One of the things I continually harp on my graduate students about is how they make presentations. For the majority of them, their idea of a presentation comes from their days (and days and days — they are graduate students after all) spent in the classroom where they have established themselves as the kind of people who enjoy classroom lectures. And so one of their first impulses is to re-create the classroom lecture.
But that doesn’t mean they have necessarily experienced, and thus are in a position to recreate, great classroom lectures. (One doesn’t have to have encountered excellence in a genre to be an established fan of the genre — more on this perhaps another time.) The same goes for the other presentational form that grad students have likely experienced, the conference paper. While the lecture format typically assumes something like 45 minutes to make its point, the conference paper is constrained to 20 minutes, or sometimes 15 minutes. However, that does not necessarily encourage authors/presenters to get to the point. I have, no lie, witnessed individuals read from article-length or chapter-length papers, somehow believing that there ideas are so compelling that the audience is willing to withstand their speed reading and such qualifications as “I can’t go into todepth here due to lack of time.” (I don’t think I have ever seen a “stage rush” at the end of such a performance with gobs of new fans breathlessly pressing for the skipped-over idea.)
I’m not picking on just academics here, but on presenters in general. I have, while in the business world, sat through many a PowerPoint slide stack which consisted of nothing more than slide after slide of bullet points, many of which were nothing more than read off the slide by the presenter. This is the scene of revolution, or at least revolt, for more sites and speakers/authors who seek to revise or refine presentational forms. One of the first of such sites I came across was [Presentation Zen][pz], a site I have regularly recommended to grad students — a recommendation, I can tell from their presentations, that most of them have ignored. From there, I have suggested they explore not only the form but also the content of the [TED talks][ted].
The technology sphere in general has generated a number of conventions. [Guy Kawasaki][gk] has his own [10/20/30 rule]. And there are presentations like [this one by Dick Hardt][dh] at OSCON on which even talented presenters like Lawrence Lessig have commented. (Lessig is a presentation dynamo in his own right, and his [free culture talk][fct], which speaks directly to the heart of folklore studies and the larger philological project, is well worth watching. Please also note that his book is available, in its entirety, as a free download at that link.)
And so it should come as no surprise that [O’Reilly][or], so often at the vanguard — almost too consciously so sometimes — has come up with Yet Another Presentation Format (YAPF). It’s worth checking out Scott Berkun’s meta-presentation on the format, if only for its suggestiveness: