A colleague and I spent Tuesday morning assessing the presentations of my cross-cultural communications group. I once heard Powerpoint compared to ‘an OHP on speed’, and the comparison is apt, I think – after ninety minutes of skittering captions and snazzy visuals, I could do with a glass of Sanatogen, an aspirin and a lie down. I do tell students this before they start preparing their spiels. Visuals in a presentation, mes agneaux, are meant to focus the attention, not commandeer it. Screens, of tellies, of iPhones, of calculators or of iPads, are notoriously difficult to ignore, so don’t give Powerpoint anything to do beyond what is strictly necessary, which in my opinion is not much.
I observed nine presentations, and they divided neatly into three excellent, three bog-standard and three crap. The excellent ones were informative and well-organised and the presenters made every effort to demonstrate the relevance of their chosen topic to the lives and future careers of their listeners. I was impressed, and knew that almost parental kvelling you feel when you watch your students bounce something original off what you have taught them. The crap ones were all crap for the same reason: the presenters just had no idea why they were standing at the front of the room. Each slide was a grey wall of dense text from which the perpetrator simply read aloud, her back to the audience, oblivious of the fact that nobody was listening and everyone had turned their attention to their phones and iPads. On the pre-sessional course, that chaotic five weeks of academic square-bashing in August, we ban phones and iPads from presentations, otherwise nobody listens to anybody else. I decided that for the MA module, either the presentations would be interesting enough to keep everyone from arsing about on Facebook, or they wouldn’t. Some weren’t.
Watching all this while writing a feed-back sheet and giving marks for the introduction, the content, the visuals and the Q&A is rather like rubbing your stomach and patting your head simultaneously, and as always I am worried about the fairness of my marks. I keep a note-pad for personal reference next to the official feedback form, and on it are scribbled remarks like ‘crap’ and ‘o fr chrsts sk’, and I worry that after a particularly bad effort, the succeeding presentation might be judged unnecessarily harshly. While I was hurriedly amending a note I had made on a previous presentation to something kinder, I was distracted by what the present presenter was saying. This was Bao Yu. ('Precious Jade') I look up. As always, her appearance is striking. For her presentation at ten thirty in the morning, Bao Yu has chosen a dazzling sequined beanie, a white jacket with tartan collar and cuffs, the briefest of white skirts, canary yellow tights and shimmering, rainbow-coloured court shoes. Her false eye-lashes look like Hoover accessories. She is talking about gestures and the various interpretations the same gesture will elicit in different cultures.
‘Dis jester, Ingrand people will be put ‘Appio’ interpration,’ she’s saying. ‘’Appio’ interpration, it’s mean ‘gay stuff’ interpration.’