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.


Free screen sharing for presenters (and everybody else, too!)

April 23, 2012

Screen sharingHow many times have you tried to explain something visual to somebody over the phone? It can be incredibly frustrating. Screen sharing is a great way to get your visual points across to people on the phone.

Screen sharing is allowing people to log in to see areas of your computer screen that you give them access to. Unlike a webinar using products like WebEx and GoToWebinar, it’s not possible to record a screen-sharing session for later viewing or to use a moderator to field questions from the audience. But it’s a great way to walk someone through a presentation or to offer a down-and-dirty webinar. Here are two free screen-sharing options for you to try.

FreeScreenSharing.com

FreeScreenSharing allows you to customize the login area with your own logo, photo, and contact information. Another nice feature is being able to designate certain windows on your computer to be off-limits and to show only what you want to be seen. FreeScreenSharing also offers a chat area for IMs.

Participants need to download software to make FreeScreenSharing work, so be sure to allow time for them to do so if you use this product.

Although FreeScreenSharing provides a conference call number, it doesn’t record the call. But they have another product, FreeConferenceCall, which allows you to record the conversation and download it for later use.

Join.me

Join.me allows people to log in to your screen-sharing session via a website without having to download additional software. You can have a conversation using your computer’s microphone and speakers (hands-free fun!) and there’s a chat area.

Use FreeConferenceCall if you want to record the conversation because it’s not possible to do so using join.me.

Unlike with FreeScreenSharing you cannot designate private windows on your monitor, so people will be able to see everything you’re doing. So don’t be goofing around on the Web or sending email while you’re sharing your screen because everyone will know it.

My Experience

I have used both of these products and have found them invaluable for explaining visual concepts and for online collaboration.

The customization and setting off-limits areas capabilities of FreeScreenSharing are good to have. The first time I used it with a client I didn’t account for the setup time of his having to download software, though, but after that things went well.

I like the immediacy of join.me for quick discussions; people just go to their website and log on to the session without downloading software. But although it’s billed as cross-platform I couldn’t get join.me to work on my Mac, just my VMware PC. I sent email to join.me about the issue and a technician contacted me shortly afterwards. He logged in to my Mac remotely and set me up with join.me for the Mac. Great customer service! I haven’t used the chat or online conversation tools yet.

Your Turn

Have you ever used screen sharing to facilitate a phone conversation? What tools did you use and how did it go?


How to make a PowerPoint presentation mobile

April 17, 2012

Laura on an iPadNowadays, we’re no longer restricted to delivering presentations in person. With webcasts, on-demand viewing, and sites where you can upload decks and video, your message can be seen by a vast audience without your having to be there. Here are some tips on how you can make the most of mobile presentations.

Send your decks to people who ask for them

No.

When people ask you to send your PowerPoint files to them, what they’re really saying is “I want to be able to view your presentation at my own convenience.” And there are much better ways of allowing people to do this than releasing your source files.

For more information, please read Why you should never send your PowerPoint decks to people who ask for them

Export your deck as a video

PowerPoint 2010 makes it easy to export your deck as a video. In the File tab on the ribbon select Save & Send then Create a Video. You can set automatic timing for animations and slide transitions so that your presentation advances automatically. You could even record your voiceover and custom audio and insert the audio files into your deck, timing everything so that they play when they need to. Then you email the video file to people, put it on your website, or post it to…

YouTube

Uploading your video presentation to YouTube is a great way to get exposure for your message. Creating a YouTube channel gives people another way to find out about what you have to say and can help to position you as a thought leader on your particular subject. Plus, it’s easy to see how many times people have watched your video and which ones are most popular, allowing you to create more content to meet the demand.

Brainshark

Brainshark (for companies) and MyBrainshark (for small businesses and individuals) offer a means to create videos of your PowerPoint files without the bother of setting up automatic timing and coordinating audio with video. Brainsharks, as these videos are called, are used by many companies in a variety of ways: training, sales, tutorials. You can create free or pay-per-view Brainsharks, which could become a nice revenue stream if you are a trainer.

You upload a PowerPoint deck then add your voiceover using a phone, a microphone connected to your computer, or by uploading prerecorded MP3 files. While you’re speaking, you view each slide and click through the animation as you go along just as if you were presenting live, and you can re-record the audio as many times as you want. You can add music to your Brainshark, selecting from among the many free music clips they offer or uploading your own.

It’s also possible to add video to Brainshark, either by uploading video files or embedding them in your deck.

As if this all weren’t cool enough, Brainsharks can include clickable links to websites or your email address and can also include polls.

But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve created a Brainshark, you can upload it to your website or post it to YouTube.

Your turn

Have you ever used one of these methods to present remotely? How did you do it and was it a success?


