An easy way to simplify complex data

An easy way to simplify complex data

A common problem with updating and improving an existing (and probably tedious) slide deck is how to effectively revise a slide filled with data. We have all seen and possibly used a big Excel data file to generate a table filled with many numbers. The difficulty for the audience is how to make sense of a screen filled with numbers in which all are similar in size and therefore importance. Presenters often resort to the use of a laser pointer — a bad and irritating solution.

There is a simple and quick fix — draw a bright red box around the data you wish to focus attention on. If you are walking your viewers through a number of different parts of the table, create duplicate slides and move the box from one section to the next. The obvious advantage of this is that you are narrowing their attention to what you wish to discuss while showing the entire range of information.

The disadvantages are that you are still clogging up the screen with a lot of information — more than the audience can easily assimilate. If your data set is particularly large your text may be very small. Highlighting a few of the numbers will only draw attention to the fact that they can’t read them because of their size.

In the example above, I have also created semi-transparent white boxes to partially obscure the data I was not discussing. Download a factsheet to show you how.

Drawing a box like this may be a quick way to improve your data-heavy slides — give it a try.

By | June 24th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|0 Comments

Episode 2 – How to MacGyver* a bad PowerPoint deck

 

Last week we discussed what steps you could take if you had to deliver a presentation from a really bad PowerPoint deck. A deck that you were not permitted (under penalty of death) to change. You can review those suggestions at the end of this post if you wish.

But what if you are allowed to make some changes but must keep the overall look? This usually means you have to stick fairly close to the corporate template. In this case there are a lot of options.

What to do if you can change a few things in a bad PowerPoint presentation:

  • First, consider the ideas for dealing with an unchangeable slide deck at the bottom of this post.
  • Add color. Often corporate decks are bland with little color.
    • Create a rich, colorful opening slide, maybe a strong full-slide photo.
    • Use colorful, appropriate slides for transitions between different sections of your talk.
    • Insert colorful slides as a setup or a background for your stories.
  • Reduce sentences and paragraphs to keywords
  • Add additional slides after complex charts, graphs and data sets that translate and distill the information.
  • Add “quote” slides that help break up the progression of template slides — maybe with images of the person you are quoting.
  • Use big bold images wherever possible. Fill as much of the slide real estate as you can for that big impact.
  • Use people images where appropriate. Your audience will connect with photos of their same species.

 

From my last post:
If you can’t change anything and are required to deliver a pre-built but weak slide deck.

  • Determine what content is critical to your audience and what isn’t.
  • Introduce with a discussion of what to watch for and what to ignore.
  • Likewise, debrief and discuss the important areas and minimize what wasn’t important.
  • Whatever you do, don’t read slides word for word. Paraphrase. Try reading the first few words and let them read the rest. Just don’t read everything to them.
  • Use a little humor. Make fun of your terrible PowerPoint deck. (careful here — don’t get fired!)
  • Use your remote (or press the “B” key) to black out the screen to pause and interject your comments, have a discussion, switch to other media, etc.
  • Use the blackout key to tell a story about your organization and its employees or clients.
  • Use collateral pieces, white papers, handouts, etc.
  • Be willing to try anything to break up the boredom, lift the energy and help the audience focus on the important material.

Don’t let bad PowerPoint hijack your message. Keep your audience’s best interests in mind and deliver a presentation that goes beyond those lousy slides.

*MacGyver is an American television series about a secret agent, Agnus MacGyver, who could get out of any difficult situation with a paperclip, some hair gel and a few discarded toenail clippings. As bad as some PowerPoint presentations can be, he would certainly be resourceful enough to figure a workaround.

 

By | June 12th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|0 Comments

How

 

I often receive the comment when I train corporate or organizational groups that they are required to use the company PowerPoint template and styles. Some are even forced to deliver a canned PowerPoint deck as is. Invariably, these are dreadful creations — dumbed-down and loaded with slide after slide of endless bullets and text, built on the blandest of templates.

Sound familiar? If you are presented with this scenario, there is still much you can do. How would MacGyver* fix a bad PowerPoint presentation? A caution: please measure the usefulness of these ideas against the possibility of angering your higher-ups or the entrenched “we always do it this way” folks in your organization.

If you can’t change anything and are required to deliver a pre-built but weak slide deck.

