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October 2005

Going Visual: Using alpha channel masks

You do not have to use slideware to make a good presentation. But if you do decide to use PowerPoint or Keynote for visual support, there is no point in doing the same old "usual PowerPoint thing." Be different. Go visual. When "going visual," typically you will use only (high-quality) JPEGs for photographic images in slideware and little or no manipulation of the images is needed. However, if your want to kick your images up a notch or two, trying using images with alpha channel masks.

What's an alpha channel mask?

The Apple site shows a good example of using an alpha channel mask on a photo of a magnifying class to obtain a transparency effect. And Indezine has a very good introduction to alpha channels and Powerpoint.

In Keynote, and now in PowerPoint too, you can include images with alpha channel masks. These images can be quite useful. If, for example, you want the background of an image to be 100% transparent, you can add a mask in Photoshop and "delete" the parts of the image you want to appear transparent, revealing the background of your slide. You can see what I am talking about in the two slides below.

    Png_sample    Jpeg_sample

The slide above (left) uses a PNG file with only the subject selected, not the whole image. The slide on the right has the JPEG version without the mask. PowerPoint has a tool that will delete the background color of an image if it is a solid color, but in my experience it does not produce professional results on all images.

I often use multilayered Photoshop files and then save them as PNG files. The downside is that PNG files are very large compared to JPEGs (which do not use masks), but today's laptops are plenty powerful to handle very large PPT/KEY presentations smoothly. Keynote 1.0 handles PNG files, but older versions of PowerPoint do not.

My simple technique
My method is to take an image into Photoshop and then duplicate it by dragging the image to the "Create a new layer" icon on the layers toolbar (see below). Now I have two layers of the image. I then change the bottom layer to a color similar to my slide background. Then on the top layer I can select and delete sections or make selected areas more or less transparent. Then I simply delete the bottom layer, leaving me with just my original image, now with selected areas transparent. You can see the Photoshop "checkered board" underneath the areas that will appear transparent when you place the image in slideware.

Layer1_1   Layer2  
Examples of a PNG file over a video in a slide
An interesting, subtle effect you can do quite easily is to have a movie appear behind a transparent part of your image. It is a good idea to use video clips within your slideware, such as an interview with a customer or an expert in the field. Usually when we do this we just have a video clip start, say in it's 320x240 window. But you could place the video within an image of a TV or even make it appear as a reflection of a camera lens. Download these two videos below (exported to QT from Keynote) to see short samples of the slides (each less than 2MB). Both examples feature a single slide with running video (the slide on the right has a bit of animation as well).

    Cm_screen_1       Camera_screen_1       
          Download this sample                     Download this sample (no audio)

Below are screenshots which describe a bit of how I made the slide with a single JPEG (purchased from istockphoto) which I edited and saved as a PNG file and placed over three versions of the same small QuickTime movie.

    No_lens_1   Lens

In the original image (above left) I selected the lens (with 1 pixel feathered for smoothness) and cut it out. I then saved the lens as a separate file. Next (above right) is the image placed in the slide. You can see the slide background were the lens used to be. I then placed the image of the lens back were it should be, but now I can control its opacity separate from the entire larger image (because it is actually a separate image). Alternatively, I could have just selected the lens area and lowered the opacity directly on the larger original image (that's what I did with the eyes of the woman), but then I could not adjust the opacity of the lens directly in the slideware separate from the larger image.

      Block     Block_back

To illustrate the lowered opacity of the lens and eyes in the image, I placed a simple orange box (PPT/KEY object) on top in the slide (above left). When I send the orange object to the back, you can easily see how the larger imaged is masked, revealing what is underneath (above right).

     Objects_front     Objects_back
(Above left) I place three copies of the short video clip (of our band in the studio, sans audio) on top of the larger image in the slide. Then I send the videos to the back (right) and the moving images appear as reflections in the lens and the eyes.

The example above is used to show the possibilities. Frankly, I do not know if you would ever want to show reflections of moving images in the iris of the human eye. This is an example of technique only.

Note: You might be saying to yourself that all this work seems to violate the idea of keeping presentations simple. However, whether or not you find this image technique useful, supremely superfluous, or just too complicated is entirely up to you and your unique situation. You do not need to know all the techniques Photoshop has to offer in order to "go visual" with your presentations. However, if you think it is appropriate for your situation, now or sometime in the future, I can promise you that knowing basic Photoshop techniques will prove to be very useful for you.

