Apart from the craic, the main reason for going to Gormanston is the lectures. Unfortunately the use of powerpoint presentations seems to be regarded as compulsory nowadays. Most lecturers with a bit of practice and help from their friends can put together a series of pictures and captions and some even get things to move around on screen. Very few, however, are able to present their work effectively.
The first problem is that a helpful person, in order to make the pictures clearer, will turn the lights down or out. When the lights go down, so do the eyelids! In Professor Pickard’s first lecture on the evolution of the honeybee my notes reveal that >14 billion years ago there was no solid part of the universe as all was a ball of energy; and that 60% of our genes are shared with the honeybee. Then the lights went right out and I couldn’t see to write notes. I remember that it was an interesting talk, but I can’t remember the details, have no notes beyond those above, and there was no handout or opportunity to download the presentation for later study.
I have been to talks where the lecturer simply turns her back to the audience and reads from her notes on the screen (if you’ve been there you’ll know who I mean!). The best powerpointer I’ve come across there is Simon Rees. Not only does he move around (this year coming forward as often as moving to the other side of the stage) so that those in the back rows, sitting behind larger people, can see him sometimes, but also he obtains eye contact and thus interaction with his audience. Importantly, he turns the projector off when he wants to get the audience’s attention, so they are looking at him and not the screen. Of course, there has to be a reasonable amount of light in the hall for this to happen.
Meg Seymour is good, too, as she actively involves the audience in discussing what they can see on the screen.
With some powerpoint presentations, the lecturer may as well not be there and the whole thing could be done as if a film or TV. People go in order to attend a lecture which may or may not be accompanied by illustrations. They don’t go to see pictures with somebody talking about them. It’s a matter of priority.
In my opinion the main virtue of powerpoint is that it forces the presenter to get his/her ideas in order and make succinct notes that can be elaborated during the presentation. Provided somebody else is paying for the printing, or there is a paying audience as at Gormanston, there should be a printed handout of the powerpoint and notes as a matter of routine. Preferably there should be room on the handout for the audience to make their own notes. I have, on the odd occasion, used the handout, issued at the start of the talk so everybody has one to read and make notes upon, and simply expanded on the notes verbally without using projector and screen. It works well.
I’m giving a 20 minute after-dinner talk this evening. My ‘powerpoint’ will be a set of bee-pictures that I shall talk about and hand round or display on a table if there is one. The last time I did this, on that occasion to the Rotary on Portland, the talk lasted 20 minutes and the questions afterwards another 40!