Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When to unplug your remote or mouse

I had a good conversation with a client this week about a struggle they had during a presentation. Things were going along well until an unknown problem caused every attempt to advance to the next slide to cause the pen pointer to come up on the screen. They eventually made it go away but were unsure what they did to stop the problem. With another presentation coming up this week, they wanted some ideas of what to try in case this strange behaviour happened again. We talked about a number of possible causes, but the most likely cause was low batteries in the remote mouse she was using. Many presenters are using remote mice or remote devices to advance their slides, which is a better approach than being glued to the laptop. But when the batteries get low, it can cause unpredictable behaviour as mixed up signals may end up being sent to the receiver. Two suggestions. First, always turn off the remote or remove a battery if there is no "off" button, when you store it in your laptop case. All it takes is a business card case pressing one of the buttons while in your case and the batteries will wear down mighty quickly. Second, if you get unstable behaviour while presenting, unplug the receiver from the computer. This ensures that no mixed up signals reach the computer. You will now have to stand beside the laptop, but at least you have a better chance of it working. If you want other tips on what to do when problems occur during your presentation, check out my webinar at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/wtproblems.htm .

Monday, March 26, 2007

Good Example of Non-Linear Presentation from UPS

UPS, the package delivery people, have a current ad campaign going on centered around a man drawing on a whiteboard. I like many of the ads because they use effective graphics to visually make the point. I went over to the campaign web site at http://whiteboard.ups.com/ and found something even more interesting. They have a great example of a non-linear approach to their information. Sure, every web site has a menu, but what they have done differently is that they have their whiteboard guy give you context, briefly explain each option, then invite you to choose where you want to go. Go check it out to see what I mean. The lesson for presenters is to think non-linearly and invite your audience to pick where they want to go. Imagine a sales presentation that doesn't drone on and on about the company and the product, but instead gives you options of what is most important to you in the buying decision and lets you direct the presentation to get the information you really need. That would be different than 98% of the sales presentations given each day. Being different is not the point. Being more useful to the audience in giving them what they need is the point. A non-linear presentation is one way to do this. If you need to learn how to create and deliver a non-linear presentation, check out my webinar on it at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/wtnonlinear.htm .

Friday, March 23, 2007

Reminder of the importance of presentation structure

During a workshop I was giving yesterday, we had the teams spend some time applying the ideas that were taught to their own slides. Each team had a laptop and got to work immediately. Except for one team in the back corner. When I checked on them part way through the time, they hadn't even opened PowerPoint yet. Here's what happened. They were working on a presentation for next week and figured that they'd just jump right in and get going. But almost as soon as they started their discussions, it became apparent that they needed to take a step back to consider what the goal of the presentation really was and what points they needed to make. At the end of the hour, they had not designed a single slide, but were so pleased anyways. Why? Because they had agreed on the structure of their presentation and were now so confident of exactly what each slide needed to say. Creating the slides would be easy now. It reminds all of us of a key lesson. Always start with the structure of your presentation - goal, audience analysis, etc. With a good structure, the slides basically create themselves. Think of this team the next time you sit down to create a presentation. Most of the hard work goes on before you ever fire up PowerPoint. And that work on the structure makes the work in PowerPoint so much easier. To find out more about my customized workshops, visit http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/powerpointseminars.htm .

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Ideas for More Visuals

I have been talking recently to more and more clients about how to get away from text or number filled presentation slides and move towards using visuals to represent the ideas we are sharing. This ranges from sales staff to finance professionals to admin assistants. Today's tip is a web based resource that can help stimulate your thinking about what visual could represent the point you are making.

The web site is a project from some academics who are studying ways to represent concepts visually and it is an interesting site. The specific page I suggest as a resource is at: http://www.visual-literacy.org/periodic_table/periodic_table.html . This page contains a large number of potential visual ideas organized into categories based on the periodic table of elements (there's the academic influence showing through).

Notice that they have organized the visual methods (as they term them) by color to represent what you are trying to visualize (data, concept, strategy, etc.) and they have added letter colors and symbols to further categorize the methods on the basis of process vs. structure, detail vs. overview and divergent vs. convergent thinking. I know this may seem a little too academic, but stay with me.

By rolling your mouse over any of the boxes in the table, you will see a popup example of the visual relating to that method. It is interesting to see some of these examples. There are some common ones like pie charts, line graphs, venn diagrams and timelines. There are also some less common ones such as the data flow diagram, concentric circles, iceberg and performance charting. Almost all I could see being valuable in certain situations. Spend a few minutes rolling your mouse around the page and consider whether each visual you see could be a good idea for an upcoming presentation.

