Where can I get free photos for PowerPoint?

August 29, 2012

Free photos!Boring PowerPoint’s for chumps, and by now we all know that photographs can really elevate a presentation. What they can also elevate are your expenses, because royalty-free photographs can run into some money depending on how many you include.

Some people think that images they find online are free because they are, well, online. This is wrong, and in many cases it is a breach of copyright law to use photos you find online without paying for them. Unless you are given explicit permission, whether it is granted to you in writing or if you have purchased a license, you shouldn’t use photographs you’ve found on the Internet in your presentation. You have to dig deeper than a simple Google image search.

This doesn’t mean there are no free images available to you. On the contrary, there are many ways to get free photographs for your PowerPoint presentations or for personal use that won’t land you in Copyright Court.

  • MorgueFile is a “public image archive by creatives for creatives” that offers thousands of free images.
  • Stock.xchng has a robust search engine and the ability to create lightboxes (collections of photos) which you can share with others.
  • Wikimedia Commons is a vast collection of photographs, many of which are in the public domain. This means that the copyright has expired and you can use the photos freely. Other images are offered under the Creative Commons license, which means that you must “attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.” This is usually as simple as putting the phrase “Image © 2012 Joe Smith via Wikimedia Commons” on or near the image in your presentation. Scroll down the screen to determine what the copyright situation is for each image you find.
  • Use your own pictures. How many of us have a smartphone that can take pictures? OK, you can put your hands down; I can’t see you anyway. If your smartphone takes high-resolution photos then why not use some of these in your presentations? Or you could use your digital camera for better resolution. Images of clouds, grass, city streets, traffic signs, and any number of subjects are just a click away. And you can submit your own photos to MorgueFile or Stock.xchng if you want to share the wealth.

One big caveat

You knew that the other shoe had to drop sometime, right?

Photographs of people require special consideration. If it’s impossible to tell who the people are, such as in a blurred image of a crowd, a hand holding an object, or a foot kicking a ball, then you don’t have to worry. But photographs of identifiable people require a model release — written permission from the subject of the photograph to use the image for commercial purposes (e.g., your PowerPoint presentation). You can get into legal trouble for using a person’s photograph without their explicit permission, especially if your use implies their endorsement of your product or idea.

Stock photography companies take care of obtaining model releases, but there’s not much governance on the free photo sites. If you’re using your own photographs, the same rule applies: get a model release or don’t use pictures of identifiable people.


What the Spartan Sprint taught me about presenting

August 15, 2012

Laura after the Spartan SprintOn August 11, I participated in the Spartan Sprint, an obstacle course of a little more than three miles that test the limits of one’s endurance. The Sprint is the entry-level race, and if you survive that you can graduate to the Super Spartan, attempt the Spartan Beast, or really indulge your masochistic side in the charmingly named Death Race. But I digress.

The reason I entered is because at a community event in May one of my friends asked me if I wanted to join his team. At that point, I had become a real couch potato. I’d let my gym membership lapse and I had come up with all kinds of excuses about why I didn’t have any time to exercise. But something about the challenge sparked my interest, so after a moment’s hesitation I agreed.