Questions about Photoshop and images? Try the forums on the site. Various Photoshop tutorials also available at Adobe Evangelists and at

More on getting naked

Piano"Presenting naked" involves being lost in the moment. I do not mean lost as in losing your place. I mean being so "in the moment" — without worry of the past or future — that you are as demonstrably interested (or moved, impassioned, excited, etc.) as your audience has (or will) become. This is a true connection.

A fantastic book on creativity, Brenda Ueland's If you Want to Write, speaks of the importance of being "in the moment" to maximize our creativity and impact on an audience. The harnessing of this creative energy and being fully present is more of an intuitive activity, not an intellectual one. Ueland compares this kind of creativity and connection to a wonderful musical performance.

In playing a musical instrument such as the piano, for example, sometimes you play at it and sometimes you play in it. The goal is not to repeat the notes on a page but to play beautiful music. To be in it, not separate from it. Great musicians play in it (even if not always technically perfect). The same thing holds for presentations. The aim should be to be in it completely at that moment in time. Perfection of technique is not obtainable perhaps (or even desirable), but a kind of "perfect" connection can exist between the audience and artist (or presenter) when she "plays in it."

"Only when you play in a thing, do people listen and hear you and are moved."

                                                             — Brenda Ueland

"Only when you play in a thing," Ueland says, "do people listen and hear you and are moved." Your music is believable and authentic because you are "lost in it" not intellectualizing it or following a set of prescribe rules (notes, instructions). We are moved because the artist is clearly and authentically moved as well. Can this not hold true for presentations? With presentations, you are believable because you too are moved. You have to believe in your message completely or no one else will. You must believe in yourself fully and be "lost in the moment" of engaging your audience.

BathMore on the "naked truth" in Japan
Since we were talking about "presenting naked" and Hadaka no Tsukiai in the previous post, I thought I'd point you to some photos from my friend Markuz Wernli Saito. Markuz, a fantastic presenter by the way, is a designer and photographer from Switzerland who divides his time between San Francisco and Kyoto. He is the photographer and designer for the new book Mirei Shigemori: Modernizing the Japanese Garden.

Onsens (hot springs) are not the only place to get nude and speak the "naked truth" in Japan. The sento (public bath) is a common feature in Japanese cities and towns as well, although their numbers are decreasing. Markuz does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of this slice of traditional Japan in a way that is fresh and, well...naked.

See a photographic essay on the Japanese sento by Markuz Wernli Saito. The sento is "an unpretentious communal space for cleaning one’s body and soul," says Markuz.

Make your next presentation naked

Onsens (hot springs) are ubiquitous in Japan and an important part of culture. The act of getting naked and soaking in the bath with others is a means of communication. In Japanese it's called Hadaka no tsukiai (Communication in the nude). With Hadaka no tsukiai, to soak with others in your in-group is to freely expose everything and communicate the "naked truth." Naked, we are all the same regardless of rank. In theory at least, this kind of exposure leads to better, more honest communication.


This got me thinking: What if we thought of designing and delivering business presentations in a way that was more naked as well? A way that was simpler, fresher — perhaps even a bit cheeky — and far more satisfying to both presenter and audience. That is, in a way that was freer. Free from worry. Free from anxiety over what other people will think. Free from self-doubt. Free from tricks and gimmicks and the pressure to pull those off. Free from hiding behind anything (including slides) and the fear of possible exposure that accompanies such hiding. Remove all encumbrances, be in the moment, naked...and connect.

Being naked
Being naked involves stripping away all that is unnecessary to get at the essence of your message. The naked presenter approaches the presentation task embracing the ideas of simplicity, clarity, honesty, integrity, and passion. She presents with a certain freshness. The ideas may or may not be radical, earth shattering, or new. But there is a "newness" and freshness to her approach and to her content. And if she uses slideware, her slides fit well with her talk and are harmonious with her message. The slides are in synch, and are simple and beautifully designed, yet never steal the show or rise above serving a strong but simple supportive role.

Why are we afraid to be naked?
Presenting naked is hard to do. But it wasn't always this way. When we were younger and we performed "show and tell" at the front of the class in elementary school, we were honest and engaged — sometimes our candor even made the children laugh and the teacher blush. But it was real. We told great stories...and we were only six. Now we are experienced and mature, we have advanced degrees and deep knowledge in important fields...and we are boring.

One reason we are so dull as adult presenters is because we are overly cautious. We are afraid. We want it all to be so safe and perfect, so we over think it and put up a great many barriers. Or we retreat, however unconsciously, and play it safe by hiding behind a stack of bulleted lists in a darken room in a style void of emotion. After all, no one ever got fired for just stating the facts, right?

