On my way to a conference in the commercial capital of India recently, I had been looking forward to hearing the views of some important people listed as 'keynote speakers'. The theme was absorbing and the subject close to my heart. The buzz of pre-conference conversation coupled with friendly introductions in the ambience of a posh venue set the tone for what promised to be an interesting day.
The theme being innovation-oriented, most of the invited experts were below 45 years of age. From the roundtable meant for my group, I watched as every single speaker came up on stage, plugged his material into the laptop on the dais and announced that he would be making a presentation. Slide after slide followed, with reams of text cascading down the white screen. Often the speaker read out large portions of the text, some of which, I suspect, came out of the pages of a book or manual. The rest appeared to have been 'sourced through lift irrigation', or seemed to be a gift from 'that great God, Googleshwar', as a witty friend likes to put it.
On one occasion, a speaker relied on the young intern at the conference computer closer to the screen, who clicked on the arrows while the former 'ran through' his presentation. It is not easy to coordinate between two persons several yards away through eye contact alone, so the expert repeatedly tended to say, "Next" after each slide and the obliging young man would move to the next slide.
I can see the virtues of a PowerPoint presentation as easily as the 'next' person at the table. It is supposed to make it easy for people to focus on the subject and retain more of the contents than they would have, had they merely heard the speaker make a speech. Also, it looks smart and professional and deceives the audience into thinking that the presenter has made extraordinary efforts or that the contents of the presentation are somehow so spectacular that people should actually be rushing to acquire them.
That, alas, was not the case at this conference and at others I have attended during the course of my career. PowerPoint presentations are alright in certain settings and may even be a better option when one needs to get the audience to focus on data or images. But when one is listed as a speaker, one is expected to give his views and take a stand on the issue because he is an expert and knows more than the rest of us.
Instead of a succession of "Nexts", a simple seven-minute speech outlining the speaker's thoughts, along with possible approaches to problem-solving would have been infinitely more preferable.
The listeners were visibly bored. Had it not been a captive audience, the presentations would have led to several 'absentations'. When the coffee break was announced, the hurried exodus, the debris of mint wrappers and the doodles on notepads told their own tale.