Presentations

Er…And your point is?

One of the cardinal rules of slide design is: one slide = one topic. Yet even applying that rule, many people still cram their presentation visuals so full of material that the purpose is unclear. So here’s another rule to apply: every slide has to have a point that the audience can absorb in seconds.

Presentation pro and author Nancy Duarte says slides are a glance media, much like billboards. Brain researcher John Medina says multitasking is a myth. People can’t listen to a presenter and read slides at the same time. Other research states that people lose interest in slides very quickly, no matter how well designed they are. The evidence is overwhelming: you need to make your point crystal clear and do it fast. Read More...

How The Three Little Pigs can make you a better speaker

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it...

A surefire way to bore people when you speak is to talk in a monotone voice. You may think you’re speaking with expression, but unless you make a conscious effort, you probably aren’t. The good news is that most people can ramp up their vocal variety with just a bit of practice.

Here are three simple techniques to try: Read More...

When speaking in threes "Oops" just doesn't cut it

U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Perry had the right idea during a recent Republican Debate when he tried to make key point in his platform. Unfortunately, for him, he suffered a memory lapse at a critical time. Perry began to name three government agencies he would cut if elected president; but he could only remember two of them. After racking his brain for the third, all he could do was offer a feeble “Oops”.

Whether or not his gaffe derails his political plans, Perry stumbled when he should have soared. If he had delivered his list as intended, he would have tapped into the considerable power of speaking in threes. Read More...

Time spent rehearsing pays off on the podium

It’s rarely scheduled; usually left to the last minute; and frequently dropped from the agenda entirely. What goes missing in action so frequently is rehearsal. In meeting rooms around the world, speakers routinely stand up to talk with little or no rehearsal. Try as hard as they might to hide it: it shows.

Tolerant audiences sit through the stumbles and mispronounced words. But, while they may be polite, the mistakes distract their attention from the message.

Speakers who do rehearse are more likely to come across as confident and at ease. Take for example, Steve Jobs of Apple, or Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. Both are famous in the business world for delivering outstanding speeches and presentations. And both are equally famous for making considerable effort to practise their talks.

Carving out the time to rehearse a speech or presentation can be a challenge. However, even if you’re really squeezed for time, try to fit in these steps: Read More...

Busting the Mehrabian Myth

One of the most enduring tales in presentation folklore is based on the idea that only seven percent of what a speaker says is conveyed via his or her words. The rest of the message - a whopping 93 percent - is transferred via tone of voice and facial expressions.

Enduring tale - yes. Truth - no. Far from it. And yet, the research the tale is based on is valid. Is it all making sense yet?

Here's how the myth came to be... Read More...

An Education: In Presentations

Here are some great insights and tips from a trio of top presentation designers. Read More...

Shoot Like a Communicator

How often do you wander around with a camera slung over your shoulder or tucked into a hip pocket? Most likely that’s something you do on vacation. And whether you return home with shots of the kids at Disneyworld, or your tour group standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, chances are most of those photos sit on your computer or disappear into an album to be looked at again someday. Yet, with a bit of thought and planning, your best work could see the light (terrible pun) in your presentations.

Today, importing digital photographs to slides is a snap (another terrible pun, sorry). And there are good reasons to do it. Photographs can set a mood, tell a story, make an abstract concept concrete, elicit an emotional response or spark imagination. Research also indicates that people remember information better and longer when they receive it from images rather than text.

Here’s the simple key to success: be purposeful about capturing images to use on your slides. So, next time you’re looking through a viewfinder, keep these tips in mind.
Take background shots - Grab a few shots that are mostly sky with the scene or activity in a narrow band along the bottom. These shots are great for title or bullet slides. To learn more about this technique read Life Imitates Art, posted elsewhere on this blog. Read More...

Life Imitates Art. The Result? Some Dandy Slide Backgrounds

While strolling through an art museum one day I overheard a guide commenting on the work of old Dutch masters. She said they tended to place the scene in the lower third of the canvas and then fill the upper two-thirds with sky. Looking at the results, it struck me that their paintings would make great slide backgrounds.

However, rather than purchase a painting by a Dutch master (a bit beyond my budget), I decided to test the idea with my camera. Now, whenever I travel, I compose some of my photos to include mostly sky with the scenery or activity confined in a narrow band along the bottom of the frame. The result? A photo that makes a great slide background.
Read More...