  • Determine what content is critical to your audience and what isn’t.
  • Introduce with a discussion of what to watch for and what to ignore.
  • Likewise, debrief and discuss the important areas and minimize what wasn’t important.
  • Whatever you do, don’t read slides word for word. Paraphrase. Try reading the first few words and let them read the rest. Just don’t read everything to them.
  • Use a little humor. Make fun of your terrible PowerPoint deck. (careful here — don’t get fired!)
  • Use your remote (or press the “B” key) to black out the screen to pause and interject your comments, have a discussion, switch to other media, etc.
  • Use the blackout key to tell a story about your organization and its employees or clients.
  • Use collateral pieces, white papers, handouts, etc.
  • Be willing to try anything to break up the boredom, lift the energy and help the audience focus on the important material.

A bad PowerPoint deck is a challenge to you to step up your game and become a better presenter. Strive to keep your audience’s best interests in the forefront. If you can pull it off you will be their PowerPoint superhero.

*MacGyver is an American television series about a secret agent, Agnus MacGyver, who could get out of any difficult situation with a paperclip, some bubble gum and the lint from inside his sock. As bad as some PowerPoint presentations can be, he would certainly be resourceful enough to figure a workaround.

Next week: What to do if you can change a few things in a bad PowerPoint presentation.

By | June 12th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|0 Comments

How to MacGyver* a bad PowerPoint deck

 

I often receive the comment when I train corporate or organizational groups that they are required to use the company PowerPoint template and styles. Some are even forced to deliver a canned PowerPoint deck as is. Invariably, these are dreadful creations — dumbed-down and loaded with slide after slide of endless bullets and text, built on the blandest of templates.

Sound familiar? If you are presented with this scenario, there is still much you can do. How would MacGyver* fix a bad PowerPoint presentation? A caution: please measure the usefulness of these ideas against the possibility of angering your higher-ups or the entrenched “we always do it this way” folks in your organization.

If you can’t change anything and are required to deliver a pre-built but weak slide deck.

  • Determine what content is critical to your audience and what isn’t.
  • Introduce with a discussion of what to watch for and what to ignore.
  • Likewise, debrief and discuss the important areas and minimize what wasn’t important.
  • Whatever you do, don’t read slides word for word. Paraphrase. Try reading the first few words and let them read the rest. Just don’t read everything to them.
  • Use a little humor. Make fun of your terrible PowerPoint deck. (careful here — don’t get fired!)
  • Use your remote (or press the “B” key) to black out the screen to pause and interject your comments, have a discussion, switch to other media, etc.
  • Use the blackout key to tell a story about your organization and its employees or clients.
  • Use collateral pieces, white papers, handouts, etc.
  • Be willing to try anything to break up the boredom, lift the energy and help the audience focus on the important material.

A bad PowerPoint deck is a challenge to you to step up your game and become a better presenter. Strive to keep your audience’s best interests in the forefront. If you can pull it off you will be their PowerPoint superhero.

*MacGyver is an American television series about a secret agent, Agnus MacGyver, who could get out of any difficult situation with a paperclip, some bubble gum and the lint from inside his sock. As bad as some PowerPoint presentations can be, he would certainly be resourceful enough to figure a workaround.

Next week: What to do if you can change a few things in a bad PowerPoint presentation.

By | May 28th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on How to MacGyver* a bad PowerPoint deck

Boring PowerPoint is actually quite risky

Boring is Risky!

In today’s ultra-competitive business environment which is riskier: doing what everyone else does with bullet-filled, read-from-the-screen presentations or stepping up, being brave and creating a presentation that engages and connects? I would certainly argue the latter.

Communication is a critical skill in business success and we all know that little communication happens in the normal PowerPoint presentation. If you and your organization are to stand out from the tedious masses then get the bulk of your text off the screen, show your audience the meaning behind the numbers instead of displaying bloated tables and use powerful, clear images to tell your unique story.

You will be the one in a hundred or maybe even a million who connects and inspires.

By | May 20th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Boring PowerPoint is actually quite risky

The Presentation Revolution

Presentation_revolution

It doesn’t matter whether we use PowerPoint or not, we all have an unprecedented opportunity to stand out in a very noisy world — through presentations. Being able to step up and speak confidently and meaningfully to others is a defining characteristic of top-tier leaders.