Six reasons you should pay for PowerPoint design

March 12, 2012
A very ugly PowerPoint slideI make a lot of prospecting calls to tell people about my presentation design services and to ask for their business, so I hear many variations on “We don’t want any,” such as, “We already have a template,” “We do all of our PowerPoint in house,” and “My admin takes care of that.” Maybe you are thinking along the same lines as you read this. But sometimes it can be beneficial to look for a presentation design specialist outside one’s organization. Here are six good reasons why:

1. Your time is valuable.

Do you change the oil in your car? I don’t. Sure, I might save a few bucks doing it myself, but it’s much more convenient for me to bring the car to the shop. They perform this service all day every day and have developed work processes to speed things along quickly. Even a simple job like this might take me two hours, including finding all the proper tools, doing the actual work, and locating a place that will take the used oil.

If you don’t use PowerPoint all day every day, there are probably a few things that hold you up, that take a while to figure out. The thing is, every minute that you spend working with technology you’re not thoroughly familiar with is a minute you’re not making money for your company. You hire specialists for other business areas, why not presentation design?

2. Good design communicates ideas better than poor design.

I’ve worked with a lot of people who are professionals in their respective careers. They are really good at what they do and they know their stuff, as is evidenced by the wealth of text and data they stuff into their presentations. But slides full of text, bullet points, busy charts, and complicated tables require an audience to spend too much time sorting through information and not enough time paying attention to the presenter. Even the best ideas get lost in the confusion.

Presentation designers can transform boring data into effective infographics, find and use photographs that do a better job of communicating than bullet points, and ensure that your deck looks like the rest of your marketing materials, thereby strengthening your brand.

3. You don’t want a bored audience.

How exciting is a slide full of text? It’s like watching paint dry, right? Loading up slides with text might make it easier to remember what to say, but it’s miserable for the audience. They’re too busy reading slides to listen to the presenter or, worse, they’re seething because they know how to read so they resent this huge waste of their time.

Do you think a roomful of irritated people will want to fund a venture? Buy a product or service? Attend a class? Probably not.

4. Designers have created the other components of your marketing mix.

Logos, websites, catalogs, data sheets, business cards, uniforms, vehicle graphics, brochures…these are all components of a company’s marketing mix. All of these were likely created by professional designers to create a cohesive brand. By using off-the-shelf PowerPoint templates and default colors, you introduce a jarring element that detracts from your brand and can make you look unprofessional.

5. Well-designed presentations make you look better prepared.

Presenters who read off of their slides are viewed as time-wasters who don’t know what they’re talking about. If you were presenting and the power suddenly went out, would you be able to continue? Do you know your presentation so well that you could keep talking? You should.

6. Other companies are doing it.

Smart companies invest in their marketing to create cohesive brands and messaging. Al Gore didn’t design his own slides for An Inconvenient Truth, they were created by a presentation design agency. And I’m guessing that Steve Jobs didn’t create his iconic presentations himself.

Professional presentation design gives you an edge over your competition. A presentation designer can create a stunning deck using the latest techniques of animation, video, and audio enhancement. The designer can also let you know when less is more.

Your turn

Do you create your own PowerPoint presentations or do you hire out? What about your keynote, annual meeting, and conference presentations?


How do you show bad news in PowerPoint?

February 15, 2012

Sometimes it’s necessary to tell your audience something that’s not so great. Most presenters really don’t want to be the Bad Guy, but it’s important that their audiences have all the facts about what’s going on, whether it’s an underperforming fund, a bad quarter, negative ratings, or flagging sales. If people don’t know what’s wrong, it’s hard to develop a plan to fix the problem.

But you don’t want the whole presentation to be a downer, so you need to temper the bad news with some good news:

“Yes, sales are down 4% this quarter, but we have hired a sales mentor who is working with our team to bring their numbers back up.”

“We received some negative feedback on Twitter about our widget, so we contacted every unsatisfied customer and fixed their problems.”

“Fund X did not perform to expectations, so we are diversifying our holdings.”

You should address bad news but you don’t have to lead with it. Here’s what I mean.

I recently met with a medical product client who showed me his “Pitch Deck,” the presentation he gives to venture capital firms and other groups when he seeks funding for his company. One slide showed a table that compared their company’s product against similar products being developed by two competitors. My client had a lot of great things going for him:

  • His company already had products in the marketplace
  • These products were making money
  • They had big-name partners

This product also had a slight problem: it causes a medical condition in 85% of its users.

The slide looked a bit like this (The data have been changed to protect proprietary information.):

Medical product slide before

I asked him about it, and he said that it is a common side effect for this kind of medication and that it is easily treated during outpatient surgery with great results. So the story he’s trying to tell is Great News, Great News, Great News, No Big Deal. But when I look at this table as a member of the audience might, I see this story: Great News, Great News, Great News, Slam-on-the-Brakes Major Problem!!!

