European Futurists Conference Lucerne: Insights, Weak signals—and PowerPoint design from good to bad

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[Update 5.12.2007: The presentations are now online, check out the sections below for the links]

Two weeks ago, I attended the 3rd European Futurists Conference Lucerne, a conference about “Inspiration, Methods and Best Practice in Foresight”. As probably with every such conference, for an outsider like me, it primary looks like a “meet and greet” of good ol’ friends.

Nonetheless, within the 15 sessions and 2 panels, I found some gems I would like to comment on.

A Fact Based World View#

Hans RoslingOne of the (visual) highlights certainly was Professor Hans Rosling’s presentation on “A Fact Based World View” – famous for his presentation style since his talk at the TED 2007 conference1. It was a great pleasure to see professor Rosling talk about what he cares about and he showed quite a bit of humour: When asked for the slides of his presentation, he teached the audience that there are two kinds of presenters:

  • One-fingered* Two-fingered

While the one-fingered presenteres merely push “Return” to advance to the next slide, the two-fingered presenters use “Alt-Tab” to switch between PowerPoint and some other software to make live demonstrations – as he did with his know well-known stuff from Gapminder.

(Watch the Presentation)

How to Find Weak Signals#

Another highlight for me was the presentation held by Elina Hiltunen, a Finnish futurist and blogger. Elina demonstrated how she uses weak signals buried in blogs , Flickr and other sources of the Web 2.0 era.

Her presentation was particular lively and well done, both in style and content. The presentation actually made me aware that my personal blog-reading style is often more of a weak signal scanning than the concentrated reading that’s recommended by people like Leo Babauta of zen habits2.

I definitely think that the approach she’s presented can help anticipate future trends, particularly in technology, but elsewhere as well.

(Download the slides)

InnovationJam#

The third session I would like to mention here is Dr. Mathias Kaiserswerth’s presentation on Innovations for the Society of the Future. Dr. Kaiserswerth is the director of the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, famous for a couple of Nobel Prize winners.

intro

He presented very briefly the concept of the InnovationJam held by IBM last year: They gathered 150'000 persons around the world – employees, partners, academia and even employee’s family members – for a 72 hours brainstorm session on a select number of greater topics where IBM could or should (help) innovate.

As far as I can tell, the results of this initiative are great and I will definitely take this mass-creativity-method into account for future studies. (One should probably mention, that after these 72 hours of jamming and some massive automated text-mining, a team of 10 people analysed the results for 5 consecutive days, after which, the results once more got refined and finally put into 10 ideas worth pursuing).

(Download the slides)

Honorable Mentions#

There were two other sessions I also enjoyed a lot, both for content and style:

One more thing#

This posts title goes “– PowerPoint design from good to bad” at the end. There were one or two presentations that were held as you’d wish for: Lots of visual information supporting some kind of narrative. There were also some “old-school” presentations, presented in such a lively way and with additional information not on the slides that the bullet-points did not weigh in as much as they normally do. Sadly, most other presentations were the kind of presentation you would not suffer to see anymore: things becoming worse when bullet-points were presented in a dull, unengaged way.

This, monce again, demonstrated that even the seemingly brightest and most engaged persons have to work hard to create rich, enticing and engaging presentations. Which is at the sime time sad but a hope, as everybody can avoid death by powerpoint.

Conclusion#

If I have the slightest chance to get into the 4th European Futurists Conference next year, I will do so.3

The only thing I will change from this years’ conference: Bring more business cards along.


Images: European Futurists Lucerne, Wikipedia and IBM.


  1. It was actually funny to see that the futurists invited Hans Rosling after they’d seen him or better his presentation at the TED conference. One has the impression they should’ve known better. ↩︎

  2. I actually value Leo’s tips very much, I just happen to have a different reading style than he has – and therefore would probably never reduce my bloglist to just 10-20 instead of 130+. ↩︎

  3. Being a student saves thousands of Francs and makes this stuff affordable if your company is not paying for. ↩︎

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