Thursday, January 28, 2010

How will the iPad impact corporate presentations?

Jan Schultink gives us his first thoughts on the iPad and presentations here. In the information and videos I’ve seen, I think Apple has addressed Jan’s fourth point because I saw a video of a marker and a highlighter being used on a Keynote presentation in full screen mode (watch the video at Engadget starting at 0:50). But here are my thoughts from a corporate perspective, remembering that all I have to go on are the reports and videos from the launch event, I haven’t seen an actual device.

First, the size. It is too big to carry in a pocket, so I am not sure how much more convenient it would be compared to a netbook running a Windows operating system that can run full PowerPoint. Given the corporate IT structures, I think most IT departments would lean towards something they know instead of something that has more challenges when looking for more portability.

Second, the software. The full Office suite will not likely be available for a long time, if ever. So presenters will be using Keynote as the presentation software. I saw a report yesterday that said that it will read both PPT and PPTX file formats, which, if true, is a good thing. But as with any software reading files from different software, the compatibility is not 100%. The uncertainty over whether a feature will work after transported to Keynote will be a concern.

Third, the OS. While using the iPhone OS makes it familiar to the millions of users who own iPhones or iPod Touches, the OS has limitations, such as a lack of multi-tasking. With presentations incorporating content from other programs through hyperlinking, this limitation may become a problem for presenters. Again, the netbook running Windows that allows full use of PowerPoint features will provide stiff competition to the iPad for corporate presenters.

I am not sure whether the iPad is aimed at corporate usage or not. But if it is, these areas will need to be addressed before we see large scale adoption for presenters.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Call an audible during your presentation

On Sunday I was watching the AFC Championship game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets. Even if you are not a football fan, stick with me on this one. I like watching top performers in their fields and in this case I got to watch Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in football. He is this year’s Most Valuable Player in the NFL.

One thing he does better than any other quarterback is change the play at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees the defence doing. Often, he will line up, call some signals and see how the defence reacts. Then he steps back, decides what changes he wants to make, and runs the play. In football, changing the play at the line of scrimmage is known as calling an audible, meaning the play is changed using an audible signal, not with gestures.

Now this only works because his team has prepared in advance for what he will do. They know the different plays he may end up calling and are prepared for the many possibilities. They adjust based on what the opponent is doing. So how does this relate to presenting?

The lesson for presenters is to be prepared to call an audible during your next presentation based on the reaction of the audience. Start with your prepared presentation, but if the audience is not reacting the way you expect them to, be prepared to step back and change what you are doing. How can you do this? Here are three ways to call an audible during a presentation.

First, you can anticipate this happening and plan for this in advance by designing a non-linear presentation. Design in modules and ask the audience to direct the sequence of the presentation. Second, when you realize the audience is not reacting the way they should, press the “B” key on your keyboard to blank the screen. Ask a question of the audience to start a discussion. By engaging them, you will discover what they are thinking and be able to adjust as necessary. Finally, know the slide numbers of the start of each major section of your presentation. If you need to jump to another section to address a concern, simply type in the slide number using your keyboard and press the Enter key. Your presentation will seamlessly jump to that section so you can address the issue with prepared material.

For those of you looking for an excuse to watch the Super Bowl on February 7th, say you are watching it to improve your presentations. I’ll be trying that excuse with my family. Let me know if it works for you :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PowerPoint Tip: Little tips that make a big difference

It is usually the little things in life that can make the biggest difference. Like a small change to our routine can help us gain more time for priorities such as family. And when using PowerPoint, sometimes the small tips make the biggest impact. When I was consulting with a CEO and her assistant recently, we covered some major ways to upgrade the visuals they were using. In addition to the makeovers that they will be incorporating, they found a few of the small tips I shared particularly useful. These tips are ways to use PowerPoint that, once you discover them, you see how valuable they will be to you. So today I am going to share the three tips that they found the most useful.

The first tip is about how to preview your slide show without going into full Slide Show mode. To enter Slide Show mode, you can press the F5 key to start at slide 1 or you can hold the Shift key down while pressing the F5 key to start from the current slide. Both useful tips, but not the one that I want to focus on. If you want to preview your slide show from the current slide in a small preview window in the top right hand corner of your screen, hold the Ctrl key down and click on the Slide Show button at the bottom of the PowerPoint window (It looks like a screen and in PowerPoint 2003 it is in the lower left corner; in PowerPoint 2007 & 2010 it is in the lower right corner). You will be able to run your slide show in this preview window and see what it will look like. When you are done, press Escape as usual to end the slide show. My clients found this useful to do quick previews as they were working on adding animation effects. It allowed them to quickly see if they had it looking the way they wanted.