While it’s important for investors to have all the facts, it’s crazy to present the data in a table that doesn’t stress the positive and provides any relief for the negative.

Here’s how I would redesign this slide:

Medical product slide: Great News!

This slide focuses on the positive by including a well-known partner logo, making the yearly profits stand out with large type, and showing the product name, which has been trademarked and is on the market. The first panel is green, which implies “go” and “cash,” and the competitors’ panels are drab by comparison. Look at how they lag behind! Who wouldn’t want to fund this guy?

But it would be unethical to withhold the bad news, so here it is:

Medica product bad news

Here, I’ve emphasized the fact that the side effect won’t kill patients and can be corrected fairly easily. The presenter would discuss the side effect and its treatment in greater detail when he’s in front of the audience.

Your Turn

Have you ever had to give bad news during a presentation? How did you do it and how was it received?


PowerPoint vs. Prezi: Which is better?

January 17, 2012

PowerPoint vs. PreziThroughout history, there have been many great rivalries: Red Sox vs. Yankees, Coke vs. Pepsi, Mac vs. PC. In the battle for the hearts and minds of the presentation community, perhaps there is no greater clash than PowerPoint vs. Prezi.

Up-and-comer Prezi brings its A-game to the fight. It’s nimble and dynamic. You can do lots of cool presentation effects with it. Your presentation lives in The Cloud. You don’t need to buy any software. It isn’t PowerPoint.

Grizzled veteran PowerPoint is putting up quite a fight, though. With its robust animation and multimedia tools, it’s possible to create presentations that look like movies. It has some great drawing and photo manipulation tools. You can output decks as video files or, using a site like Brainshark, create standalone presentations with sound and animation.

Is it possible to create dynamic, kinetic presentations in PowerPoint? Absolutely.

And here are two examples of some killer Prezi shows:

PowerPoint and Prezi do have something in common, though. You have to approach each project with a solid foundation, whether it be an outline, a storyboard, or a script. With all of the whiz-bang effects that each tool offers, it’s easy to focus on the medium rather than the message, which is absolutely the wrong approach. Sometimes Prezi shows move so much I have to shut my eyes to keep from getting motion sick. And if I have to sit through another PowerPoint deck that uses Bounce animation to bring in bullet points…

So, which is better, PowerPoint or Prezi? It’s simple: the better product is the one you’re most comfortable using and which helps you to be a better communicator. If you’re used to PowerPoint and can use it to create strong presentations, then PowerPoint is better. If the bold swoops, zooms and pans that are the hallmark of a Prezi show drive home your message, then Prezi is better.

Keep your eyes on the prize — audience engagement and acceptance of your message. Don’t get carried away with needless special effects and make sure your message is the most important thing that audiences get from your presentations. That’s the knockout punch.


Clever image a real distraction during Webinar

September 20, 2011
WIRED Magazine Artifact from the Future: Smart Diaper

© 2005 WIRED Magazine

Take a look at this image. It’s part of a series run in WIRED magazine called “Artifacts from the Future.” Every month they feature an imagined everyday object from the future that solves some sort of problem we’re having today. It’s the first thing I look at every time I get that magazine in the mail (#ImSoOldFashioned) because it’s clever, funny, and a great demonstration of what you can do in Photoshop.

What does this image have to do with PowerPoint? Well, last week I attended a Webinar called “Stop Presenting! Start Succeeding – How to Create Webinars That Engage.” It was really good and I leaned quite a bit. But this image appeared in the deck, and that’s when my attention started to waver. Pretty ironic, huh?

The presenter included it in reference to something completely unrelated to WIRED Magazine, futurists, humor, or Photoshop. He didn’t credit the photo or talk about it much at all, which got me thinking, “Where have I seen that before?” Then I clicked away from the Webinar, did a search for “future Huggies,” and came up with this image, along with a collection of all of the “Artifacts From the Future” for 2005. So I spent a little time poking around that page until I realized that I was missing the Webinar. Oops.

One of the big problems with Webinars is distraction. People Tweet, check their email, and surf online while attending. There’s always lots to do online, so presenters need to engage their listeners and give them a reason to focus. If you give people a mystery to figure out, such as “Where did this cool Photoshopped diaper come from?” then your audience is off and running.

Main takeaways?

  1. Don’t use uncredited images in your presentations.
  2. Images unrelated to your content are a distraction.
  3. Images that are funny, mysterious, clever, and otherwise fascinating are a huge distraction.
  4. If you really must use such images, spend a few seconds explaining what they are, where you got them, and why they’re relevant to the conversation so that your audience doesn’t go walkabout during your presentation.

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