Archive for the 'Meetings' Category

NY Times Article: “Staying Professional in Virtual Meetings”

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

A good article on meetings in The New York Times: JOBS | September 26, 2010
Career Couch:  Staying Professional in Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings have become a staple of business life, but personal conduct during a phone or video conference can be different than in face-to-face meetings.

Eilene Zimmerman hits on some important points about staying professional in Virtual Meetings from the perspective of being a participant.  I totally agree that virtual meetings are now a staple of the business world. One key point she left out about virtual meetings . . . you need to pay even more attention to your PowerPoint visuals – that’s if you are using them.  As Eilene points out the visual component of your virtual meeting is important. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting Maniac?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I love a good meeting!  But I guess I’m just a meeting maniac. It makes me crazy when people make blanket statements about meetings. Today I read “How NOT to Have Mind Numbing Office Meetings” by one of my favorite Social Media Gurus that I follow @ChrisBrogan.  He suggests that no meeting should last more than 10 minutes. I guess he would never last in one of my management meetings that sometimes last for 10 hours. Yes, I said 10 hours!

I believe that one of the reasons for eSlide’s success is that we take meetings very seriously. We’re a small company but rarely, if ever have a meeting without a plan or objective. There have been very few meetings in our 10 year history that did not include a written agenda. If there are complex challenges to be discussed and decided on, I attempt to include detailed notes.

One of our management challenges has always been that we are so busy assisting clients prepare PowerPoint slides for their critical meetings (the focus of our business), that finding time to meet with my three partners is nearly impossible some weeks. Client meeting deadlines always seem to get in the way of our own meeting plans.

We attempt to have weekly meetings but schedule a monthly 4-6 hour management meeting. During the first few years of our start-up phase, we met from 2pm until whenever. These meetings often lasted 10+ hours. They were sometimes intense, often exhausting, but we had an agenda of items to discuss that ranged from reviewing our budget to discussing new marketing materials, to personnel issues. Certain items were just for discussion to get everyone’s input and other items were to get a group consensus and make critical decisions.

Individually, each partner (and staff member) has strengths that contribute to eSlide’s success. We communicate all day with phone calls, emails, and an online chat application but there is nothing that beats the group brain power of a well planned, focused meeting.

Maybe we learned the importance of the power of a good meeting from years of assisting executives in some of the largest, most successful companies in the world in developing their PowerPoint slides that have acted as visual information guides to their critical meetings – whether it be a board meeting of twenty or a company wide meeting of 1000’s, or the launch of a new product to millions. They often have staff preparing for weeks, sometimes months in advance for these meetings, planning every detail that can be planned, because so much of a live meeting is dynamic and unpredictable, but is also where some brilliant ideas can arise or be launched into action.

Although it seems they often forget to plan the time it takes to develop, design and produce the important PowerPoint visuals – which goes back to the reason it is hard for us keep our own meeting schedule, but since we see every day the powerful results of a good meeting, we remain totally committed to making the most of our own limited, but very valuable meeting time whether it’s 10 minutes or 10 hours.

PowerPoint Masters at Microsoft?

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I read that Microsoft had it’s Financial Analyst Meeting yesterday. I was curious what their PowerPoint slides looked like. Here are two slides from Steve Ballmer’s deck. Now, remember I’m a big fan of Microsoft and LOVE PowerPoint. I thought the slides looked OK, but I was disappointed considering they were from the developers of the program. In general there’s too much content on each slide.  Look at the slide below where it seems their main message is about making Office 2010 simple, but the slide looks chaotic. Using all caps for the text is a very poor design choice – research clearly says ALL CAPS is not as readable as upper/lower case.  One of my #1 rules for good slide design is make it as simple and easy to read as possible.

They should hire one of the terrific PowerPoint MVP’s to assist them with some slide design. Or call eSlide.  Do you think Steve Ballmer did these slides himself? Maybe, I’m being too hard on Steve and Co. What do you think of the design of these two slides?