The second tip allows you to make a logo look better on your slide. This organization has a template that has a color in the background. Not a problem there. Until you place their logo on, which has a white box around it. Why does it have a white box? Because it is a JPEG file. The common JPEG file format cannot support transparency, so it gives a white background where there isn’t anything in the picture. Not a problem when you have a photograph because it takes up the whole frame. But logos are not usually perfectly rectangular, so it adds the white around it to fill the frame. PowerPoint has a tool that allows you to set which color in an image you want to be transparent. It drops out that color and you see the background through, making the logo look like it is perfectly floating on the background. In PowerPoint 2003 it is on the Picture toolbar and in PowerPoint 2007 it is in the Recolor options on the Picture Format tab. It is not a perfect tool, but for many logos it works really well, as it did for this client.

The final tip was how to break a line without making it look like a new paragraph. There are times when in a title or a text box you want some words to move to the next line. Maybe it helps the text look balanced or you keep words of a phrase together. You might be tempted to just hit Enter, but you may not get the result you want. Pressing Enter adds a paragraph mark, which can cause the line spacing to look odd because the distance between the two lines is too large. Instead, hold the Shift key and press Enter. This adds a line break mark, which keeps the line spacing normal. It may not appear that the difference is much on your laptop screen, but when projected large on a big screen, the difference is noticeable and it causes the audience to wonder what went wrong because it looks odd.

Three small tips, but they can make a big impact when you are creating persuasive PowerPoint visuals.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Presentation lesson from George Clooney’s Up In The Air movie

A number of people have mentioned to me recently that I needed to go see the latest George Clooney movie Up In The Air. It is about an executive with an outplacement firm whose job it is to fire employees for bosses that don’t want to do it themselves. He travels over 350,000 miles a year and because I do some travelling, people thought I would like the movie. So this past weekend we went to see it.

Now I don’t travel anywhere near the amount that the character in the movie does. I probably get on 15-20 flights a year. But the scenes of how he methodically packs and the routine he has for airport security were dead on. I have developed a method for packing my easy-to-tote carry-on case and when I approach security, I remove all potential metal objects: belt, watch, shoes, etc. And I must admit as someone who travels frequently, I agree with his observation that some people who travel don’t know the rules and delay the security process for everyone.

Clooney’s character also gives a few speeches during the movie as a sideline to what he does. He uses a backpack metaphor for his message and brings a backpack on stage and places it on a table as a prop. It is effective. But then he gets asked to present at a big conference and this time the organizers decide that they need to add a visual on the large screens beside the stage. They choose a backpack photo that spins the entire time he is speaking.

The spinning backpack distracts you from the message and provides a good lesson for presenters. I have always advocated that a visual should be used only when it adds to your message. The spinning backpack is a great example of a visual being forced into the presentation because the organizers were not comfortable with a black screen. It does not add to the message and it actually distracts the audience.

As presenters, be comfortable with the focus being on just you and your message. Don’t feel that you always need a visual for everything you say. Use a black slide to focus attention away from the screen and on to you. If you are using a prop, turning off the slides is a good idea so that they do not compete with the prop. Be mindful of when you use projected visuals and you will use them more effectively.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Avoid production problems in your presentation

My wife and I watched the Golden Globe Awards on TV Sunday and were shocked by how poor the production was. Technically, there were numerous times that the cameras were not showing the correct person and at least twice the same few seconds were shown again. We also did not care for the potty grade of humour from the show host. We agreed that it was probably the poorest produced awards show that we have ever seen.

Unfortunately, I hear many complaints of presentations that suffer from production problems as well. The presenter doesn’t know how to get the equipment working, fumbling between presenters at conferences and presenters not knowing how to use PowerPoint. I witnessed one of these disasters a few years ago at a conference where the presenter did not know that PowerPoint had a Slide Show mode and so presented in editing mode with red squiggly lines under some of the terms that PowerPoint thought were misspelled.

How can you avoid having people talk about the production problems after your next conference or presentation? I don’t presume that every potential issue can be avoided, but you can reduce the probability of problems with these suggestions.

