Microsoft just announced a new version of PowerPoint for Office 365 that has two amazing new features to help you design presentations like a pro.Read More
Update: I should have mentioned, and I think most people understood, that this was all in good fun. I still think Haiku Deck is a wonderful app, and I'm glad to say that even the folks at their shop got a kick out of it:
This post was originally written over a year ago. I discovered it lurking in my drafts folder and thought it was worth posting even though it references a dated news story.
“As a professional speechwriter, I often tell my clients that there’s no better way to sink a speech than to build it around a Powerpoint presentation. Watching Mitt Romney’s much-hyped health care speech only confirmed that theory.”
– David Meadvin
This quote, from the Presentation Magic blog, is a fabulous summary of what is wrong with many speeches, lectures, and presentations today – that the speech is built around a PowerPoint.
But it's only half the story. It doesn't provide a solution. Fortunately, a simple answer is found by flipping this idea:
"There's no better way to improve a speech than to build your slides around your presentation."
The biggest mistake teachers, speakers, lecturers make is creating the slides first in PowerPoint and then speaking by using the bullet-laden, information dense slides as a teleprompter. The correct way to prepare a speech or lesson plan is to first determine what the important points are, develop supporting statements, facts, figures, and even script the presentation in what you feel is the most effective way. Only then should you open your slide software to create simple, visual supporting slides – including blank ones when appropriate – to accompany the points you want to emphasize.
That's it. It's simple. Stop building your lesson around the notes you've unfortunately typed into PowerPoint by habit. Start preparing great lessons by teaching using good practices that have been shown to improve learning, and over time develop some well designed visuals that support your important points.
In the past few weeks, we have seen 3 keynote presentations from the 3 most prominent technology companies: Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Each of them introduced some great new software and technology. While I am an Apple fan through and through, this is not a post about which products are better. Microsoft's Surface appears to be a great addition to the tablet market, and Google announced some pretty awesome stuff including Google Events, the Nexus 7 tablet, and the Nexus Q media device. This post, however, is about how the companies presented their new products.
What they're all doing well
Apple have always had slides that complement and support their presentation, rather than guide or direct it. They've stuck with the traditional dark gradient slide background, large product images isolated on the background, and limited text.
Microsoft were historically some of the worst offenders in presentations, with cluttered slides and nearly indecipherable charts. They've certainly improved by limiting themselves to one big idea per slide and using high quality graphics.
Google haven't been in the game as long, but they're better than most companies. They even tried to up the game by using a super wide screen format with multiple projectors across the stage. While this was a novel idea and allowed for simultaneous views of multiple devices, I can't say that it was completely effective, with a few of the presenters getting lost as to where their slides were showing. But Google had some great slides. I was especially impressed with the slide that introduced Google Events by showing a mosaic of images.
Sharing the Stage
In the early years, Steve Jobs succesfully gave MacWorld and WWDC keynotes all by himself. More recently, he has shared the stage with Senior Vice Presidents and 3rd party developers to add more contrast to the presentations. Tim Cook, Scott Forstall, Phil Schiller and others led this year's WWDC Keynote and shared the stage with other project managers. One of my favorites is Craig Federighi, VP of Software Engineering, who showed some of the new features in OS X Mountain Lion. He has a very calm presence on stage, has great timing and knows when to pause for applause, and doesn't try to oversell the products.
Just as natural and pleasing to listen to was Google's Vic Gundotra who led their keynote. He gains the audience's trust with a very unassuming personality and helps them feel comfortable by using natural timing and inflection.
Where Apple Wins
While all three of these tech giants gave high quality presentations, I can't help but opine that Apple have still set the bar yet to be reached by the others, even if they've fallen just inches short.
Slides to Demo Transition
One of Apple's strength's is the precise sequencing of events throughout the presentation, particularly the transition from slides to demo or video and back. As soon as Tim introduced a highlight reel, the stage lights dimmed, the projector faded from the slides to video, and not a second was lost. When guest presenters were invited on stage, Tim (or one of the VPs) shook their hand and stepped off, allowing them to give their short – and visibly well rehearsed – demo.
In the GoogleIO Keynote, Vic Gundotra verbally told his A/V crew when to switch to demo and when to move back to slides and frequently waited a number of seconds until the technology caught up.