Click here to see Steve’s entire slide deck and others presented at the their investor conference July 29th, 2010.

Ballmer_FAM_2010 slide1

Ballmer_FAM_2010 slide2

Picture Slides vs Text Slides

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Slide with 1000 words

I believe words are wonderful. You’re reading them now and they are an incredibly effective communication tool if used correctly. The power of PowerPoint is that you can easily mix text, pictures, graphics and charts to get your point across. It depends on your subject, your audience, and the point you are trying to communicate to determine what the appropriate mix is. It is more art than science to get the right mix. Even a good bullet point can be extremely effective – if done correctly as a short phrase – a bullet of text, not a paragraph. Yes, a good picture can be worth a thousand words, but a few well chosen words can paint an amazing picture. Or a great picture can tell the entire story with zero words. Picture Worth 1000 words

Can PPT Bullets Save Us From Real Bullets?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

PowerPoint is not the enemy, but can be a powerful communication secret weapon, if used well.

If you were in a contest to win a million dollars by pitching an idea to a small group of investors for starting a new company which would you choose:

1. Send them a detailed 100 page business plan a week before the meeting and ask these extremely busy investors who have their own successful companies to run and a few too many start-up businesses to oversee and keep tabs on – to read your detailed plan. Then at the pitch meeting with them, speak to a few highlights of the plan and ask them if they had any questions. What do you think the chances are that they read your detailed business plan or anything beyond the summary page – if they even took the time to look at more than the title?

2. Send them the detailed 100 page business plan and ask them to review it. Then you meet with them and take the first ten minutes to present the key highlights of the plan with some powerful, effective, easy to understand PowerPoint visuals that support your presentation speech. You make sure they knew you expect them to ask questions at any time. You brought copies of the detailed business plan, so you could answer some questions by pointing them to answers in the document (that they probably forgot to bring, or lost in the pile of plans they are asked to review). You might have an appendix of the plan in the PowerPoint deck with all the key data that you might be asked about and can quickly show supporting data to answers if asked about it.

Creating this PowerPoint deck might take a lot of work. I might even hire a professional graphic artist to assist with a few of the key graphics. In the end it will ensure that I get the opportunity to present my idea thoroughly and accurately by having the long form detailed document, my speech, and powerful visuals to point out the highlights and support the words in my speech.

For an opportunity to win a million bucks to get my business started, I’d do what ever it takes to ensure my one shot at pitching it to the investors that could make it happen. I’d use every tool available to me.

Now, if I were in the military and presenting information on strategies and information that may change the course of history and literally result in the life or death of people, not just the financial success of a company – I would use every available tool to communicate that information as effectively and accurately as possible!

If used effectively, maybe the bullet points in a PowerPoint used by the military could actually save lives by avoiding the use of real bullets that kill people.

The Enemy is NOT PowerPoint, but BAD PowerPoint

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Anti-PowerPoint articles used to be buried in the business section of The New York Times, or Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, the influence of PowerPoint reached new heights as this “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint”  story appeared on the front page of The New York Times.

It amazes me the amount of hype a story about PowerPoint can create. Although, after working with PowerPoint and presentations since 1989 it should not be surprising at this point the level of anti-PowerPoint people that are out there. PowerPoint is everywhere, being used by everyone, even the leaders of the American Military view PowerPoint decks regularly.

Since the day Edward Tufte coined the term “Death by PowerPoint”, it has been a popular trend to trash PowerPoint. And why not? Who in this world has not sat through a torturous, boring meeting with ugly, distracting, complex PowerPoint slides at the front of the room. I have to admit I have sat through plenty of these slide torture festivals.

But, I don’t leave the room screaming angrily “That damn PowerPoint strikes again!” I do leave complaining “Why did that person waste my time. They obviously did not spend enough time or effort preparing for the presentation.” I can only conclude they are not really the experts on the subject that they claim they are or the audience were not important enough to them to take the time/effort to plan and develop a worthwhile speech and supporting PowerPoint visuals.