Limit Your Points to What People can Handle

People have a limited capacity for listening to and absorbing information presented orally, even with the help of visual support. Keep this fact in mind when you choose the arguments to highlight in the middle of your presentation. As a rule, plan to support your main argument with three to five major points. (Never go beyond seven points. After that number, research shows that all listeners hear is blah, blah, blah...) Read More...

Coping with Poorly Designed Meeting Spaces

Here is one of the mysteries of the universe: why are so many meeting rooms so badly designed? It often seems as if no one really had any idea how the room was going to be used.

Let’s start with the one of the most common problems: too few electrical outlets. To plug in a computer, a projector and a set of speakers, you need three plugs. Yet so often there is only a single two-plug outlet available. Then there is the placement of the screen. More often than not it’s plunked down in the middle of the room, restricting the space available for the presenter to move around. And, why is it so often a struggle to find surface space for both the projector and a computer? Read More...

Let the Rule of Thirds Be Your Guide

Graphic designers and photographers rely on a lot more than raw talent to compose their work. They make use of the rule of thirds. Actually it isn’t really a rule. It’s a guideline based on the idea that compositions are most pleasing to the human eye when the main elements fall on or near the four crossing points of a nine box grid.
The only tool you need to apply the rule is a grid. You can make one in PowerPoint or Keynote by arranging lines and circles until you have nine rectangles on a slide. As digital photo expert Lesa King says, divide your slide up so that it resembles a tic–tac-toe board. My slides look a lot better since I discovered the rule. Now, whenever I begin working on a new presentation, I include a grid slide. Read More...

Design Simple Slides

Nothing drains the life out of a presentation faster than a steady stream of slides filled to overflowing with text. At the very least the slides are boring to look at. But presenters often make things worse by talking over them, ignoring the fact that audiences can’t read and listen at the same time.

The solution is to design slides that are so simple people can absorb them quickly and return to listening to the presenter. After all, the presenter should be the focus of attention. What he or she has to say is the point of the presentation. The visuals are merely meant to serve as illustrations.

Nancy Duarte, whose company created the presentation slides that Al Gore used in his film An Inconvenient Truth, says that good slide design should follow the principles reflected in billboard ads. Take a look next time you drive along the highway and notice how billboards display a combination of bold graphics and simple text. It doesn’t take much time or effort to get the message as you zoom by. Read More...

Anyway You Slice It…

On a recent car trip I listened to the audio version of Malcolm Gladwell’s newish book Blink and emerged at my destination with a few of leg cramps – and a broader vocabulary. Gladwell is the writer who caused a sensation with his first book, The Tipping Point. Now he has enriched our lexicon with the term thin-slicing.

Gladwell says that people who have perfected the art of thin-slicing have developed the ability to filter “the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.” Or as a scientist might put out, they are skilled at receiving the signal and filtering out the noise. Read More...

Expert Advice: How Not to Step in It

You can’t always tell a book by a cover – or by it’s title for that matter. And that explains why Jacked Up is such a surprise. It’s actually a book about speeches and presentations. But rather than providing a step-by-step guide, its advice runs along the lines of how not to step in it.

The subtitle explains author Bill Lane’s motivation for writing his tome. Jacked Up is The Inside Story about How Jack Welch Talked GE into Becoming the World’s Greatest Company. Lane wrote it to capitalize on his experience working closely with the larger-than-life Welch. For 20 years while Welch ran GE, Lane ran the uber-CEO’s executive communications.

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Bringing Oral History to Life

Are we continuing the shift that started with radio and television to becoming a more oral communication-based society? That may be the case as we increase our use of technology to access intellectual content. Take for example the great speeches of the last century. Until recently, they were largely locked in history books. Today, many of them are available in either audio or visual form on the Internet. And improved accessibility is spawning a new pastime – watching and listening to the most influential speeches and presentations of the recent past.

A good source of recorded presentations is TED.com. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together top thinkers in its three areas of focus. Today, TED puts the best of its talks and performances on the Internet, for free. So, events that were once open only to the elite who could afford the price of admission are now available to all. I’m a TED fan, and I have plenty of company – all around the world. I’m sure the spirit of Marshall McLuhan is smiling as the TED-o-philes gather around the communal fire. Read More...