This is just a quick cross-posting alert. The online magazine "Indezine" was kind enough to invite me to contribute an article on their targeted field of PowerPoint presentations. I gave them my 'Top 5 Tips For Remote Presentation Design." One... ...

 

Top 5 Tips For Remote Presentation Design and more...



Top 5 Tips For Remote Presentation Design

This is just a quick cross-posting alert. The online magazine "Indezine" was kind enough to invite me to contribute an article on their targeted field of PowerPoint presentations. I gave them my 'Top 5 Tips For Remote Presentation Design."

One of my tips is a suggestion that is often misinterpreted and sometimes generates controversy. I suggest aiming for an average of one slide change per minute during web presentations.

I always try to couch this in disclaimers that this is a rough cumulative average over the entire duration of your talk. Don't get hung up on making every slide fit exactly 60 seconds of scripting. The idea is there to avoid "too fast" or "too slow" slide changes. If you rapidly click through a succession of slides, it can overwhelm the ability of some web conferencing programs to stay synchronized for all audience members. People can get frustrated if they don't have time to take in your visual content.

On the other hand, you don't want to give remote attendees a chance to get bored with the visuals. Once they start looking elsewhere, you lose their full attention. Even if they keep listening to you, their retention rate goes down if they are playing solitaire or answering emails on their computer. Slide changes act as a way to refocus active attention back to your presentation, so you want to make use of that psychological assist.

Some presenters interpret my rule of thumb to mean: "Read long slides really quickly, so you can get through all that text in a minute." That is definitely not the intent! If you need to convey a lot of information, split it into successive smaller chunks so that you and your audience can focus on one nugget at a time. Each gets its own slide that carries full focus and attention. Then you move on to the next little piece of your recitation. You end up with the same total amount of data on your slides, but each slide becomes easier to take in, allows white space or room for a graphic to set it off, and lets you incorporate more slide changes to retain visual focus.

You can read the rest of my tips on Indezine at https://blog.indezine.com/2018/06/top-5-tips-for-remote-presentation-design.html

 

 

Are Your Presentations Getting Better?

I worked on a client webinar today featuring an elementary school principal. She showed this picture of her students producing and broadcasting the daily school news video. The boy sitting next to the principal is telling the "joke of the day" while the girls monitor framing and check the outbound feed. the man is just documenting how the whole thing gets made, and is not a part of the process itself.

Framington Woods Elementary news video

The picture really made me think. First, I marveled at the fact that these elementary students have a better technical setup than most business professionals who appear on video webinars or webcasts. The presenters have a simple background that does not distract the viewer's eye. The camera is slightly above the presenters' eye lines and has them properly framed. The video image is visible if needed, but is not directly in front of the presenters, so they don't keep trying to sneak a peek at their image and can instead maintain proper eye contact with the camera. The camera is far enough away to capture the full upper body of the presenters and still allow enough room to capture hand gestures or a little head and body movement.

Compare that with the usual webinar video taken from a business person's laptop computer, shooting up into their nostrils, with the ceiling featured as a background. The close proximity of the webcam means that perspectives are foreshortened and moving your hands even slightly toward the camera makes them appear gigantic. Any upper body motion moves you out of your tight closeup framing.

But more than this, I started thinking about what I would tell the students if I were invited to help them improve their presentation techniques. I would have to keep it very simple, concentrating on a few key fundamentals. You can't overwhelm a child just learning the basics of presenting.

If they kept developing their skills, they would have the opportunity to work on additional techniques, practicing vocal skills, projection, diction, scripting, on-camera behaviors, incorporation of graphics and other supporting materials, and so on. Over time, they would develop into better and better presenters - a skill that would help them throughout their lives in feeling comfortable in front of others, learning how to communicate effectively, and having the ability to effectively inform and influence other people. They should be able to look back on their early, primitive steps into this field of expertise and shake their heads wistfully… "I can't believe how bad I was! If I only knew then what I know now."

Which brings me to my key question for you… Do you ever shake your head wistfully and say "I can't believe how bad I used to be as a presenter. If I only knew then what I know now?" You should! Presentation skills are like any other learned skill set. You learn additional techniques over time, building on what you have assimilated and have become comfortable with. You feel capable of incorporating greater sophistication in using interactive techniques, working with supporting multimedia, or structuring your talk to make it more persuasive and useful for your audience.

