Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PowerPoint Tip - Scary Slide Mistakes

Today is Halloween for many and it brings to mind thoughts of scary things. I want to share with you today some of the scary mistakes I have seen presenters make so that you can avoid these mistakes.

Is there text there? - When I was working on a presentation for a client in the travel industry once I came across a slide for a ski resort that demonstrated what not to do when putting text on a picture. The slide had a gorgeous picture of a snow covered mountain top - but then they put white text on top of the picture. Of course the letters on the snow disappeared, leaving a confusing partial phrase. The lesson here is that the best way to add text to a picture is to use a semi-transparent screen behind the text so the text has a contrasting color to make it stand out.

Where's the exit? Let me out now! - A lesson in presentation structure was illustrated brilliantly by an agenda slide that I saw. This agenda had 23 lines of text. I could point out that 23 lines of text is way too many lines for a slide, but a bigger problem is the real issue here. A presentation needs to have a clear goal and structure to be most effective. If in creating the key points for the presentation you discover that there are more than five major points you need to make in order to move the audience from where they are to where you want them to be, it means that you need a second presentation. I see this mistake often in sales presentations where a single presentation should really be broken into an educational first presentation and a persuasive second presentation.

Anyone for dessert? - A new assistant was trying to impress her boss with her knowledge of PowerPoint and decided that one way to do so was to show the boss that she could use every font on the computer and in almost every color. The resulting text was like looking at fruit salad as every letter in every word was a different font and different color. The lesson here is to stick with one primary font and color for your text and only use a different color or font for emphasis.

Unfortunately the type of mistakes I shared above are far too common. If you want to avoid these and many more mistakes that can turn your presentation into a scary experience for your audience, get a copy of my book "Guide to PowerPoint". It will show you what is effective with plenty of "good" and "bad" slide examples and show you how to create presentations that work. Get your copy by going to http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/guidetoppt.htm

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What presenters can learn from election signs

It is getting close to election time in many areas and the lawns and streets are rapidly becoming decorated with signs for candidates for various offices. One thing presenters should notice when they are driving by these signs is which ones are easiest to read. Why should you care about the readability of election signs? Because it is a great learning lesson for what is readable for a text slide. In both cases, the message needs to be understood quickly so it can be acted upon. Look at what is most effective on election signs and you will see what is effective on text slides - text and background colors with high contrast, simple backgrounds and sans-serif fonts in big point sizes. All good lessons to keep in mind when designing our slides. Two election signs that I saw recently that didn't follow these rules: 1) a sign that had two background colors and two different text colors that clashed and 2) a sign that had a squiggle of red in the background with black text on it making some of the letters unreadable. Watch the election signs on your next drive around the neighborhood and see what you observe.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What's common between singing and presenting

This weekend our son will be singing a solo in church. Yesterday the lady who is the best soloist at church gave him some advice in getting prepared for his upcoming solo. She told him to make sure he knows his music and the words so that he can concentrate on the performance and not worry about the words or the notes. Her advice is the same I give speakers. Know your message so well that your presentation then can be a conversation between you and the audience. How do you get to know your material so well? It doesn't come from creating your presentation on the way to the meeting, that's for sure. It starts with a clear goal, a structure that moves the audience from where they are to that stated goal, and visuals (PowerPoint or others) that support your points. Then you need to both practice and rehearse. Practicing is running the presentation through in your mind, making sure the pieces fit in the right order. Rehearsing is standing and delivering the presentation, where you are checking for how the words sound, timing and fit of visuals with the words being spoken. If you do these things, you will know your message and your presentations will be more relaxing and more successful.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Good example of Effective Use of Agenda

I think that almost every presentation can benefit from using a clear agenda. It gives you as the presenter a structure to your message and helps the audience understand your message easier (according to research done by Prof. Richard Meyer). Most agenda are a text list of topics and each time you switch to a new topic you use a title formatted slide to introduce that topic area. And in many cases this is very effective. But you may want to consider using a graphical agenda slide that shows the topic areas in graphical format. A great example of using a graphical agenda slide is in a presentation from this past summer by Kevin Turner, COO of Microsoft. In his presentation that you can download or view at http://www.microsoft.com/msft/speech/FY06/TurnerFAM2006.mspx , he uses a five tier graphic to show the five topic areas he will talk about. Each time he starts a new topic, he comes back to the graphic with only the upcoming topic area highlighted and the other areas muted. This is effective because it clearly shows what he will be talking about next and is visually more appealing than a simple text list. Think about a graphic that would work as your next agenda and use it to increase the visual appeal while keeping the structure clear.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

PowerPoint Tip - Equipment Failure

If you are going to use PowerPoint to present, at some point in time you will have to deal with the equipment failing. You may not have had this happen to you yet, but you will. Even though the equipment is far more reliable than it was when I started presenting with computers and projectors over 10 years ago, it is not perfect. And I like to say that it is not a matter of "if" you will experience equipment failure, it is only a matter of "when".

That's why I am doing a webinar this Thursday on handling problems during your presentation. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what happens, you need to keep going. The audience is there to hear your message and they expect you to deliver it no matter how many equipment problems occur. This means that you should be mentally and physically prepared to deal with various types of failures, from projectors to computers to sound systems and every other component you use.

I have had my equipment fail a number of times, two I'd like to share today. The first time was when my laptop died on the first slide of a two day workshop. And it wasn't coming back alive anytime soon (the cooling fan failed and it fried the motherboard). I was able to continue until a colleague delivered another laptop at lunch because I had a handout that I used to continue teaching. I always use a handout and I'll explain on the webinar how to create one that can serve not only as a valuable reference for your audience, but also save your bacon when equipment fails.