Maybe it is because I know what an incredibly powerful tool PowerPoint can be when used correctly. I have seen PowerPoint decks that have been part of meetings that close billion dollar deals, launch new successful corporate strategies, introduce new research results to life saving drugs, move large groups to making important changes, help successfully raise millions at charity events and even some fun PowerPoint decks that have entertained thousands or maybe millions.

PowerPoint when not used correctly can make meetings unbearable, torture the eyes and minds of the audience. Obviously, there is plenty of BAD PowerPoint being used. Elisabeth Bumiller’s article confirms again that there is plenty of BAD PowerPoint being used by the US Military. But it is not PowerPoint that is the Enemy but the people creating the BAD PowerPoint.

As I have written before, PowerPoint is only a tool. Just like the power tools you may use to build a house, you need to have good plans for building the house, and you need to know how to use the tools. If you don’t, disaster can strike. But banning the use of PowerPoint is like banning the use of the Power tools to build a house. You can still build the house, but it will take much longer and the results will not be the same.

A PowerPoint diagram meant to portray the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan certainly succeeded in that aim.

A PowerPoint diagram meant to portray the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan certainly succeeded in that aim.

The graphic included sited in the article is actually a good one to show the complexity of the war situation. If PowerPoint was used properly, the slides following this confusing graphic should breakdown the complex visual into easy to understand graphics that support the speaker’s verbal explanations and that should probably include an in-depth written document to support the message for anyone in the audience that wanted to dive down into the details of the issues.

It is a shame people spend so much time and effort bashing and complaining about this Powerful tool instead of learning how to use it to their advantage. Maybe if the military had a better PowerPoint training program, we’d finally win the war? I’d love to see the war won with some great PowerPoint bullets rather than those metal ones that really do kill.

PowerPoint is not the enemy as Elisabeth Bumiller writes about in her New York Times article: “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint“,  The New York Times, April 26, 2010.

The Enemy is PowerPoint

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010


Financial crisis, Healthcare crisis, and now Mideast crisis all caused by PowerPoint. The horrible program that has tortured millions, maybe billions of people to sit through boring, time wasting meetings.

Faster than a speeding locomotive, able to leap from any size digital projector or computer screen, more powerful than a nuclear bomb, capable of killing ideas and making people stupid, PowerPoint is the secret weapon of the Microsoft Bill Gates to conquer the world.

Forget Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Explorer and all the other applications the evil Microsoft has forced upon the world with their near monopoly of the software industry, it is PowerPoint that is being used to control minds and make people stupid enough to buy the next Microsoft Office release and add billions of dollars to his already fat financial world controlling bank accounts.

Once people start using the new features in PowerPoint 2010, they will become so stupid that they will start believing FOX News is truly unbiased news reporting. These people made stupid by PowerPoint 2010 will then start voting into office people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck (who are too smart to ever have used PowerPoint). Once in power, they will ban the use of Google search of their backgrounds, tax The New York Times out of existence, and heath care for anyone over the age 65 to save costs.

They will then push through congress and the senate a new law that allows them to appoint a new leadership position of the US, the Czar of the Digital US. Everyone will know, even the people made stupid by PowerPoint, that the Czar that controls the Internet, the computer “clouds”, the virtual worlds, the digital US will control the world. Bill Gates will have won. PowerPoint is the enemy. We must fight back with long winded speeches without any visual support, and 100 page research papers that everyone must read or die, for there will be no summary PowerPoint decks to help get the key points communicated. We must stop this enemy now!

Inspired by the article in the NY Times: “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint“,  The New York Times, April 26, 2010 by Elisabeth Bumiller

Terrific Tufte, but Tired of Anti-PowerPoint

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Tufte Teaching 031810I recently attended Edward Tufte’s full day class “Presenting Data and Information” for the second time. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time and highly recommend it for anyone in the business of designing and producing presentation visuals. If you don’t know who Edward Tufte is, he is the master of Visual Data Design. Last week President Barack Obama announced that he would be appointing Edward Tufte to the independent panel that advises the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Tufte is being asked to help design the government web site, which will chart how every single dollar of the $787 billion stimulus bill is being spent.  A Newsweek article on his appointment, calls his data visualization “the clearest, richest interactive database ever produced by the American bureaucracy”.

