Conferences Are Creating Toxic Events With Visual Logorrhea

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Most conferences spread verbal diarrhea and visual logorrhea like viral diseases.

We create toxic airborne events cluttering the conference experience with an overuse of monologues, panel dialogues and slideuments. Author Garr Reynolds coined the word slideument referring to presentations that have enough text that they can “speak for themselves.”

While a presentation that speaks for itself seems like a good idea, the research shows that slideuments are a distraction for the audience. No one can actually read and listen at the same time. Just as no one can give their focused attention to thinking and give their focused attention to listening at the same time. Slideuments are one of the symptoms of “death by PowerPoint (PPT) bullet.”

Creating A Poverty Of Conference Content

The convenience of presentation software like PPT is costly to the audience. It favors the presenter’s needs over the audience needs.

It also results in a poverty of content and harms the audience’s ability for deep quality thinking says Edward Tufte, author of The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.

According to Tufte, the cognitive structure of PPT templates provides a single-path model of hierarchy for organizing content. This oversimplifies complex topics. It promotes surface learning or an awareness of an issue and does not promote individual thinking.

Similarly, Tufte identifies how the PPT templates only use 30%-40% of the space provided for content with the remaining space for bullets, frames and branding. Tufte calls this PPT Phluff.

The lack of meaningful content creates boring presentations. That coupled with visual logorrhea creates presentations full of content bulimia. Thus a conference with a poverty of contextual content!

The Data On Visual Logorrhea

German author and researcher Tim Themann analyzed 1,500 random presentations freely available on internet. His goal was to compare the prevalence of slideuments and current advice on presentation design from experts like Nancy Duarte, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Garr Reynolds and Edward Tufte.

Themann examined each presentation’s textual content (word and line counts), font and font size, and slide layout. Here are his results as outlined in Visual Logorrhea: On The Prevalence Of Slideuments.

1. Gagging On TMT – Too Much Text

Two-thirds of slides are packed with too much text to support the presentation. One-fifth are clearly slideuments (not appropriate to support the speaker’s presentation).

Nancy Duarte takes slideuments one step further. She says that slides with more than 75 words serve as white papers and slides with 50-74 words serve as teleprompters. According to Duarte’s book Slide:ology, the best presentations have slides that reinforce the content visually and have little text, if any.

2. Can You Read Me Now?

Two-fifths of all text on slides have a font size below 24 pt. Anything under 40 pt. font is considered unreadable by an audience.

3. The Default Templates Are Creating Brain Drains

Most presentations use the PPT template defaults regarding font choice, font size and slide layout. Few spend any time on design and rarely are third-party fonts used. Most slides revert automatically to pre-selected title line above a hierarchical bullet list. This is the perfect way to bore the audience and drain the brain.

How can we help our conference speakers move away from visual logorrhea? Why do conference organizers feel they need to pre-approve a speaker’s slides yet continue to approve slideuments?

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  1. This problem is decades old. From the inception of presentation software presenters have been writing and reading their entire presentation from the screen. I have always been a proponent of single word bullet points that merely serve to keep the speaker on track and the audience engaged in what is being said.

    I have also promoted my music-driven, audience-interactive trivia application as a game-based alternative to presentations. It doesn’t work for every type of presentation but works well to reinforce learning or when entertainment is important and content is not too deep.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion. Yes, the problem is decades old. What’s not that old is the empirical evidence about the effectiveness of lectures and poor presentations visuals. We now know from neuroscientists like Dr. John Medina that we are all visual learners and thrive better when visuals accompany our presentations.

  2. Greg Oates says:

    Cool Jeff. I’m just starting to speak at events and this feels like it could help.

  3. Anne says:

    Haiku Deck is a nice option with great visual options and limited space for text. It’s mobile friendly too. Photos are suggested based on key words in your text. Easy, fun, and visually pleasing.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Love Haiku Deck and it’s certainly a tool every presenter should know about and practice using. Thanks for adding it here and thanks for reading too.

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