Mormon Media Madness

Or, “how I stopped reading my book during stake conference because of the loud ‘BANG’ from somewhere near the pulpet.”

So last Sunday was stake conference, and two hours of talks is usually a bit much for me, let alone my two toddler-aged children. As usual, I normally bring something to read just in case the talks… well, go sour. This week’s reading was Phil Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible which I am enjoying immensely.

While totally wrapped up in my book, I vaguely heard the speaker (a member of the stake presidency) state that he was about to show a video clip he obtained from the History Channel the night before. Then I heard a mechanical buzz as a large screen descended behind the choir seats, and a projector whir itself to life as a brief, two minute clip on Roman architecture was presented on the screen. I thought the clip was neat, but right away I could tell where it was going; it was a clip that described the keystone of an arch, and how important it was for Roman architecture in the ancient world, and that the stake president would bust out that (supposed) Joseph Smith quotation about “the keystone of our religion.” I was right (for once).

Almost in the instant he began the film clip, the mention of obtaining it the night before struck me. “Does he need to obtain permission to show a clip of this nature?” That was the first thing that was strange to me.

As he gave his talk, he had to leave the microphone to walk over to the laptop, which was carefully balanced on the woodwork just below the lecturn, to advance PowerPoint slides once the film was done. The slides weren’t necessary, in my opinion, for they only flashed basic summaries of what he was already speaking and which were easily remembered by anyone paying attention. Several times the laptop was not responsive, and he left the lecturn to mess with it.

The next thing that seemed strange was: “Why is the chapel house all of a sudden a multi-media center?” A (most likely) $2,000 laptop and an equally expensive projector (probably his very own) were set up to show this thing in the chapel. Isn’t that sort of media inappropriate for a stake conference or sac. mtg. talk?

So I tuned him out again as he went on his keystone talk and got back to Barlow.

Then I vaguely heard the next speaker (a counselor in the SP) indicate that he made archstones out of foam and that he needed two missionaries to help him construct this thing while he spoke. I looked up. Off to the side, over on (what is traditionally) the clerk’s desk, the two missionaries were pulling rock-looking foam pieces that would make up an arch. As he spoke, they would listen for key breaks in the speech and build an arch, the keystone being the last, and set a Book of Mormon on a stand under the arch when complete. He too was using the laptop and projector to make a presentation on the large screen. I tuned him out too after I understood where that one was going. They both, of course, mentioned Hinckley’s challenge to read the book prior to year’s end. (Am I the only one who thinks it is strange that the Mormon Church’s presidency has to ask the Mormons, of all people, to read the Book of Mormon?). Back to Barlow.

During his talk, the loudest “bang” I’ve ever heard in a chapel rang out, and I looked up (as about 5 newborn babies in the audience woke up with a roar). The projector was placed upon–get this–a music stand! Those things have swivels on them! What’s even crazier is that when the projector fell, it clipped the laptop on the side, taking them both down! In a scramble, the stake presidency jumped up out of their seats and attempted to get things back to normal, their elegantly made comb-overs coming undone in the process. When they thought they got it right again, nothing worked, and the speaker had to (ironically) give a regualar, non-media-style discourse like the rest of us.

I felt bad that this man’s expensive equipment was now broken. I felt bad that his attempt at being more media-savvy was thwarted, and I felt bad that any visitors who were there may have thought the same, or that our multi-media presentations fail regularly.

Where I go to school, our professors are constantly struggling over using PowerPoint, the chalkboard (actually, “penboard”), or nothing at all. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t.

So the issue is this: is using this sort of media conducive to giving stake conference/sacrament meeting talks? Should multi-media devices such as these be used? Do they hinder more than they benefit?

12 Replies to “Mormon Media Madness”

  1. Well apparently they got your nose out of the book, so they must have some value.

    I do think that media has its place. Aren’t hymnbooks, printed scriptures and pictures/stained glass just another example of media? They are all tools to be used. They should have their place, and should be used carefully lest the media subsume the message.

    I don’t think it would be appropriate to use this type of thing in a sacrament meeting. But at a fireside, conference etc, perfectly ok. The GA’s have been using pictures/video clips at General conference for a while now.

