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August 2005

How to adjust a book cover in Photoshop

Bbp_quote_1Following up on the issue of using quotations in slides, a couple of people have asked how to take a book cover and change its shape as I have done in the example here (and in the post below).

Here is a very rough outline of the steps (I have used the Beyond Bullet Points book for the example). First you will need Photoshop or some other photo editing software that allows you to distort selections and save them as PNG files. 

(1) Scan the book cover, or go to Amazon and copy the image of the book cover (click on it to get the larger size image).

(2) Open the book cover image in Photoshop.

(3) "Select All" and copy the entire image (but do not paste yet).

  Book_cover1        Canvassize

(4) Go to "Image" in the menu bar and select "Canvas size...". Here you will want to add about 10-20% (depending on the size) to the height and width of the canvas to give you room to distort the image.

(5) Now that the canvas is bigger, "Paste" the original book cover image (it is still in memory or "clipboard" remember).

  2_layers   One_layer

(6) You now have two layers. Next, remove the bottom later (you can just drag it to the trash can icon in Photoshop). You now see your book cover image  with a checkered board canvas around it. This will allow you to now select the image and move it around as you like on the canvas...

  Distort_2       Distorting

(7) Go to the "Edit" menu and choose "Transform" then "Distort." You will see little boxes on the corners and on the sides. These are the areas you can click and move to manipulate the image. Just experiment with moving the image around until it looks the way you want. "Skew" and "Perspective" are also very useful for manipulation, so experiment with these features.

(8) If you want a drop shadow under the cover, double click the layer to get the pop-up menu called "Layer Style." Check the "Drop Shadow" box under the Blending Options on the left. To adjust the shadow (the default is not very good) click on "Drop Shadow" to the right of the checked box to reveal the Drop Shadow settings.


NOTE: If you have Keynote on the Mac, then you can ignore all this since the drop shadow settings within Keynote itself are wonderful — you can just add shadows later as you need them. (PPT has "shadows" too, but they are not good, natural-looking ones).

(9) When the cover looks the way you want it, then crop the canvas to cut out any extra area.

(10) Now choose "Save As" from the file menu. Save as a PNG file if you want the canvas area to be transparent. If you want the area around the cover to be white (because your slide background is white, for example) then save it as a JPEG. The advantage of using a PNG file is that you can place the cover into any kind of background and see only the book cover, not the canvas. If you choose to save it as a JPEG with a white (or any other color) canvas area, then the book cover will look good only over a white background where the canvas area appears to disappear. The advantage of JPEGs is that the file size will be smaller.

My explanation does not do justice to the procedure because it is actually very easy and fast – if it were time consuming or difficult I would not do it. And you can skip this entire process and insert the book without any manipulation, of course. In fact, if I am just showing a picture of the book cover, I do not change its shape at all. But if I have a quotation on the slide (and want to include a photo of the book) I can get a bit more space for the quote. Usually, the quote takes up two-thirds and the image one-third of the slide, more or less. This manipulation of the perspective of the book cover allows the cover to be a little larger while at the same time allowing more space for the quotation. All of this must be done without creating a feeling of crowding or noise, however, in the slide.

Using quotes in your slides to support your story

Sudo_1Displaying quotes in your presentation slides can be a very powerful technique. Depending on the presentation, I often use quite a few quotes from various fields to support my points.

When I first saw Tom Peters live many years ago, I was happy to see that he used a great deal of quotes from various experts, authors, and industry leaders. Using quotes in his presentation visuals is a big deal for Tom. In fact it is number 18 on his "Presentation Excellence 56":

18. Slides: Good quotes from the field. (Remember you’re “telling a story”)

Commenting on why he uses so many PowerPoint slides containing quotes, Tom says:

" conclusions are much more credible when I back them up with Great Sources. I say pretty radical stuff. I say "Get radical!" That's one thing. But then I show a quote from Jack Welch, who, after all, ran a $150 billion company (I didn't): "You can't behave in a calm, rational manner; you've got to be out there on the lunatic fringe." Suddenly my radicalism is "certified" by a "real operator." Also, I find that people like to get beyond the spoken word, and see a SIMPLE reminder of what I'm saying." (Read more from this post by Tom Peters.)