Interestingly enough, I was able to draw some parallels between preparing for the Spartan Sprint and preparing to give a presentation. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Preparation is key. One of my teammates didn’t do much training at all. Needless to say, he was gasping the entire way. My training consisted primarily of jogging about ten miles a week with nothing done to increase my upper-body strength. So while I was great at the running part of the race, I failed on the obstacles that relied on supporting my own weight, such as the monkey bars and shinnying up a rope. As a presenter, if you haven’t practiced until you can deliver your presentation flawlessly, if you don’t get to the venue first to set up and be ready when the first attendees arrive, or if you don’t tailor your presentation to your audience, chances are you’ll flop.
  • If you need help, ask. At one point in the race I got separated from my group and was confronted with a six-foot wall. Although I could just touch the top by jumping, I couldn’t pull myself up. But on a couple of occasions, another racer laced his fingers together and gave me some much-needed boosts. To bring this back to presenting, I recently spoke with Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion, and asked his advice about how to respond to a client’s request to record my Cheating Death by PowerPoint presentation. I also posted the question on the LinkedIn group “Public Speaking Network.” I got a lot of great recommendations from everyone I asked, and they were all happy to help.
  • Expect the unexpected, and always have a Plan B. I knew there were many obstacles in the race, but these were all hidden from view of the start and finish lines. The race planners anticipated that not every racer would successfully complete every obstacle, so the penalty for failure or not trying at all was 30 burpees per failure/avoidance. If you’re presenting and the power goes out, would you still be able to perform even without your PowerPoint deck? If somebody asks you a question you can’t answer, what do you say? Get your Plan B together.
  • Dive in. I barely had to think about it when I was invited to participate. At the time I knew there’d be a lot of hard work to prepare for the race and that I’d have to radically change my routine to make it happen. But I jumped into the unknown and came out of it a better person. Same as you when you’re presenting. Don’t show any hesitation or signs that you are nervous about getting started. If you know your topic, it will come naturally if you take the first step and just start talking.

Take a chance, explore the unknown, and ask for help when you need it. Sometimes the limits to your abilities are just in your head, and when the rubber meets the road, you’ll find that you really shine.


How to magically destroy your marketing efforts

August 6, 2012

Magician's hatMarketing is all about leading your customers and prospects down a clear path that leads to their purchasing your product or engaging your services. There is little room for ambiguity in marketing since you have people’s attention for such a brief moment in time. Your marketing messages—PowerPoint presentations, websites, social media, or any other marketing vehicle—should always clearly state what you want people to do and the benefits to them of doing it.

I recently saw an egregious example of mixed messages that made me doubt whether the person involved was really interested in his continued employment!

I was having breakfast at a diner in my town when another patron overheard me talking about the local newspaper. He introduced himself as a sales rep from that paper and talked to me a little bit about my business. He then handed me his business card, a typical black-on-white number with raised printing.

As I was reading the card, I could feel printing on the reverse so I turned it over. I expected to see more details about his job or his employer. Instead, it was a completely different business being advertised. You see, our man is also a part-time magician, so he thought he’d combine his moonlighting gig with his day job on a single business card.

“Your boss must have been impressed,” I quipped and he replied that the publisher was really angry but had let it slide. He then chuckled and told me about a magic show he’d just performed at a day camp. After the performance, who should he see stroll by but the publisher! She saw him in his magician’s outfit and knew that he wasn’t out selling ad space for her paper.

There are several lessons we can learn from this:

  • You should have one consistent marketing message. To use a PowerPoint example, think of how confused your audience would be if after your closing slide you showed one last slide that advertised your side business. How much respect would you lose in that moment?
  • Always reinforce your brand. It’s crazy that the publisher didn’t make this guy throw away the two-sided cards and pay for a reprint with just the newspaper job information. One card, one business. Period. Here’s the PowerPoint tie in: you decide that your corporate template is too boring so you change the colors around. Now your deck doesn’t look like your other marketing materials, and that inconsistency can be jarring to your audience.
  • Concentrate on your core competencies. We all know that a jack of all trades is a master of none. To build trust that we know what we’re doing, we need to focus on what we do best. A newspaper advertising sales rep who promotes his own business during his sales calls obviously doesn’t have my best interests in mind. In a presentation, you must tailor your message to your audience. If your company does five different things but the audience is only interested in one of them, concentrate on that one thing. Mention your other abilities in passing, but focus on what’s important to your audience.
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you are invited to present for one reason (“Please tell us the results of advertising in your newspaper.”) then use that time to promote a different business entirely (Magician for hire! Parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, you name it!), you won’t make a good impression because nobody likes a bait-and-switch.

