Once upon a time there were physical viewgraphs that sat on a projector located some distance from the speaker. To change viewgraphs, the speaker used a Voice Activated Slide Changer (VASC) (also know as a person who responded to the phrase “next slide please”).

As we shifted from viewgraphs to slide carousels to digital presentation the concept of someone else turning the page remained. Yet the technology evolved over time so that a remote presentation mouse is available, cheap, user friendly, but also rarely used in military settings. Instead, presentations tend to fall back on the cheapest commodity we have – people.

Well, they aren’t actually the cheapest commodity but it sure does come across as cheaper and easier for senior, and in some cases junior, personnel to have someone at the computer to respond to “next slide please”. But there’s a flip side to this problem.

Outside the military the concept of the VASC has fallen by the wayside. Look at any major presentation given today. The two most common methods are either self-flipping with a remote – or careful rehearsal and timing. In some rare cases there is someone flipping slides, but it is so seamless as to not be noticed – and the words “next slide please” are never used.

Why do military personnel rely on the concept of “next slide please”? Because some leaders maintain that sense of entitlement that they need mundane tasks performed by someone else. Others just simply can’t be bothered with the task of learning how to control a remote, or even worse, don’t have the capacity.

Now, I’m certain some of the pushback will be “why does it matter?” How can something as simple and mundane as “next slide please” be worthy of time and discussion? Because I believe, as we see a generational change, that the idea of using a VASC is becoming equated with unprofessional or lazy presentation. And that in turn colors the manner in which the presentation is received. Unprepared, lazy, unprofessional presentations lose the audience and in doing so lose the message. Which is the point of making the presentation anyway, right?

Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Innovation

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  • The technology required for the presenter to “flip” his own slides has existed since the slide carousel with a wired forward/back button, but even today it is sometimes more convenient to have someone else “drive” the technology. While it may seem lazy and unprofessional to some, a good presenter can use the material on the screen to enable a conversation with his audience, and it shouldn’t matter if he uses another person or a piece of technology to help. It is only with the bad presenters that the technology becomes an impediment to communication.

  • Mike M.

    Four letters.


    Most briefs are now on a laptop that has been plugged into a projector. NMCI is very user-hostile, and I doubt if a remote would work if you tried to plug it into an NMCI laptop. Which means that either you do it yourself, or have someone else work the computer for you.

  • Mittleschmerz

    Mike: NMCI – I’ve seen presenters on NMCI. They are out there where people want them.

    Ken: My premise is that there are many who are now equating “next slide please” with “bad presenter”. YMMV.

  • M – agree with your premise, was just trying to extend it a bit. If the presenter is good, the mechanics won’t matter to the audience because they won’t even notice.

    The good presenter is confident in his material, can go deeper than the slides, and is comfortable conversing with his audience. He could probably get his point across without the presentation materials. Doesn’t need a VASC, but isn’t automatically harmed by using one. Good presenters I’ve seen have engaged the VASC in the conversation. They often bring along a colleague who is a subject matter expert, and feed him opportunities to expand on the points under discussion. They also use the VASC as another set of eyes and ears to monitor audience reactions, and an experienced team can get as much information as they impart during the presentation.

    The bad presenter is handcuffed by his presentation materials, limited to the words and images on the slide. Sometimes he literally reads them to his audience. They do not interact with him. This guy is vulnerable to the kind of message rejection you predict.

    Good presenter, seamless presentation – win
    Good presenter, bad mechanics – draw
    Bad presenter, bad mechanics – lose
    Bad presenter, seamless presentation – slight chance of a draw, more likely lose

    While not preferable, sometimes the VASC is necessary. I’ve done this, both as presenter and as VASC, in facilities that did not allow wireless devices and were not configured for presenter remote control.

  • eastriver

    Bet they can’t type, either…

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Ken – agreed. I didn’t even touch on the presenter who eschews the VASC then loses control of the remote and sends the presentation skipping all over the place.

    Computers, electronic presentations, remotes are like all other tools, if they can’t be used correctly then they probably shouldn’t be used – or blamed.

  • Rich B.

    Once upon a time we carried out military operations without a single powerpoint slide. In the Battle of Cape St. George Admiral Halsey tasked then Captain Burke with the following;

    “Thirty-One Knot Burke, get athwart the Buka-Rabaul evacuation line about 35 miles west of Buka. If no enemy contact by 0300…come south to refuel same place. If enemy contacted, you know what to do.”

    Now we cannot brief the weather in less than 5 slides; tides, solar flares, regional weather, local weather, winds and storms…etc

    Modern presentations have become a show and at times a product more important than the missions themselves. We track so many metrics in a modern battlegroup that you have whole divisions that must stop work for hours just to ensure the admiral knows why #13 of 15 tranceivers dropped offline for 15 minutes an had to be rebooted.

    So while we may worry about whether or not someone doesn’t want to worry about a finnicky remote.

    I am more concerned with shipdrivers who cannot execute the mission without an hour brief prior to doing so.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Rich – agreed. But your issue is critical and fundamental, and not very “mundane” 😉

    That said, it is something I am spending time thinking about and will address, in both it’s mundane and critical aspects.


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