Some of my thinking since the ascilite 09 conference that I recently attended in Auckland, has centred around the style of presentations I listened to. I was able to learn a lot about a range of topics (as reflected on in previous posts), but I feel that something was lacking during the presentation sessions. I’ve come away from the three days of short talks wondering why I didn’t feel more engaged with some of the talks I attended.
I believe the way I’m feeling has something to do with the ‘stories’ that people told. Too often we were presented with the outline of the paper as it was written for the conference, and people often read out their dot points from their slides. I would rather hear the story of the journey, the experience, how people felt while working their project, reflections from participants, about the new understanding they developed, and what changed about their thinking. An interesting story will always lead me to the paper and further investigation.
Narrative is core to our culture and we only need to look at the popularity of books & films to see how much we like a good yarn. While we in developed Western cultures have lost a lot of the oral tradition, it is still a common means of passing on knowledge and understanding. Maybe we would do well to focus a little more on developing stories through which to ‘deliver’ content, ideas, and findings in our educational institutions.
I believe a ‘presentation story’ is (should be) more than just about having a beginning, middle, conflict, resolution, and end, it’s about making it personal and sharing how your learning has effected, changed and evolved you. Sharing stories, or making a narrative out of what you want to say, helps provide authenticity and will connect with the audience, it grounds the presentation in lived experience. The story needs to be told within a context or setting, and the characters provide us access to the drama as we learn about it through their eyes. We get to understand the human element of the research, the impact to the participants and how learning has been improved, lives enhanced, innovation adopted, etc.
Is your story good enough to hold the attention of an audience? An audience of your peers at a conference, or an audience of students in a lecture or classroom. Are you able to engage your listeners in a (your) personal journey and make connections with others by inviting them to participate in your story? Do you have any good examples of a narrative presentation?
What do you think? Should we be focusing more on narrative in our teaching as well?
I’ve set myself the challenge of making the presentations I do next year, more like stories/narratives and will look forward to hearing what people think about them…
(these reflections don’t take into account the potential of a good slide deck to support a story, or whether there might be a Twitter or live blog, back channel in action while you are presenting – might cover those topics in a future post)