Download Tom's "PE56" PowerPoint slides

Quotes can indeed add credibility to our story. Slides containing quotes also serve as guides or "reminders" to keep us and our story on track. A simple quote is a good springboard from which you can launch your next talking point, though you need practice to pull it off smoothly. Quotes should be short in most cases since it can become quite tedious when a presenter reads a paragraph from a screen.

Below are samples from some of my recent presentations. When I read these quotes, I usually can keep my eyes on the audience at all times since the quotes are short enough to be easily memorized. I can easily catch the graphic (such as the head shot of Albert Einstein) which appears next to the quote with just a quick glance of my peripheral vision. The graphic is for the benefit of the audience, but it also helps me instantly recognize the content of the slide without having to really look at the slide.

Mckinsey        Badppt

If I am quoting from a book, I will often include an image of the book cover.

Suzuki       Simplicity

A simple image is used for the slide on the left. For the slide on the right, what could be simpler image at all?

Art_b      Mingus_1

I often look to different fields for inspiring comments. In this case, Jazz.

Tom_3       Nasa

Two more examples.

Tank      Al    

On the left is a slide that would not be unusual today. On the right is a more professional treatment of the quotation.

Lightning       High_voltage

I first learned of Henry Boettinger's 1969 book, Moving Mountains, from Cliff Atkinson's excellent presentation blog. Here, Cliff uses the quote that I placed in the two slides above. Cliff used this quote in his web seminar while showing a good visual which evoked the feelings of "high voltage" and "connection" (or "conversation"). As Cliff mentions here, in the actual web seminar, he used the quote sans any text in the visual. This worked fine, but usually (not always) it is better to have the quote appear on screen. However, as Cliff points out, using "...a range of approaches in a live presentation environment" is best.

Should lectures be conversational?

Presenter_1Do you believe that audiences – say a room full of college students, for example – will pay better attention and learn more from a presenter who speaks in a very formal style or a presenter who speaks in a more informal, conversational style? Assuming both presenters have solid, accurate content, which style is more effective? Yes, each case is different, but more times than not, a conversational style is a better choice in my experience.

Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users says that our brain wants a conversation. Whether we are listening to a lecture or reading a book, a conversational approach with the reader or listener is often the best approach. Kathy is one of the authors of the Head First series, books which do a unique job of presenting instructional and technical information in a very visual, conversational, and compelling way. Although I am not much interested in writing code, I purchased the Head First Design Patterns book simply because it is a good example of presenting potentially "dry" technical information in a way that is engaging without being "dumbed down."

I tend to agree with Kathy when she says "...the more advanced the topic, the more you NEED to pull out all the stops in trying to make it more understandable." This is the design thinking behind he Head First series, an informal approach and style she says allowed them to take technical information and go deeper than if they would have used very formal language.

"...the more advanced the topic, the more you NEED to pull out all the stops in trying to make it more understandable."
– Kathy Sierra

How about lectures or presentations? Essentially, Kathy is saying this: When you present in a conversational way, the brains of your listeners think they are in a conversation and have to hold up their end of the conversation by paying attention. Conversations, after all, are not one-way. Kathy points to some research such as e-Learning co-authored by Richard Mayer which seems to support the idea that an informal, conversational style is often a better way to teach.

It's about them, not you

What do you think about this statement by Kathy Sierra?

"If you're using formal language in a lecture, learning book (or marketing message, for that matter), you're worrying about how people perceive YOU. If you're thinking only about the USERS, on the other hand, you're probably using more conversational language."

