After flying across the Pacific and stopping by Silicon Valley before Christmas, I've been spending the holidays with family here on the north Oregon Coast. The weather has been rainy and blustery, typical for this time of year. Still, I have managed to get a run in everyday on the beach, usually in between storm fronts. Rain or shine, this part of the world is green, gorgeous...and inspiring.
How do you find your solitude? There are many ways to find solitude, and you don't even have to be alone. I find a very pleasant form of solitude, for example, at "my Starbucks" down the street from our house back in Osaka. It's a bustling café but also cozy and relaxing with loads of overstuffed sofas and chairs. But by living in cities all these years — in Japan and in the San Francisco Bay Area — I had forgotten just how good for the soul these long, solitary runs on the beach could be. No iPod, just the sound of my own breathing and the pounding roar of the Pacific Ocean. I love urban life in Japan, but what I miss about living here on the north Oregon coast are the long runs on these amazing long beaches.
The need for solitude Perhaps one reason why many business presentations are so poor is that people today just do not have enough time to step back and really assess what is important and what is not. They often fail to bring anything unique or creative to the presentation, not because they are not smart or creative beings, but because they did not take the time alone to slow down and contemplate the problem. I'm not saying that more "alone time" is a panacea for a lack of ideas or that it necessarily leads to more creativity, but I think you will be pleasantly surprised if you can create more time every day, every week, month, and year to experience solitude. For me at least, solitude helps achieve greater focus and clarity while also allowing me to see the big picture.
Many believe that solitude is a human need, and to deny it is very unhealthy for both mind and body. Dr. Ester Buchholz, a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist who died in 2004 at the age of 71, did quite a bit of research on solitude during her career, what she called "alonetime." She thought that society undervalued solitude and alone time and overvalued attachment. Dr. Buchholz thought that periods of solitude were important if we were to tap our creative potential:
"Life's creative solutions require alonetime. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems. Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers." — Ester Buchholz
I do not want to overly romanticize solitude. Too much "alonetime" obviously can be a bad thing as well, yet in today's busy world too much solitude is a problem faced by few of us. For most professionals, finding some time alone can be a great struggle indeed.
Whatever your personal and professional goals are for 2007, I hope that you'll be able to get a few more "stolen moments" of solitude this year. Everything in balance, of course, but I don't think cherishing your time alone is something to feel guilty about. In fact, it may be the healthiest thing for you, and your family...and your business.
I truly hope 2007 is your best, most fulfilling year ever!
As 2006 comes to a close I thought it would be good to give you a sort of "end of the year gift guide" for the holidays. Gifts, that is, which relate to presentations, creativity, design, or business. Now, I could recommend books like Beyond Bullet Points or In the Line of Fire, or Say it with Charts, etc. Those are very good (although Tufte's earlier books are even better, especially for ideas on displaying quantitative data). But when I ask myself to name the items — books mostly — that have influenced me *recently* concerning the very narrow focus of presentation design and delivery, the items below come immediately to mind, though ironically the books are not about presentations. I list them here with links back to Amazon where you can read what other's have said about them as well. Many of the items below I am giving this year as Christmas gifts. You may want to do the same, or just pick one of two up for yourself.
Multimedia Learning. If I had to choose between the popular Beyond Bullet Points or Multimedia Learning, I'd choose the latter (but I'm happy to have read both). MML goes deep yet is written for a general audience (more or less). You can apply the results of Mayer's work to many aspects of multimedia design and delivery including live presentations. Mayer's findings can give you some good background evidence as you fight for simpler presentation design and delivery and evangelize the "Presentation Zen" approach to presentations. This book should be have a bigger audience than it does.
Understanding comics. I wrote about this book in an earlier post. Even though I am not a huge comics fan, I found this book to be absolutely brilliant. The numerous lessons within the book can certainly be applied to other forms of storytelling and visual communication, etc. This is another one of those books I wish was available for me to read about 25 years ago.
The Elements of Graphic Design. I actually have had this book for many years and have recommended it often. The book covers all of the basics yet experienced designers will find it refreshing as well. I suggest non-designers start with a book like this rather than another book on "how to use PPT." It's better that people understand graphic design components and about the importance of design choices and how to develop their "visual mind" and critical thinking about slide design, page design, and what, for example, makes an image weak or strong, etc.
