Birth of a Baby PowerPoint

Friday, November 5th, 2010

An actual email last night at 10:11pm to eSlide:

“Russ, We’ll call you in a few minutes to discuss the edits here.

FYI – I may or may not be heading to the hospital with my wife who is expecting our 2nd child any day now. Please send all of the updates requested going forward to me and Andrew when they are done so that if I’m not here, he’ll get them.”

Then at 11:51pm in response to sending him his requested edits:

“Thanks Russ.  At hospital so I’ll touch be tomorrow.”

We have yet to hear from him this morning if the baby was born or if he has more edits. This is not the first time we’ve received an email from a client in the hospital and probably will not be the last. It is an example of the intensity of some of our clients and how seriously they take their work.

This person is an analyst for the executive team of a major healthcare company. He and his team are preparing presentations for their upcoming yearly analyst meeting. They do not take this opportunity to present to an important group of analysts lightly.

We have been working with their executive team for years and we know they fully take advantage of the power of excellent PowerPoint visuals to connect with their audience, tell their story effectively, and insure the meeting does not just tell of their success but contributes to their future success with excellent communication.

The pressure of an important PowerPoint production sometimes feels like we’re helping  a client give birth to a baby. I’ve always said all the late night productions for me were great practice for the sleepless “baby feeding and diaper changing days”.  Now that my kids are way beyond that stage,

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

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.

Prezi or PowerPoint?

Wednesday, 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 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.

Good Presentations take TIME

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

RaceTheClock-100909-11aIn my quest for trying to understand why so many people hate PowerPoint (and even I sometimes hate it), I have come to the conclusion that a key reason is that when working with PowerPoint most people are racing against the clock. It sometimes seems that when working with PowerPoint, the clock just starts racing ahead to that presentation deadline.

They don’t really hate PowerPoint, but the deadline and what they have to do to get to the deadline. Then, to top it off they have get up in front of a group and present their story or critical information, a task often feared as much as going to the dentist for a root canal surgery.

A presentation deadline is like no other. It is often a one shot deal. One shot to make and win your point. It is often a deadline that you can not delay or change. Getting a group of people together, often a group of important people or large group of people to meet these days is a challenge in itself. Wasting your own time is one thing, wasting other people’s time is magnified tenfold by the potential loss or gain of the meeting outcome.

A good presentation often takes a great deal of time to develop and design. It is my experience that most people don’t PLAN enough time for a good PowerPoint presentation. The best presenters plan more than enough time and are so well rehearsed,  that when they finally present they look so good, as if they never have to rehearse.

Before PowerPoint (Keynote, and other electronic slide applications) presentations used to take a lot longer to develop and a minimum of 24 hours to get the “slides”, the 35 mm slides or color overheads (acetates) processed. You could not make last minute edits the way you can now. With the power of PowerPoint, you can make changes to your presentation slides right up to the second before you are about to present. This is great to be able to update last minute data, fix a typo, or add a last minute important thought, but it also adds to the stress of time. The production is not done until you present it.

I’d write more, but I have to go plan my next presentation.

Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Guy Kawaski 10-20-30 rule Guy Kawasaki is a great speaker that often speaks to entrepreneur groups about how to present their ideas to venture capital groups. His 10-20-30 rule has been getting a lot of tweet time today. It’s a good rule for presenting to Venture Capitalist, but it should not be taken as a universal rule for presenting. He says for this VC target audience “you should not have more than 10 slides, speak longer than 20 minutes and do not use text smaller then 30 points”. He says “if you can’t fit the 30 point text on the slide then it is too much text”.

My rule would be more like 20-10-18. I’d aim for more slides with less on each slide, but about one slide per 30 seconds to keep the presentation visually interesting and moving along.  I would try not to use any type smaller than 18 point and always keep slides as simple and clean looking as possible. Yes, larger text is always helpful, especially if you are presenting to a large audience or with anyone that distance viewing may be a limited.

The more important rule is make sure your slides are readable from a distance and your important point stands out. It is ridiculous to limit the number of slides. All to often we see slide limits as the cause for content chaos – where a presenter attempts to cram 40 slides worth of content into his 15 slide limit. Good meeting facilitators should not give speakers slide number limits but time limits. It is the responsibility of the presenter to practice and trim their content to fit the time allotted as a speaker. If you have limited time to speak,  well designed PowerPoint slides can often assist in communicating the information faster and make it more memorable. A good agenda with good slides can also keep the speaker and audience stay on track for keeping the meeting to the allotted time.

The most important rule is don’t follow all the rules. Do what it takes to be innovative, creative and interesting. Break the rules if you feel it will result in more interesting visuals and a more engaged audience. Remember your objective is to communicate important information in the allotted time, not get through 10 slides as fast as you can.

A Meeting . . . to measure progress

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Red StakeA meeting is often a stake in the ground to evaluate where you are and where you are going. I believe this is what adds to the stress of preparing for and having a meeting. It is not just the stress of producing the meeting event and the preparation of the presentation content and slides, but the stress of evaluating your progress and being evaluated as you present the status of your project. Your audience is always judging you on your delivery, but more important they are evaluating the content of your presentation and the success or failure of your meeting purpose. Do they buy into what you are presenting or are you wasting their time and yours?

Be Aware of Presenters without Slides!

Monday, May 19th, 2008

I went to a meeting the other day where 3 of the 5 presenters did not have slides. They were all “OK” speakers, but it occurred to me that it was obvious that the 3 with no slides were less prepared and sort of rambled on at times. They all had speaker experience and were experts on the topics they spoke. But is was clear to me that the only one that had taken the time to prepare for the meeting was the one with slides. In this day and age of the occasional trend of “no-PPT” meeting people seem to take less time preparing for their meetings and therefore have less productive meetings.

Good meetings do require time to prepare. Often meetings where information is being shared, if you don’t take the time prepare a strategy for the best way to share the information there is less chance of successfully sharing the information successfully. Successful sharing of the information might be producing a handout and/or PowerPoint slides that summarize the key points or detail the highlights of the content to be shared.

The next time I get invited to a meeting without PowerPoint or handouts, I’m going to pass on the meeting.