What to do with numbers (part 3) – Illustrate your numbers

Graphics-illustration

So far we have seen two ways to express data to our audience:

  • The first is to simply show the full data set in a spreadsheet or table-style chart and then use large boxes (semi-transparent white) to block out the data we don’t wish to focus on and use bright outlined circles or boxes to highlight the data we do want to discuss.
  • The second is to make a graph to show the relationship of a smaller but critical subset of the numbers.
  • The third way is to more fully illustrate our numbers than just showing a simple graph.

PowerPoint has a rather clumsy graph function that will automatically generate a bar, line, pie or other style graph. Unfortunately these default graphs are often more difficult to understand than just the plain data. I often choose to create a graph-type illustration from scratch like the illustration above.

If we have already shown the source of the data — the full set of numbers we have to work with — it may be a good strategy to dive in and show an important but narrow subset that makes the point we are trying to communicate.

We could just put the two numbers above on the screen, but the simple illustration of the stacks of dollar bills and the avatar-style images helps deliver our message on two levels: the numbers themselves and the visuals.

This technique of using words (or in this case numbers) plus a graphic engages your audience’s brains with two channels of communication and will greatly improve understanding and retention.

Next week: Go over the top

By | August 19th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|0 Comments

What to do with numbers (part 2) – Make a graph

Make a chart

When we present numbers to our audience, just like when we present other content, we must help them make sense of it — what does it mean to them? Often we feel compelled to show all the data in a table or list to give a sense of the big picture or to establish our credentials as an in-depth expert.

However, a large amount of information should probably not be left on the screen for any length of time. It can be too unfocused and distracting — allowing your audience’s attention to wander around into information you are not currently discussing. And, of course, large quantities of numbers require small typefaces to fit on the screen — never a good choice.

If a table filled with numbers in labeled rows and columns is a start at making sense out of a set of data then a graph with selected information is the next level. A graph represents numbers as graphic quantities so your audience gets a chance to read the numbers and see some sort of visual relationship — this should improve comprehension.

The pie/doughnut graph above keeps the amount of information manageable — it does not list every possible type of pet — only the categories relevant to the presentation.  And it shows each category’s relationship to the whole. Plus adding icons helps the viewers quickly grasp the content while adding visual interest.

Next week: Illustrate your numbers

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

What to do with numbers (part 1) – Highlight the important data

What to do with all those numbers 1

What do we do when we have to show a large data set in a presentation?

The first step may be to recognize that the presenter has the responsibility to lead his audience through the maze of numbers on the screen (hopefully not with that highly-irritating laser pointer). As speakers, we have to make the numbers meaningful.

The next step may be to understand that only so much information can be disseminated in a presentation — the details are often best left to a printed report or handout.

So how do we help our audience make sense out of the numbers we do show? There are at least 4 answers — maybe more by the time I finish this series.

The simplest solution is to show the original complex table and then block out the unnecessary detail we don’t want to discuss and/or highlight the critical numbers we do want to discuss.

The slide above uses semitransparent white boxes to minimize the unimportant content and red circles to draw attention to what is important.

The advantage here is that we are showing the entire data set in its original table format. A disadvantage could be that the type size in the original table may be a little too small to be very legible. But at least we are helping the audience make sense out of a sea of information.

Next week: A few rules for using graphs.

By | August 6th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|0 Comments

Fire hose delivery

Fire hose delivery

The highly respected expert stepped to the stage and announced that he was going to “turn on the fire hose” and let the audience have everything he knows about the presentation’s topic. In a perfect world, all the brilliant insights that would tumble from his lips in this presentation would be eagerly assimilated by everyone in his audience. But in this world, that doesn’t happen. As a matter of fact, as presenters we are lucky if two or three of our important points register with just a few of the people in our audience.

Public speaking is not an efficient medium for delivering large quantities of information. But it is a superb vehicle for driving home one profound, well thought out and well-spoken concept — especially if we can stir an emotional response in our listeners.

Beware of attempting to offer too much. This is the main reason to simplify: if you tell your audience a dozen ideas they may not retain any of them; if you tell them one or two you may just change their lives.

By | July 29th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|0 Comments

Five ways to evaluate a slide

Five ways to evaluate a slide

What are the basic criteria that determine if your slide is working? How can you evaluate a slide or even a presentation to see if it will work and deliver your message cleanly and effectively?

I look for five basic things.