If there is anyone that can take on the monster task of taking the tons of government dollar data of the recovery act and turn it into visually appealing and most important understandable information for a mass audience, it is Tufte. I only wish the government used Tufte or one of his followers to put the healthcare chaotic mess into some easy to understand visuals so the voting public could actually understand what is going on or maybe even help our politicians understand what exactly they really voted for.

Tufte is amazing how he can take a boat load of complicated data and turn it into a simplified, accurate visualization that communicates the data tracking results effectively. In today’s world of infinite information overload, this talent is in high demand. Tufte is well known by anyone in the business of presenting data and information, or at least he should be.  Don’t hire any professional presentation designer if they can’t tell you they are familiar with some of Edward Tufte’s principles of data and information design.

Although, be careful of “professional presentation designers” that buy into his anti-PowerPoint message. He spews anti-PowerPoint insults to anyone in his class that admits they use PowerPoint. I believe it has been a great marketing ploy. He broke out of his circle of academic fame into the public eye with his essay “PowerPoint Does Rocket Science–and Better Techniques for Technical Reports” where he claims PowerPoint is partly responsible for the Columbia spaceship disaster. From this essay, the “DEATH by PowerPoint” term was born and the Anti-PowerPoint movement was launched. Data visualization is not by any means an interesting topic of mass appeal, but PowerPoint, the tool of millions, if not nearly every professional and amateur presenter, is an easy target to attract mass appeal. With PowerPoint shows being viewed by millions and millions of audiences around the world every day, every hour, every minute, who can not say they have not viewed more than their fare share of bad PowerPoint slides? Tufte’s “Death by PowerPoint” message hit home to the millions of people who regularly are forced to sit through boring presentations and BAD PowerPoint produced slides.

Yes, I will admit PowerPoint has probably contributed partially to the Columbia Spaceship disaster, but in the same way a knife contributes to the killing in the latest murder on last night’s news. But it is only a tool, you can’t hold the knife responsible for the murder!  When used appropriately, a knife can carve a delicious turkey, or help carve a beautiful sculpture. PowerPoint is just a communication tool. In Tufte’s essay all he proves is that the decision makers used the tool wrong or maybe should have used a different tool such as a long detailed technical engineering report and not relied so heavily on summary slides.

In my view, Tufte’s essay actually proves how POWERFUL a PowerPoint presentation can be in shaping opinions and moving people to decisions. Unfortunately in the case of the Columbia incident it was used poorly, and resulted in a bad decision. BAD PowerPoint can lead to bad decisions. It can do this by inaccurately focusing the audience on wrong information and in most cases just “kills” the the communication at the meeting, which almost always results in causing more problems.

PowerPoint can be a great tool when used correctly. I have personally seen it happen hundreds of times – how a good PowerPoint deck has helped communicate critically important messages that have impacted millions of lives for the better by changing the courses of large and small companies for the better. I have seen great presentations with the help of powerful PowerPoint visuals close billion dollar corporate deals and help raise millions of dollars at a single charity event.

Edward Tufte, a data guru, professor with a passion for very large sculptures, you’re famous now. You’re making millions. Please give up on the anti-PowerPoint marketing message and acknowledge the reality that it is just a tool and if you use it well (and this includes using many of your principles of good data visualization), it can be a great tool for presenting data and information. One day maybe you’ll read and agree with my essay “Life by PowerPoint”.

