The event itself

The work undertaken in these prior phases comes together in the presentation event itself, when it should pay off. Two essentials for a successful presentation are the visibility of the material presented (an important prior consideration, especially for slide presentations) and the audibility (i.e. the acoustic clarity) of what is said. This may sound trivial. Yet surprisingly often ignoring these aspects leads to absurd situations in practice, as described in the chapter entitled “L’usage repandu et persistant de transparents illisibles” [The widespread and persistent use of illegible slides] in Morel (2004: 39-41).

During this implementation phase, the presenter’s expressive abilities, including body language, are constantly challenged. Their use will vary with the speaker’s temperament and the presentation context, in which the media used assume a very specific role. Especially in the case of ppt presentations, a typical phenomenon is the “decentring of the speaker” (Knoblauch 2012: 230), with the slide becoming the audience’s interaction partner. To avoid this, the speaker must coordinate their flow of speech, by its nature continuous (at least in principle), with the sequence of slides on which information is visualised in blocks - all that while establishing and maintaining a connection with the audience (cf. Beaudouin 2008: 7).

Lobin (2012: 26-27) differentiates six ways in which speech and images may be linked:

  • - commenting (paraphrasing, for instance of bullet point texts);
  • - orienting (projecting of key concepts to support speech);
  • - integrating (ideal intertwining of speech and visuals);
  • - describing (explaining visualisations);
  • - illustrating (supplementing speech with visuals); and
  • - associating (leaving the connection open, intentionally or by mistake).

It is crucial that visuals do not take on a life of their own; Dall (2009: 238) uses the drastic expression “blood suckers” to describe images that are badly synchronised with the flow of speech and divert the audience’s attention. Referencing becomes verbal-deictic, as in “[S]o let’s look at...” or “This should give you a clearer picture of...” (Wallwork 2014: 86, 215), and pointing gestures are used. The latter are merely referential, in contrast to gestures which imitate contents or accompany them in a mimetic manner (cf. Knoblauch 2012: 224).

Hand gestures serve a range of purposes for the speaker, including “facilitation”. More importantly still, they have “conversational functions”; “the rhetorical one enriches the content, the discursive one marks the syntactic structure [...], the interactive one allows conversation management, the persuasive one convinces and influences the interlocutors” (Maricchiolo et al. 2014: 1461-1462). A special case of indicating is the use of a laser pointer, which enables drawing-like movements; the speaker may, for instance, circle, underline, connect or sequence sections (cf. Knoblauch 2012: 226-227). With the emergence of touch screens and especially tablets, the speaker may now perform all these activities directly on the screen with a stylus, thus enabling better maintenance of eye contact with the audience.

Contact in general involves far more than merely facing the audience. It means truly connecting with those present, which is a complex endeavour conditioned by social, emotional, pragmatic-contextual and many other factors. Interests often differ, and bad news must sometimes be imparted. Ideally, speakers will seek to cement the allegiance of an audience already well-disposed to them or their concern(s) or to successfully convince a critical one. In real-life, however, they must frequently content themselves with not antagonising the essentially disinterested, or merely with surviving in the face of opposition. The practice-based work of Dall (2009: 382-392) goes into great detail about hecklers and lists the following countermeasures: ignoring them, acknowledging them (e.g., by eye contact), addressing them briefly and returning immediately to the topic, and promising to address their concerns later.

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