  1. Is there a BIG IDEA? Is there one concept that ties the slide together and fits in with the BIG IDEA that the overall presentation is trying to communicate. There cannot be more than one concept per slide and the audience should be able to get it quickly and without too much distraction. Often this can be expressed in the headline for that slide.
  2. Are there minimal words? There is an inverse relationship between audience engagement and the quantity of words on the screen. In general, the more text they have to read the less they will “get it” and the less attention they will focus on the presenter. Be a ruthless text editor — make each word earn its keep.
  3. If there are images are they displayed big enough to have maximum impact? Do they clearly tell the story the slide is trying to communicate? Is there more than one image on a slide — if so are they all necessary? Try eliminating them one-by-one and see if your idea becomes clearer and stronger.
  4. Are your numbers expressed simply? Have you made the effort to make the numbers mean something significant or are they just a data dump? Think of yourself as a tour guide explaining a foreign country to your audience. It is your job (and your slide’s job) to show them the important and interesting spots in the strange land they are in.
  5. Have you rehearsed the slide in its context? Rehearsal is the ultimate test. Do it out loud, in front of a mirror, with a trusted friend or video camera. Practice reveals all the clumsiness and inconsistencies in your presentation and its visuals. It shows where there is too much or too little, it builds your confidence and uncovers possibilities for improvisation and humor.

Measure your slides and your entire presentation against these concepts and your next PowerPoint deck will soar.

By | July 23rd, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Five ways to evaluate a slide

Combining PowerPoint and You

Combining PowerPoint and You

Just the other night I was at my favorite Toastmasters meeting. I have a great TM club here in Atlanta and I get to see a lot of motivated folks move from anxious newbies who are usually a bundle of nerves to presenters who have gained a measure of practice and experience and, as a result, confidence.

It fuels my deeply held belief that anyone who has the motivation and determination can become an effective speaker. I have seen it happen over and over again. They put in the work, get the right feedback and become someone they never thought possible.

The speaker last night was Sarah, a professor at a prestigious Atlanta university. She had a wonderfully humorous story about how she was managing all the tasks that come with having a new baby in the house. It was accompanied with a modest PowerPoint deck.

Sarah was struggling with the same problem I have seen over and over with PowerPoint presentations: She was a very good presenter and had a great story. And she had a good slide deck. But when she tried to bring them together in a smooth flowing delivery to her audience, the slides and her delivery were choppy and uncoordinated. She had to keep looking back at the screen to see what was going on there. She felt she had to explain her slides instead of having the slides illuminate her words. I could tell she was uncomfortable.

Delivering an effective PowerPoint presentation means having your words and slides work together like the dialog and the setting in a movie. They should merge seamlessly. Each will compliment and expand the other without the audience feeling like it is watching and hearing two separate presentations.

I must admit it is not always easy to do. But here are two critical strategies that will help you accomplish this:

  1. Write and practice your presentation before turning on PowerPoint. Your words and your thoughts should be the driver of your delivery. Then, once you are fairly comfortable with how the delivery is shaping up, add in the visuals that will help expand your spoken thoughts. All too often we will use PowerPoint to create our presentation. This just doesn’t work!
  2. Rehearse times two. Once you start to merge your verbal delivery with your slides, practice like you mean it. Double that. Get comfortable with what visuals appear when and how your transitions work. Sometimes you want the slide to appear and then you will comment. Sometimes you want the opposite – you will begin your words and have the slide appear at a significant point. This all takes rehearsal and editing. Put away your script, work from an outline. Then put that aside. Move things around and make your delivery natural and sensible. The only way to do this is with practice.

There is great truth in the maxim: The amateur practices until they get it right. The professional practices until they cannot get it wrong. It’s work, but it is well worth it.

By | July 6th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Combining PowerPoint and You

Make a color transparent to overlay a graphic

How to overlay a graphic

A useful but underutilized technique in PowerPoint is to set a transparent color in a photo. The original stock photo here was of two men set on a pure white background — perfect for this treatment.

First, I imported the photo into the slide then I selected Format > Color > Set transparent color. Using the cursor I selected the solid white background and PowerPoint 2013 set the entire background as transparent. Then I simply used Format > Bring Forward to move the photo above the other elements in the slide.

Easy-peasy!

Previous posts

By | July 2nd, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on Make a color transparent to overlay a graphic

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|Comments Off on An easy way to simplify complex data

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|Comments Off on Episode 2 – How to MacGyver* a bad PowerPoint deck

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 | June 12th, 2017|Monday Morning Slide Blast|Comments Off on How to MacGyver* a bad PowerPoint deck

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