DEATH by Panel Discussions

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Panel DiscussionI attended a conference recently that was 50% Panel Discussions vs 50% Presentations.  Panel Discussions seem to be part of the “Anti-PowerPoint” trend. I believe the Panel Presentations “trend” is because they are easy to organize, require little planning, ofter exposure to plenty of willing volunteers who claim to be experts in their field, they’re promoted as being more interactive than a “presentation”. And most of all, Panel Discussions at events are a trend, because it’s easier for conference organizers to get people to present on a panel, because they don’t have to fear “Death by PowerPoint”, since most panel discussions  I’ve seen lately don’t use PowerPoint slides.

Personally, I often find them boring and a snore fest. How good the panel performs as a group often depends on how skilled the leader is at facilitating a panel discussion. It also does take some speaker skills to be a participant on a successful panel. At this particular event the panel participants seemed to be bored with each other. As one person on the panel talked, the other four people looked bored and uninterested what the others were saying. They just seemed to be waiting for their opportunity to promote themselves as experts and soft sell their businesses.

There was one group that had the good fortune of a terrific facilitator. He asked great questions, kept the conversation going back and forth between all panelists, even asked the audience for some questions to the panel. He listened to answers and played off the particular expertise of each panelist. He seemed like he knew his panelist – maybe did some preparation before the event and researched his panelist or even spoke to them before their time on stage.

What does it take to have a successful Panel Presentation? First be sure the leader of the group has experience facilitating good group discussions. If you are a facilitator of a panel discussion, do the group and audience a big favor, spend some time researching who is on the panel (if you don’t know them already), and have some prepared questions. Your questions don’t have to be used, but good to have if the flow of worthwhile info goes off into a wild tangent or stops.

If you are a participant, you should also research your fellow panelist, and facilitator. It would help if you contact the panel leader to find out what type of questions he/she will be asking. Pay attention when others are speaking, look at them, even if you have to pretend being interested in what they are saying. It appears rude and selfish if you are sharing the stage, but looking as if you are bored to death or checking your text messages on your cell phone. Being on a panel obviously requires less work than having to prepare a speech and slides, but it should include some preparation work if you want to insure that you appear to be the expert you claim to be and contribute successfully to sharing interesting and helpful information to the audience.

The facilitator and panel participants need to remember the purpose is share information with the audience. It’s not just having the audience observe a group discussion.

Personally, I’d rather see six 10 minute presentations, than 60 minutes of sitting in an audience and observing a group discussion. Yes, you can kill a meeting with a BAD PowerPoint slides, but you can just as quickly kill a meeting with a bad panel discussion.

Another Steve Jobs Presentation Success?

Friday, January 29th, 2010

When Steve Jobs presents the world listens. Yesterday he presented Apples latest new product, the iPad at a much anticipated industry event.  His presentations are often the high bar to be measured against. His style has changed little over the 20 years I’ve seen him present. I remember watching him present the Apple Newton many years ago at the then yearly MacWorld Boston event.

He does haveSteve Presentats the iPad a few advantages over your typical presenter such as he wanted better presentation software, so he had Apple develop Keynote. I’d love to know why they never developed a Windows version.   A bigger advantage is that he always has a great, exciting, newsworthy product to show and demo. My favorite memorable “Steve the Presenter” moment was pulling the Apple MacBook air out of a inter-office envelope. He’s part marketing magician.

He makes it look so easy and relaxed, but from what I’ve have read and heard from people that have worked at Apple events he rehearses often and until it looks unrehearsed. He did look a little tired this time, but he still looks like he is recovering from his liver transplant. After what he has been through it is amazing that he has the perseverance to continue to put himself through the new product development, media circus and pressure of a worldwide speaking event.

I’m glad he did. I look forward to his speaking engagements as much as a new Pixar movie, not to mention the excitement of the new product he was launching. I’m sold. I’ll buy one when it ships in a few months.

The iPad may not make much of a dent in the PowerPoint world, but I’ll want to try the new version of Keynote developed for it. You have to listen carefully to the presentation, but it does hook up to a projector so you can present from it.

Now, back to working on a client’s PowerPoint presentation that she would like us to make it look as Apple Keynote “Wow” like as possible.