Thursday, May 17, 2012

Great documentaries for great presentations

In recent months I have turned to documentaries for inspiration. Truth be told, this post is inspired by Sheila Bernard's book Documentary Storytelling. Make no mistake, documentary makers are researchers, some scientific, some not.  In any case good documentaries contain important lessons for scientific presenters.

Learning from documentaries is only helpful if you watch a same documentary several times and start identifying its structure and visual consistency. Particularly,  listening the director's commentary you will find that there is a lot of valuable and important material that doesn't making it to the final cut.  This is a lesson for all scientific presenters: you can't present all what you have found and pretend that your audience is going to care.

Documentary-makers face the awful challenge to compete with fiction films. It would hard to get people interested in documentaries if directors, producers and writers don't show their research in a creative and storytelling way.  In other words these people respect the audiences by building a piece that is meant for the viewers and not for the makers, that's another lesson for presenters.

Having said this, here are three documentaries that might help you building better presentations.

Source: Wikipedia under CC license by Wiros
Man on Wire. A 2008 award winning documentary, Man on Wire tells the story of Phillipe Petit and his high- wire talk between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New City. Why should you watch this movie? Because it illustrates what a conclusion is. It ends strong, just like public speaking should. It is a beautiful, well crafted film.

Source Wikipedia under CC license by Fletcher6
Inside Job is another Oscar- award winning film, directed by Charles Ferguson, PhD, about the financial melt-down of the 2008. Why is this film important for presentations? For one, this is organized in a clear chapter-by-chapter way, very similar to most scientific talks, so it is easier to identify the similarities between the two. Inside every chapter there is complete story, and each one keeps the film moving forward. It also includes good visualizations of what the financial crisis was about. The hard technical and historical parts are beautifully shown.

Source Wikipedia. Public Domain image
 An inconvenient truth.  This film doesn't have the intensity of Man on Wire or Inside Job. However if you are involved in scientific presentations, you must see this movie, for it is for its most part a presentation. Like Inside Job, this film shows examples of efficient data and information visualizations. The slides are superb, and it shows a pro on-stage.  This slides of Mr. Gore's presentation were done by Duarte Design and some of them can be seen here.

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