Death by Powerpoint
Don’t succumb to death by PowerPoint.
Image ©

Over the next couple of years I have a full plate; the postgraduate degree I’m doing culminates in a six month project and dissertation, and I’m starting a CertAVP. I’ve always enjoyed CPD because it’s part social, part learning, new things you can put in to practice.

My degree is done with didactic lectures at intensive weekend sessions, and it’s hard because it’s essentially 12 hours of text-heavy PowerPoint slides.

I haven’t (yet) started the CertAVP sessions but I understand it’s mostly self-directed and discussions online, which will be a refreshing change!

As with everything there’s good and bad CPD; those sessions where you are stuck in a conference room watching endless PowerPoint slides are hard to avoid. I used to go to BSAVA Congress every year without fail, but it became so hard to attend all the lectures I wanted to that I started to get a bit more focused.

I now go to more specialised conferences (Vets Now in Harrogate is usually excellent, and the BVFLA conference is a small but perfectly formed couple of days focusing on an utterly fascinating subject – forensics) and go on CPD days focused on my weak points.

Stephen Hernandez-Divers
Stephen Hernandez-Divers, named Exotic DVM of the Year at the 2006 International
Conference on Exotics.

In the past one lecturer I always enjoyed going to see was Stephen Hernandez-Divers. He has since emigrated to the USA to take up a professorship but while he was on these shores he was a draw wherever he spoke.

I saw him speak both in small student groups and in the larger American conferences (Florida’s International Conference on Exotics, mainly), and it was the same style: he would use two projectors simultaneously, wander about the lecture theatre, apparently just chatting away about the slides, and rapidly changing them. It kept your attention and kept the lecture moving at quite a pace.

I gave a few lectures in the same sort of period (late 90s and early noughties, mainly on exotics and electronic security) and used this technique to avoid having to memorise the talk I wanted to give, and it worked… for me at least! I couldn’t hope to match Stephen’s ebullience or seamless flow of ideas and enthusiasm, but the technique does keep the lecture more conversational and less “read the PowerPoint slide and move on just before everyone has finished copying it”.

In doing that I learned a lot of little rules, such as:

  • not using the bottom third of your slide for text (because most of a conference room can’t see it through the head of the person in front)
  • get your point across in the first slide or two, then expand on it
  • always have a photograph showing (otherwise it’s just boring)
  • No walls of text (change the slide every thirty seconds on average)
  • give dose rates and other “reference” items on a static slide at the end of the talk too for people to write down at leisure… and so on

With the advent of electronic projection, I can’t help thinking that style of lecture is gone – I have only ever seen lecture theatres equipped with one projector, never two, and online presentations are only ever single-slide. Nevertheless it should be possible to make a single-projector lecture as interesting as a dual projector one – you just need to change the slides even faster! Lectures really shouldn’t be “Death by PowerPoint” these days.

Pointing at a slide
Lectures really shouldn’t be “Death by PowerPoint” these days.

So this year I’m trying something different. I have a lot of writing and research to do, and can’t really afford to spend a whole day driving cross country to sit in a lecture theatre on a shabby industrial estate listening to stuff I could have got by reading a chapter in a text book. So I’m doing on-line courses for the theory, and related practical courses to sharpen up on those (it’s been years since I used a Seldinger technique, for example). Vets Now is still on my “to do” list, but my living room is the venue for much of my CPD this year.

Another thing post-CPD I see is that everything the lecturer said in the session can be taken as gospel-truth. I think even us lowly GP vets need to have a healthy degree of… scepticism is too strong a word… respect for what was said, but bear in mind there are probably other opinions or ways of doing things.

The incident which gave me this attitude was at a conference in Scotland – a lecturer was presenting a new technique in a bird and showing photographs before and after the procedure. There were murmured “wows” and so on. I got an elbow in the ribs at this point from an old friend sitting next to me, who whispered: “What he’s not telling us is that that bird died the next day.”

I have seen a different thing when discussing something like small mammal dentistry – there’s more than one theory on aetiology (mechanics v calcium v breeding) and a lot of evidence to support each one, and while in my ignorance I suspect they are just different aspects of the same outcome, I have heard colleagues using lecturer names as a form of “Top Trumps” when discussing what they learned on a CPD course.

So listen, learn, inwardly digest, and make up your own mind, even when the speaker is at the top of their game!

Here’s hoping for some interesting CPD this year.

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