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.

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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!


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?


Why you should never send your PowerPoint decks to people who ask for them

April 9, 2012

Sending PPT by email

How many times have people asked you to send them your deck, either after or (worse) instead of your presentation? On the surface it seems like an OK idea. It requires minimal effort and we don’t want to appear rude by saying no. And it’s a common enough request, so why not, right?

Don’t do it.

The minute you send your deck to someone you lose control of how they experience the presentation.

Presentations aren’t about the slides, it’s all about the presenter: how she’s dressed, the tone of her voice, the excitement she generates, her interaction with the audience. The deck is just a backdrop to the speaker, supporting key messages. Take away the presenter — the most important component of the presentation — and much of the impact is gone.

The presenter’s biggest job is to guide the audience through the story so that they arrive at the inevitable conclusion she wants them to reach. That’s why presenters use remotes to advance their slides, to control when information is revealed. When you send your deck to someone, all of that timing is lost and the viewer has a number of ways to display your slides, some of which are better than others. All of the suspense and big reveals get lost in the Slide Sorter view.

Animated slides can present problems, too. Complicated animation can make slides look really awful in any view but Slide Show. And viewers might breeze through the animation just to see the effects play out, rather than absorbing your message with the timing you provide during your live presentation.

As a good presentation designer you’re putting all your text and bullet points into the Speaker Notes, right? So if you send your presentation out, then the person who receives it has to know enough to look at the Speaker Notes to understand what’s going on. And if your slides have a minimalist look that you’ve spent a lot of time to achieve, it will all be ignored when the viewer decides it’s easier to simply read your notes.

Then there’s the fact that PowerPoint files are source documents which means that they are editable. What if someone decided to use your deck as the basis of one of their own?

Early in his speaking career, Brandon Dunlap of Brightfly, a Seattle-based computer security consultancy, was asked by the organizers of a conference to send them the PowerPoint file of his presentation. “I was just starting out, and I didn’t know any better, so I did it,” says Brandon. “Turns out the conference organizers put everyone’s presentations on USB sticks, which were given to all the attendees.”

The following year Brandon presented at the same conference. He was approached by one of the previous year’s attendees and was dumbstruck when that man told him, “I gotta thank you, man! I got your presentation at the last conference, and it was great! I’ve been using it all year, you know, spreading your message.”

“Now when people ask me to provide my deck I give them PDF files of the Slide View,” reports Brandon. “Since my decks are just a backdrop to what I’m saying, they don’t have a lot of text and bullet points. All that’s in the Speaker Notes, so my deck can’t be presented by anybody else and I maintain control of the message.”

All of this sounding good? Still want to send out your presentations?

When somebody asks you to send them your deck, what they’re really saying is, “I want to view your presentation when it’s convenient for me.” The good news is that there are several ways you can create a presentation that not only can be viewed anytime and anyplace, but which can be created in such a way that you control how your message is delivered. And isn’t that why we present in the first place?

Next: How to make your PowerPoint presentation mobile

Your turn

Have somebody ever asked you to send them a deck? If you did, did this act come back to haunt you later or did everything turn out all right?


March Slide Makeover of the Month

March 30, 2012

This month’s slide comes from Design Dispatch subscriber Bob Carpenter of BidRx. His company wants to become the eBay or the Priceline of the pharmaceutical business. By logging on to BidRx, people will be able to get competitive pricing on their prescription medicine and save a bundle in the process!

Before

BidRx slide: before

There are some pretty compelling data in this table to support Bob’s assertion that people will save money by using BidRx, but this layout makes it hard to find. Tables are usually a bad idea to show an audience because with so much to analyze you lose people’s attention.

There’s a lot of extra information in this table. Showing the prices down to the penny might be accurate, but it clutters the table and doesn’t help to show the overall trend that BidRx’s prices are lower than Medco’s. And is it important for people to know the exact dosages of each medicine?

The biggest takeaway from this slide is that consumers stand to save up to 86% on this prescription. That’s a huge discount and is the key value proposition. So why is it so tiny and at the very bottom of the slide?

After

BidRx slide: after 1

The first thing I did was to change the title of the slide. I like to think of slide titles as headlines, so they should be attention-grabbing and interesting. Next, I presented the data as a column chart, which makes it easy to compare Medco’s prices against BidRx’s.

The color choices I made are deliberate. In a financial setting, red = bad, so I’ve set up Medco as the “bad guy.” The BidRx columns are blue, a soothing color associated with health care.

The second image is what the slide looks like after the animation. I don’t want to leave it to chance that the audience will understand that BidRx’s prices are lower, so I tell them and I circle the amount people will save.
Next, I created a second slide to call out the even greater savings that could result from a competitive bidding situation:

BidRx slide: after 2

I copied the chart from the previous slide, then animate the bars going down on two of the medicines and point out the lower prices with green arrows. Then the same summary box appears.

Want to get your own slide makeover? Design Dispatch subscribers each receive a free slide makeover, a $100 value! The Design Dispatch is your monthly guide to great PowerPoint.

Sign up for the Design Dispatch today!


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?


Do you read your PowerPoint slides to the audience? Knock it off!

March 2, 2012

Tweets about boring PowerPointAccording to a recent survey conducted by PowerPoint designer Dave Paradi, the number-one PowerPoint annoyance is when presenters read their slides to the audience. In fact, “reading from the slides” has been one of the top five most annoying PowerPoint habits since he started conducting this survey in 2003! So why do people continue to do it? It’s simple.

Presenters read from their slides because they are unprepared.

Do Broadway stars read from scripts on opening night? Did Steve Jobs have a fistful of index cards at the ready during his legendary Apple keynotes? Of course not. Great presenters know what they’re talking about, know their lines, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

If you are guilty of reading to your audience from your slides, stop it right now. Though they might not come right out and say it, inwardly they’re seething, counting down the seconds until the end of your presentation, and tweeting snarky comments about #DeathByPowerPoint.

Why you shouldn’t read from your slides

If consistent survey results over the past nine years and nasty anti-PowerPoint posts in Twitter don’t convince you, here are five more reasons you shouldn’t be reading from your deck:

  1. You look unprepared. The only reason to read from a PowerPoint slide is if you don’t already know what’s on it. If you don’t know your subject inside and out, then why are you presenting?
  2. You waste people’s time. If everything you want to communicate is on each and every slide, why are you asking people to give up the time it takes to attend your presentation and listen to you read? Wasting people’s time costs money—estimate the hourly salary of each attendee in your presentation, add it together, then multiply that amount by how long it takes to read your deck to them. Do the world a favor and if you’re gonna stuff all your text into your deck (which you shouldn’t do, by the way), just email it to people. They read the deck on their own time and get your message. Maybe.
  3. You waste your own time. You have a captive audience in the room with you, listening in silence to your every word. Don’t blow this golden opportunity to tell your story, to lead people to the conclusions you want them to reach, to add your perspective and insights, and—most importantly—to engage with your audience.
  4. Your slides look ugly. PowerPoint is a visual medium. When you cram loads of text onto a slide, it just looks bad.
  5. You look stupid. The bottom line is that if all you do is read your slides to the audience, you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Your turn

Have you ever sat through a boring presentation where the presenter reads directly from his slides? If you have read from your own slides to an audience, why did you do it and what was their reaction?


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