It’s incredible to me that anybody would have the gall to hand out business cards like this. I suspect that this fellow’s job could “vanish right before his very eyes” if he doesn’t straighten out quickly.


Slideshark: Cloud-based PPT tool for the iPad

August 3, 2012

Slideshark on the iPadWith the current popularity of tablet computers in general and the iPad in particular, it makes sense that eventually it would be possible to show a PowerPoint presentation using one. Our pals at Brainshark makes this possible with Slideshark.

Once you’ve downloaded the Slideshark app, you can sign up for a free Slideshark account, which comes with 100Mb of storage space (using the link will get you and me both an additional 25Mb of storage!). There are also paid subscriptions which give you more storage space and features.

Presentations uploaded to Slideshark live in the cloud and can be downloaded as needed onto an iPad. This means that you can present from an iPad even if you don’t have a WiFi connection—a real bonus, in my experience.

An iPad can be used in a small setting with one or just a few people or a large room using an iPad/VGA adapter cable to connect to the projection system. Although the iPad has been around for a while, not many people are using them for presenting so you might get some points for being cutting-edge.

Using Slideshark is very easy; you just scroll through the presentation by swiping your finger across the screen. There’s also a presenter mode that allows you to see your speaker notes while displaying just the slide view to the audience, so you still have access to your “cue cards” (Phew!) And by pressing on the screen, you create a “laser pointer” (a glowing red dot) that you can use to draw attention to certain areas of your slide.

Although Slideshark is very cool, I did find a couple of drawbacks. Fonts are limited to whatever’s commonly available in Windows, so if you create a preso on the Mac using some way-out font then it will revert to good old Arial in Slideshark. And any audio you’ve included in your presentation gets dropped when you upload to Slideshark.

Another interesting problem that came up when I tried to use Slideshark was that I learned that sometimes I need more than two hands. At the conference where I was presenting, they gave me a regular microphone, not a clip-on one. Since you need one hand to hold the iPad (I was using a case with a hand strap) and one hand to swipe through the presentation, that left me with nothing left to hold the mic.

Luckily, for this presentation I had triple-redundancy. I handed the AV tech a USB stick that had a PDF version of my presentation. Yes, I like the cool new stuff, but it’s always good to have a Plan B!


Egocentric PowerPoints fail the “WIIFM?” test

June 11, 2012

What's in it for me?The other day, a friend of mine wanted my advice on pricing the redesign of her client’s pitch deck, the initial presentation shown to a prospect to get hired. When I opened the presentation, my jaw literally dropped because it was an 11-page résumé in 16-point type sandwiched between a title slide and a closing slide. And the closing slide didn’t even have any contact information.

My friend’s client seems to believe something similar to the Field of Dreams maxim: “If you build it, they will come.” In his case it was “If I tell people how great my company is, they will hire us.” But this is a terrible approach.

When you focus entirely on your own qualifications, education, and achievements you’re not necessarily demonstrating your worth. Instead, you’re bombarding your audience with data about how great you are while ignoring issues they may be facing. The focus has to be on the audience and address the big question that’s on everyone’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”

In marketing we speak of “client pains” — problems the client has — and how to solve them. The best marketing addresses these pains directly (“Are you tired of paying too much for cable?” “Been in an accident?” “You could save over $475 on car insurance!”). It can be even more effective if you’re able to reveal pains the client didn’t know he had which could cause problems later on. By providing solutions to these pains, the savvy marketer positions himself as the only logical choice for the client.  Addressing and solving client pains is client-centric, not egocentric, which is what great marketing should be. What’s in it for me? You could save money, increase efficiency, live longer, be happier, lower your risk, etc. etc. etc.

To be fair, the client approached my friend because he recognized that his deck was unattractive. And as everybody knows, admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. But redesigning this deck would’ve been like putting lipstick on a pig because it was entirely presenter-focused.

What can help for this type of presentation when you’re trying to get someone to hire you based on your credentials?