Today, there is an ever increasing emphasis on technologically advanced but disconnected modes of communications. This creates an opportunity for live face-to-face communications — either one-to-one or one-to-many — that will create powerful human connection. That is the Presentation Revolution.

The individual, executive or expert who will extend themselves into the world of public speaking will have a quantum advantage over those who will not.

Your opportunity is waiting.

By | May 15th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on The Presentation Revolution

Transitions — a great place to start rebuilding your slides

Transitions

Imagine the typical slide deck with 20 or 50 or 70 text-filled slides. Some of them bullets, some just chock-full of text, maybe a few PowerPoint generated charts and graphs — all displayed on the same bland, mind-numbing template. Where do you begin the process of rebuilding? How do you start opening the presentation up, making it more engaging, viewer-friendly and less boring?

One way to reboot this snooze-fest is to add some interest with transition slides. Transition slides signal you are moving from one subject area to the next. Adding these slides won’t immediately require you to rework your content (you may want to do that later as you upgrade your entire presentation) but you can add an interesting generic image, some color and possibly a visual change of pace to the long progression of text slides. This could be especially helpful if you are locked into a template that makes each slide visually identical except for different text.

Now with some dramatically different transition slides in place every 5, 10 or 15 minutes, you have begun to break up the long dreadful march of almost identical visuals. Your audience will thank you for it.

By | April 29th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Transitions — a great place to start rebuilding your slides

If you show it, they will (try to) read it

If you show it, they will (try to) read it

Watching a presentation lately I was reminded of a principle that is fundamental to how audiences might experience what we do. The presenter projected an image of an historical plaque. The text on the plaque was only slightly relevant to the subject. I, and I assume most members of the audience, read the first line or two and then gave up. It was too much and it really didn’t add to any deeper understanding of the subject matter.

The principle: If you put text on the screen, any text, in any quantity, your audience will read it. Or at least they will try to.

If the text is too long, too boring or irrelevant they will quickly give up and then, quite possibly, they won’t do it again — you may have lost them.

Another great reason to only show the fewest words — just the ones that matter.

 

By | April 22nd, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on If you show it, they will (try to) read it

Use photo editing programs to create flexible backgrounds

Photo editing

Learning Photoshop or any of the other image editing programs can be a useful skill when building a PowerPoint deck. You can create a simple vignette, as in the slide above, knock out a distracting background or blur or darken sections of a photo that you want to de-emphasize. There are dozens of programs available, some for free, that will do the job without the expense or steep learning curve of the professional programs.

Editing backgrounds allows you to use less than perfect images and gives you greater control over how your slides look and communicate your message.

By | April 16th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Use photo editing programs to create flexible backgrounds

Why cows don’t need Kleenex

Why cows don't need Kleenex.

Humor. The pro speakers will tell you: “Only use humor if you want to make money.” I think we can modify that to be: “Only use humor if you want to connect with your audience.” Humor can dissolve just about any border and help you and your audience join together in a meaningful and maybe even fun experience.

Creating humor with PowerPoint can be as simple as a setup line followed by a slide to complete the punch line. I use this image in my workshops as a quick example that humor in PowerPoint need not be complex. Sometimes it just takes a silly setup and a silly picture.

Beware of cultural and geographic sensitivities but, what the heck, give it a try!

By | April 16th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Why cows don’t need Kleenex

Need/Don’t Need: 5 Categories of information for PowerPoint presentations

Need/Don't Need

Try using these 5 categories of information to label and use content in your slides. Consider going through your script, your outline, your content and categorize them from 1 to 5. These labels describe how a particular piece of information relates to the needs of the audience not how it fits into your content or to your understanding of the subject.

1. Your BIG IDEA. This is the theme of your presentation. The one central concept that all portions of your slides, handouts and talk must relate to.

2. MUST DELIVERS. These concepts are critical to the audience’s understanding of the subject matter. They cannot be left out. Usually they are small in number and very well worked out and defined. They are spoken, imaged (in condensed form) and possibly listed or elaborated on in the handout.

2a.  SUPPORT INFORMATION. Stories, data and concepts that demonstrate the must delivers. These usually make up the basic structure of the speech.

3. USEFUL INFORMATION. Extra information that can provide additional insights into the big idea or the must delivers. These may be spoken, imaged or printed in the handout at the presenter’s discretion. Bear in mind they it must conform to the BIG IDEA and that more information is not better information. It may just become too much information.

