How to present like Michael Wesch

michael-weschMichael Wesch studies YouTube the way David Attenborough studies insects and lizards.

Along the way he’s developed a superbly engaging presentation style. I don’t often watch presentation videos to the end – but I was glued to the screen for the entire 55 minutes of this presentation:

What is the Michael Wesch style?

It’s a mash up of YouTube videos and his own (and his students’) video creations accompanied by his narration. It’s a cross between a presentation and a documentary.

The Wesch style is now being picked up by other pioneer presenters. Dr Alec Couros, a professor of educational technology is playing with it. Check out this teaser he produced for a conference presentation:

This style is a step further than just inserting the odd bit of video into your presentation. It’s about integrating video into the core of your presentation. Your presentation becomes a documentary, and you’re the narrator.

Think like a documentary maker

If you were making a documentary on your presentation topic, what would you do?

I’ve done a thought experiment. I have a presentation that I deliver as a demonstration on our courses and that I use as an example in my Presentation Planning Guide. The presentation is on Kiva – the microfinance website which allows you to lend directly to poor people in developing countries so they can start a business. How could I use the Wesch style for this presentation?

1. Interviews with people involved with Kiva

In my presentation, I quote Bill Clinton on the Kiva phenomenon. But what if I used video instead. A search on YouTube and a few seconds later, I had found video footage of Bill Clinton talking about Kiva. I also found interviews with the founders of Kiva, Matt and Jessica Flannery and many short documentaries that people have made.

If you’re not a YouTube afficionado, you may not be aware just how much is available on YouTube. The New York Times says:

With inexpensive cameras flooding the market and a proliferation of Web sites hosting seemingly unlimited numbers of clips, it’s never been easier to create and upload video. You can now find an online video on virtually any topic. Web videos teach how to grout a tub, offer reviews of the latest touch-screen phones and give you a feel for walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

And you don’t have to rely on YouTube. I could video people around me who lend money through Kiva. I could set up and record skype interviews with people across the globe.

2. Screencast of process of lending money through Kiva

Traditionally I’ve used an animated flowchart to demonstrate the process of lending money through Kiva. But a screencast (a screencast is a video of a computer screen) would be that much more real.

3. Video myself drawing the Kiva concept

Drawing freehand on a flipchart is engaging and authentic. But it does suffer from a number of drawbacks. It’s slow, it’s live (and you might mistakes) and it may be too small for a large audience. So why not video myself drawing it and then speed up the video footage for the presentation. Michael Wesch does this, but the Common Craft videos are a source of inspiration as is Daev Gray’s video Free the Facts

Other resources to implement the Wesch style

Just as you can find stock photos on the web, so you can find stock video footage. iStockphoto has a good selection and a search on stock video brings up many other websites.

What ideas do you have for implementing the Wesch style?

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  1. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that presentation (Anthropological Intro to Youtube). A great way to spend 55 minutes of my life.

    I got onto your blog when I was searching Google for ‘presentation and public speaking skills’, and I am loving your content.

    I was looking for resources to improve my presentations I do every now and then about my around the world journey by bicycle and skateboard (

    Thank you so much!

    Rob Thomson

  2. Using videos [and media mashup] to teach is a wonderful thing. The problem is, when used within *live* presentations, they turn you, the presenter, into a narrator. Which is not such a great thing, as you become a sidekick to your media. Your own voice-over.

    [Bladerunner is best in the director’s or final cut without Deckard’s laconic voice over, which was introduced by the studio because they thought the story was too complex for the audience … and you can tell Harrison Ford hated doing it; which, by the way, is the only reason it kind of worked.]

    In many contexts [webinars], as a teaser/intro, or a stimulus during the presentation, video is an essential format. We love to watch things move. We cannot look away. We don’t want to. As a background tool, less great. For the same reasons. The danger is the same as with textridden slides and a talking presenter.

    With Michael’s video you can study nicely what can happen: you don’t look at him, you look at the screen. He becomes invisible.

    E.g. clip 2:00: He introduces the video, and talks over it. So I have the song and Michael talking [fast, and increasingly inaudible] and the video itself to look at.

    And that is when I switched it off. Literally. Which is a shame, really. But I will return to it and watch some more, I promise.

    What I suggest is, plan your choreography carefully; use video sparingly; never for too long [especially as an intro, as it is hard to return to boring real live] and never let it take over your live presentation.

    Unless of course, you produce excactly that: a presentation in video format for the web or to send around.

    Which is a different thing altogether; and follows rules of its own.

    Best wishes from Germany and thanks for the interesting post.


    • Thanks Anke,

      Those are some really useful points you have. And I agree with the risk that you identify – that the presenter becomes a narrator. But I think it is a different danger to the one when the presenter simply talks to bullet-point slides. In that case, not only is the presenter just a narrator, they’re also reciting stuff that the audience can see for themselves. So that’s boring. Even if the presenter does become a narrator when showing videos, I don’t think it would be as bad as if they were showing bullet-point slides.

      In seeing Michael Wesch present and seeing the potential for others to take on this style – I wasn’t thinking so much of a narrator as the model – but of the presenter as a TV documentary presenter.

      I don’t know the answer to this… but a question to explore is… Does it matter if the video takes over from the presenter – if the audience is engaged and the “presentation” achieves its objectives?