  • Client testimonials: Ask satisfied clients to described how you helped them to save money, finish a task in record time, avoid red tape, etc. Would they rehire you? If so, quote them on it!
  • Highlight benefits of certifications: If you’re certified or trained in a particular specialty, how does that save your client money? Ensure the success of the project? Prevent rework?
  • Photos of completed projects: A picture speaks a thousand words.
  • Success stories: You don’t need full-blown case studies, just some anecdotes about how you helped your clients to solve their problems.
  • Relevant companies you’ve worked with: Focus on companies you’ve worked with that are similar to your audience’s.

Remember, the presentation is always about the audience, not about the presenter. Always focusing on the “What’s in it for me?” question will help you stay on track to create presentations that really mean something to your audience.

Your turn

Have you ever been to an egocentric presentation? What was it like? Have you ever delivered one?


Great Design Goes Mainstream

June 4, 2012

Place settingFor the past several years, I have been working with people who share my conviction that the same design principles that are used to create award-winning websites, compelling logos, and stunning point-of-purchase displays can and should be used in PowerPoint presentations. This viewpoint isn’t commonly shared; the majority seems to believe that PowerPoint is nothing but a necessary evil that must be suffered through like some kind of horrible rite of initiation. These people are missing out on a powerful design trend: the mainstream acceptance of good design.

We are surrounded by increasingly sophisticated designs without necessarily being aware of it. Think about how easy it is to order just about anything under the sun from Amazon.com. Their revolutionary website sets the bar for great user experience. Industrial designer Phillipe Starck’s work for Target changed the way mainstream America believes even such mundane items as dustpans and trash cans should look. When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, with its translucent case and bold blue accents, it smashed the paradigm that personal computers needed to be housed in beige boxes.

For some reason, this increased design sophistication doesn’t always carry through to a company’s PowerPoint presentations. Tired sales reps and harried admins are still banging out text-heavy, bullet-pointed borefests in much the same way they did in the late eighties when PowerPoint first hit the market. The only difference now is some of the “cool” animation effects and clipart available in PowerPoint 2010. But presentations can be made much more effective with great design. And the public is increasingly demanding great design.

Welcome to the Era of Design proclaims the headline of a recent blog on Forbes.com by Adam Swann, head of strategy at gyro. This article talks about how design is becoming mainstream, affordable, and expected in today’s marketplace.

In an era of design, bad design really stands out as being, well, bad. Today’s innovators stay ahead of their competition by ensuring that great design is carried out in all aspects of their marketing mix.

Your turn

What role does design play in your business?


Good presentations start with good scripts

May 31, 2012

ScreenplayA gentleman once asked me to provide a quote on redoing a PowerPoint presentation. He provided a link to the presentation, which included a voiceover narration.  I had to explain to him that he’d be unhappy with the results if I just did the cosmetic fixes he’d asked for. Sure, the presentation would’ve looked better, but it wouldn’t have made it a better presentation. Redesigning the presentation in its current state would’ve done nothing to address the basic problem: the visuals didn’t match the script.

The script is what you as the presenter are going to say when you’re up in front of the audience, or what your narration will be on a mobile presentation. Some people create PowerPoint presentations first then write the script to match the visuals. This is absolutely the opposite approach you should take. Think about how all movies start with a script. It would be absurd to shoot a movie without one. Just as it’s absurd to create a PowerPoint presentation before you write your script.

The script is what drives the PowerPoint visuals. It tells you what words, if any, to use on each slide and suggests images that would help to convey your message. It can also suggest the use of animation to emphasize or illustrate key points.

PowerPoint presentations should enhance good storytelling. And you don’t get good storytelling without a good script. So here’s a simple graphic to remind you of the correct four-step sequence you should follow when creating your next PowerPoint presentation:

PowerPoint process

Your turn

Do you write your script before you design your PowerPoint presentations? If so, how well has that worked for you?


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