Terrific Tufte, but Tired of Anti-PowerPoint

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 www.recovery.gov, 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

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?

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.


Everyone Loves to Hate PowerPoint, Do You?

December 2nd, 2009

PPT Puppet 003webDo you hate PowerPoint? I have to admit that some times I do. Yes, there are times when I have hated PowerPoint. I have lost countless hours of sleep because of PowerPoint. I have missed a zillion family dinners because of PowerPoint. I have missed being home in time to say good night to my kids too many times to count because of PowerPoint. I’ve worked on my days off, and numerous weekends when I should have been out at the beach or fishing on the river because of PowerPoint.

To top it off, I was nuts enough to start a company, eSlide, that specializes in designing and producing POWERPOINT shows. My partners and colleagues at eSlide may be some of the most PowerPoint tortured souls in the meeting and event industry – if you consider we live and breath PowerPoint day in and day out, and often all night. At this point after 20 plus years in the business of designing and developing presentations, I don’t really get to do much hands-on design or production except on my own presentations. I would not be able to pass the test to get on the eSlide design and production team.  They are the masters of taking PowerPoint chaos and efficiently turning it into engaging, exciting, impactful visuals that assist speakers to close million, sometimes billion dollar deals. I know, that they all hate PowerPoint too, sometimes.

But, more than hate PowerPoint, the eSlide team hates BAD PowerPoint. I believe they get real satisfaction from taking something ugly and turning it into something beautiful. They know their work will save hundreds, if not thousands of audience members from being tortured by BAD PowerPoint. More important they know their design talents and PowerPoint expertise will assist a speaker in communicating critical messages effectively, leading to results that will drive productive meetings and contribute to successful companies.

Yes, we do hate PowerPoint, occasionally. Most of the time we love it for what it can do and for what we can do with it. We love PowerPoint for being the presentation graphics tool that has been the focus of our business for the past eight years and has been a key component to our success.

Do you hate PowerPoint? I’d be interested to know why?


The Most Important Design Tip – TIME

December 1st, 2009

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The most important  presentation design tip is to design in some time into your schedule to develop a well designed presentation.

PLAN your schedule so you have time to develop well designed slides and a good flow to your story. GOOD design takes time.

Throwing together some text bullet points, some charts and graphs the night before you present, usually does not result in a well designed presentation.

A well designed PowerPoint does not just mean “pretty slides”, but visual aids that communicate your information effectively and make your key points memorable and actionable.


Most overlooked point of no PowerPoint

November 22nd, 2009

For a many reasons, there is always plenty of buzz lately about having meetings without PowerPoint. I say one of the biggest reasons is because there is so much BAD PowerPoint being used there is a backlash against this powerful communication tool. I hope with the coming of the new version PowerPoint 2010 it may bring back some of the excitement, ease of use and fun that drove PowerPoint to become a corporate standard in meeting rooms around the world.

One point that is often overlooked in the debate of a meeting with or without PowerPoint is that if used correctly PowerPoint is not just a very powerful visual tool, but a message, content development too.

PowerPoint started out as a simple slide/overhead creation tool for turning an outline into a slide or overhead. A great tool for developing and organizing content, complex information. I would guess most people rarely use this component of the application but jump right into creating slides. Another very helpful too is the slide sorter – another excellent tool for organizing and developing a good story, an effective communication.

I use both these tools for developing content for my own presentations – although I have to admit I often use PowerPoint’s close cousin MS Word outlining function to start.

I recently watched a keynote presentation by a well known, social media rising star. I love reading his blog, and following him in Twitter. His new book is on my next to read list. He spoke for 20 minutes, he had a Twitter flow on the screen behind him instead of the traditional slides. He is big on breaking the old rules, doing things differently.

Because he is brilliant, one of the leading experts in this fast moving new social media driven world, he spoke very conversational, and seemed to keep the audience engaged with some good stories and expert tips. But I thought his overall talk (not a speech), was
interesting, but was rambling and seemed to me like he might have spent not more than 5 minutes planning what he was going to say. It was like a Twitter talk – just short blurbs of sometimes interesting info, but lots of chatter of useless, unconnected flow of 140 character text reading torture.

This speaker pulled off what I would rate maybe a B- keynote- with a lot of extra credit for his star, almost celebraty status – that the average presenter can not count on. If he took the time to enhance his keynote with some powerful PowerPoint visuals, he could have scored an A++ and sped up his star status to rock star and more important delivered to the audience more impactful and memorable information.