4. CREDIBILITY INFORMATION. Extra information, usually data sets or biographic material that establishes the credibility of the speaker or the presentation in the mind of the audience. This is a very flexible scale. A skeptical technical audience with an unproven speaker may require a lot. A well-known authority may need far less. It is important that the audience not feel as though the content is being dumbed-down or glossed over. They must have confidence that the speaker is a bona fide expert and that the data is accurate and believable. Credibility information, while not critical to the concepts of the presentation, may be needed to help the message be absorbed by the audience. Depending on the audience-speaker relationship this material can be spoken, imaged or printed in the handout as needed. Since it is not directly critical to the message but just to the credibility of the presenter and the message you may consider putting this in the handout or presenting it quickly from the podium or in the slides.

5. INSECURITY INFORMATION. This is all the garbage that insecure speakers put in because 1) they are not sure of how to craft a well-organized presentation or 2) they don’t know their material or 3) they did not allow enough time to prepare. Leave this stuff out! It is redundant or off-message. This is the category that leads to PowerPoint death!

Categorizing and prioritizing your information is a great first step to make sure you deliver the critical big idea, reinforce it with appropriate support information and leave out the extras that add nothing but redundancy and confusion.

By | April 6th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Need/Don’t Need: 5 Categories of information for PowerPoint presentations

Use a quote to show your brilliance

Growth and comfort do not coexist

This inspiring quote is from Ginni Rometty, the current Chairman and CEO of IBM, and the first woman to head that company.

Using a short, pithy quote is a great way to borrow wisdom from others and use it to support your cause. You don’t even need their permission!

A few observations:

  • Use quotes sparingly lest their power be overly diluted.
  • Keep them short and sweet. The best quotes tell a profound tale in the fewest words possible.
  • Consider using one of your own — you are a wise expert after all.

My favorite? “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” from French novelist Jean Giraudoux.

By | April 1st, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Use a quote to show your brilliance

How to avoid “dumbing-down” in 2 simple steps

Avoid dumbing down

Sarah worked for a major government organization studying and recommending policy in the public health arena. Her presentation, intended for hospital doctors and nurses, was filled with numbers and statistics. I suggested that her audience, even though technically proficient, would have trouble absorbing the reams of information.

“I can’t appear to be dumbing-down or cherry-picking the data,” she replied. A critical concern. I suggested a simple, but very effective, 2-step technique.

I call it “becoming the tour guide.” I asked Sarah to imagine she is the equivalent of a tour guide for a group of folks in a strange city, half-way around the world. “How do you help them understand and retain the important points?” I asked her. Here is what I suggested:

Step 1: Show them the whole map — the complete data set you have developed whether it is in charts, tables or graphs. Your audience will understand that you have done the numbers — you have the credibility of having all the details. You might even suggest that you will disperse handouts if they want to go into all the details. Then…

Step 2: Show them what matters. It can be as simple as saying “Now, let me show you the critical information in all that data.” At this point change slides away from the large overwhelming data-sets to a slide that focuses on the few numbers and their meanings that are most important to the understanding of your message. This is the equivalent of you, as their tour guide, taking the group to the special museums and sites of the city that only you might know.

The benefits of this simple technique are that:

  • You have shown all the numbers but haven’t bludgeoned your audience with an endless sea of information.
  • As their tour guide,  you have distilled out the critical material you want them to retain.
  • You won’t appear to have “dumbed-down” or cherry-picked the information
  • You will be the super-star expert who has made sense out of a complex jumble of material

Use the “tour guide” technique for technical material and a technical audience: Show them the whole map — then show them what matters.

By | March 26th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on How to avoid “dumbing-down” in 2 simple steps

Can I do this without visuals?

Can I do this without visuals

Yes, PowerPoint is the de facto standard when it comes to business meeting presentations. And yes, when done right, it can be a powerful, compelling addition to a presentation. And yes, it can help non-professionals organize and keep their place in a presentation while still not overloading the audience with “too much information.”
And yes, I coach all sorts of speakers on how best to use PowerPoint.
But sometimes you just don’t need it.
There should be a time in the development of every presentation when you should ask yourself, “Can I do this part without visuals? Can I just stand and deliver? Maybe, I can do the whole presentation that way.” It can be a little scary, you might even feel a little naked at first, but it can also be the most direct way to your audience’s hearts, minds and wallets. Give it a try.
Ask the question.
By | March 18th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Can I do this without visuals?