A Smile in the Mind. A Presentation Zen reader thought I would like this book, so I bought it. He was right. Wow. I love this book. A very visual book with loads of examples, but it does explain in some detail just what wit is and how to communicate with it visually. It's not gimmicky. This is not a new book, but there are good ideas in there and it's a lot of fun to go through the examples. "Wit" is actually part of the more naked style of presentation I prefer.
Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. I have a million books on Typography, yet I love this 2004 book on Type. A very well designed book which is not of enormous size so it's perfect for café reading if you like. If you are new to typography this is a great introduction, but experienced designers will find it useful as well. Most people do not understand typography or even that it is important and powerful stuff. To most people type is type and it just doesn't matter. Why isn't this stuff taught in schools?
Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices. This book covers the fundamentals to interaction design including design research and uses a host of good examples, there's even a bit on service design. There are lessons in this book for programmers and designers, yes, but anyone interested improving their "design quotient" can benefit from this book. Includes interviews with some interaction designers which are quite good.
The Zen of Creativity. There are many books written on the subject of creativity, but this is one of my favorites. Simple, smart, inspirational, and practical. The ideas in this book just may give you insights and perspectives into a very different way for looking at the world and approaching your own creative endeavors.
Emotional Design Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things. Attractive things work better. Design is not all about how something "looks," but looks matter. Aesthetics matter. The design principles in this book can be applied to visual communication, graphic design, etc. and not just products. A classic book and a must for any designer or non-designers interested in design thinking.
The Laws of Simplicity. This is a simple book, but not too simple. As Maeda points out, complexity and simplicity need each other and too much simplicity is not good either. This book is doing very well (my inside sources tell me) though some on the Amazon site do not appreciate it. This is not suppose to be the first word or the last word on "simplicity," but it is a provocative read and an important read. I talked about this book in the context of presentations in a post below as well.
A Whole New Mind. I wrote an entire post on this wonderful book as it relates to presentation a couple of months ago. Fantastic reading for just about anyone looking to have success and make an impact in the "conceptual age." My favorite book of the '06 summer.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Blink is about "rapid cognition," and the origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that we reach when encountering something new or complex, etc. From Malcolm Gladwell's website: "...like all of us, they [doctors asked to simplify a system] were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in "Blink" where that simply isn't true. There's a wonderful phrase in psychology — "the power of thin slicing" — which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience."
A few items other than books Home Movies. (TV series now on DVD) I don't watch much TV, but I do enjoy having a laugh (good for the soul) while watching obscure comedy programs on DVD. One of my favorites is Home Movies. Home Movies is simply brilliant, but probably no more than a few of you would agree with that I'm afraid. It's just one of those things that "you get" and love or totally dismiss as utter rubbish. I get that. This show is unique, however. Rather than reading lines from a script, the actors (comedians mostly) improvise more or less to an outline of a vague script. This technique is called "retroscripting" and it leads to dialog that is fresh and natural and really lets the dry, sarcastic wit of the actors come out. Retroscripting leads to a very "naked" form of dialog which I find very compelling and is the style of communication I prefer in presentations too (rather than reading from a script, for example). Brendon Small and H. Jon Benjamin are two amazingly creative, talented people (whom you have probably never heard of). Like anything else that is insanely great (but quirky and odd), it could not last on TV, but there is indeed a community of Home Movies fans around the world. I've got all four seasons. Not for young kids (but then I am not so young).
iPod Video (80GB) OK, this is not exactly cheap, but if you have to give presentations and you're looking for another backup option (besides carrying two computers) you may want to consider the iPod video. Of course you can also rehearse your presentation while sitting on the train, etc. even if you actually never present from it. If you do not want to show videos within PowerPoint/Keynote you can show them off the iPod simply by toggling to "video" on the projector. Here I show how to present from an iPod video. Comes in a cheaper 30GB black (or white) version too.
iPod Shuffle. The Shuffle is with me constantly on the road. I have it for music and podcasts, but I keep a couple of Keynote files as well as PDF version of the slides and handouts. This is a great backup just in case. I can easily transfer the files to the clients Mac or PC if I ever had too. Absolutely my favorite iPod yet! It makes me smarter (podcasts); it inspires me (music); it's practical and useful (holds backup files for "work"); and it's wearable good looks are pretty cool too. Oh yes, the Shuffle also helps keep me in shape (get to the gym more often and for longer periods knowing I'll have my favorite songs). Instead of a diet book or expensive weight-loss program, the Shuffle may be just that little bit of incentive that gets some people out the door and walking on a regular basis or lifting weights at the gym, etc. Personally, there's no way I can hit the gym anymore without the Shuffle. It's a real energizer for me and finally small enough to forget it's there.
Obviously I am missing something. I'm the first to admit that sometimes I just don't get it, so perhaps some of you can help me out. I want to get it, I want to understand, but I am having a hard time understanding all the buzz around Slideshare. Slideshare, according to their website, "is a free service for sharing presentations and slideshows." Sounds promising, but the only problem with this service today is that you can not actually share a presentation. What they mean — and what they should say — is that you can share slides generated in PowerPoint/OpenOffice. The site is appropriately named, however, because you can indeed share basic slides (sans animation, etc.). They were smart not to call it "presentationshare" because presentations are not yet something you can see on this site. However, it is early days so perhaps this will turn into something quite useful in future, but for now this is a real head scratcher for me. I think my designer friend said it best when she gave me her reaction after spending time using the site and looking at the user content: "They only post slides, no Voice Over, so it un-does the entire crusade we're on regarding Zen-like presentation. It goes against the grain of how I think presentations are to be delivered." Is all the buzz just the result of getting mentioned on TechCrunch and having somebody say you're the YouTube of something, or is there something really powerful there that's going to actually help people communicate more effectively?
Slideshare has a solid base of user activity.
Are slides "a presentation"? Judging from how people are talking about Slideshare and presentations, many people apparently still believe that slides *are* the presentation, or at least "close enough." The idea that PowerPoint slides can stand on their own and communicate a clear message is widely accepted it seems. Many users are using the term "PowerPoint" or "Slides" as if they were the same thing as a presentation. So, if you want to share a great presentation you made last week, will uploading the slides used in the talk to Slideshare really help you make an impact? Perhaps, but the problem is, if your visuals were any good for the live talk they probably won't do much good by themselves, and in fact they may obfuscate rather than clarify your story without your own verbal (and nonverbal) input. The site has some potential, but for now at least this service is perpetuating the presentation-as-slideument problem.
How much can you really glean from presentation visuals? Slides on their own often tell us little in terms of the actual presentation content or how well the material was presented. For example, here is a deck (below) that I uploaded on my Slideshare account from Swiss designer and conceptual artist Markuz Wernli Saito's presentation last month. Just by looking at the slides, which you may find quite cluttered and unconventional, you could surmise that the live talk was not so great. But you'd be wrong. Markuz's talk was one of the best presentations I'd ever seen; it reminded me of something Dana Atchley used to do. The slides served more as a backdrop to his great narrative. Of course, he also used a lot of video along with his compelling storytelling ability, none of which you can get from just the slides alone.
Don't get me wrong, there are some cool features in Slideshare. SlideShare does indeed make it easy to upload PowerPoint slides and it is quite cool that you can embed clickable slides into your blog or view them in good quality on a large screen. But without the possibility to include audio (or video and animation) with slides I just do not see what all the excitement is about (yet). Now if Slideshare can make it easy for me to do something like this Flash presentation by Lawrence Lessig, then they are on to something. Nothing on Slideshare comes close to communicating a message as well as Lessig's Flash presentation below.
Here's another presentation by Lawrence Lessig on Google Book Search given in classic Lessig style but this time uploaded to YouTube. The future according to the pros Everyone agrees that it is often best to see a presentation live if we can, but what if we can not? What does the future of presentations and presentation design look like? No one knows presentation design and delivery better that the folks at Duarte Design. Here's what Nancy Duarte said recently about the future of presentations in general.
"We’re seeing much higher demand for presentations to be extended beyond the ballroom. Requests for media-rich presentations deployed on the web are increasing exponentially. Options to have slides accompanied with video, presenters filmed on chroma interacting with their slides (a la Mary Poppins), rich-content that’s navigable, video podcasts and sales tools where star presenters walk through how to speak to a file are all becoming standard. Bandwidth is pervasive, digital natives are accustomed to viewing content on the web and virtual tradeshows are growing in popularity." — Nancy Duarte
Checkout this example below from MediaStorm.org. Sure, this is not easy to put together, but for the viewer this it is a million times (perhaps I exaggerate?) more compelling than an online PowerPoint deck.
How best to share slides? (Is this even the right question?) The CEO of Slideshare Rashmi Sinha wrote a very good article on her blog recently entitled The social life of PowerPoint where she provides a bit of background on her thinking with regards to Slideshare. Quoting Nina Wakeford, Dr. Sinha reminds us that presentations are "...actually much more about generating and sustaining engagement" than just getting people to focus on slides. She hits the nail on the head when she says a presentation (she calls it a "PowerPoint event") "...constitutes the speaker, the slides, audience present (and connected through audio conferencing), and any technological infrastructure. It occurs in a social context allowing for feedback, annotations, and comments from others." Dr. Sinha then asks the question "What should the social space for slide sharing look like?" This to me seems like the wrong question, however. Once again the focus is back on the PowerPoint slides. Perhaps the question should be "What should the social space for presentation sharing look like?" Slides embedded in a blog post may indeed have more supportive context that slides just passed along on their own, but I am looking for something more than just slides.
Dr. Sinha refers to PowerPoint slides as being documents (e.g., "PowerPoint documents") to be shared. But do slides-as-documents really meet the definition of what constitutes a proper "document"? If you look up "document" in any dictionary you will see that "proof" and "evidence" are often key elements of the definition of "document." Here's a definition from my old dusty Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary:
Document (n.) Something written or printed that furnishes conclusive information or evidence... (v.t.) To support by conclusive information or evidence...(emphasis mine).
Sure, definitions change and evolve, but should not a handout or other documents related to your live talk be able to stand alone with sufficient support? This can be difficult to provide clearly in a PowerPoint deck that is viewed without your own narrative. Slides were meant to provide a supportive role to the presenter, not the other way around. Most of the content now on Slideshare gives you "the gist" of the talk, but not much more (but perhaps that's the point).
Online presentations Even the best click-through-my-deck experience would hardly compare to the actual presentation. What we need is the whole enchilada — we need to see and hear the person speaking in addition to seeing the presentation visuals. If that's not possible then a slideshow of sorts with narration and appropriate animation may work pretty well a la Lessig's Free Culture presentation. But clicking silently through slides while attempting to glean the message is not my idea of fun (or learning). In fact I hate it. If you're going to ask me to do all this reading of bullets, etc., why not just present the material in a proper downloadable document or in an easy to read online format with well-written text and embedded images, even videos? Is it a document or a presentation? If it is a presentation then I'd like to exercise my auditory channel as well as my visual channel. And squinting at 9pt type in the "Slide Transcript" window is not my idea of using my visual channel. (See The Cognitive Load of PowerPoint: Q&A with Richard E. Mayer by Cliff Atkinson for more on what makes for an effective presentation).
If I can't be there live, then I would would much rather see an on-line video of the presentation shot in such a way that I can see both the presenter and the visuals. TED does a great job of this (the three camera angles help a lot). Would you rather TED provide slides that the presenters used or would you rather kick back and watch and listen to these folks tell their stories and make their points. Sure, for those who see the video or the live talk access to their visuals may have some utility as they can remind the viewer again of the key points. But if we were not there and have no access to a video of the talk, surely a more detailed document with good graphic support would be more desirable. Below is one of my favorite TED presentations, this one by Sir Ken Robinson speaking on creativity, education, etc. (no slides were needed). I just love this 20-minute talk.
Who knows what the future will look like? Again, it's early days so Slideshare may turnout to be a very useful service. I can already imagine designers, photographers, etc. using it today to show samples of their work. For this the embedded slides work well. For example, a couple of years ago I made this very "web 1.0" clickable slideshow just to provide a taste of my seminars. Today I could use Slideshare for that and it would be a lot easier.
Much of the problem with Slideshare may simply be similar to the problems with PowerPoint (or Keynote). That is, it's not to tool so much as the inappropriate way it's used. I wish the folks at Slideshare well. If you have any examples of good implementations of their service please share those urls. I'd love to see the cool technology behind this service used in great ways.