She admits that this is a very large generalization, but what do you think? Does this not ring true in many cases? I think you will agree that the best presenters/lecturers have the needs of the audience foremost in their minds. When asked why they use such a formal style, many presenters will say something like "I choose to lecture in a formal style because I want the audience to take me seriously and respect my content..." But is this not an example of the presenter putting his needs ahead of the audience's needs? After all, "I am concerned about what you think of me" is not a statement which expresses concern for the other.

So, if we choose to stay behind a podium, read from a script, or use a very formal "traditional lecture" approach, we need to ask ourselves why. If the reasons are because, for this particular case, it better serves the needs of the audience, then fine. But if the answer is "because I feel more comfortable" or "because it is what everyone does" or "because I want to appear to be ______" then we may not be giving the audience our best work.

Ask yourself or your team the following questions: Think about your own presentation style: Is it quite formal? If so, why? Is your presentation style conversational? Again, if so, why? Do you change your style or approach depending on the audience or topic? Do you present differently in one country from another? Examples? Do you choose your approach because you feel (know?) it is the most effective delivery method for the particular audience, or is it because it is what you're comfortable with? If your style is quite formal, what would happen if you tried presenting once in a more conversational style?

Remote simplicity: Use a small remote to advance slides

Keyspan_remote_1I see a lot of presentations by very smart people, yet I rarely see presenters use remote-control devices to advance their slides. Usually the presenter stays next to the computer on a table or podium or walks back to the computer to change slides every few minutes (if they move at all).

You have heard me say it before, but a remote is a must. No excuses, got to have it. If you are not currently using a remote to advance slides, adding a remote to your delivery style will make a huge difference. The remote allows you to get out front closer to the people, to move to different parts of the stage or room, and to make those connections.

When we stay glued to the the laptop and look down to advance every slide, our presentations become more like slide shows with narration, the kind our uncle used to bore us with when he whipped out his 35mm slide projector with highlights of his latest fishing trip. Yawn.

Remember, we want the technology behind our presentation to be as invisible as possible to the audience. But when we have our hand on the computer and our eyes are moving back and forth from the computer screen, to the keyboard, to the audience (or projector screen), this becomes more like the "typical PowerPoint presentation" that people complain about.

I advise staying away from IR (infrared) remotes because with IR remotes presenters have to line up their remote with the receiver on the computer. This leads to presenters extending their hand toward the computer and "clicking" the remote in a very obvious motion. We do not want the audience to even be aware that we have a remote — the visuals should just flow behind us or appear to our side when needed, seemingly automatically.

Better than an infrared remote control is one, such as the Keyspan Presentation Remote which uses radio frequency. You do not need to point this type of remote at the computer. It is easy with this remote to keep your finger on the advance button and simply advance slides — or turn the screen black, etc. — without the audience noticing that you pushed any buttons at all.

Small is beautiful
Peters_remote_3 I prefer the Keyspan because it is small. It only has basic features, but what else do I need? You can buy remotes that you can mouse around with on screen and are equipped with myriad other features, but they are large and call attention to themselves. Tom Peters uses something that looks like a TV remote, for example; it's large. Perhaps it has a greater range than the smaller remotes, but I have walked to the back of rather large ball rooms with the Keyspan remote and still been in range. In any event, I believe in using the smallest remote possible.

Take a look at the picture of Sean Schertell in the post (Aug 22) below. You can notice (barely) a small remote-control device in his right hand. This allowed Sean to tell his story while visuals appeared to flow in and out automatically. Many were probably not even aware of his remote at all.

In order to have true synchronicity with your visuals, a remote is a must. Is it hard to do? Like anything else, it takes practice, but Sean did an amazing job with the Keyspan Presentation Remote and he was using it for the first time. The Keyspan just feels very comfortable and natural...and simple.