First, arrive early. By getting to the room early, you can look for possible problems like poor lighting, missing equipment or seats that are blocked from seeing you or the screen. Second, do a trial run of setting up the equipment. Plug in your laptop, fire up the projector, test sound connections and any other equipment that will need to be set up. Third, rehearse with the setup. Actually go into Slide Show mode and test how your slides look. Run video clips and test the audio level. Check animation to see that it looks the way you planned it. Fourth, practice how transitions between presenters will run. Who will be involved, what equipment gets switched and how will that be done. Practice the handoffs so they are smooth.

There are always possible issues that can’t be avoided, but by planning in advance with these suggestions, you can reduce the probability of production problems in your presentations.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PowerPoint Slide Makeover - Making a list connect with an audience

Just a quick note to let you know that a new Slide Makeover Video Podcast based on the ideas in "The Visual Slide Revolution" is available for your viewing through the iTunes Store, online or through my YouTube channel. If you present a long text list on a slide, it overwhelms the audience and they tune out. Use the ideas in this makeover to find a visual that connects and illustrates the point you want to make.

This slide is based on a consulting assignment, but many of the slides are submitted by one of the participants in a workshop - someone just like you who is looking for a way to make their presentations more effective. If you want to submit some of your slides to be considered for a future slide makeover, e-mail them to me at

If you have already subscribed through iTunes or another podcatcher, the new podcast should be automatically downloaded when you next run the program.

To subscribe via the iTunes Store, click here.
To view online or get the RSS file for other podcatchers, click here.
You can also watch all the podcasts on my YouTube channel at

If you have subscribed via iTunes or YouTube, please provide your positive feedback on the videos in the Comments and Ratings areas of the service so others know the value you get from the videos.

To get your own copy of "The Visual Slide Revolution", click here.
To access quick "how-to" videos for only $1.99 each, click here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Music can help set the mood in your presentation

When I was flying home Tuesday night from St. John’s, I was tired after speaking the two days and instead of pulling out my laptop, I plugged in my noise cancelling earphones and watched a light hearted movie. After the movie, I tuned in to the preview of the XM Satellite channel The Highway, which is a New Country channel. I like country music and listening to great tunes by Carrie, Toby, Reba, Taylor and Kenny picked me right up (if you aren’t into country music and don’t recognize the artists, don’t worry).

One of the amazing things about music is that it can set the mood in your presentation. If you want to use music, make sure you use it properly. First, make sure you have proper permission to use the music. You can search for royalty free music that allows you to play the music without paying a royalty each time you use it. If you want to use a popular song, make sure you have the proper license from one of the licensing organizations such as ASCAP or BMI in the U.S. or SOCAN in Canada. You don’t want to risk your reputation by getting caught using a song without permission.

In most cases, a full song is too long and will interrupt the flow of your presentation. Select a 15 to 60 second clip that contains the key beat or words you want to use in the presentation. You can use a free audio editor such as Audacity to cut out the section you want and save it as an MP3 or WAV file that can easily be incorporated into your PowerPoint presentation.

Music isn’t appropriate for every presentation, but where it can help put the audience in a certain mood, consider it. It’s almost the weekend, so fire up your favorite tunes and get inspired for your next presentation!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

PowerPoint Tip: Five slide project update presentation

How many executives really want to sit through a 45 slide project update presentation? The one where the presenter details every little item and confuses the heck out of them? My guess is that no executives want to spend their valuable time that way. So what do you do instead? Today’s tip demonstrates how you can apply my ideas around more effective communication using persuasive PowerPoint visuals to a situation many of us are in. It doesn’t matter whether you are a formal project manager or just managing the projects that are part of your role, we all have to report on how our projects or initiatives are going.

Let me suggest that you use only five slides to update executives on your project. “Five slides!” you exclaim. "That’s not enough to detail everything we have been doing!?!". I know, but frankly an executive doesn’t care about the minutia, they care about results. Too often as presenters, we create presentations that show what we have been doing instead of what the audience really wants, which is what results have we produced. They don’t want to hear how we did it, they want to know what we accomplished.

So here are the fives slides I suggest you use to give a clear, concise project update.

