Give it some depth, part one

The final approach to the Climbers’ Forum in Augburg got me thinking about the process of developing topics for presentations.

So,what makes a good presentation?

Of course there’s obvious aspects like the charisma of the presenter, the form of presentation and all of the wrappings surrounding it.

However, to me, what makes the difference in regards to the quality of a presentation is the depth that it has.

Entering into a new topic, or exploring a new angle to me is always a bit of a trip into the unknown, as you are never sure where you’re going to end up. This is the challenge and also the attraction of doing this kind of work, is that you often gain understanding in an area you weren’t expecting to initially. For that reason it also demands flexibility, i.e. not to enter into the process with fixed, preconceived ideas and to be willing to change your mind should evidence indicate that maybe an initial hunch or gut feeling turns out to have been wrong.

Sometimes we will start out on a topic and I will think to myself that this is going to be an easy one. But then every presentation ends up demanding effort in one way or another: this could be in a trip to research it; defining a testing procedure, followed by a series of testing; intellectual effort, reading up on background information;  a series of drawings; talking to a wide range of people; assembling materials from diverse sources; chasing up obscure data; working through legislation or talking to manufacturers… and so the list goes on.

This effort is what gives a presentation its soul, its depth.

This is a quality that the spectator may not be immediately aware of and may therefore superficially seem like overkill, as you could achieve the same result with much less effort, yet it allows you to back up statements with facts and to make them with greater authority and adds weight to your arguments. Without this solid foundation the whole structure above can be ever so cleverly crafted, yet it will remain inherently unstable, as background is lacking.

Give it some depth! Blubb...
Give it some depth! Blubb…

A number of topics we have developed over years, periodically revisiting them, until finally a keystone element – a central insight or piece of information – slots into place and the whole thing makes sense and can be communicated. Or themes are revisited and developed further as variations on a theme. In this way, a discussion that might start off by looking at configuration issues  in systems design may at a later point in time expand to include considerations regarding aspects of compatibility of neighboring components.

In the day and age of near-instantaneous communication this position may seem almost a little old-fashioned, however it is one that has served us well over the years and seems appropriate when discussing matters regarding work at height and Personal Protective Equipment.

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence. (Abigail Adams)

Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous. (Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes)