Have you ever sat through a bad presentation? Me too. But I never realized how serious of a problem it was until one day in 2008. It was a Wednesday in fact. A cold January Wednesday in the winter of 2008 when I took 112 seventh graders to the computer lab to work on presentations. As a teacher, I thought I was being creative. I thought I was being innovative. I thought I was empowering students. I thought I was fostering creativity. Until two days later, when back in the classroom, I watched 112 seventh graders click through their slides and read every one of them word for word. That’s when I realized how serious this problem truly was. That’s when I realized we were creating another generation of bad presenters.
So I started looking at the content I had created. I had exactly 97 videos on YouTube. I self-reflected. I dug through statistics. I poured over analytics. What I discovered astounded me – 16 seconds. That’s all the average viewer of any of my videos actually watched. So, essentially 90% of the content I was creating was going unseen. 90% of the messages I had to share were going unheard. That’s when I realized I had two options. One, only create videos that lasted less than 16 seconds or two, start making a conscious and concerted effort to hook my audience from the beginning.
I could blame all these bad presentations on a never-ending, vicious cycle. Bad presentations were what I had grown up with and bad presentations were what my students were used to. But, I prefer to think the reason no one sticks around to watch any of my YouTube videos is more of a reflection on our society. In 2012, Barack Obama was campaigning for his reelection as president. On a crisp fall afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa with a midwestern cornfield in the background, President Obama spoke for 93 minutes on his vision and his dream for America. For 93 minutes he went on and on as he shared his message. When that speech appeared on the news that evening, it had been condensed down to 8 seconds. Essentially, a 93 minute speech had become an 8 second soundbite. But that’s our world. We live in an 8 second world and if we expect to keep our audience’s attention, we’ve got to hook them fast and make our point quickly and efficiently. To do that, we’ve got to get innovative.
So where does innovation begin? It begins with an empty slide. It begins with a blank canvas. A blank canvas is full of limitless potential and endless opportunity. So often we get caught in the trap of relying on templates. Templates aren’t creative. Templates aren’t innovative. Anyone can fill in a template. Anyone can drag and drop. Anyone can follow a recipe. Anyone can color inside the lines. I encourage you to break the mold, I want you to think outside the template, and I challenge you to find your blank canvas.