Wednesday, April 22, 2020

“And snap! The job’s a game!”: Making Effective Presentations Has Never Been Easier

Everyone’s seen at least one terrible presentation. It was boring, uninformative, confusing . . . With so many bad examples of how to create and present slideshows, we have to be very careful in deciding what advice to follow. Here are some simple tips to keep your presentations from falling flat.

The presenter had way too much fun
with this slide, and the audience
won't have any in trying to read it.
The slideshow itself is the core that can make or break your presentation. One of many guiding videos for PowerPoint, “Life After Death by PowerPoint” presents a comical lesson on frequent design downfalls. Many of the tips given are ones everyone should know:

1) Don’t overload your slides with words — Don’t write the transcript of your entire speech, and don’t overdo the bullet points.
2) Spell check! As Don McMillan says, “Nothing makes you lok stupder then speling erors.”
3) Exercise moderation in color scheme, number of slides, amount of data, and visual effects. 

A good slideshow will augment your presentation without distracting from it. Keep it simple.

No one wants audience members to fall asleep during their presentation. In addition to being embarrassing, it means you’re not fulfilling your purpose of teaching the audience. The key is keeping them interested and engaged, and there are a few ways to accomplish that.

“Did you know that you normally lose 90% of your audience
within the first 5 minutes of your presentation?”

MLC's depiction of audience attention span
Hooking the audience from the beginning is extremely important, and an article from MLC Presentation Design Consulting offers a detailed list of different tactics. For example, you can tell a story (personal anecdote or invented narrative), interact with audience members by asking questions, offer surprising information that will shock them into interest, cite a famous quote, or make the audience laugh.

Speaking of laughter, humor can be very useful in retaining audience interest, provided you take care in choosing your jokes. Humor should not be tasteless or crude, and it shouldn’t be cringeworthy either. But if care is taken, humor can be an extremely useful ally in the fight for audience attention.

The third key piece to an effective presentation is diction. Speakers are easiest to understand when they talk clearly and at a reasonable speed. Vocabulary should be common enough for the audience to understand, with any unusual terms explained. If they can’t understand what you’re saying, they’re likely to stop paying attention.
Close, but not really.

Also extremely vital is that you do enough research to know what you’re talking about. It can look really bad when a presenter gets something very wrong and the audience knows it. And if someone asks a question, don’t make up an answer just so you can retain the pretense of knowledge. Giving false information is bad on its own, but it’s also a sure way to lose credit with your audience.

Finally, presentation notes also fall into that gray area of help vs. hinder. Notes are extremely useful for keeping speech smooth, and they are recommended for anyone who can’t recite everything without cues. However, you don’t want to bury your face in your notes for too long lest you ignore your audience.

As I prepare for the oral presentation of my Artificial Intelligence final project, the issue of how to create a quality presentation is very much on my mind. I’ve already been conscious of most of these tips and potential pitfalls for years, so I will definitely work on them in my presentation. The part that will need the most thought is how to engage the audience. Given the 10-minute time-constraint and the current digital nature of the class, some engagement efforts, such as getting the audience to participate, might not be quite as feasible. But things like quotes, surprising facts, and stories can still be quite useful.

Creating and delivering an effective presentation can be difficult, but, with the right tips, it can be as easy as pie.

Happy Presenting!

Just because, here are some more presentation images and comics for your enjoyment:

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Nagging Questions

This flash fiction was inspired by Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me.

       I’m not sure what possessed me to speak to him. I am not typically the type to start conversations with strangers. I suppose what really caught my eye was the cover of the magazine he held as he lounged on the park bench. It depicted the latest buzz in the artificial intelligence world—the “Adam and Eve” line of robots that was supposedly incredibly similar to flesh-and-blood humans. I was anxious about them, yet fascinated, and I suddenly found myself speaking.
He was a handsome
young man, admittedly.
Extra points for the suit
he wore, even though it
was unusual for the park.
       “Are you interested in artificial intelligence?”
      His attention caught by my voice, the dark-haired man smiled and lowered the magazine. “Very much so.”
       “Know anything about the new model?”
       “Yes. My friend Charlie bought one.”
       “What does he think of living with this new technological being?”
    The man huffed a quiet laugh. “He considers it an experiment; his main motivation was ‘curiosity.’16 Living with a humanoid machine took some getting used to, but it’s almost normal now.” His focus returned to me. “What do you think of them?”
       I again wondered about having a full conversation with a stranger, but I had been the one to start it. “Honestly, this whole topic frightens me.”
       “Why?” He gestured for me to join him.
      Easing onto the bench, I explained, “There are so many things that could go wrong. Are we trying to replace ourselves? Because that seems to be the probable outcome.”
A strange poem...
somewhat concerning
        “Are you concerned that they will surpass humans? Charlie’s Adam believes it inevitable. He wrote a poem about it, though he hasn’t shared it with Charlie yet:
‘Our leaves are falling.
Come spring we will renew,
But you, alas, fall once.’” 345
       “Sounds ominous.”
    “Would it be so bad, though, to have beings of greater intelligence?” He spoke eagerly. “They’ve found that AI are often better at identifying cancer than doctors. Think of all the ways AI could help humanity. And with all the developments in machine learning, neural networks, and natural language processing, AI could be the next level of humans, integrated into society.”
       “But we haven’t finished understanding our own minds. How can we program theirs to the fullest extent necessary to survive human life? With all the nuances we haven’t even found yet? There could be some rather nasty outcomes.”
        He shrugged off my concerns. “Scientists are constantly refining that.”
     “And what about rights?” I asked. “If they’re to be the next level of human—autonomous, sentient, living things—wouldn’t they deserve rights? What about those who consider AI property?”
       “What about those who considered slaves property?”
      He continued: “If someone were to destroy an AI they bought, would it merely be destruction of their own property, or would it be the murder of an existence?” 376
       I was going to have more nagging questions than I had started with. “This could cause another civil rights movement.”
       “I think it would be as valuable as the first.” As I internalized all the revelations that had come in only a few minutes, he seemed to remember something and looked at his watch. “I’m afraid I must be going.”
      I stood as he did. “You’ve given me much to think about. Thank you.” I was completely sincere. “What’s your name?” I asked, wondering if I might see him again.
       “You have a surname?”
       The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Just Adam.”
They were the most unusual eyes
I'd ever seen...beautiful but strange.
       In that moment, the sun shone on his eyes, and I caught a glimpse of small, black rods scattered through the pale blue 21 —surreal . . . unnatural. My own eyes widened and flicked down and up, surveying him once more. “Wait . . . are you . . .?”
        Adam’s mouth curved lightly again, but he said nothing as he turned and strolled away.
      I felt like a slow computer myself, trying to comprehend. What I had learned . . . what I had experienced . . . Adam had passed the Turing Test, and I had failed it. It rankled my pride a bit, but I had bigger concerns. If they could truly pass as human, and without our knowledge, what would that mean for us?

Author’s Notes:
*Since this story was inspired by Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan, I’ve pulled some information from the book. The superscripts scattered throughout are the page references.
*Not all of this stuff is fiction; some of it is happening now. Click the hyperlinks in the story to learn more!
*Image Links: