Previous month:
June 2007
Next month:
August 2007

July 2007

Make your presentations stickier: these 3 books can help

Sticky If you want to be a better presenter — or help others to be — here are the three books you should get (two I have recommended repeatedly). Notice that these are not books about presentation. Most of the great books that will help you make better presentations are not specifically about presentations at all, and certainly not about how to use slideware. The first book gives the context. The second one gives the basics of design. And the final one which I am introducing to you today  — Made to Stick — gives you the ammunition for crafting messages that are simple, effective, and “sticky.”

Pink(1) Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind gives us the context of the new world we’re living in and why “high touch” talents — and that includes exceptional presentation skills — are more important than ever before. Professionals today around the globe need to understand how and why the so-called right-brain aptitudes of Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning matter like never before. The best presentations of our generation will be created by people who have strong “whole mind” aptitudes and talents. (Dan Pink's blog).

Principles(2) Universal Principles of Design. You will not learn how to crop an image in PowerPoint, or any other tips on using slideware from this book, but you will get a very good and intelligent introduction to fundamental design principles and practical applications of those concepts. A good complement to this book is The Elements of Graphic Design which provides more depth specifically in the area of graphic design. First comes understanding, then comes technique.

Stick_book (3) Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is my favorite book of the summer. I can’t believe I didn't read it sooner. (My pal Nancy Duarte gave me a copy; she said she knew I would love it. She was right!) In this book the Heath brothers are interested in the question of what makes some ideas effective and memorable and other ideas utterly forgettable? Some ideas stick and others fade away. Why? What the authors found — and explain simply and brilliantly in their book — is that “sticky ideas” share just a few principles in common. Sticky ideas have elements of these six key attributes: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories. And yes, these six compress nicely into the acronym SUCCESs. (Made to Stick website.)

Think in terms of SUCCESs
The six principles are relatively easy to incorporate into messages — including presentations and keynote addresses — but most people fail to use them. Why? The authors say that the biggest reason why most people fail to craft effective or “sticky” messages is because of what they call the “Curse of Knowledge.” The Curse of Knowledge is essentially the condition whereby the deliverer of the message can not imagine what it’s like not to posses his level of background knowledge on the topic. When he speaks in abstractions to the audience, it makes perfect sense him, but often to him alone. In his mind it seems simple and obvious. The six principles — SUCCESs — are your weapons, then, to fight your own Curse of Knowledge (we all have it)  so that you can make messages that stick.

Here’s an example that the authors used early in the book to explain the difference between a good and “sticky” message and a weak (yet all too common) message. Look at these two messages that address the same idea. One of them should seem very familiar to you.

(a) “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”


(b) “…put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

Jfk_moon_speech The first message sounds similar to CEO-speak of today and is barely comprehensible, let alone memorable. The second message — which is actually from a 1961 speech by JFK — has every element of SUCCESs and it motivated a nation toward a specific goal that changed the world. JFK, or at least his speech writers, knew that abstractions are not memorable, nor do they motivate. Yet how many speeches today by CEOs and other leaders contain phrases like “maximize shareholder value…yada, yada, yada”? Here’s a quick summary of the six principles you should keep in mind when crystallizing your ideas and crafting your messages for speeches, presentations, or any other form of communication. (I’ve included large thumbs of the slides I’ll use in future when I talk about these ideas from Made to Stick).

Stick001Simple. If everything is important then nothing is important. If everything is priority then nothing is priority. You must be ruthless in your efforts to simplify — not dumb down — your message to its absolute core. We’re not talking about shallow sound bites here. Every idea — if you work hard enough — can be reduced to its bare essential meaning. For your presentation, what’s the key point? What’s the core? Why does (should) it matter? For your visuals the mantra is: Maximum effect, minimum means.

 UnexpectUnexpectedness. You can get people’s interest by violating their expectations. Surprise people. Surprise will get their interest. But to sustain their interest you have to stimulate their curiosity. The best way to do that is to pose questions or open up holes in people’s knowledge and then fill those holes, say the authors. Make the audience aware that they have a gap in their knowledge and then fill that gap with the answers to the puzzle (or guide them to the answers). Take people on a journey of discovery. (The Discovery Channel’s MythBusters is about the only thing I can watch on the virtually unwatchable boob-tube these days as the TV program does a wonderful job of posing questions and then answering them, often in quite unexpected ways.)

Stick003Concrete. Use natural speech and give real examples with real things, not abstractions. Speak of concrete images not of vague notions. Proverbs are good, say the authors, at reducing abstract concepts to concrete, simple, but powerful (and memorable) language. For example, here in Japan we say “ii seki ni cho” or “kill two birds with one stone.” Easier than saying something like “…let’s work toward maximizing our productivity by increasing efficiency across departments,” etc. And the phrase “…go to the moon and back” by JFK (and Ralph Kramden before him)? That’s concrete. You can visualize that.

