To listen or not to listen…


When at an event where multiple presentations are made the question is always to listen or not to listen… Obviously there are criteria that differ from person to person.  If the topics are diverse, the choice is (mostly) easy as the topic may ease the decision.  But what if the topics are nearer to one another, or you have a keen interest in more than one topic?

Dave Paradi in his blog noted the the National Speakers Association in the US is now requiring prospective speakers at their winter 2011 conference to agree to create a short (2-3 minute) promotional video to explain why an attendee should come to their concurrent session.  What a great idea! He also points to other benefits relating to the advantages it holds for the speakers — actually thinking through (i) what they are saying, and (ii) why their audience might be interested. One would have thought that this is done anyway, but anybody who has attended a conference will know that this is (unfortunately) not the case.  [TED might be the true exception, I’ve not seen a truly bad presentation on their web-site, not even close actually — Jan Schultink explains why].

Now at typical academic conferences there are a paper that has been accepted through a peer-review process.  Scanning the papers could provide some help in deciding what to listen to. More “industry” oriented conferences provides what Garr Reynolds has coined the term slideument — a slide show that tries to act as a document (or vice versa, I suppose).  I agree wholeheartedly with Garr that generally they are a waste of time… Then again, they can help me to decide where to go – if I can read the presentation off the slides I don’t have to go, I can just read the slides myself (unless of course I need to catch up on some missed sleep).  However, a proper document would then have been even better.  This reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon

Dilbert.com

Of course as an academic what upsets me particularly is students wanting slides. What upsets me more is academics just dishing it out.  Except that studies have shown that slideuments as study material does not work, what has happened to the other “skills” we teach in addition to the facts?  How are modern students to learn how to sift through masses of information to find the truly essential? No wonder I get senior students who think three papers is “lots of sources” and take hours to read a couple of pages with basic information – they never exercised the skill, instead used the professor’s slide-based summary!  Unfortunately, to me it seems as if people at higher education institutions seem to perpetuate rather than address the problem…

So if I were a student and I had to decide whether to listen or not to my professor’s lecture…  What would you do?

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