What's missing is a list of best practices for each of these diagrams. My fear when using diagrams or visuals is the tendency to make them too complicated that the audience can't understand them. That's why in my ebook "Transforming Text Slides into Visual Slides" I demonstrate 15 of the most common situations you will encounter in business and how to take a normal text slide and create a visual slide from it. The ebook also include a list of best practices for each visual so you know how to create it correctly. You can get your copy from http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/transformtext.htm.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Graphics for the jury

This morning's newspaper had a story on the upcoming trial of Conrad Black in Chicago. He is accused of a variety of charges related to complex financial transactions. The prosecutors have a challenge. How to explain complex financial dealings to a jury of regular folks who don't deal with those type of corporate terms or ideas? The story this morning tells of how they plan to use graphics, including pictures and charts, to illustrate these complex ideas in simple form. This is yet another example of good presentation practice. First, the prosecutors evaluated their audience, the jury, and looked at their background and level of knowledge of these matters. Second, they realized that visuals work better than reams of text, so they figured out how to represent complex ideas in simple visual forms. Lessons for presenters: 1. Always start with where your audience is now when planning how to get them to where you want them to be at the end of your presentation, 2. Start using visuals instead of numbers and text, it works better for almost everyone. Need help with creating visuals instead of the normal text you use? Get my "Transforming Text Slides into Visual Slides" ebook by clicking here.

How ambient light affects your slides

At a recent conference I realized the impact that ambient light can have on how the audience views your slides. It was a small conference, about 50-60 people in all and the room had two sides with windows. At the start of the day, it was bright outside and the room was bright because of the light coming in from the windows. The white background of the speaker's slides wasn't distracting. Well, during the day, it started to rain and the ambient light coming into the room decreased dramatically. The room lighting wasn't turned up, so what happened is that the white background slides appeared even brighter and drew the focus away from the speaker. It is natural for us to focus on the brightest object in the room and in this case it was the slides on the screen. Because the rest of the room was quite dark, the speaker got almost lost in the background. In "Guide to PowerPoint", we suggest that using a white background is not a good idea for just this reason. I prefer a dark background because it has worked better for me in the varied lighting situations I find myself in when presenting. Consider this the next time you select colors for your slides.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Are your presentations delivering valuable information?

A recent survey by Accenture of more than 1,000 middle managers in the US and UK found, among other findings, that 53% of the respondents said that less than half of the information they receive is valuable. With presentations becoming an increasingly popular way to communicate information, this suggests to me that many presentations are not effective at communicating information that managers can use. I know that may not come as a surprise to those of you who sit through these boring presentations day after day. I suspect that many of these poor presentations are done by specialists and analysts who deliver "data dump" presentations, thinking that what they are delivering is information. One of the key points I make in my new ebook "Presenting Data to Executives" is that there is a big difference between data and information. Information is the result of analyzing data and determining what it means to someone else. This takes more work and thought, but would cut down dramatically on the time managers and executives spend sitting through useless presentations. If your team is stuck in the "data dump" rut, email me to chat about how we can deliver a customized session that breaks the routine and delivers better information. If you want to pick up the ebook, click here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - What The Audience Really Needs

Too many times presenters assume they know what their audience needs. And too many times they are wrong. I remember a presentation I did a couple of years ago where I made this mistake. I had a conversation with the person who had booked me and I felt that I knew what they wanted. I prepared my presentation but as I was on the stage, I could see that I wasn't hitting the mark. And the evaluations showed it.

A few months later a fellow professional speaker reinforced for me the need to dig deeper to find out what the audience really needs. So now I regularly use online survey tools to find out what topics the audience wants me to cover and I structure my presentation accordingly.

The past two weekends I spoke in Nashville and Las Vegas for the same organization. And the presentation was so successful because of my preparation, specifically my audience research. When they asked me to speak, I suggested that we do an online survey of the attendees so that I could focus the presentation.

When the results came in, I was able to start formulating the topics I would present. Then I had another conversation with the conference organizer and we discussed the results of the survey. She was able to add more insight, including the biggest question that the people attending the meeting struggle with. She also clarified the overall purpose of the meeting. These two critical pieces of information helped me focus even tighter on what would be of value to my audience.

This audience focus is one of my key philosophies when presenting and was a key driver in my latest ebook, "Presenting Data to Executives". Too many specialists and analysts deliver "data dump" presentations that don't take into account the perspective of the executives in the room. This leaves the executives confused and without the information they need to make important decisions. It also hurts the presenters chances at advancement. If you present data to management or executive groups, check out this new ebook at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/presentdata.htm . If you are an executive who has seen one too many of these confusing "data dump" presentations, email me so we can discuss a customized session to teach your staff the secrets of executive presentations.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lessons from an Academy Award winning presentation

Last week the movie "An Inconvenient Truth", based on a presentation by the same name, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. Earlier this year I watched the movie and wrote an article on what lessons presenters can learn from the presentation and how the message is being spread by Al Gore and others his organization has trained to deliver the presentation. Check it out at http://snipurl.com/inconvtruth .

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why some templates don't work very well

A recent presentation showed once again why many of the built-in template that come with PowerPoint should not be used. The template that the presenter used was one that had graphics at the top of each slide. When you have graphics at the top, the slide title is below or inside the graphics and the content of the slide is pushed further down the slide. Here's the problem. When your content gets closer to the bottom of the screen, it increases the likelihood that the audience members sitting in row 2 or beyond have no hope of seeing what is in the bottom 10-15% of the slide since they can't see past the heads in front of them. Most screens are set too low, which hides the bottom part of the slide behind the heads of the people in front of you. Plan for this possibility and put any branding or graphics at the bottom of the screen, so the content gets pushed up and everyone sees it.