Just starting the University (2014), in the first semester we had a “Computing” course. It was probably the second or third harder class of the semester after Math, with lots of people having really bad grades (even to repeat the class more than once), and keep in mind it was about how to format and write documents and presentations. In reality, it was due to the very peculiar professor this class had, because anyone else would have chosen to go easy on us, at the end it was about making presentations and documents, but not him. It seemed to me that somehow, someone had made him suffer so much with bad reports and presentations, and he was trying to eradicate that evil from Earth. I can now say, without being afraid to be mistaken, that this class shall quickly prove to be very useful (probably only) to me, and if I were at this day in the place he was back then, I would probably be more demanding.
In that class we had our first contact with GNU/Linux, LibreOffice, and LaTeX. I remember the professor gave one class about LibreOffice, but just so we knew its existence, and immediately afterwards changed to LaTeX and made mandatory that all the presentations, sometimes even on other classes, must be done with the default them of Beamer: black/blue and white, as simple it gets. Nobody understood why he was making us suffer that much with Beamer when we could do the presentations in PowerPoint without the need to debug all those infernal errors LaTeX throw at us everytime we let an un-closed
}. But damn it was useful! although probably just to me, everyone else abandoned Linux and LaTeX as quick as they finished that semester.
There we learn that animations should be minimized if not completely removed from a presentation, that only one font should be used on the presentation, that each slide must contain one message and no more than one picture or table, etc. Simple rules which make something magical:
People started to present looking the public at their eyes, interacting with it, gesticulating, improvising, explaining, being human, and not just trowing a lot of thing to a slide that nobody can see and interpret before they finished reading the blocks of content in the slide.
Sadly, all the magic ended in the following semester, and everybody moved to PowerPoint with really awful, extremely heavy, and memorized or read from the screen presentations. It is not just that Beamer is better than PowerPoint (it is 😎), but using Beamer will force you to put one idea per slide, one figure per slide, one table per slide, and you cannot fit anything else there unless you tweak it to the core.
To every congress I go nowadays, and most of the presentations I see from people in science have this philosophy that everything you say must be somehow represented in the slide just in case someone enters the presentation late and missed that you have already said. The problem is that this ends in really weight slides with lots of information, with small pictures of birds, dogs, people, objects, etc. which reflects what they are saying. It seems more an artistic collage of text and images than a presentation, the white space seems to be the new enemy nowadays, and everywhere you see that enemy you are obligated to cover it with something.
Maybe it is just me, but when I first look at these slides I just cannot follow what are they saying. I have come to think that there are these two classes of people in science: (i) those with simple presentations who love clear messages and a focus on the actual speech of the speaker, and (ii) those who just hate the white space on their slides. These two groups are not compatible, a person from group one does not understand anything a person from group two is presenting because they do not identify the idea on the heavy slides. A person from group two does not understands anything from group one presentations because they mute the speech of the speaker and go directly to the slides looking to read the information, of course when they only see a table and are not listening they cannot understand what is it about.
I think people from group one are scarce, because it is not easy task to make a speech where you explain things to the public, and not just show and read them what you have found. Roughly said, people from group two flourish because they are completely incapable to make a presentation of group one. Sadly, is the second group which is more numerous and much of the time force students from group one to make shitty presentations. But it does not matter what they do to us, we must stay strong boys! 💪
Nevertheless, I have had the luck to see some rare presentations where the speaker and the presentation were exceptional. I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Peter Gill on a congress in Vigo, Spain, in 2022… best presentation ever said by group one and group two people, without any doubt. Guess what, he was from group one. So we have still hope to see something understandable out there from time to time, until then, we must accept the pain of seeing people killing the white space.
(The presentation of Peter Gill was in Beamer, by the way) 😉
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