Friday, October 11, 2019

A Nostalgia Moment: The Overhead Projector

Kurt Harden of Cultural Offering recently told me that he has an overhead projector.

He uses it as a prop.


Nonetheless I am filled with envy. In a display of bad judgment several years ago, I gave away my overhead projector. 

Later on - amid sober reflection - there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My reasoning at the time was not irrational. A speaker of advanced years with gray hair and an overhead projector might as well have a pocket watch and drive a Nash.

That said, long-time readers of this blog know that I believe the old overhead projectors were, in key respects, far superior to the rigid flashiness of modern PowerPoint.

How so?

The overhead projector permitted far more spontaneous exchanges between the speaker and the audience. If a point needed to be illustrated, it could be easily shown simply by drawing or writing with a grease pencil (or an erasable marker) on an acetate slide.

Because of that option, presenters didn't have to prepare as much as they do with PowerPoint. The PowerPoint presenter needs to craft slides in advance. The presenter using an overhead projector can easily construct and customize a slide right on the spot. Some overlays could be prepared in advance but the real action often occurred when the presenter prepared one in response to audience questions.
Those are not minor advantages but there was an intangible one that may be even more important. Rather than the "here it is" moment of a PowerPoint slide, the overhead projector permitted the audience to get a brief sense of how the speaker's thought process worked. I can still recall high school instructors uncovering the mysteries of algebra and geometry via a well-used grease pencil.

Do I use PowerPoint? Yes, for some presentations, but whenever possible I find myself using a flip chart to convey reasoning that once would have been dynamically presented on acetate.

Progress is not always progress.

[BTW: I refer to overhead projectors in my book on How to Make Presentations to Councils and Boards. I will be preparing a revised edition so younger readers won't think that they've uncovered a Trivial Pursuit item.]

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