Even if he wante to go with the very trendy screenful of Twitter chatter, I believe he would have benefitted greatly by using the PowerPoint outline tool for planning the flow of his presentation – but it takes time and most people like to skip or limit to a minimum
this very important step for any presentation – my favorite four letter word PLAN.


Present like Steve Jobs

November 19th, 2009

Apple iPhone

There has been a good deal of publicity buzz about a new book called The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine Gallo. I have only read a few excerpts and hope to read it some day as I am a big fan of Steve Jobs and the Mac. I don’t have to read the book to know Steve has a big advantage over most presenters. He has a great company creating exciting, game changing products like the Mac, iPod, itunes, and iPhone. It does help to have a great, exciting product to present like steve jobs. Everyday corp presentations usually don’t have this advantage to have such a great product to announce or  such an exciting story to tell – but I’m sure the book is full of good tips – most important is Steve Jobs REHEARSES and Practices HARD.

It is probably the most overlooked element of a good presentation. PLAN and practice.  In today’s time challenged world leaving enough time to practice your presentation is difficult to plan on. The best professional presenters I know practice so much, you’d never guess they rehearse at all because they seem so natural and conversational.

A video of the Carmine Gallo giving a few good tips from his new book can be  found at Forbes.com


Prezi or PowerPoint?

November 11th, 2009

PreziFirst, I think Prezi is a great presentation tool from what I have seen of it and played around with so far. I have to admit up front that I am  PowerPoint biased, having used PowerPoint for 25+ years, and only used Prezi for maybe 25+ minutes, maybe a couple of hours total. It is fun to use, and the more I use it the more potential I see, but old habits are not easy to break.

I have heard plenty of people raving about it in some of the presentation groups/forums I belong to. Personally, I have yet to find an appropriate presentation/meeting to actually use it in. And that is my main point. It may be a good option for presenters, but as for being a replacement for PowerPoint, my experience to date with it leads me to believe that it could replace certain uses of PowerPoint, like when a whiteboard presentation would suit the content or meeting objectives better than PowerPoint slides.

I view Apple Keynote, SlideRocket, Google Presentation doc, Adobe Presenter, etc. as possible replacements for PowerPoint. All of these presentation tools follow the traditional outline, linear slide presentation path. Prezi makes a new, flexible path, a more free flow, creative style, non-linear path to developing and communicating your ideas. This can be a big advantage in meetings where the presenter wants to share information in a more interactive way and change course or paths pending on the audience feedback and input.

It may be a great tool for planning and developing a presentation that then might be presented from Prezi, but in my view of most of the  presentation content I see, a linear PowerPoint slide show would often be the better final presentation tool. People need the structure offered in an “outline” based presentation tool like PowerPoint.

There is so much free flowing, overflowing, information out in the world, the process of developing a linear story is often important in the final communication of the message.

I see Prezi as another visual presentation tool that I might suggest such as a video or flash animation rather than a PowerPoint slide show for certain types of information sharing of content or type of meeting event.

I don’t see it as a full replacement for PPT yet,  but a totally new visual presentation tool that will work for meetings and information sharing that PPT should probably not be a consideration in the first place. In the millions of presentations given every day, there is a place for Prezi, but I’m not sure how big a place yet. I see it replacing traditional white board presentations, poster board, and easel/marker information sharing. Or it may even create a new model of meeting information sharing.

It will add a great deal to meetings that can benefit from the free flowing, non-linear information sharing that Prezi excels in.  It really depends on the objectives of the meeting communication. Some meetings may benefit from a free flow, non-linear path, but often in today’s business environment with shorter meeting times, and even shorter times to prepare for the meetings . . . a well planned and practiced linear slide show to support a presenter’s communication will often achieve the best results.

We work on 100’s of presentations in a month and I see few that Prezi could replace. There might be parts of a presentation or meeting that would benefit from the use of Prezi, but for the most part we can achieve similar zoom-in and non-linear flow with PPT too. Most people do not even know the easy trick of entering a slide number and a return key click will take you to that slide number in slide show mode. Most users don’t even touch the surface of the power of PowerPoint. And in the same way, maybe I am not giving Prezi a fair shake yet, as I have only limited experience and knowledge of Prezi.

