The Process of Presentation – with Keynote ’09

Most of you have probably heard the phrase “death by powerpoint”. In addition to the problem of rigid and poorly produced content, the concern is that we reduce complex ideas down to simple presentations, simplifying decision-making, and thereby choosing simply bad solutions. I agree – presentation tools can be poorly and inappropriately used, and yet I am trying to hone my skill in the art of presentation. Where does one start? We start by creating. Yes, we make mistakes. That is a art of the practice. Creating crappy content IS part of the process. For the sake of our audience, hopefully we create some jewels as well.

Over the past few week I created a 40 minute presentation that summarizes some of the key issues for technology in my school district. The tool I chose was Keynote ’09. It took me quite some time (understatement) to create the presentation. I would like to take time in this post (and others) to summarize some of my lessons and think about how to improve my skill. I would like to improve my skill and make the creative process more fluid. I would like to create some stunning works of art that convey important ideas. First I need to take stock of the process.

Here’s the presentation:

Creating a presentation is a dual operation. On one hand you are thinking through a problem or situation and trying to convey it to an audience. On the other, you are using a tool that requires skill and adaptation of that skill. You are merging your facility with the tool with your facility to make meaning in your head and with the tool.

As much as I understand this parallel creative development (ideas with tool / tool with ideas), I was confounded in my process at times. Similar to a sculptor, I was shaping my idea while I was applying and sharpening my tools.  Sometimes I lost my way and couldn’t see the meaning from the tool. Sometimes I couldn’t get the tool to perform the way I had in mind. I moved from paper to computer, from mind mapping software to outlines, to drawings, to more writing, to trying PowerPoint and back to Keynote.

The Idea(s)

Luckily I knew my content well. I can’t say that I had a clear outline in the beginning. I had worked one out in my head and thought I had a good sense of how things fit together. But as much as I THOUGHT I knew how it all fit together – I didn’t. This is an important point. One that I hope I will take to future creative projects. The creative process is about making connections, understanding the relation of ideas. If we could do it without the process, we wouldn’t need to communicate at all. All would be understood.

But ss much as we understand and cope with the content of our daily activities, we don’t understand the connections between one activity and another – THAT’S THE POINT! We need to apply our awareness, bring bits and pieces together, in order to create meaning. The desired culmination is a concise presentation that brings many ideas together under a premise.

I have a fantasy about how other people work. I picture a writer, pencil or computer in hand writing a book from beginning to end. I picture a movie editor, splicing film, frame by frame, into a Hollywood film. In my fantasy, I see a the process as a linear, block by block, process. Idea + idea + idea + Tool = masterpiece. While I don’t truly believe this is so, it is easy to underestimate the details, the sweat and tears of the process. The product itself belies the process. When done well, the product we see is an integrated and sequenced message, created to sway us to the message. The more effectively shaped it is, the more we are “fooled”.

We all know people who are full of good ideas and never produce a thing. We know people who are always “in production”; shaping, reshaping, and reshaping an idea and never publish a final product. The “Goldilocks” creator is the one who has great ideas, knows her tool, and who’s effort is highly product-ive. This person is good enough to create meaning, wise enough to let good enough alone,

Through the process of creating my presentation I struggled with these things. It was difficult to keep going  as I questioned the meaning of the project, my competence, how the presentation would reflect on me, and my ability to meet the deadline. My guiding light was in knowing that I was learning – gaining insight into the subject (technology and it’s significance for K12 Education) and into the creative process and tools (Keynote in particular). Without some immediate and tangible satisfaction, I’m not sure that I could have continued.

The Tool(s)

While the idea, the meaning, is the most essential part of the process, the tool can make or break our success in delivering the message. As the title of my website indicates, tools are a fascination of mine. Tools of mind (the creative and contemplative process) and tools of hand (implements to express thoughts and feeling).

Keynote was my tool of choice in this project. While I have tinkered with it before, I had never produced a “feature length” film 🙂 I am not especially proud of this production but I think it was good enough for the intended purpose. One has to start somewhere right? Through the process I learned to appreciate the power and the limitations of Keynote for illustrating ideas. In the entries that follow, I’m going to document some of the tricks that I learned. Some are YouTube videos that helped me. Some will be videos of my own. My hope is that my documentation will further my creative potential with future projects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.