I keep my old presentations archived. Some in PowerPoint form, some in script documents, some in audio or video recordings. I often look back through them to get ideas or pull out snippets I remember using in the past. I usually cringe at the quality of my past materials. But that is right and proper. If I'm no better now than I was then, what have I been doing with my career?

Athletes, opera singers, construction workers, and doctors all expect to keep learning, keep practicing, and keep improving their skills. But presenters too often feel that "this is good enough." I hope you will feel inspired to stay on a path to continual improvement as a presenter, learning and incorporating better practices for crafting your speeches, your materials, and your delivery. Enjoy the growth that lets you look back on your past efforts with the bittersweet smile of experience.

 

 

Conquering The Fear Of Speaking

"How do I get over being so nervous when I speak?"

Ah, the age-old question. There isn't a presentation coach in the world who doesn't get asked how to combat nerves.

In almost every case, it's the wrong question to ask. MOST people are nervous speaking in front of groups. Many famous actors and singers have spoken openly about the fact that they get tremendous stage fright before going on stage. You may NEVER get to the point where you don't feel nervous.

So the real question needs to shift from "how do I avoid feeling nervous" to "how do I present effectively even though I feel nervous?"

Nobody ever wants to hear the best and most effective strategy. It's simple… You practice over and over and over until you know exactly what you are going to do, what you are going to say, how you are going to emphasize key points, when you are going to reference key data or visuals. Athletes refer to this as "developing muscle memory." A golfer trying to sink the winning putt on the last hole in front of a huge gallery (with millions more watching on television) is nervous as hell. He or she relies on letting the body complete the motions it has gone through time after time.

Actors, singers, and monologists rehearse and rehearse before you ever see them. That lets them go through the motions of their performance even though they might be shaking in fear before the curtain goes up.

The TEDx Talk page outlines a sample timeline for speakers that starts first rehearsals four months before the talk date! Two months out, rehearsals are bi-weekly. One month out, rehearsals are weekly. Then more rehearsals. Then more.

I will be the first to admit that this is overkill for all but the most critical of public performances. But the underlying concept is solid. The more comfortable you are with your content and how you present it, the less it matters that you happen to feel nervous. You can perform in the presence of nerves because you have developed "muscle memory" of your delivery. I remain astonished at how many webinar presenters fail to even do one complete word-for-word run through of their presentation before the public air date.

I want to clarify one important point in this analogy. You have an advantage over Adele or Barbra Streisand or Laurence Olivier (famous stage fright sufferers). You don't have to memorize every word you plan to say, every lyric of a song, every stage movement. Sure, work with a script in your early rehearsals if it makes you feel more comfortable. Then throw it away for your live presentation. Don't try to memorize your speech. You will forget something and it will throw you into a panic. Speak conversationally. You will know your topic, you will know what you wanted to say about it. You will remember some key phrases just by dint of having said them in your rehearsals. But you won't freeze up when you forget one word in the middle of a sentence.

But that's not what you were hoping for, is it? Rehearsals are too much work… Too boring… Too time-consuming. You are a busy person tapped to do one webinar. You just want a simple device - a trick to help settle the butterflies in your stomach. How about the old "visualize the audience in their underwear?" Does that work?

No, it doesn't.

I can only give you two pieces of "quick 'n dirty" advice. The first is well tested and proven in stressful situations of all sorts. Practice five minutes of regulated, intentional breathing before your presentation. Breathe in for at least four seconds. Hold for at least four seconds. Breathe out for at least four seconds. Hold for at least four seconds. Repeat. This has an incredible calming effect on the body.

The second piece of advice comes from "The King and I" by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Follow the lyrics from "Whistle A Happy Tune" and ask yourself how a brave and confident person would behave in this situation. Then fake it. Pretend you're calm and it often comes across as if you really are!

Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I'm afraid

While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
I'm afraid

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people I fear
I fool myself as well

I whistle a happy tune
And every single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I'm
Not afraid

Make believe you're brave
And the trick will take you far
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are

 

 

Brute Force Method For Dealing With PowerPoint Font Problems

There are two common scenarios where PowerPoint fonts cause a problem in webinars:

1) Creating the PowerPoint on one computer and displaying it on another

2) Uploading the PowerPoint to a web conferencing product that converts and stores the slides in the conference room for display to participants

In both cases, you have the potential to see discrepancies in the text on slides. One of my clients creates their PowerPoints on a Mac. When I open their files on my Windows computer, the bullet symbols that they see as hyphens show up as little mailbox icons. I have to manually change the bullet symbol selection to get it back to a hyphen on Windows.

If a PowerPoint creator uses proprietary or non-system fonts, there is no telling what may happen when they ship the file to someone else. Even though PowerPoint gives creators a way to embed the fonts in the presentation, it still may not work. If PowerPoint can't find a font on your computer, it just changes the text to a different font for you, usually causing problems with incorrect line wrapping in the process. If the presentation doesn't look right on your screen, it won't look right when you use screen sharing to display it in your webinar!

Situation number 2 in my list is a more special-case scenario. Certain web conferencing products use an alternative to screen sharing for showing PowerPoint slides. You upload your PowerPoint file into the conference room and the software goes through a conversion step (usually turning it into a Flash or HTML5 "movie" internally - although you don't know that).

The PowerPoint may look fine on your computer… You have all the fonts installed, and everything shows up as expected. But when you try to display your slides in the conference, you see text converted to other fonts. That is because some of the most popular conversion algorithms have no way to pick up embedded proprietary fonts.

Fonts as they look in PowerPoint

Fig 1: Fonts as they look in PowerPoint on my computer

 

Fonts in conferencing software

Fig 2: The same slide uploaded and displayed in a web conferencing product

 

With that background behind us, we are ready to look at a "quick 'n dirty" brute force workaround when this happens to you and you can't think of any other way to solve your problems. This solution has a major caveat that you need to be aware of, but a lot of times it will save you in a crisis.

The short description is to save the presentation as a set of pictures, one for each slide. Then you create a new presentation composed of the slide pictures.

 

STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS

1) Open the PowerPoint on a computer that displays everything properly. Choose "File - Save As" and select the option for JPEG File Interchange Format (*.jpg). Check my notes farther down for an explanation of why this is your best choice.

2) When asked "Which slides do you want to export?" choose the button for "All Slides"

3) Designate a destination folder for the save. PowerPoint will create a series of files named slide1.jpg, slide2.jpg and so on.

4) Open a new PowerPoint file and make sure the slide aspect ratio is the same as your original (4:3 or 16:9). Add a bunch of blank slides… The same number as you had in your original.

5) On slide #1, choose the command to "Insert Pictures." Choose slide1.jpg from your save folder. Page down and repeat the process for each slide.

6) Save the new presentation. You are done. This version can be uploaded or shared through screen sharing on any other computer, with no chance of text getting replaced (since you have eliminated all text elements).

UPDATED May 29: Huge thanks to Chantal Bosse for suggesting a faster insert method for steps 4 and 5. Just use the "Insert Photo Album" command to insert all the pictures at once. You can avoid having to create blank slides and insert each slide picture separately.

 

IMPORTANT CAVEATS AND CONSIDERATIONS

This is a "frozen in time" version of your PowerPoint. You cannot make any last-minute edits and alterations to individual elements, since each slide has been flattened to a single picture.

You lose all slide transitions and animation effects from your original presentation. Each slide is just a static image. You can always add slide transitions back in the new file if desired.

Some "upload and convert" webinar tools reduce the resolution or image quality on pictures. Your mileage will vary. Make sure to test how it looks in your webinar program.

 

OTHER NOTES AND SUPPORTING DETAILS

Your current "view size" does not matter when you save your slides as pictures. Whether you are viewing at 40%, 100%, or 200%, the pictures are saved at the perfect size to fill a slide - 960x720 pixels for older 4:3 aspect ratio presentations, and 1280x720 for widescreen 16:9 presentations.

JPG gives you the best compromise of image quality vs file size. I tried tests with GIF, JPG, and PNG. GIF has noticeably lower image quality and a slightly larger file size than JPG. PNG may result in microscopically better image quality, but I am not convinced that it is not just expectation bias. I find myself squinting and asking myself if there is really a difference. And PNG files are close to three times larger than JPG. Your final presentation size will be noticeably different.