Next time, to be different — to separate yourself from the crowd — try presenting naked.

How to present naked
This is not an exhaustive list (so please send me your naked ideas), but here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to present naked.

Be present in the moment. Right here right now. Do not be occupied with thoughts of the future, of thoughts concerning what the results of your presentation might lead to. Do not ask about origins and ends leaving the moment forgotten. When you are with your audience, all that matters is that moment.

Don't try to impress. Instead try to, share, help, inspire, teach, inform, guide, persuade, motivate... or make the world a little bit better.

Keep the lights on. Find a compromise between a bright screen and enough room light for you to be seen. Do not hide in the dark — the audience came to see you as well as hear you.

Forget the podium. Move away from obstacles that are between you and the audience.

If (big if!) you use multimedia, use a small remote allowing you to have the freedom to move around the room/stage as you like.

Don't attempt to hide. What's the point? Do not be evasive intellectually or physically. 

Do not become attached to your software — if your computer crashes, screw it...the show must go on immediately, not after you have rebooted. Stuff happens, move on. Your message is far greater than the technology helping you.

Keep it simple. All of it. Simple goals, clear messages, and moderation in length.

Are you just a bit cheeky? Then that should show in your presentations too. Let your personality shine through. Why hide one of your biggest differentiators?

Do not use corporate-speak — speak like a human being. You can not be naked if you say something like "best practices" or "empowering a new paradigm."

Think of your audience as being active participants not passive listeners. Engage you audience. Often, we should listen more than speak.

Be comfortable with yourself being naked. It takes practice and it takes confidence. The confidence comes with practice. Audiences hate arrogance and cockiness, but they love confidence...if it is genuine.

Never decorate your messages or your supporting visuals. Decoration is veneer. Think design, but never decoration. Design is soul deep, decoration is "Happy Birthday" placed atop a sponge cake.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take a chance. This is a key component of authenticity.

Think in terms of what makes a good meal and good design. Think balance, harmony, variety...and content that leaves them satisfied and delighted, yet wanting more.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Therefore, I hope you will share your ideas here on other ways to "present naked." I'd love to hear from you.

Presenting 100% naked may not be appropriate for every case, but stripping down as much as we can often will make a huge, refreshing difference. The result will be a presentation that is different and somehow more real, "real" like a frank conversation among friends. In my experience, the higher up the management chain you go, the less real the talk. People at the highest level of management do not often present naked, but I wish they would.


Presentation, blues, and tapping into your creative soul

Blues_osakaI worked my way through college playing drums in different jazz groups. I have not played music fulltime for many years, but it is important I think for working professionals — no matter their field — to stay in touch with their "creative soul" and to nurture it. What a waste it would be to ignore one of your passions or talents. Frankly, you just never know where inspiration will come from. Inspiration, clarity, or a new perspective may materialize unforced as you climb that mountain in Nepal, paint that portrait, photograph that sunset, write that novel...or find that "pocket" while swinging with fellow musicians in a downtown nightclub.

I am a jazz guy, but over the weekend I played live with the GMS Blues Band, comprising of myself on drums and a fantastic blues guitarist/singer from the U.S. and a great studio bassist visiting Japan from Switzerland. It's so good for the creative soul to play live and connect with other musicians and an audience. Blues especially is about connecting and telling a story through the words and music. It's about feelings.

Playing the blues well is similar to making great presentations: it's not about technique. Once you begin to focus on technique and tricks and flash and making an impression...all is lost.

I like to play with people who can play simple and are not threatened by other musicians thinking they can't play. And that eliminates 99 percent of all musicians.
                         — Neil Young

Garr_jazztrioB.B. King is a legend. No one does it like he does. He's not flashy and he doesn't try to impress with speed or technique. That's not what it's about. That's not what the blues is about. It's about telling a story and making a connection in a way that can not be duplicated by anyone else. If you are being true to yourself and the audience, if you are authentic, how could it possibly be duplicated?

Many people can play good technique. With study, technique is not too difficult for many people. Computers, for example, can play "perfect technique." But even with perfect technique, computer-generated blues would lack substance and would seem empty. It would seem empty because there is no "feel" to it. To me "feel" is that kind of perfectly imperfect human quality that conveys emotion and the spontaneity of the time. That one moment in time that can not be repeated the same way again. And that's beautiful.

Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel.

                         — Jimi Hendrix

Do you have enough confidence to ignore 90% of PowerPoint?
PowerPoint is easy to use, especially if you ignore 90% of its functions. The technique required to make the slides accompanying many of the presentations highlighted on this website (e.g., Kawasaki, Jobs, Lessig, etc.) and all my presentations visually are very simple: simple/few transitions, few or no animations, a few words and high quality graphics, and maybe a video or two inserted. Even if you never used PowerPoint in your life, you could master the 10% of it you actually need in an hour or two with a tutor. Most of my coaching involves getting clients to unlearn and forget what they already know. When it comes to slideware functions, I don't think the challenge is to learn more, but rather to ignore more and forget more.

It is not about technique alone. Never. Yes, the basics of software are important to know. Delivery techniques and "dos & don'ts" are useful to understand. But the truly great presenters approach the whole process as an art. The "art of presentation" transcends technique and enables an individual to remove walls and connect with an audience to inform or persuade in a very meaningful, unique moment in time. Sometimes, at least in a small way,...a good presenter can even change the world.

Characterizing master swordsman Odagiri Ichiun's ideas on technique, Zen scholar Daisetzu Suzuki says, "...the first principle of the art is not to rely  on tricks of technique. Most swordsmen make too much of technique, sometimes making it their chief concern ..." And most presenters make the slideware their chief concern in the preparation process and in the delivery. This often ends up in a wasted opportunity to connect and "find that pocket" with an audience.

Steve Jobs' presentation style...and all that jazz


Even legendary jazz artist and master performer, Wynton Marsalis, couldn't help but be impressed by Jobs' presentation skills. Just seconds before Marsalis raised his trumpet to play, he paused and said (without a direct mic)..."That was a great presentation." The audience laughed at what was clearly a spontaneous gesture. Marsalis and his band were the "encore" to Steve Jobs' special presentation and media event in San Jose, California yesterday (October 12). And Marsalis was right: It was a great usual.

Presentations are conversations
Watch_1What has always made Steve Jobs such a great presenter is that he seems relaxed and informal in tone and style (yet gracious), as if he were having a conversation with a group of friends at home in the backyard. There are no magic tricks to his success nor is his effective style the result of years of dramatic study. Yes, his slides are simple and stunning, and his speaking synchs perfectly with the visuals. That's very important. But the essence of his masterful style is something many (most?) people can achieve in their own unique way. The secret is to communicate in front of a large group the same way you do everyday when you are talking with your spouse or your best friend down at the local Starbucks. The key is to look at presentations as conversations.

Let your personality shine through
When you talk with your friends about something of deep, mutual interest, do you speak to a deck of bullet points on a slide? Do you pace slowly, cautiously...boringly through your dialog? Do your friends or coworkers at the water cooler fall asleep while you talk. I doubt it. Most people — even those who give some pretty bad, sleep-inducing PowerPoint presentations — are (at least relatively) interesting and alive when they are in conversations at work or with friends.

So what happens in presentations? Why do otherwise interesting and intelligent people become so dull and seemingly disconnected during business presentations, class lectures, or while presenting at a conference? The causes, of course, are many. This website is dedicated, at least in a small way, to putting a spotlight on some of the causes and exploring solutions. In the end, it is up to every professional to become aware of their strengths and weakness and act to improve, improve significantly. While I never offer panaceas, one thing that will help is if you approach the delivery (though not the preparation, of course) the same way you do a conversation with friends. You have a unique personality...let it come out naturally in your presentations. You'll be amazed at the difference.

One more thing...
Speaking of letting your personality come out, what was interesting to me about Steve's presentation this week was the way he joked around and was having such fun making goofy faces and laughing at himself while demoing the new iMac built-in camera. The fun he was having clearly was felt by the audience as they were laughing right along with him.

Three acts, one more thing, & an encore
Steve started his presentation by saying that " every classic story, I've divided it into three acts."

Act I
Act I was on the new iMac and after reviewing how great the current iMac has already been he kicks it up by introducing the new iMac, focusing on three clearly defined areas: (1) New iMac is thinner, (2) The video camera is now built in, (3) New Front Row feature with remote.

Act II
In Act II Steve introduces the new iPod which now plays video content. But before he introduced the new iPod he reviewed the "old" iPod's history of success and really built it up, instilling a feeling of "the iPod is already great...and it just got better."

In Act III Steve talks about the new iTunes (iTunes 6) reminding people that iTunes 5 was just released a few weeks ago. He broke the iTunes section into four parts with part four being the "landmark deal" with ABC/Disney to make TV shows available for download via iTunes and played on your new iPod.