The second failure was when my system started acting strangely during a conference presentation. I followed the steps to see if I could get it back again and fortunately it did come back after step 4, the last step before you abandon the technology all together. In both cases, not a single evaluation from the participants even mentioned the equipment problems. They won't remember the problems if you deal with them well and deliver what you promised.

It is like I heard an airline pilot say before the safety announcement that many of us have heard way too many times before. He asked everyone to pay attention, even if they had heard it many times before because "It is better to know it and not need it than need it and not know it." I feel the same about being prepared for equipment failure. If you want to be on the webinar or be the first to get the recording, sign up at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/webtutorials.htm .

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Review of the Floyd Landis PowerPoint presentation

The press has been widely reporting the release yesterday of the PowerPoint presentation created to support the claim by Floyd Landis that he did not take banned substances during the Tour de France bike race. I am not commenting on the substance of the claims or counter claims, but want to focus on a few comments on what was done well and what could be improved in the presentation from a PowerPoint perspective. If you want to view the presentation, use the directions at http://www.floydlandis.com.

First, I liked the fact that they posted a PDF of the presentation with the speaking notes instead of just a PowerPoint file. By posting a PDF file, they prevent others from tampering with the presentation and by providing the speaking notes it explains the visuals. Explaining the visuals is good presentation practice and much better than packing the slides with text to replace the presenter's words. Good ideas to keep in mind the next time you post a presentation to an intranet or web site.

Second, I liked the macro structure of the presentation. He starts with the conclusion and then backs it up with facts. This is a good structure to use when giving executive level presentations. What I didn't like about the structure is that slide 2 lists the four areas of proof that will be discussed. But then they don't address the areas in the order they listed. This can cause an audience to be confused and wonder if they missed something. If you are going to make a list of what you will be discussing, then proceed in the order you told them you were going to.

Third, I like the use of the zoom in technique and callouts when showing the documents on the slides. Instead of simply showing the entire document and pointing to a spot that could not be clearly seen, they zoomed in on the spot in question so it could be seen clearly. Then, they added callouts, ovals in this case, to further focus the audience's attention on what was in question (slide 6 is a good example of this). When using a complex diagram or photo, the zoom in technique should be used in order to make things clear to the audience. Also, using a callout, whether it is an oval or a rounded rectangle, is a much better idea than thinking you can use a laser pointer to point out something during your presentation.

The last comment I would make is about the template they used for the presentation. While I like the overall dark background color, it is one of the templates that graduates from a dark color to a light color, making it very hard to select a text color that can be easily seen everywhere on the slide. For example, on slide 25, the letters A-E on the left side of the slide are almost impossible to read because they are medium-dark blue on a navy background. Similarly on slide 9 and 10, the white text is getting harder to see the closer it gets to the lower right corner of the slide since the background gets lighter. I suggest that you select a dark or a light color scheme for the background since it makes selecting a contrasting text color much easier.

Overall, I think the presentation is pretty effective from a design and structure perspective.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To shadow or not to shadow

Shadow fonts or shadows on shapes seems to be popular these days on PowerPoint slides. Why, I'm not sure. Most of the time I see a shadow used it is used for one of two reasons. First, the presenter added a shadow because they think it looks cool. For those of you have attended my seminars, you know that one of my key philosophies is that "Clear is more important than Cool". Research has shown that any distracting elements on a slide reduces the audience's understanding of your message. So if you are adding shadows to be cool, think of better ways to make your slide visually interesting and clearer. The second reason that presenters add a shadow is because they have selected colors that don't contrast very well and think that a shadow will help their audience see the shape or text. If you have made poor color choices, then pick higher contrasting colors, don't add a shadow to compensate for your poor decisions.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

PowerPoint Tip - Customizing tricks

The days of canned presentations are over. Oh, they've been over for a while now, just some presenters haven't realized it yet. So how can you quickly customize your presentation to exactly what the audience needs with little effort each time? Use these two simple tricks.

First, many presenters have a large file of slides and select only the ones they want for each presentation. This is a smart idea. But instead of copying out the ones you want each time, here is another approach. Hide the slides you don't want to show.

To hide a slide, right-click on it in the list of slides on the left side of the screen. In the sub-menu that appears, click on Hide Slide. You will now see the slide number in the list has a diagonal line through it. This means that the slide is still there, but it will not be shown in Slide Show mode. This way, you show only the slides you want without a lot of effort. If you are going to print the slides as a handout, make sure you uncheck the Print Hidden Slides option so your audience handout doesn't contain the slides you wanted to skip over. To unhide the slide for next time, simply right click on it and click on Hide Slide again.

Hiding slides and printing hidden slides is also a technique presenters use to add detailed information for a handout in the same file as their slides. They hide the detailed slides so they don't show, but print them so the audience has additional detail for reference.

The other customization technique is to create different slide shows for different topics. Then, in a master slide show, you create hyperlinks to each of the topic files. If the audience wants to talk about a particular topic, you simply activate the hyperlink to show those slides, then end that set of slides and go back to the master slide show to see where they want to go next.

This linking technique is an example of what I call non-linear presentations, where the audience controls the topics and order so that they get exactly what they need from the presentation. I believe it is the future of presentations, that's why I did a one hour web tutorial on this topic earlier this year demonstrating the techniques and then showing exactly how to create your own audience focused non-linear presentation. To learn more and get your copy of the web tutorial, see http://snipurl.com/nonlinear .