Keeping it smooth by using video captures within slideware

Sean_1Last week at the Design Matters meeting in Osaka, web guru, Sean Schertell, gave a wonderful one-hour presentation on intuitive web design. Sean, co-founder of DataFly.Net WebServers, told me that was his first time to give a talk in front of a large group. The presentation had the appropriate content and was delivered with clarity, good pace, clear examples, and good humor. The visuals served to illustrate his points and clarify his examples.

What made the presentation itself so smooth was that Sean had clearly planned ahead and did a lot of work to design slides that logically progressed through a story, a story that he was telling. It was very clear that Sean was not narrating slides. Instead, as Sean made his points, appropriate visuals and animation supported — but never dominated — his talk.

To illustrate examples of the degrees of frustration people may feel when navigating a website, Sean did something interesting: Instead of leaving the slideware and navigating on the web live (which would require him to look at the computer while the audience looked at the screen) he simply showed previously recorded video captures of his mousing around the pre-selected websites. This allowed Sean to maintain his connection with the audience as he explained what he was doing while navigating. Of course, he was not actually navigating live, but he did such a great job of synchronizing his talk with the visuals that it almost seemed that the mouse was reading his mind. The "movies" of the website navigation were created with Snapz Pro X screen capture, an extremely useful utility. Check out the demos of Snapz Pro X.

Since Sean inserted video captures and stayed within the slideware (Keynote in this case), he was also able, then, to construct an animation of a sort of "irritation scale" which appeared on the left of the screen. The longer the navigation took, the more yellow dots appeared in the scale to demonstrate the increased level of user frustration.

In slideware, you can easily have a movie playing while a series of animations take place on screen simultaneously. All Sean had to do was set the yellow dots (single objects) of the scale to appear at the appropriate time using the "Start Animation Automatically xx seconds after previous event" option, depending on the slideware you use.

Sean made it look easy. But just as professional musicians or athletes make their efforts look "easy" through careful preparation, Sean's presentation appeared so smooth because he put quite a bit of thought and planning into it before the actual presentation day. And for the audience, the technological techniques used were essentially invisible allowing them to simply follow the "digital story" before them. Below are a few sample slides from Sean's talk.

Honda       Toyota_screen

The slide on the left (click for larger view) features a screen capture QT movie of a 30-second "mouse around" on the Honda website. The increased frustration the navigator feels is illustrated by the growing number of yellow dots over time to the left. The slide on the right displays a video screen capture of the Toyota site, which proved to be a less frustrating navigating experience.

Hondakey        Hondappt

Above you can see how to set animations in both Keynote (left) and PowerPoint (right).

In many cases, it is better to demonstrate software by actually going into the actual application, of course. But there are times when you just want to illustrate a quick feature or two — or maybe briefly show how to use the shopping cart on your company's website — as part of a larger presentation. In those cases, it may be better to pre-record those web/software demos and insert them into your slideware. It will look the same to the audience and will allow you to keep your eyes on the audience, connect, and tell your story.

Looking for presentation advice in unusual places

Consider the following five "effective presentation principles" — are these precepts not good advice for delivering effective presentations?

(1) Carefully observe oneself and one's situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one's environment,
(2) Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake,
(3) Consider fully, act decisively,
(4) Know when to stop,
(5) Keep to the middle.

In fact, these five above are not "effective presentation principles" at all, they are Jigoro Kano's Five Principles of Judo as outlined by John Stevens in Budo Secrets.

It is easy to see, however, how these principles can be applied in our efforts to design and deliver presentations. For example, you may have witnessed a presentation where the speaker could have done much, much better if he had only embraced the wisdom of principle number (4) — know when to stop. There are times when you may speak longer or shorter than planned, but it must be a conscious decision based on the context of the moment and by following principle number (1) —  observing oneself and the situation, observing others and the environment. This is just one small example illustrating the application of such principles. In a seminar environment, I could imagine having good discussions about these principles and how they could be applied to everyday business such as presentation design.


Try this for something different: Go to the quotes section of As you read through the list of quotes, try substituting "presentation" in place of "Judo" when possible, or just keep broader applications in mind when you read through the bits of wisdom. There are several pages of quotes. You will see that many do apply. One of my favorite sayings is:

"If you think you are good enough, you have just started your decline."

No matter how good your last presentation (or bad for that matter), what matters is how to improve. This is good advice for most all endeavors.

Learning from the world of Judo

JudoJigoro Kano founded Judo in the late 1800s, and although Judo was not based on the principles of Zen outright, Judo is seen by many to be a great expression of Zen precepts. I have a lot of respect for people who dedicate themselves to the art of Judo. Judo is more than a sport or a mere physical activity born in Japan. To those who practice Judo, the lessons, wisdom, and experience gained serve to help them in profound ways in all aspects of life. 

Jigoro Kano summarized the essential goals of Judo. These are noble goals in life and in business. Can they not be applied to a presentation context?

(1) Seiryoku zenyo — strive for maximum effect with minimum effort *

Make no mistake, "minimum effort" does not mean to slack off or give less than full commitment to the moment. Rather it implies the use of experience, intelligence, and skill. In the presentation context, it could translate into simple yet powerful visual support, a delivery style that makes complex data accessible without confusing, endless, overly verbose explanation. Sometimes, for example, a short story (minimum effort) can have a huge and lasting result (maximum impact).

(2) Jita kyoei — strive for mutual welfare and benefit *

Presenters often seem focused only on their content from their point of view. Audiences — especially potential clients — want to know "what's in it for me?" Presentations should be two-way; they should be conversations. And while it sounds like a cliché in 2005, "win/win" should be the goal.

(3) Jika no kansei — strive for perfection as a whole person *

No presentation is perfect, of course, but we must aim for perfection. Content, design, style, evidence, engagement, all of this is important. But in all our business dealings, including presentations, we must always embrace too the ideals of integrity, honesty, character, kindness, and so on. It is never just about winning the contract, as lofty a goal as that may seem at the moment.                                              
Think about this: Commenting on the secrets of Judo, H. Seichiro Okazaki, said

"Only by cultivating a receptive state of mind, without preconceived ideas or thoughts, can one master the secret art of reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance." (Emphasis mine)

This idea need not be confined to the mat.

Think about the last challenging presentation you had that just did not go as well as you had hoped. Perhaps there was more "pushback" than you expected. Could you have done better by engaging your audience and answering the difficult questions while "reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance"? In my experience, when I have received challenging questions from a skeptical or even hostile or aggressive person, a natural, non-aggressive response from myself always was more effective than showing any irritation or defensiveness. Butting heads is very easy to do, but usually leads to a sure defeat for us as presenters.

T. Shidachi, speaking on the principles of Judo in 1892 said,

"We come by daily training to know that irritability is one of our weakest points, and that we have to try to avoid it in our life, as it facilitates our opponent's efforts to overcome us . Not to be irritated in any emergency, but to always be calm and composed, is one of the first principles of Judo. Prudence, precaution, temperance, perseverance, presence of mind, quick discernment, decision after deliberation, animation with moderation, self-respect, and self-control — all these are surely moral qualities which are inculcated by the study of Judo." (Emphasis mine)

At some point, we will encounter a hostile client or an audience member who may be more interested in making us look foolish or derail us during our talk than getting at the truth. It happens. The key is to remember that they are never the enemy. If there is any enemy at all, it is in within us. Even if an audience member does choose to assume the role of "opponent," our irritation or any display of anger will surely not do us or the rest of our audience (99% of whom may support our views) any good at all.

In the world of Judo, founder Jigoro Kano had this to say about dealing with an "opponent":

"Victory over the opponent is achieved by giving way to the strength of the opponent, adapting to it and taking advantage of it, turning it, in the end to your own advantage."

Many years ago I was giving a presentation to a large group. It was going very well. But one person in the audience often interrupted with irrelevant comments to the point of becoming a distraction for the audience. I had many occasions to become angry (but did not). I could sense that the audience felt I was going to rip into the guy if there was one more interruption. And frankly, they would not have blamed me. But I always was respectful to the man and did not show any irritation or anger. After the presentation, several people complimented me on my handling of the "interrupter." The ironic thing was that although the boisterous man may have intended to damage my effectiveness, he actually had the opposite influence. By flowing with the moment, not butting heads — which only would have made things worse — and showing self-control I gained respect from the audience. This in the end made the presentation more effective. This was very much unexpected and was a good lesson for me.

In the beginning, we may have to work at just not showing our irritation to the audience. But through experience and practice, it is possible to not even feel irritation in the first place when challenged.


More on the history of Judo.

Are we asking the right questions?

Arrow_v_2It is said that the Buddha described the human condition as being much like that of a man who has been shot with an arrow. That is, it is both painful and urgent. But instead of asking for immediate medical assistance for his predicament, the man asks details about the bow that shot the arrow. He asks about the manufacturer of the arrow. He wonders about the background of the people who made the bow and arrow, how they arrived at the color choice, what kind of string they used, and so on. The man asks many inconsequential things, overlooking the immediate problem.

Some people say that our lives are a bit like this. We can not see Reality right in front of us, they say, because we chase ephemeral things such as salary, the perfect job, a bigger house, more status, and we worry about losing what we have. The buddhist would say that life is filled with "duhhka" (suffering, pain, loss) — we need only to open our eyes to see this. In a similar way, the current state of business and academic presentations bring about a fair amount of suffering and dissatisfaction, both for presenter and for the audience.

Pulling off a successful presentation is not an easy thing to do. It's hard. There is much discussion, then, among many professionals — not just communication professionals — on the issue of how to make presentations and presenters better today. For businesses and knowledge workers, the situation is both "painful and urgent" in a sense. It's important. Yet, much of the discussion focuses on PowerPoint and on techniques. This talk is not completely inconsequential, of course, but it often dominates discussions on presentation effectiveness. What about discussions concerning the best ways to connect, to teach, to persuade, to motivate, and on and on? These are important issues. Yet talk delves deeply into software, hardware, and tips and tricks. The focus on technique and software features often distracts us from what we should be examining.

Many of us spend too much time fidgeting with and worrying about words and images on slides instead of thinking about how to craft a story which is the most effective, impactful, and appropriate given the current set of circumstances before us (time, budget, audience, venue, etc.). In obsessing on technique and "tricks & effects" we are a bit like the man who has an arrow stuck in him — our situation is urgent and painful, yet we are asking the wrong questions and focusing on that which is relatively inconsequential.

We should be asking ourselves questions such as: What is the fundamental purpose of the presentation? How can I bring clarity to the content? Is there integrity in my pitch, in my research, my conclusions, and in my recommendations? What's the story here? What visual medium is most appropriate for this particular situation and audience? At the very least — absolute minimum — what should (can) this presentation accomplish?

A teacher for one who seeks enlightenment would suggest that the first step for the student is to see that life is somehow out of sync or off kilter, that there is "suffering" if you will. And that this "out-of-kilterness" is a consequence of our own attachment to that which is inconsequential. Likewise, the first step to creating and designing great presentations is to be mindful of the current state of what passes for "normal" PowerPoint presentations and that what is "normal" today is not good enough. What is normal is not good enough if we desire to communicate with more clarity, integrity, beauty, and intelligence. If we are searching for differentiation, is "good enough" good enough?

There are myriad books on presentation skills and also on PowerPoint. Most of them are quite good in their own way, yet they are also quite similar. Answers do not exist in books alone, of course, but a few today stand out. Books like Beyond Bullets and Presenting to Win each have grains of wisdom that will help. I point to others on my resources page and on the sidebar of this page. But they are just books; panaceas do not exist. The "answers" to how to improve our (or our team's) presentation skills are within us already. Yet, books, blogs, teachers, consultants...they can be a big help and a useful guide.