Take a look at some of the slides behind Steve in the photos below to get a feel of the Zen-like simplicity of his visuals. He has great visuals and a natural interaction with them. But the real key is his ability to connect and have an interesting conversation with the audience.

Act I...

the new iMac

Act I is divided into three parts

Jobs enjoys his demo...and delights the crowd.

Remotes_1   Apple_remote
Jobs: "I don't know if there's ever been a slide that captures what Apple's about as much as this one..." Get it? Apple = elegant, simple. The other guys = ? Well, you know...

Reviewing the new iMac. It's like the old iMac except for these nice additions (and the 20" model is cheaper). No bullet points? (gasp)

Act II focus on the iPod. The "old" iPod is "amazing"...and now it plays video too.

Evolution of the iPod.

The iPod marcom kicks it up another level artistically.

Act III focuses on iTunes and the "landmark" announcement with ABC/Disney.

The iTunes section is divided into four parts with the TV announcement saved for last. (BTW, when did "gift" become a verb? Perhaps "gifting" is more "impactful"...hmm...).

Reviewing the video you can now watch on your (new) iPod. That's cool, but...

There's more...

Pulling off the landmark deal. Jobs: "Hey, I know these guys!"

You can now download (some) TV shows from ABC the day after they air...

Passionate. Enthusiastic. Conversational. Real. More presentations should be like this.

Closing big. "...because it's all about the music..."

"It doesn't get any better than this..."

With music, a little over an hour. Well done...again.

The media files out to get their hands on the new products.

Watch Steve's latest presentation.
Watch other presentations by Steve Jobs.
Another Presentation Zen post on Steve Jobs from September.
Fortune Magazine article on the contents of the presentation.

Apple's iMac page.
Apple's iPod page.
Apple's iTunes page.

Latest U2 iPod TV ad. Quality images for "the rest of us"

NightviewIf you decide to use slideware to support your presentation, you might be asking, as one Presentation Zen reader recently put it to me, "Where can I get images that don't suck?!"

There are many options out there, but keep in mind that the best sites, such as Getty Images, are expensive with low-rez images (suitable for slides or web) often $75-$100 depending on usage. Getty has great quality and selection, no question, but what if you can not afford to make a slide presentation costing hundreds or thousands of dollars in stock image fees? In this case, low cost royalty-free images are an alternative. has a good monthly, flat fee service that is affordable at $139 per month. But the site I recommend most is

About a year ago I mentioned to Guy Kawasaki that I had started a new design group in Japan. Guy then told me about his buddy's new organization called and thought designers here in Japan whom I know might be interested. I was impressed with the site. At that time the selection at iStock was not huge by any means, but the search engine was good and I could find some gems in there. The best thing about iStock was the price — $1.00 per low-rez image and a maximum for the highest resolution images of $2.00 or $3.00 (U.S.). A fantastic price.

iStock is incredibly easy to use and after you search you can just roll over thumbs to get a larger view without having to open another page. You can even add a color field to your search. For example, I can modify my search on the fly for "Coffee AND Drink" by clicking a black square on the spectrum at the top of the page to narrow my search further to images featuring cups of coffee with black or dark backgrounds.


I do not suggest you limit your image searches to only — I have a shelf full of Photo CDs and subscribe to other photo sites as well myself — but this is one site that you really must bookmark. They are adding images every week and just keep getting better and better. iStock has a "free image of the week" so you may want to check back from time to time to see what's new (and free).

And just in case you were wondering, no, I do not know anyone at iStock...I'm just a fan.

Read iStockphoto's interview with Guy Kawasaki. Guy offers some good advice for designers and design agencies. And in this interview with Yorkshire Media, Guy answers an important question concerning the iStockphoto business model (half way through the interview).

Read what iStock is all about here (includes a movie of how it works).

If some of you have a favorite site for getting images, I'd love to hear about them.

Voswinckel on “visualistic” presentation support's PowerPointless has up-to-date links to seemingly every article related to PowerPoint or presentations in the popular online media over the last several years, dating back to 1998. It was there that I found Till Voswinckel's thesis, Presentational Visualisation Towards An Imagery-based Approach Of Presentation Visuals. If you give presentations in your job, even if only occasionally, this is a document you will want to download, print, staple, and give a good read.

Here is Voswinckel's Hypothesis from page seven:

"Much of the research to be discussed within this work is equally directed at providing scientific evidence to an approach of primarily “visualistic” presentation support. Inspired by Don Norman’s assumption of text as “the last thing people should put on a PowerPoint slide”, a number of cognitive science-related theories such as mental imagery and picture superiority effects will be discussed in order to put forward a conceptive alternative directed towards visual imagery approaches: An understanding of pictorial methodology as being more optimally suited as a means of effective communications in terms of cognition, learning, and persuasion, than the aforementioned, text- and bullet-centric slide paradigms."

