A Weather Seminar

A recent seminar intended to educate and enlighten sometimes does just the opposite. I wonder if they know?

This is my own personal blog, and not the opinion of the station, my family nor anyone else at all!

Just recently, I attended a free weather seminar held by a local higher education institution.  It is an annual event that the students organize and stage, complete with students introducing selected speakers on a wide range of topics.  It takes about a half a day, and there are usually refreshments. (Later on, there is a banquet dinner and hotel reservations for the guests, but that's beside the point.)

I want to make it clear from the start that I am honored to be asked each year to attend, and though I have never, NEVER been a presenter at this event (nor would I want to) I am extremely critical of those who DO volunteer their time and expertise to make half hour to an hour presentations.

About 40 years ago, when I was in college, I was fortunate enough to have a planetarium on our campus, and I was able to arrange an independent study to learn how to run the machine and conduct grade school visits and presentations. It was fun, but also a stretch.  One of the most valuable instructions I was given, I will NEVER forget.

EVERY planetarium has a laser pointer. Most are shaped like an arrow. IT IS ESSENTIAL that you "MOVE THE POINTER SLOWLY".  My instructor stressed to me that if you loose the audience's attention, if they can't see where you are pointing, the entire point you are making will be lost.

It is amazing that graduate students and PhD candidates that make public presentations don't know this.  One speaker in particular spoke a mile a minute, discussing the upper level winds chart and features that occurred and whipped a FAINT laser pointer across the screen, swirling it around what he was referencing and then darting across the map to something else.

Now, his audience was 75% undergraduate Meteorology students sitting to one side of the DUAL projection system at the face of the horseshoe seating.  From the back of the room, it was impossible to track his conversation, his indicator nor the features that he was pointing out. In short, his entire learned presentation was pretty useless, considering that he could not convey the extensive knowledge that he had in a meaningful way.

Second, his best friend from grad school, made a presentation on the significance of color choices in Watch and Warning notifications.  This team were good friends and knew each other for years, but their presentation styles were light years a part.  She pointed out her charts and graphs, pausing frequently to check if the audience were following along, and stressed the meaning, the impact and the significance of what her research found...throughout her time.

Now, I admit, as I create weather graphics for TV and we are redesigning our system, this presentation couldn't have come at a better time. And as you might expect, common sense also tells you that you want to print your message simply and clearly in red lettering...making red warning boxes instead of blues or green.  The societal image of a traffic light, red, yellow, green comes to mind.  And it's a good lesson to remember.

It's not enough to redesign graphics to look new, fresh or trendy.  They MUST communicate, clearly and at a glance, to be effective.  When seconds count, and could mean the difference between life and death and property damage, this is more than an artistic exercise.

It's one of the reasons why I take this job so seriously.  And why it bugs me know end when educated and inexperienced people BOTH ignore the obvious lessons in favor of the latest eye-candy.

There's more that I learned from this free seminar, but I think I should save it so that you don't get the wrong impression that it was all a waste.  It wasn't, and I found myself excitedly sharing what I learned and accomplished during the five hours that I was with my fellow wizards, er, meteorology students.

It's a shot in the arm that professional development is all about!

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