In your work group or with your team, have a brainstorming session where you examine your current views and guidelines (if you have them) concerning your organization's presentations. How are your current presentations out of kilter? In what ways are they in sync? What questions should you be asking about presentation design that you have not asked in the past? What aspects of the design and delivery process have caused "suffering" for your presenters and your audiences? Have past efforts been focused too much on the comparatively inconsequential things? What are the "inconsequential" aspects and where can the focus shift?

Jazz and simplifying complication

Starbucks_1Last week, a great Osaka-based bass player and I backed a couple of cool jazz guitarists in one of the biggest Starbucks cafes in Kansai. We all had a blast. I deeply enjoy playing music for people. I love it because I'm energized by communicating and connecting in creative ways with new people. It's a feeling that is hard to put into words. Sometimes a great seminar or presentation will leave me feeling exhilarated too because I feel that, in my own little way, I made a difference in someone's life. Maybe I inspired them, or helped them in some small measure.

Playing music is a performance and also very much a presentation. Good presentations are after all about conversing, sharing, and connecting at an emotional level in an honest and sincere way. It doesn't get much more honest than jazz. It is even easier to connect when playing music since everything is really laid right out there in front for everyone to see and hear. There are no politics, no walls. The music may touch them or it may not, but there is never even the hint of insincerity, questionable motives, or of being anything other than what people see before them at that moment. The smiles, the heads nodding in agreement, and the feet tapping under the tables tell me that we are connecting. It's a fantastic feeling.

Usually when I play a jazz or a blues gig in the city, I have a larger kit of drums. But moving drums is quite problematic in such an urban jungle like Osaka. So for the Starbucks sessions I followed a Zen-like principle of using only what is absolutely necessary to get the job done. I employed a kind of drumming minimalism, if you will.

I knew that to support the guitar and bass, I would only need the essentials. So, a month ago I purchased another drum kit to go along with my regular set. The new set is designed for portability and is called the Pearl Rhythm Traveler. I only used the 14" bass drum from this kit and added my vintage 1966 Ludwig snare, and Paiste high-hats and ride cymbal. This was all I needed for this particular situation.

Having fewer drums is easier to move, of course, but it also was very liberating musically. The fewer drums and cymbals I use, the more I get out of what I have. It is more challenging and creative. And most importantly, a minimal kit was the most appropriate choice for the moment.

MingusThe great jazz bassist, Charles Mingus, once said that "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." I like that quote so much that I have used it in some presentations. I am not only looking to simplify messages, but simplify logistics as well

Just as a minimal, yet high-quality, drum kit was the most appropriate equipment choice for the Starbucks venue, there are also times when I decide that I will use a whiteboard for a particular presentation and leave the projector at home. Or I may bring some high-quality lap visuals to pass around the table, or a combination of whiteboard and paper. It all depends on the context and circumstance. There are certainly occasions when using a projector in a boardroom is like bringing in an 18-piece drum kit to a small jazz club. It will work, but it's unnecessary...and it can serve as a wall. You will be surprised how free and creative you can become sometimes without the use slides and the hum of a projector. And since the competition is likely using a standard deck of bulletpoint-filled slides, your analog, minimalist approach may just differentiate you and demonstrate that you have thought more about your client's needs.

Learning about presentation from Cirque du Soleil

Alegria_3Earlier this summer I read Peak Performance Presentations by Richard Olivier & Nicholas Janni. There are two fundamental beliefs behind this book. The first is that all presentations are performance. The second is that most of us are not operating anywhere near our peak presentation performance. I agree with this, of course, and I too am always looking for ways to be inspired and kick my own presentation skills up a level or two. Over the weekend I attended Cirque du Soleil in Osaka and came away amazed and inspired.