What’s your BIG idea?

What's your BIG idea?

Long ago I realized that one of the big problems with most presentations is that they are unfocused. It is an error that starts right at the beginning of the creation process and can poison the entire effort. Without a focus for the presentation the speaker will wonder off into the land of “way too much information.” For the audience the result is that communication and retention are almost zero. Boredom and frustration are guaranteed.

The solution is to develop a “Big Idea” as the first process in building your presentation. The big idea is simply that one thing you must say to your audience to get them to go where you want them to go.

Think of it as a road trip. Know your audience — they are your passenger. Decide where you want to take them. Then develop your Big Idea as the vehicle that will get them there.

By | March 12th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on What’s your BIG idea?

Music is the silence between the notes

That quote from Debussy suggests that the real meaning of something may be conveyed and enhanced by the space, the silence with which we surround it. A sunset on a busy, dirty city street is lost but seeing the same sun set over a vast mountain panorama is impressive.

A speaker can pause either before or after an important point and the audience will realize that this is a critical part of the message. A silent moment may give them a second or two to process the valuable words they have just heard. Or they may even lean in to hear an upcoming pearl.

Likewise a blank slide may open the perfect space a presenter needs to tell an important story. All the attention will be on him as he blanks out his PowerPoint and draws us in with his comments.

Pausing lends importance to what we say and gives a setting for our listeners to take in our words and ideas. Pay attention to what the space, the silence between your spoken thoughts, the empty screen conveys to your audience. It is powerful stuff.

By | March 4th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Music is the silence between the notes

Add video to your PowerPoint

Add video to your PowerPoint

It is easier and more desirable than ever to add video to a PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentation. Video is a powerful way to deliver content and it has the added benefit of mixing up the pace of your presentation. For PowerPoint users, the 2010 and 2013 editions handle video files much more efficiently than in the past. The above is a video I sometimes use to demonstrate a couple of useful points when showing a clip from inside a presentation.

  1. Try to run the video from within PowerPoint. This will allow you to just advance a slide and have the video begin smoothly. When it ends you can then advance to your next slide and continue. It can be very distracting if you have to fiddle with your laptop, open and close programs and try to figure out where the video file is.
  2. Be sure of your technology. If you are running a video from the internet or are using an unusual laptop or computer (you may need to download additional drivers) make sure your program knows where to find the appropriate file. Do a test run on the actual equipment in the actual location if you can.
  3. If your video has sound make sure it is of appropriate high quality. Viewers will forgive a poor image but they will not be very tolerant of hard-to-understand sound. Be sure the audio equipment you use will allow for clear reproduction. Laptop speakers will not carry clearly except for the smallest of groups.
  4. Tightly edit what you are showing. Your video should be very focused on the activity or point you are demonstrating with little extra run time before or after. Your audience will not be patient if they have to sit through 20-30 seconds of unnecessary material just to get to the important point. Short, sweet and to the point is best.

Needless to say, a well shot, on-target video with good lighting and good sound is the ideal — but not all that easy! Learning to shoot and then perform some simple video edits will be beneficial. It will also give you an immense respect for the people that do this professionally.

By | February 26th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Add video to your PowerPoint

Spc, space or s p a c e

Space

Using space well is a sure sign of a professional designer or at least the sign of someone who cares about the quality of their work. And how to see and use space properly is probably the hardest thing to teach anyone. For our purposes let’s define space as how far or near one element is to another in a layout or slide. Or how close a line of type is to the next line. Layout space is composed of both the elements involved and the “negative” area between them.

The only rule I ever heard that made any sense is this: Elements that relate to each other should be close together. Elements that do not relate to each other should not be close together. That’s a little helpful but it doesn’t go far enough.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Observe what others do in terms of spacing and positioning.
  • See and learn what seems right and natural — what works — and what doesn’t. You will start to develop an educated eye for spacing and design.
  • Finally, be fussy with your slides and layouts. Fine-tune the space between elements, between lines of text, between elements and borders/margins and between boxes and the text they contain. Keep fiddling with your work until it looks and feels right.

Realize that the time and effort you extend will pay off nicely in a more polished and professional presentation.

By | February 17th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Spc, space or s p a c e