Slide 1 – Schedule Performance
A line graph where the vertical axis is percentage of work completed and the horizontal axis is time in days/weeks/months. Two lines: one for planned progress and one for actual and projected progress. The point where the line hits 100% on the vertical scale is when the project is finished. The difference between where the planned line and the actual & projected line hit the 100% level is the projected difference in planned end date. Don’t confuse the executives with tables of numbers, show them the gap visually. They want to know how you are doing against what you said you would do.

Slide 2 – Schedule Action Plans
Since you showed the schedule performance in slide 1, now you need to talk about what actions you are taking to address the differences shown in slide 1. List them and have a discussion with the executive about each initiative. Get approval for any change requests that are needed with respect to schedule.

Slide 3 – Budget Performance
Two column graphs: the first shows planned expenditure for the work performed to date and actual spending for that work. This shows how you are doing against what you said the activities would cost. The second shows planned and actual/projected expenditure for all the work required to complete the project. This shows what the cost picture will look like by the end of the project. Note the focus is on cost for work that has been complete, not work that was supposed to be done by now. The difference between what should have been done and what has been done has already been addressed in the first two slides.

Slide 4 – Budget Action Plans
Similar to the schedule action plans, review what you propose to do to get spending back on track. Have the discussions and get approval for change requests as necessary.

Slide 5 – Deliverables/Quality Issues
On the last slide you discuss any issues that the executive needs to be aware of or make decisions on in the areas of what is being delivered or the quality of what is being delivered. Again, change request approvals may be part of this discussion.

That’s it – five slides and the focus is what we have actually done and what we are doing to bring the project on track if it is not on track right now. You don’t waste the executive’s time with details they aren’t interested in anyways. And you get viewed as a professional who tells the executives what they need and who respects their time.

This five slide project update presentation example shows how you need to focus on what your audience needs to hear and create visuals that show them the story. Apply these principles in every type of presentation and you will be a more effective presenter. Try the ideas from today’s tip in your next project update presentation. If you want me to help you on your specific slides, check out the one-on-one personalized consulting I offer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Starting a presentation with a bang

In a recent ABC News story by Matt Gutman, he describes how Miami Dade Police Officer Gene Lopez opens each of his presentations on airport security. Officer Lopez interacts with a video clip to dramatically get the attention of his audience. I encourage you to read the description in the news story.

Here are a few lessons we can learn from this powerful and effective opening to a presentation. First, it grabs attention because it is unexpected. The audience does not expect such a graphic demonstration and it forces them to pay attention. If you are starting each presentation with an agenda, you aren’t grabbing their attention.

Second, the opening is relevant to what the topic of the presentation is. He does not start with a joke, a story or thanking people for coming to the session. He shows them in a graphic way what the benefit is of listening to his message. If you are starting with meaningless banter, you have already started to lose the audience.

Third, he effectively uses the visual medium. Because he interacts with the video, he demonstrates that his use of visuals will not be the normal reading of text off the slides. If you are still using slides that are mostly text, check out my book The Visual Slide Revolution for a five-step method to create persuasive PowerPoint visuals.

A great opening is essential to grab the attention of the audience and set the stage for your message. Use some of the ideas that we see Officer Lopez demonstrate in his presentation to improve your next presentation.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Is there really a call to ban PowerPoint in the US military?

There have been a number of blog posts recently regarding a report issued on improving US military intelligence in the battlefields of Afghanistan. You can read or download the entire report in PDF format here. The text that is getting the most prominence in the presentation world is this quote from page 23 of the report:

“The format of intelligence products matters. Commanders who think PowerPoint storyboards and color-coded spreadsheets are adequate for describing the Afghan conflict and its complexities have some soul searching to do. Sufficient knowledge will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip. Commanders must demand substantive written narratives and analyses from their intel shops and make the time to read them. There are no shortcuts. Microsoft Word, rather than PowerPoint, should be the tool of choice for intelligence professionals in a counterinsurgency.”

Many have taken this paragraph to suggest that the authors think that PowerPoint should be banned in the military. I invite you to look at what the authors say on page 16 of the report, the only other time they mention “PowerPoint” in the report. The paragraphs are too long to reproduce here, but what the authors conclude is that too many analysts are spending time focusing on producing pretty charts and visuals for the leadership level. Instead, they should be spending time figuring out what will help the troops on the ground and create the intel that the troops need to do their jobs.

This is not a call to ban PowerPoint. It is a call to stop wasting time on tasks that do not help the organization reach its objectives.

