Surviving in a PowerPoint Classroom

Most of the posts here on Brainslides are directed towards teachers who want to improve their slide design and presentation skills, but today I've decided to focus on the other half of the equation. Here are a few tips for those of us who aren't yet desperate enough to throw tomatoes at the projector screen but still want to make the most of our time in the lecture hall.

Read More

Haiku Deck, I'm Disappointed

Oops. This post should have come out a month ago. Oh well. :-)

Haiku Deck updated their iOS app to version 2.0 a month or so ago. (I reviewed the original app here.)

I shared my thoughts on this upgrade by creating this Haiku Deck… about Haiku Deck 2.0.

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:


No better way to sink a lesson

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.

HaikuDeck and the Future of Presenting

I haven't been this excited about a presentation app for years. I've never liked PowerPoint, but do love Keynote, and have been pleased with other apps like SlideRocket or Prezi. But never have I been this head over heels enamored and downright giddy as I am now. What is this crush?

It's HaikuDeck, and it is beautiful.

HaikuDeck was released just a few months ago as an iPad app. I discovered it and started playing with it just days after it's launch. It's a simple solution to a great big problem: Presentations are just awful these days, and some of the blame goes to the complexity of the software.

HaikuDeck solves this problem by drastic measures: it greatly reduces the amount of control you have over the slide design. But with this constraint comes awesome opportunity. Rather than fiddling with text boxes, bullet-points, and animations, you are forced to simply focus on the content. It helps you follow the mantra of one idea per slide.

HaikuDeck does have one feature that you won't find anywhere else, though. When you enter your single idea onto a slide, the app automatically helps you find relevant images on the web that are free and legal to use (i.e. Creative Commons licensed). For example, if your slide says, "That place is the core of the sun," you will, of course, be presented with the key words "core," "sun," and "place." Tap on one, and you will instantly see a gallery of beautiful pictures that have that keyword. Simply tap the image you like, and it will become the background of your slide, with the text formatted on top. It couldn't be easier.

Here's a deck I threw together to test out the app. It's based on a blog post by The Bad Astronomer.

The future?

In my opinion, HaikuDeck could be the future of presenting. I have in my mind a vision of elementary and middle school classrooms where students are given iPads and told to create book reports and presentations with HaikuDeck. They focus on the story they want to tell and spend most of their time finding striking visuals to accompany that story. They aren't distracted by bullet-points and formatting or led astray with slide transitions and templates. I am confident that if students learn how to create presentations with HaikuDeck, they will grow up avoiding the tendencies of our generation. If Death by PowerPoint is the disease, consider HaikuDeck the inoculation. The future looks bright without PowerPoint leading the way! Head over to the HaikuDeck Gallery to view some featured decks.

Get it now!

The best part about HaikuDeck? It's free! The app comes with a handful of built-in themes. You can purchase new themes within the app for $1.99 each, or buy a theme pack for $14.99. Download the app now and start creating beautiful presentations.

Keynote Presentations: Apple Still Does it Best

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

Steve Ballmer reviews Microsoft innovations before the Surface Introduction

Steve Ballmer reviews Microsoft innovations before the Surface Introduction

Beautiful slides

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.

Vic Gundotra introduces Google+ Events during the Google IO Day 1 Keynote

Vic Gundotra introduces Google+ Events during the Google IO Day 1 Keynote

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

 Apple Senior VP Craig Federighi presents with beautifully simple slides

Apple Senior VP Craig Federighi presents with beautifully simple slides

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.

Technical Difficulties

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.

Google's Challenge

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?