Frankly, had I not been invited, I probably would have never seen Cirque du Soleil in Japan. But since I always encourage people to stretch themselves and try new things outside the office — you just never know where inspiration will come from — I welcomed the chance to experience something new myself. We were the guests of marketing manager, Montse Moré, who has been with "Cirque" for several years and has been instrumental in making the Japan tour a big hit. Montse was a most gracious host.

The show touring Japan is called "Alegria 2." By definition the show is a circus, but honestly, I did not feel like I was at a circus at any point. Instead, I felt I was at the theatre. From costume and make-up, to stage design and special effects and lighting, the entire production was a testament to the creative human spirit.

The music is what really brought it all together for me. Rather than have the band in a pit, for example, the band was a part of the show, dressed in costume and placed at the rear of the elevated stage in full view of the audience. The two female vocalists had stunning and powerful voices, yet somehow their singing had a soothingly mystical quality that fit perfectly with the fantasy world we entered. The vocalists, too, moved all around the stage and throughout the audience.

After the show, Montse took us back stage and gave us a tour of the whole traveling show. Go to the Fuji TV site to view some behind the scenes photos and a feel for what it is like on the road in Japan.

Even if you think you are not a fan of the circus, your will love Cirque du Soleil's Alegria. If I had a team of creatives — or a team of sales people — I'd take them all out to Cirque du Soleil. Entertaining and fun, yes. But also inspiring.

So what does any of this have to do with business presentations? Here are the lessons I learned (or rather had reinforced) from the Alegria 2 performance:

TumbleDon't let technology or props take away from the experience. In Alegria 2, there are many scene changes requiring different equipment and prop set-ups. Usually in live entertainment, such as during concerts, we see men dressed in black t-shirts lurking near the stage and darting in and out to set-up equipment changes. But at Alegria 2, from the the moment we entered the circus tent we never once were aware of the technical support, though it was certainly there in the dark. And on stage, all prop and equipment changes were done by the cast members themselves in full character so that the illusion of the fantasy was never broken.

Too often in presentations given with PowerPoint, we are all too aware of the software and computer, but the technology should be as invisible as possible. While setting up, for example, don't have the screen on until your first slide is already in play mode. Many presenters actually allow the audience to see the computer screen boot up and then watch them mouse around for their PPT file. We also have a chance to glimpse the desktop picture of the presenter's new baby before the first slide appears. How wonderful...and how irrelevant. All of this subtlety takes away from the moment and from the purpose of the presentation, which is about the message and the story, not what software you are using.

Connect with the audience. Mingle among them. Bring them "on stage" from time to time. At Alegria 2, I felt the cast was not apart from us, instead they were a part of us. We were not just watching a show, we were a member of a live event. There are many things we can do to engage with our audiences too, big or small. From eye contact to smiles, to asking questions and asking for volunteers to help with a demo. Each case is different, but one thing is clear: An audience that feels they are a part of it and shown the respect of engagement from the presenter (or artists) are more likely to pay attention, to listen, and in the end, to "get it."

Pace. At no time did the show drag. The two-hour show went by in a flash. Every act ended with you wanting to see just a bit more, yet the show never felt rushed. In the business world, many presentations drag on and on with superfluous or gratuitous points. Better to have the audience wanting a little more, rather than filling them up to the satiated point.

Little mistakes can happen, so what? Move on immediately to what is important. I noticed one slip and gracious fall on to the net during the Super Aerial High Bar. The point was not the one slip, the point is amazing the audience with the 1000 other things that are going right. The audience does not even notice small mistake as they are often engrossed in the big picture. In a presentation context, the audience does not know (or care) if you forgot to insert a slide or if the color is not as perfect as it was on your PC. Why dwell on the small imperfections? Sure, if there is a mistake or change in the data, that can not be over looked. But when small technical errors occur, remember the "show must go on."

Next time you see a professional performance of some kind, ask yourself how you can incorporate some of their technique and skill in your next presentation. To some degree, every presentation is a performance. In the mean time, try to see a live performance of Alegria if you can.