PowerPoint is so often used incorrectly, and there is soooo much bad PowerPoint out there, it is an easy target for “replace PowerPoint with . . .  a video, an animation, a Prezi, a sliderocket, a white board . . .”  instead of focusing on the advantages of the alternative for the particular type of meeting, information sharing or meeting communication that a new tool like Prezi will assit in. In some ways it’s not about just using a new tool (Prezi), it may be about a new way of presenting and sharing information.

I believe the original PowerPoint application came from the idea of turning an outline into slides. This linear “outline” is still the foundation of most slide shows and meeting communications these days. In today’s information saturated world, a tool like Prezi and it’s non-linear format, Prezi may be the future, but I do not believe it is going to replace PowerPoint in most cases any time soon.

A switch to Prezi, may be similar of the “trend” to produce presentations without bullet points. I love producing presentations without bullet points. They are often more fun, more visual than heavy verbal/text slides, they are more engaging, but also take more time to create. For 95% of the presentation I see pass across my screen it would be nearly impossible to loose the bullets – but it is possible to turn a sentence or paragraph bullet into a short, powerful bullet phrase (and maybe add a visual to support it).

My PowerPoint mantra:  “it’s not death by PPT, but death by BAD PowerPoint!”  You can kill an idea or meeting just as easily with a bad Prezi. You can also bring to life to an idea or make a meeting exciting and memorable with the support of some excellent visuals – in PPT or Prezi.  The visual tool you use depends on the audience, the  information to be communicated, the presenters skills, and speaking talents – where Lily Latridis from Boomerang.com expertise is very important.

PowerPoint totally replaced 35mm slides and acetate overheads in about a decade. Maybe Prezi will totally replace whiteboards as we know them today. Or maybe replace both whiteboards and the idea of presenting with linear electronic slides.

What I need to do next is to try Prezi to create a presentation on using the right presentation tools to achieve the optimal meeting communications. Watch for an update to this post with a link to my Prezi in the near future.


PowerPoint is Alive and Well, Back from PPTLIVE 2009

October 16th, 2009
RicB@pptlive09

Ric Bretschneider, Sr Program Manager of the Microsoft PowerPoint Team gives a preview of the future of PowerPoint 2010

Just got back from “The Future of PowerPoint” and the next version of PowerPoint looks amazing! I have been trying to get to the PowerPoint Live conference for years and finally made it this year. I will not miss another. The event was everything a good event should be: educational, inspiring, fun and memorable.

The highlight for me was getting to see the new features of PowerPoint 2010 being demonstrated and explained by Ric and Sandy from the Microsoft PowerPoint team. It was great to spend three days with 100’s of other people passionate about PowerPoint and the power of the program when used correctly. There were plenty of examples of really good PowerPoint shows from some of the best in the industry. The only talk of “Death by PowerPoint” was how ridiculous a statement it is especially when you consider all the powerful communication going on when PowerPoint is used effectively.

Cliff Atkinson talked about how PowerPoint producers should avoid being seen as a commodity and focus on “value pricing”. He spoke about his assistance in producing visuals for a court trial that resulted in a $253 million dollar verdict for the client. Cliff also noted how often people in the room produced presentations that were part of successful communications which resulted in millions, if not billions of dollars for the companies they did the presentation design and productions for.

Rick Altman, the organizer of the event uses a tag line that says “making the world a better place, one presentation at a time”.  Although the media loves to pickup the negative stories of PowerPoint overload, and “Death by PPT” stories, it is clear from this event that PowerPoint is alive and well, and will be driving successful meeting communications around the world for a long time. The amazing new features introduced in PPT 2010 will make the program an even more powerful tool for creating visuals that support successful meeting communications.

I will write about some of my favorite features of PowerPoint 2010 in future posts, but if you want information now, a great place for information on PowerPoint 2010 is the Microsoft Team Blog. Maybe my next post will be one where I beg and plead with someone on the Microsoft PowerPoint Team to send me a beta copy of PPT 2010. I can’t wait to use it!


Heading to PowerPoint Live Conference

October 10th, 2009

PowerPoint Live 2009 Conference in Atlanta

I’m heading off to Atlanta for a three day PowerPoint conference. It is billed as “the finest event in the world for the presentation professional, the PowerPoint user, and those who brand company messages”. I’m looking forward to spending three days learning more about PowerPoint and meeting other people that like or love PowerPoint. I’m especially interested in hearing about PowerPoint 2010. Maybe my next post will be from Atlanta and for three days the center of PowerPoint excitement.