A Tale of Two Presentations

This is a quiet entry, one where I think about the CCCC and the things I saw and learned. One of them involved a tale of two presentations.

There was once a panel with two presenters. There was to be three, but the third was unable to show up for off-stage reasons. It happens. The result was a larger platform for the two remaining presenters. What glory! Finally, enough time to really examine the subject and still have time for questions! Sadly, this was a low-tech year, and if either presenter had intended to use PowerPoint or the internet, that was not possible. There was an overhead projector though, and a stack of transparencies with a handy grease pencil in case anyone want to create an outline or jot down key words on the screen.

Presenter one began in a strong, yet faintly monotonal voice, reading from a paper (the paper–not speaking notes) while remaining seated at the presenter’s table. As he read, he became more intensely interested in the words on the page, making him read at a faster, yet even less audible pace. His eyes were strongly focused on the page, as if the people seated in the room were not there. At times he even backtracked if he missed a word. Missing were the devices that make a prepared speech easy to follow for an audience. The prose sounded smooth and able, but was not intended to be read aloud, thus making the presentation an exercise in getting the words read rather than sharing the ideas with the audience.

Presenter two may also have been foiled by the missing video projector and also had not prepared transparencies of his slides (always a good backup move in these days of reduced funding), but he had five or six 6×9 pieces of paper where he had written a series of points that he wanted to make, a somewhat larger and more detailed version of the notecards we all remember from speech class, or what former CCC editor Richard Gebhardt calls a “talking draft.” Presenter two got up from the comforting skirted table and stood in front of the audience, winning them over from the start by removing that artificial barrier. Another benefit from this move, possibly the most important one, was that by standing up, he had full use of his primary tool for this presentation: his voice. Standing people project their voices better than seated ones, and they are more fully able to use body language and keep in touch with what’s going on with the audience.

Because speaker two had speaking notes and was standing up and moving around, he had greater control over all aspects of his presentation. He could stop at certain points and look for affirmation or whether the audience was “lost.” He could stop and explain when needed. He could let questions redirect the presentation into tangential areas, if desired. he was not locked to the page, even though he held pages in his hand.

I suspect both presentations were equally smart, compelling, and worthy of inclusion on the panel. Unfortunately, one was a paper and one was a presentation, and the two are not the same. I’ll remember the presentation, but have already forgotten the few strings of words I could follow from the paper. He who has ears, let him hear.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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