Wednesday, 3 April 2013

It's not about education

You might expect that a day of 'presentations' on things of an academic nature might be designed to inform, educate, inspire and motivate. Alas, it's guaranteed to be the opposite in France, at least it always is in my experience.

No matter what the occasion I'm always disappointed in the total inadequacy of most French speakers. Having been a serious Toastmaster for years I feel I know what I'm talking about when it comes to professional or at least vaguely interesting presentations. So what's wrong?

I spent a day in a tertiary institution north of Paris this week. I knew some of the speakers but most of them were not well-known to me. The day focused on sustainable development but lacked impact despite the fact that some projects have interesting aspects.

As I took my seat a teacher told me to move.. er I should move? Yes, away from the students and closer to the teachers because the students will make a lot of noise and disturb me. I asked if perhaps the students lacked politeness during the presentations they were supposed to be listening to? She shrugged and stood her ground. What a sad indictment on French students - and it's true. They were all doing anything except listening. The same could be said for most of the other teachers and admin staff. As I gazed around I did not see folks taking notes, instead they were using their smartphones and tablets and laptops for other purposes, chatting and joking.

OK, the presentations could have been more interesting and the lighting in the body of the lecture room could have been less sombre and soporific- brainwaves slowed, but two wrongs don't make it right. Here's what to expect from French presentations: a person, usually male, stands at a podium and has a microphone. They usually have a fully written text which they refer to heavily or actually read aloud. There is a powerpoint behind them and it's the epitome of death by powerpoint- it's definitive in it's awfulness. At least on this occasion they were standing and not sitting behind their laptops.

The slides are smothered in text, most of which is read out loud because obviously university staff and students can't read or understand what's on the slides. There might be a logo. There is little colour, no multimedia, no audience interactivity, not moving about or changes in voice modulation. Diagrams are too tiny to read. French presenters don't do their material/information justice and it shows little consideration for the audience.

What is the goal? Bore the audience? Indulge in self-aggrandizement? Pretend to be important or relevant? I don't know but it's clear from all the presentations I've seen at French educational institutions, French academics and many academics who work in France can't communicate, inspire or motivate. The information goes around in a closed circle, endlessly repeated. Even if industrial partners are involved there is simply a cascade of words without summary, pause or impact. 

My workplace doesn't seem to have a compulsory course for students on making effective business presentations so students and teachers alike lack skills to do effective public-speaking, speaking to journalists, voice projection and quality. I wish I could teach something like that to them.

One of the repetitive crimes I've noted of late is that there is absolutely no adherence to time-to the agenda. Many presentations were jettisoned because previous presenters were not expected to show courtesy and keep to time. I find this horrifying. My disappointment was so great and the effort to understand what these francophones were saying that I decided to take photos of what people were doing. I turned around and took shots. Student laptops closed. Some students tried to hide but the staff just went on doing their own thing. Is this a francophone thing not to have any idea of modern communication, learning technology, common courtesy?

I fear I'm doomed to remain disappointed.


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