During the Microsoft Surface introduction, one of the demo units stopped working just as Steven Sinofsky was transitioning to the new and exciting topic of movies and entertainment. (See it at 14:07 in the video below). Poor Steven… he fumbled for a moment, tried to get it to work, then embarrassingly ran to grab another tablet. To make it only more obvious, he repeated the last scripted phrase before continuing on with the working device.
Now there's nothing wrong with glitches – they happen all the time. But when something goes wrong, you've got to keep your composure! The first step is physically preparing for an error. Microsoft did this well and Sinofsky knew right where the backup device was on stage. The second step, however, is mentally preparing for things not going as planned and this is where Microsoft really let their presenter down. These things need to be rehearsed over and over until the speaker is comfortable on stage even when the presentation gets interrupted.
Of course, sometimes presenting on the stage isn't enough. In the middle of Vic Gundotra's keynote, another Google employee interrupted him on stage to share an update on a project called Google Glass in a very unique way.
This will certainly be a memorable moment in big tech keynotes. Whether it will prove to be an effective way to introduce a new product will take time to tell, but for those of us watching live… it was awesome!
Watch them and compare
What do you think?
Which presentation was better and how could they each be improved?
Not only am I passionate about improving the way presentations are delivered, but as a professional ballroom dancer by night, I also happen to be very passionate about dance. As you can imagine, it's not very often that those two passions meet up. Which is why I was ecstatic when I came across this fabulous TEDxBrussels talk about using dance instead of PowerPoint. John Bohannon – a.k.a. the Gonzo Scientist – is a biologist, writer, adventurer, and creator of the Dance Your Ph.D Contest. He masterfully demonstrated the technique of presentation via dance at the recent TEDxBrussels event as he shared the stage with 10 dancers from Minneapolis' Black Label Movement dance company. Watch the 11-minute presentation below.
While hiring a dance troupe for each presentation you give may be a little unrealistic, what I love about this innovative idea is that it contains all of the key ingredients or an effective presentation: engagement, novelty, repetition (albeit simultaneous repetition rather than sequential), and concision.
What other creative presentation methods could replace PowerPoint?
Last week, Steve Jobs gave another opening keynote at Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference in San Francisco. As always, it was a prime example of great presentation skill. As he shared the stage with a number of other presenters, the amount of preparation was evident. The presentation lasted nearly 2 hours and flowed smoothly, no doubt due to a lot of rehearsal. The slides were very well designed and showed constraint in the information that was included on each slide. You can see the entire presentation here: WWDC 2011 Keynote. In this post, however, I would like to draw attention to a different presentation in a different venue later that week. Steve Jobs presented to the Cupertino City Council to share design plans for a future Apple campus to be built by 2015. While this presentation was no doubt important, it doesn't compare to the larger announcements Apple makes which have a much greater visibility in the media. Nevertheless, the same amount of preparation was very evident in this more informal presentation. Steve had a plan and an outline for his remarks, and spent time designing effective slides to act as visual aids.
I would like to point out one particular example of this. In the video below, which starts about 4 minutes into the presentation, you see Steve direct the attention of the council to his slides for the first time. As he explains the current properties owned by Apple and the current buildings, he shows an aerial view with the areas mentioned highlighted with a green overlay. Those areas then change to show the new buildings that are proposed and the overlays fade away leaving everything but the new campus desaturated. It was a very effective technique to draw the viewers attention to the particular areas of interest.
In an effort to be overly helpful, the council chairman tells Steve: "You can actually draw on the screen, that's how high tech we are."
Steve's reply is gracious, but instructive:
"I don't really need to draw on the screen, you can see it clearly."
Steve knew that his slides were well designed with the viewer in mind. Rather than using a tiny laser pointer flashing across the screen, or even the high-tech ability to scribble all over the slide, Steve planned ahead and used some simple image editing to highlight the areas.
In the classroom, I understand the occasional need to draw on a diagram or add underlines when going over information (students always ask convoluted questions which are difficult to prepare and plan for). But, in general, lecture slides are used over and over each term in multiple sections of a course to introduce the same material, so pulling focus should be built into the slide design with simple highlights and smooth transitions.
Nathan - Presenting with Text
SOAP – Amazing PowerPoint Presentations: http://youtu.be/UJDJVuAwB0M