Inserting pictures into your new presentation will go a LOT faster if you add the Insert Pictures command icon to your Quick Access Toolbar. It's faster than using the keyboard shortcut of Alt+N, P. You can get very fast at "click icon, choose file, press page down."

 

 

New Webex Ad Leaves Me Baffled

Cisco Webex Cisco just released a new ad for the rebranded Webex (as opposed to the previous WebEx) collaboration suite of products. Well, it SAYS it's for Webex… To my ears, it sounds like an ad for the concept of collaboration.

You can watch the advertisement and read some of its background on the Ad Age website at http://creativity-online.com/work/cisco-millie-bobby-brown/54613.

Advertising is a tricky business. You never know what will work until you try it, and a new ad may seem ineffective at first until viewed in the context of a larger ongoing campaign. But my take on this is that it sells the wrong value proposition to the wrong audience using the wrong arguments.

We can start with the obligatory carefully crafted sound bite issued by corporate marketing when a company introduces a new ad campaign. The Ad Age article quotes Cisco's chief marketing officer talking about their choice of spokesperson, 14-year-old Millie Bobby Brown from the TV show Stranger Things: "Millie's youth was a determinant in casting her. As we continue to keep the Cisco brand fresh and unexpected, Millie represents us in a new light to a new generation."

If Cisco is trying to appeal to a new generation, why are they attempting to sell the concept of collaboration as if it is a newly-minted idea that nobody has ever thought of before? The current generation has been collaborating online for their entire lives. They have never known a time when they didn't have immediate access to instantaneous two-way communication with every friend and colleague they have. It's a given, not an awe-inspiring paradigm shift.

Then we have the narration and visuals used in the advertisement itself. The first words are: "What makes us human? Collaboration. It's in our DNA." So does that mean that termites, ants, bees, and killer whales are human as well? Collaboration is sure as heck in their DNA.

Millie walks by a bicyclist in a wind tunnel and gives him a knowing glance while saying: "When we work together and build on each others' ideas, we can create amazing things." Sure, if I think about it long enough in abstract terms, I can appreciate the idea of unseen scientists off-screen somewhere, studying the wind tunnel results. But choosing a competitive cyclist as your focal image seems a strange choice… It's an iconic example of individual effort and achievement in sports.

A bit later in the ad, the narration doubles down on collaboration being used to "create amazing things and move… the world… forward." This just seems WAY too highfalutin' fer your average businessperson wanting to hold a meeting or give a presentation. Nobody buys collaboration software to move… the world… forward. They use it to take care of the day to day minutiae of business, one damned meeting at a time. Who is this concept supposed to appeal to?

It's finally time to hit the core value proposition… that sharing ideas and working with other people is beneficial. But the way it's sold in the ad is that if ONLY there were a theoretical way to accomplish such a crazy idea, "We would no longer feel isolated. We would no longer feel alone." Millie touches the chin of a little girl in a school uniform who seems positively catatonic in her lack of reaction to human touch. Again, I just feel like the ad has completely missed the pain point of its business audience. This isn't a therapy tool for shut-ins. The point of online web collaboration has to be about achieving goals or reducing lost time or being efficient or SOMETHING besides feeling better about your poor lonely existence!

Then comes a visual that makes me scratch my head in complete confusion… Millie stands in front of a group of faceless mannequins, all dressed in similar drab hoodies. She says "The more we work together, the more human we'll be." As she does this, she pulls her own hoodie over her head to look as much as possible like the motionless statues around her. Isn't that the exact OPPOSITE of what the script is trying to convey? Maybe this is a reference to Stranger Things… I never watched the show. But it is weird with a capital Q.

At the very end of the minute and a half ad, we finally learn what is being promoted. A simple text overlay shows us "Cisco Webex" while Millie says "This is Cisco Webex." But for some reason, the director had her pronounce it as if it were still being spelled the old way, with the accent on the final syllable and an implied capital E: "This is web-EX" -- If I were introducing new branding that changed the product label to a normally-capitalized word, I would want people to say it the way it is naturally written, emphasizing the single capital letter at the front: "WEBex."

Well, I'm not a B-to-B advertiser. Good luck to Cisco and I hope the new campaign stimulates more interest in web collaboration. It's good for all of us. Let's get out there and move… the world… forward!