There is a lot of anecdotal "proof" that the "normal way" of presenting (i.e., boring, dull, accompanied by bulleted lists on slides) is ineffective at best. My own experience — and the experience of many of you reading this, no doubt — is that the best visual support occurs when the presenter's words are synchronized with and augmented by full-screen, high quality photos or other high quality images, with text being used sparingly on screen if at all. The research by Richard Mayer (Multimedia Learning) puts forth at least some scientific proof which supports our anecdotal evidence.

Voswinckel uses Mayer's work — and the work of many others as well — to reach a similar conclusion. From page 116:

"Research discussed within this work has therefore evidently substantiated our hypothesis that unlike with current, text–centric slide paradigms, people actually reason, understand, and even learn significantly better from purely visual material. Moreover, particularly persuasion effects see themselves considerably augmented with the application of vivid, realistic, and as such, photographic material..."

In the end, the author states that his hope is to "...contribute to a more intense, public discussion about how particularly software–based approaches might henceforth facilitate the necessary shift “beyond bullet points” in presentational visualization." If nothing else, this work provides a very good bibliography pointing to myriad works from various fields related to presentation. I have not had a chance yet to read the entire thesis critically, but there is no doubt that this paper will contribute to the on-going discussions concerning the best ways to present and the role of slideware.

Download Voswinckel's entire 153-page thesis, "Presentational Visualization."

The "Lessig Method" of presentation

Sample_3The "Lessig Method" of presentation is not an official method per se, but many people who know about the work of Stanford law professor, Lawrence Lessig, have been inspired by his presentation style and informally refer to his approach as something unique indeed.

Those who have seen Lessig present have been talking about his approach for a while. David Hornik at VentureBlog wrote a post entitled Putting the "Power" in Powerpoint over two years ago. In this post he heaps praise on the presentation style of Lessig. Hornik says Lessig's presentations "are a fantastic combination of content, art and brand...."

James MacLennan may have been the first to put a label on Lessig's presentation style, calling it the "Lessig Method" which he likens to the Takahashi Method in Japan because Lessig's slides often contain just a single word, short quote, or a photo. The Takahashi Method and Professor Lessig's approach do have similarities, though Lessig uses photos and other graphics, albeit sparingly. MacLennan does a good job of reviewing recent posts in the blogosphere concerning presentations and slideware.

Here is a good example of the "Lessig Method" of presentation. You can see the 243 slides and hear his narration along with them in Flash. Unfortunately you can not see the presenter himself at the same time. Still, judging from the live recording of the presentation, we can get a pretty good idea of the smooth way Lessig synchronized his visuals with his speaking, i.e., the story he was telling about his ideas on "free culture." You can even download the PowerPoint file (sans the Mickey video) on this resource page.

See Dick present "Lessig Style"
There are more videos of Lessig lecturing and presenting here. But there is even a better example available. Scott, a Presentation Zen reader, sent me a note on Monday pointing out the unique presentation style of Dick Hardt. Hardt gives credit to Lessig for inspiring the unique method he used in his presentation on Identity 2.0.

Hardt speaks for 15 minutes and synchronizes his talk quite smoothly to what must be several hundred slides. Most slides are no more than a word or two, a short quote, or a photo. Most slides are visible no more than a few seconds.

Hardt's presentation style is not applicable to every case, of course. Often we need to go much more slowly. But for this short kind of presentation, content, and audience, it worked well. For longer presentations it would be more appropriate to change pace — sometimes moving quickly, slowing way down at other times to explain a confusing point, for example. His introduction is excellent though and is a style many people may want to experiment with to grab the attention of the audience and make an impression, and then later slowing down a bit when needed as the presentation progresses. Also, I would like to see Hardt use a remote and move away from his PowerBook.

It's not the size of your deck that counts
I guarantee you there is no presentation book on the market that would recommend you use a few hundred slides, some visible for 1-2 seconds, for a 15-minute presentation. That's crazy talk, right? Yet, it works in this particular case for this particular audience and for the particular allotted time, a short 15-minutes. This is why I never recommend a specific number of slides, or even that a presenter must use slideware at all. It depends.

