Peter Presenter's pickle

Peter Presenter is in a real pickle. He recently gave a presentation at the GAG Conference 2007 (Griefers and Gankers). His Powerpoint presentation has lots of slides with great illustrations, photos and clip art. He knows his material well enough to speak extemporaneously. You won't catch him reading his slides or looking down at a script. He makes eye contact with his audience and usually gets high ratings at other conferences.

During his presentation at the GAG conference, one of the griefers in the audience yelled out "BORING!". A moment after Peter's favorite slide came up on the screen, another griefer called out: "You Suck!" A ganker stole everyone's attention for a second by saying "Don't tell us, SHOW us!" Another griefer said in a loud voice at the end of Peter's talk, "I thought Peter knew his material -- but he doesn't have a clue".

Peter was devastated. He'd never endured outspoken criticism like that before. He thought of the bloggers who wrote that "digital natives are becoming digital savages". Peter could not make sense of the feedback or learn from the experience. All Peter could do is pout.

On the flight back, Peter ordered two little bottles of vodka from the flight attendant to drown his sorrows. "What's a pity party without some booze" he thought to himself. Peter was so self-absorbed he failed to notice the other passenger in his row. While he waited for his drinks, Peter lowered his tray table and grabbed the in-flight magazine to take his mind off his troubles. He was startled when he heard someone say "Hello Mr. Presenter, I saw your talk at the GAG conference and liked it".

Peter looked up and saw a distinguished woman looking right at him from the aisle seat. She was no griefer or ganker. "My name is Connie. I heard the feedback you got during your presentation. You look like you were hurt by it, not helped". For the next ten minutes they talked about Peter's anxiety, Connie's conference expertise, learning from obnoxious feedback and her own experiences with griefers.

When his drinks arrived, Peter put the little bottles in his pocket and drank the mixer on ice. His anxiety was already lowered by Connie's outlook. He realized he had a lot to learn from her. He decided to ask her point blank: "What did that ganker mean by "don't tell us, show us"? I thought my slides were helping the audience picture, visualize and relate to my presentation!" Connie appeared delighted by his question. She immediately launched into her big explanation about slides.
Most slides show static pictures that say the idea is going nowhere. Some slides transition into the next slide or build up a diagram in stages. Those sequences of slides say the idea involves movement. Some slides put that movement into a context where the change will encounter pitfalls, obstacles and griefers. Some slides go as far as to tell a picture story where all I've described comes together beautifully.

When griefers say something is boring, they mean there's no suspense, movement or adversarial context. The audience has been given nothing to wonder about, care about or identify with. When griefers say a speaker is clueless, they mean there's no understanding of the talk for people who are going to use it with difficulty and deal with opponents to it.

If you think of knowledge as a network, all this may fall into place. Static slides are nodes with no connections. Sequenced slides provide links between nodes that show cause and effect, stages in a progression or advancements made possible by the new nodes. Context slides show the networked understanding interfacing with other networks beyond its boundary that may be supportive and collaborative, or incompatible and antagonistic. Story slides reveal the underlying rules of the network that generate the nodes and links. An example of a generative rule is "when the learner is ready, the teacher will come" or "when curiosity formulates a new question, the network assimilates new nodes and links".
Peter's mind suddenly spawned many new connections. "In my life story, the griefers gave me questions about my own approach, which made me ready to learn, which brought about your input, which gave me ways to change my approach". It then hit him: "Those griefers were speaking up in favor of authentic learning. Now I get it! They want pictures of movement, raw materials to form networks and stories of all these nodes, links and interfaces coming together".

Connie smiled. "All this comes down to one thing: next time tell a story".


  1. Mario Vellandi3/24/2007 2:51 PM

    I like critical thinking; but it's facilitated after I've had a visualization, a story, a case study.

    This leads me to a recent habit I've noticed especially when reading blogs. No matter what the subject, but especially when it's technical and theoretical, I end up skimming. I stop to really read once I find examples or stories - A connection to real life. There's the hook, at least for me.

  2. Mario
    Thanks for your personal reflection on the value of storytelling over conventional blog posts. That helps me explore this new approach.


  3. You're good! You made your point about stories . . . with a story!

  4. Roger:
    Thanks for catching me in the act of walking my talk!