This is a classic strategic communications problem: not figuring out what the audience needs to hear. And it is one that presenters suffer from as well. Like the misguided analysts cited in the report, too many presenters create presentations of what they want to say instead of figuring out what really matters to the audience and how the information should best be delivered. Sometimes a presentation is not the best vehicle for communicating. Good presenters know when not to present and use a written report instead.

What are the lessons for presenters, military or not? First, spend time determining what really matters to your audience and why they want to hear from you. This means talking to them and listening to what they say. Second, let this audience focus drive your decisions about content and format. Your true goal should be to make sure the audience understands and acts on your message, so prepare a message that contains what they need to hear and deliver that message in a format that they will be able to use.

PowerPoint is only one communication vehicle and great presenters know that there is not one vehicle that fits every situation.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lessons from Google's launch of the Nexus One

This week Google introduced it’s Nexus One smartphone and Nancy Duarte commented on the MSNBC reporters who had universally negative comments about the presentation that was done to introduce the phone (see Nancy’s blog post here). When you read her post, take some time to watch the video and more importantly see the pictures from the event on Boy Genius Report here.

I agree that the presenter could have had more energy, more preparation, etc. But I want to address one issue that the MSNBC commentators flagged as particularly awful. They talk about the “overhead projector” that was used. Look at the pictures. There is no overhead projector. It is a document camera. A document camera projects live video of what you place in the viewing area below the camera and can be used very effectively during a presentation to do a physical demonstration.

Let’s look at this presentation situation. You are introducing an object that is physically small in size. To enable everyone to see it, you have a few options. First, you can try to hold it up in the air but since it is small, chances are that not many people will be able to see any detail that you are trying to show them.

Second, you can take photos or video of the object in action and play those from your computer onto the screen so everyone can see them clearly. This is a good option to enable clear viewing, but sometimes you want the demonstration to be live to boost proof of what the device can do in real situations. Some audiences have become sceptical of recorded demonstrations or photos because they can be digitally altered.

So the third option is to use a document camera to project live video of you using the object. The image is large enough for everyone to see, and it allows you to have the live aspect that builds credibility. This is the option that Google chose.

How could they have improved the use of a document camera? I have two thoughts. First, it was placed on a table that was too high. The tabletop was above the presenter’s waist and the top of the document camera was about at his nose. With the table and camera too high, it creates a barrier between the presenter and the audience, which makes it hard for the audience to connect to what the presenter is saying. Move the document camera onto a lower table that doesn’t block the presenter.

Next, only use a prop when you need to. There is no reason that the table with the document camera needed to be on stage the entire time. It could be off to one side and used only when needed. When you are projecting a demonstration, you are not the focus of the audience, so move off to the side to use the device and provide narration of the demonstration from there.

What lessons can you learn from this presentation? First, using a live demonstration can increase credibility, so consider whether a recorded demonstration is actually better than a live showing. Second, make sure that you have not created physical barriers between you and your audience. Get rid of podiums and high tables that prevent the real connection between presenter and audience that is necessary for great presentations. And third, be deliberate about where the focus of the audience should be at different times during the presentation. Just like you would use a black slide to focus the attention on you, know when to step out of the way and let the visual communicate part of the message.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

PowerPoint Slide Makeover - Comparing information at two points in time

Just a quick note to let you know that a new Slide Makeover Video Podcast based on the ideas in "The Visual Slide Revolution" is available for your viewing through the iTunes Store, online or through my YouTube channel. Too often presenters lose the audience when presenting a comparison at two points in time. This makeover shows how to visually present the comparison in a way that is easy for the audience to understand.

I found this slide online, but many of the slides are submitted by one of the participants in a workshop - someone just like you who is looking for a way to make their presentations more effective. If you want to submit some of your slides to be considered for a future slide makeover, e-mail them to me at

If you have already subscribed through iTunes or another podcatcher, the new podcast should be automatically downloaded when you next run the program.
To subscribe via the iTunes Store, click here.
To view online or get the RSS file for other podcatchers, click here.
You can also watch all the podcasts on my YouTube channel at

If you have subscribed via iTunes or YouTube, please provide your positive feedback on the videos in the Comments and Ratings areas of the service so others know the value you get from the videos.

To get your own copy of "The Visual Slide Revolution", click here.
To access quick "how-to" videos for only $1.99 each, click here.