As we like to say in Japan, it all depends on TPO (Time, Place, Occasion). Who's to say what an appropriate number of slides should be? It depends on the content and the presenter as well. Guy Kawasaki is amazing with 10 slides in his PowerPoint deck at his popular speaking appearances. Tom Peters may wow a crowd with his content and enthusiasm with a deck of 100 PowerPoint slides (I don't suggest you copy Tom's PPT design style, by the way...more on that at another time). The number is not important. To be concerned with the number of slides shows that our head is in the wrong place. is the wrong question to ask.

     LEFT: Complete deck from Kawasaki's presentation. RIGHT: Partial deck from Peter's PPT.

Watch Hardt's 15-minute presentation and Lessig's Flash presentation. Ask yourself how you can incorporate aspects of the "Lessig Method" that will help kick the quality of your presentations up a notch. How can you use these simple visual techniques in slides and yet still keep your message conversational and your connection with the audience strong?

FEMA chart becomes brunt of joke.

Stwart_topAll too often, I find myself confused by a chart someone is using in their presentation. This is ironic since the whole point of going to the trouble of making a chart or a diagram and using it in a presentation is to help facilitate understanding, not create confusion. As Edward Tufte, world-famous PowerPoint critic and mocker of PowerPoint "chart junk" says, at the very least it (PowerPoint) should do no harm. Graphics when done well can help. When done poorly they undermine our messages. Poor design can even become the object of a joke as well.

Case in point
Last week, on Comedy Central's Daily show, "news anchor" Jon Stewart ran a short piece on an odd chart which appears on the FEMA website. A chart which illustrates FEMA's involvement in what the agency calls "the life cycle of disasters." Commenting on FEMA's controversial response to Katrina, host Jon Stewart said, "What should FEMA have done? Perhaps the answer can be found on their website...." Stewart continues:

"This chart (below), clearly depicting the agencies responsibilities in the event of a disaster....It begins with a response to a disaster, leads to recovery, mitigation, risk reduction, prevention, preparedness...(dramatic pause) and ends up BACK IN DISASTER!"

"In truth, FEMA did exactly what they said they were going to do."     —  Jon Stewart                              

See the video clip here (go to the 4:00 minute mark if you do not want to see the entire "news" segment.)
This chart could give the impression that FEMA's response to a disaster...ends up in disaster. Not what they had in mind when they slapped the graphic together, to be sure. FEMA is an important agency which does very important work. The agency deserves a better "What we do" graphic, and a better overall website for that matter.

The aesthetics
The chart has obvious design problems. The text labels inside the arrows are difficult to read. For example, two of the five text labels are set almost vertically (RESPONSE, PREVENTION) and the other (PREPAREDNESS), is set almost completely upside down. All upper case type does not help things either.

This graphic looks like something an employee who's in a hurry or inexperienced (or both) would spit out in PowerPoint or Word, print, and then tape inside the front window of the neighborhood liquor store announcing 50% off cases of Budweiser. The arrows and the star (simulating disaster) would appear to be run-of-the-mill "Auto Shapes" included in Microsoft Office software.

Ugliness aside
The graphic is ugly, yes. But that is not the real problem with it. The website says that the process begins when "...managers prepare for emergencies and disasters." So the cycle begins with "Preparedness." However, the graphic implies, judging from the "Disaster" starburst auto shape in the center, that the process begins with a disaster and a reaction to that disaster, and then prevention and preparedness sometime later...after the disaster.

Lifecycle_1Is describing what FEMA does really best understood in terms of a cycle, especially a life cycle? When I think of an example of a life cycle I think back to elementary school when I learned about the life cycle of the butterfly. Even a child understands this simple idea with the help of a basic chart: An adult butterfly lays an egg; egg hatches into a caterpillar; the caterpillar forms the chrysalis or pupa ("that sack thingy"); and this then turns into a butterfly. These are stages and we can easily draw a diagram of this kind of perpetuating cycle. Some 30 years later I still remember that chart.

Perhaps FEMA would have been better advised to show the stages in a more linear way? Marketing folks, for example, like to show the New Product Adoption Life Cycle in a more "linear" manner, revealing stages of adoption over time in the form of a bell shaped curve moving left to right (see example chart from crossing the Chasm here). I do not have examples of a more appropriate chart, but no doubt there are far better ways to show the various stages of the work FEMA does rather than a confusing "life cycle" that "begins in disaster and ends in disaster."

Even with help of live narration, this graphic would not do the best job possible of supporting the speaker trying to convey the message (from the FEMA website): "And at every stage of this cycle you see FEMA...." As a slide it would be inappropriate, no doubt. As a graphic on a website it sends an unintended (or at least confusing) message with no one there to clarify.

