptic-looking words on it and an occasional doodle to remind me of a certain point I wanted to make, and I could give a talk or presentation for a good twenty minutes without visual aids behind me on the wall. Of course, those who know me understand that I am a rather animated person when in front of a room. Whether I hold people’s attention because I’m entertaining to watch or to listen to is probably a toss-up. In the 1990s, a church I worked for wanted to start using a “contemporary” style, and part of my job was not only to plan and present the music, recruit willing volunteers, rehearse with various subsets of ensembles, but also to prepare the slides that went up on the new screen…and then train the tech table volunteers how to operate the slide program.

At first, I used PowerPoint because other presenter softwares weren’t even in the works. Give me a Windows XP computer with Office 2003 on it, and I will still be a happy girl. When Microsoft went head-to-head with Apple and each attempted to compete in the other’s areas of computing specialty, in my opinion, they failed miserably for many years. Microsoft software was a powerful workhorse for the business professional whereas Apple was in its own niche as the software that made everything look pretty. It was most cost-effective to commandeer one of the existing front office computers and use existing Microsoft programs. Thus, PowerPoint came out the winner. Over the past fifteen years, so many different kinds of software have been created by independent entities. There are many free and inexpensive graphic, video, animation and slide-show softwares to aid in giving presentations. That said, for an academic class, many times you find an awesome free software tool, spend time learning it, only to find the finished product’s file size is too large to upload as a submission. So, back to good “old faithful” PowerPoint it is.

For the first draft of my presentation and report, I like to lay it all out as an outline via bullet points of main things I wish to hit using the computer. Back in the olden days, I used to use a few index cards for speaking points, but now in the 21stCentury we have options like Trello for organizing virtual index cards. I think and process best through my fingers. Writing formal documents and reports comes easiest for me since I used a very formal style in my early career, so for me, simply typing in a comfortable Word document format takes the pressure off from trying to do anything other than get words on the page.

Once my basic outline is set up, I flesh it out into the formal document until I am happy with it, subdividing points into however many needed to accomplish the purpose of getting all the necessary details in place. I find that highlighting sections of text in different font colors according to certain topics or things that go together and then pulling back to visually look it over helps me to see if I am “too heavy” on one color (and therefore, point) and I adjust accordingly. When I am happy with my formal report, I save it to come back to and copy to a second document. At this point, I alter the narrative into a script that I will use for the PowerPoint. Once I’m happy with the more narrative speaking script, I begin to transfer it over to the slide notes section of my blank PowerPoint slides, deciding which sections can be supported with graphics I know I will be using.

I find that where I used to be very casual in my speaking presentations and keep my index card to just bullet points, as I have gotten older and there are many more things going on in my life, it’s best for me to write out the script as though I were typing a transcription of me actually talking through the slides. After that, I set the whole slide show to start and then time myself reading the script through, making adjustments as needed to trim if it’s way too long (which is usually my problem versus not being long enough).

You can insert a lot of things to embed inside a PowerPoint presentation, including video clips. There are software products such as Doodly that let you make animated videos that I would love to use more of to possibly replace PowerPoint (did I just say that??), but I’ve found that the file sizes are just too large for uploading for my coursework videos. As for creating graphics, one that I use quite often is a free one called Canva and occasionally I can throw in a GIF. I have tried quite a few different creative softwares and photo editors, but for simple PowerPoint presentations, you really don’t need expensive graphic creators.

The final part of my strategy is to close the presentation and walk away from the computer at least overnight and come back and run it fresh the next day. That is when I will find out if there are any what I call “toe stubbers” that perhaps don’t transition as well as I thought they did originally or seem to be “random” and can probably just be trimmed off. I am normally a pretty fast speaker and have to override that impulse to speak in a fashion that can be understood by an array of listeners. I will probably make three or four runs through the presentation so it is incredibly familiar to me before turning the camera on. In fact, getting up to speed on the Zoom software our group is using is my next step!

Just to be clear, going back to the written report “version” is by no means an afterthought at this point. I have already done all of the outlining and fleshing out of my Word document back at the beginning when I created a formal print version. I review it to make sure the report version is more formal and format it properly for visual appeal. Other than a good proofreading and making sure the graphics are where they are supposed to be, all the composing work was done at the start of the project, thus taking a lot of stress out of the process for me.

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