A recent reference in the New York Times indicates the U.S. Army is close to declaring war on PowerPoint. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who heads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the Times, “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” For many, PowerPoint has become “a way of knowing.” But is knowledge always best represented by a linear sequence of bullets? Are there alternatives?
No PowerPoint
The concept of a nonlinear presentation tool has been has been around for a while. Rather than lead your audience in a step-like manner, why not give them more control over the sequence of your presentation? If the group is interested in one or two aspects of your presentation, why should you lead them through four or five others? A nonlinear approach gives you the potential to respond to audience needs by altering your presentation to match those needs. With a nonlinear approach, you can assess audience clues, cues, and questions to move the presentation into more fertile and relevant topics.

I attended a very effective presentation on nonlinear storytelling that took it a step further and used audience response system clickers to query the audience on which path they wanted to take through the presentation.

How do you create a nonlinear presentation? In earlier blogs we have discussed Pachyderm, a nonlinear multimedia authoring tool. This open source web-based application allows a non-programmer to create media-rich flash presentations that incorporate text, graphics, videos, audio, and external links using a simple template-driven approach. Pachyderm is first and foremost a tool for creating interactive presentations for individual viewing on a browser, but if carefully designed, it could be a means to create nonlinear presentations for smaller groups. The newly released version 2.1.1 offers a toggle to increase font size for accessibility issues and could offer a solution for more intimate small group presentations.

Buzz has been growing about Prezi, a cloud-based nonlinear presentation design tool that offers a striking new paradigm for creating and delivering presentations. Rather than a linear sequence, Prezi acts more like a Google map of your information, letting you fly over an information landscape at will, zooming in to objects of interest—text, images, videos, links, etc—to pick up additional details. Prezi offers free access to public and educator versions, with 100MB of storage space. Additional features available are for an annual fee.

Prezi Map

A Prezi map.

In my first attempt at using Prezi, I found that I had merely taken a linear presentation and forced it into a nonlinear template. The result was disappointing. The power of Prezi’s nonlinear delivery was lost: zooming into information became just another transition effect linking my fixed linear slides. I realize now that using a tool like Prezi–like Pachyderm–requires rethinking how you plan and organize your thoughts. For example, rather than an outline, create a concept map. Use that to create a map that you can fly over, zooming in to key concepts and media at will, and in any sequence.

Here’s a showcase of Prezi examples. One that grabbed me is “The Future of Video” created by Jody Radzik from the Institute for the Future.

Note that Microsoft has just completed a beta test for an add-on for PowerPoint called pptPlex that provides similar nonlinear capacity (PC only).

Planning a nonlinear presentation using these tools or others will challenge you to rethink how you organize your information, and to just “let go” and give the audience more control over your presentation.

I am not dismissing traditional linear presentations with PowerPoint, Keynote, or other tools; I am challenging myself and others to consider an alternative when the topic lends itself to a new, fresh approach. If you give it a try, let us know how it works for you.

Filed Under (Baby Boomers) by crosslem on 21-05-2009

Here’s a PowerPoint presentation I posted to Slideshare about how the generations in the U.S. move through time, from 2000 – 2030, based on Census Bureau population data and projections:

U.S. Generations: 2000-2030

By Mark Crossler, OSU