If you are (were) teaching a graphic design class, it would be quite interesting to assign students the task of creating a graphic that best helps people understand the role of FEMA. No doubt you would get many interpretations. As an experiment, (you could) tell half the students that the graphic should represent "the stages of FEMA involvement in a disaster" and tell the other half of the students to show "FEMA's involvement in the disaster life cycle." I wonder if thinking in terms of "stages" or "a process" (rather than "life cycle") would lead to better designs?

The "Monta Method"

Monta_1In addition to the Takahashi Method, there is another presentation method in Japan that is in the early stages of getting some buzz: "The Monta Method."

What, you never heard of the "Monta Method" of presenting? Well, you are not alone. Most Japanese have not heard of this slide presentation method, even though the method is based on the analog presentation style of a famous Japanese TV personality, Mino Monta.

Like the Takahashi Method, the "Monta Method" was introduced first by a knowledge worker in the tech field here in Japan. Mr. Shinichiro Oba, a director in a Japanese IT company didn't invent the technique but he was the first to put a name to it and apply Mr. Monta's analog techniques from his TV programs to the ubiquitous digital PowerPoint (in his case, Keynote) presentations in the world of business, research, and academia.

A little background
Mino Monta — a Japanese version of America's Regis Philbin — is one of the most popular TV personalities in Japan. He has a daily TV show, aimed primarily at housewives, were he often introduces new trends, health tips, celebrity gossip, etc. When he introduces a new topic he typically takes a seat at a table and holds up a poster board filled with different sentences but with many parts covered with strips of paper. Other times he may stand next to a larger board filled with questions and answers. The answers (and sometimes the questions too) are covered by adhesive strips. When he is ready to give the answer, he can easily peal off the strip revealing the answer, much to the surprise and amusement of the audience.

Monta_2Mino Monta is not the only TV personality to use the technique. In fact the approach of showing a sentence with parts of it covered or the answer to the question covered is a popular presentation technique on Japanese TV talk shows, news broadcasts, and educational programs. This is a variation of the "fill in the blank" type of exam question so common in Japanese schools.

On his blog, Shinichiro Oba explains in Japanese the details, advantages and disadvantages of the "Monta Method." Because some words or answers are hidden, the audience is more interested and curious about what's on the other side of the strip of paper. Oba says it is similar to the way people become more curious about adult videos in Japan because the "naughty bits" are blurred out with a mosaic filter. He implies that when you hide parts of text blocks or graphics on a screen it elicits a similar kind of curiosity in the audience (well, perhaps a slightly different kind...but you get his idea).

You can see his Keynote presentation on the Monta Method in Quicktime. (Just click on the video image to advance to the next slide.) Even if you do not read Japanese, you can get a feel for his adaptation of Mr. Monta's analog style to slideware.

Monta_method_3Compared with the Takahashi Method, Oba says, the Monta Method is more conversational. It's certainly true that asking questions to the audience and encouraging them to get involved with you and your visuals is very effective for making emotional connections and keeping people engaged with you and your material. Typical "PowerPoint presentations" tend to talk at people rather than with them.

Oba suggests that if all your slides were to follow the Monta Method, your printed slides could make a reasonable (though not perfect) "handout" since the Q & A format of the slide content can be understood without the presenter present.

Oba notes that one downside of the method is that some audiences may feel the technique is too much like "teaching" and there is a risk of appearing to talk down to an audience if you are not careful.

Your mileage may very
Of course, Oba is quick to point out that your success with this method depends very much on "TPO" (Time Place Occasion, a common Japanese expression). This idea of your particular results with a technique being very much dependent on TPO (i.e., your unique circumstance/situation) sounds a bit Zen-like, does it not? In Zen we learn that technique alone is not enough and we must be careful never to blindly follow rules or technique. Technique is important (whether in pursuit of enlightenment, better presentation skills, or a better backhand in tennis). But we must live in the real world and adjust and remain fluid and flexible with an eye to our unique situation.

So give the "Monta Method" a try if you think it may be appropriate. It is quite easy to do with PowerPoint or Keynote. For many situations, it may be better to use this method or technique only occasionally during the course of your talk to break things up and get the audience involved. It is not necessary to have your entire presentation design based on this method.

I have been using variations of this method in parts of my presentations for years. For example, take a look at my sample slides from this post from July where I compare speeches by Lincoln and Everett. Here you can see that I did not hide information, but I revealed it after I asked the audience for the answer or their opinion. I usually use this kind of approach often in a presentation. The longer the presentation, the more important this kind of technique can be.