    In a 2 hour conference, where everyone is dozing off, having a change of pace can be an excellent thing to keep the intellect on.

    also, as to your aside “Am I the only one who thinks it is strange that the Mormon Church’s presidency has to ask the Mormons, of all people, to read the Book of Mormon?” I don’t think this is strange. At least no more stange than an Evangelical Preacher or Catholic Priest encouraging someone to read the Bible. We should be reading it more and applying it in to our life.

  2. I do think that media has its place. Aren’t hymnbooks, printed scriptures and pictures/stained glass just another example of media?

    Indeed, but my post was addressing the sort of media which includes projectors, laptops, screens, etc. Cf. the last paragraph.

    Thank you for your comments. I look forward to others.

  3. Just as there are good talks and bad talks, there are good multi-media presentations and bad multi-media presentations. We’ve had far more experience with talks, and still most of them aren’t very good. I expect it’s going to take awhile before they get the multi-media thing right.

    So far, in my experience, it has been the redundant PowerPoint slides and schmaltzy video clips.

  4. I hate hate hate the way most people use PowerPoint. I had several professors at BYU that put their entire lecture on the powerpoint and read from the screen. Others just put up bullets for the main points. Either way, it’s a distraction. It diverts attention from what is being said. The appropriate way to use it is to display graphics that can’t easily be drawn by hand or to show videos when necessary. Text should be kept to a minimum. I can’t imagine PowerPoint adding anything to a well-prepared church talk. And I can imagine it being extremely annoying.

    PowerPoint is invaluable for scientific presentations because the data that you present are either visual in their raw form (microscope images, etc.) or presented in the form of graphs and tables. But too often, presenters load the PowerPoint with text. Again, this is just distracting.

  5. my point was that media was a continuum and not divisible into separate camps exclusively. Just as some opposed the use of icons and individual bibles, some oppose power point. All forms of Media has its place. I agree with Tom re the abuses of the PowerPoint. It can be bad, but I take issue with Last Lemming a little. The whole point of separate uses of media is to be redundant, to reinforce the message on several fronts. At church we sing, speak, listen and see. They all use slightly differnet areas of our brain, and help us take in the message more completely, or at least get something.
    NOt to pick on the fine author, but had there been no electronic media, would the lesson have been conveyed as memorably. You remembered the talk enough, despite the reading of the book, to post a blog about it.

    As a side issue, Stupid tricks can impress on the memory. My second mission president would make us make appts at odd times. Sister jones we will be to your house at 5:07, or Tom can we stop by at 11:24? The idea was that the odd time would stick in the memory and make sure that your appt was not as easily forgotten. Substantive, no, but helped to carry the point.

  6. One of the most effective (in terms of having a visible impact on the people in the room) joint Priesthood/RS lessons I ever attended was given by all of the leadership in our ward and involved the use of a laptop, projector, and yes, Powerpoint. They alternated between giving mini-talks and showing slides and showing some old church commercials/clips that illustrated each point they were trying to make, then handing off the baton to the next speaker. The clips were a little manipulative emotionally – but effective nonetheless at driving each point home. They had no technical difficulties and it looked like they had probably rehearsed it through at least once. They’d done their homework. Very well done.

    I think if it was done in Sacrament Meeting though, it definitely wouldn’t have felt appropriate. It didn’t feel like worship or study or learning. It felt like a very good presentation, and I’m not sure if that is the purpose of our weekly meetings.

  7. Not only are multimedia presentations appropriate in church meetings, they are expected from the congregations at times. Go to any courthouse in this country and you will see PowerPoint and other tech-savvy presentations being made to persuade the listener/viewer. Nothing is worse for a mass audinece than a dry lecture from dry individuals. Pictures, graphs, and even words on screen keep focus.

  8. In recent years, General Conference broadcasts have included video clips relevant to the subject of the talk being given. I’m not sure how I feel about this (I don’t stare at the screen), but some General Authorities seem to think it’s a good idea.

    Not that that means anything either. Just sayin’.

  9. I’m with Tom. If you have some meaningful graphs or other data, go ahead. But usually if I see power point coming up, I know to prepare for a lot of cliches and business-speak jargon.

  10. I’m only into PowerPoint presentations when they have really bad animations and text effects. So, if the bulleted points of the talk would spin off the screen, I might be able to feel the Spirit. Other than that, multimedia is a good way to mask a boring talk.

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