Stick004Credible. If you are famous in your field you may have built-in credibility (but even that doesn’t go as far as it used to). Most of us, however, do not have that kind of credibility so we reach for numbers and cold hard data to support our claims as market leaders and so on. Statistics, say the Heath brothers, are not inherently helpful. What’s important is the context and the meaning of those statistics. Put it in terms people can visualize. “66 grams of fat” or “the equivalent of three Big Macs”? And if you showed a photo of the burgers, wouldn’t that stick? There are many ways to establish credibility, a quote from a client or the press may help, for example. But a long-winded account of your company’s history won’t help. In Japan especially, having a well-known trusted business partner or some big-name customers help establish credibility. The Heath brothers outline many good examples of credibility in their book..

EmotionEmotional. People are emotional beings. It is not enough to take people through a laundry list of talking points and information on your slides, you must make them feel something. There are a million ways to help people feel something about your content. Images, of course, are one way to have audiences not only understand your point better but also to feel and to have a more visceral and emotional connection to your idea. Explaining the devastation of the Katrina hurricane and flood in the US, for example, could be done with bullet points, data, and talking points, but  images of the aftermath and the pictures of the human suffering that occurred told the story in ways words alone never could. Just the words “Hurricane Katrina” conjure up vivid images in your mind today no doubt. We make emotional connections with people not abstractions. When possible put your ideas in human terms. “90 grams of fat” may seem concrete to you, but for others it's an abstraction. A picture (or verbal description) of an enormous plate of greasy French fries stacked high, a double cheese burger (extra cheese), and a large chocolate shake (extra whip cream) is visceral and sticky.

Stick006Stories. We tell stories all day long. It’s how humans have always communicated. We tell stories with our words and even with our art. We express ourselves through the stories we share. We teach, we learn, and we grow through stories. Why is it that when the majority of smart, talented people have the chance to present we usually get streams of information rather than story from them? Great ideas and great presentations have an element of story to them. But you see storytelling everywhere in the workplace. In Japan, for example, it’s a custom for a senior worker (sempai) to mentor a younger worker (kohai) on various issues concerning the company history and culture, and of course on how to do the job. The sempai does much of his informal teaching trough storytelling, though nobody calls it that. But that’s what it is. Once a younger worker hears the story of what happened to the poor guy who didn’t wear his hardhat on the factory floor one day he never forgets the lesson (and he never forgets to wear his hardhat). Stories get our attention and are easier to remember than lists of rules.

Office space and the writing process...

Macbook Greetings from the left side of the great Pacific Ocean. I'm back in Japan and have been in full work mode (or panic mode) since my return. I can't wait for my second book, because I'm sure it will be a lot easier than this one. Progress is being made but what I am finding is that doing the writing and the design/layout is filled with a million headaches. The technical headaches, for the moment at least, make it difficult to get into a writing flow. But waiting around for inspiration is something I do not have time for. Sometimes you just have to grind it out. Writing sounds like a creative endeavor, and indeed it is. But it's about as romantic as a root canal treatment — it's more than a bit uncomfortable but it will be worth it in the end. This is what you keep telling yourself.

I appreciate your emails very much (you have no idea). And I am sorry that I can not answer all of them. I want to, but I just have to spend all my time writing, designing, getting permissions (argh!) and emailing those working with me on the book in Japan and the US.

Writing space
I have never been one who needs a lot of space, but I have always loved having a cozy desk next to a window with a view. Below are two pics from my most recent writing environments. You can see my feet in Hawaii and then here in Osaka. Yes, I often kick my feet up on the desk sans shoes (and socks in my case). As you know, we don't wear shoes inside houses in Japan, a custom I took with me when I lived in the States as well.

Above: Working at small desk (but with a great view) at the hotel in Waikiki Beach. Who could complain?

Above: My home office at night high above Osaka (lights of Kobe in the distance). You can actually see chapter 4 spread out on top of the MacBook Pro (even the publisher has not seen that yet). Got to get all technical aspects ironed out over the weekend.

It's just a book
Most of the time I am consumed with thinking that getting this book complete is the most important thing in the world. Then while consumed with my own problems my eyes meet the weary eyes of a lonely homeless man in the park near my apartment, or I glance at the morning headlines to see it has been another horrible day in Iraq and I am made fully aware that this is just a book and in the whole scheme of things it doesn't matter one bit. Still, a project like a book is something you put so much of yourself in to (your time, your worry, your angst, etc.) that you can't help but hope it can make even the tiniest — absolutely microscopic — dent in the universe. I guess we all hope we can contribute something...

Aloha and mahalo for your support!

Thank you to everyone for the amazing emails. I appreciate your support and your comments very much. Some of you have sent some fantastic slides and some of them may just find their way into the book (please keep ’em coming!). In the previous post I mentioned that I will not be blogging much until I am done with all writing and design. All design work must be done sometime in September; the writing needs to be done in August. The book will be published sometime before the end of this year by New Riders (an imprint of Peachpit Press). Many people said they would like me to share the process of writing/designing the book on the blog form time to time or just post some pics. I can do that.

The cutting is the hardest part
The biggest problem I am having right now is the cutting of written material. It is really true what Mark Twain said so many years ago: Writing a very long document is easy, what’s excruciatingly difficult is writing something short, tight, and great. But I want this book to be very visual and practical and be a good blend of inspiration and education; there is no point in repeating the obvious or writing a 300 page manifesto.

In Hawaii this week working (or worrying about working) on the book 24/7. Below are a few pics from Silicon Valley and here in Hawaii.

Silicon Valley


ABOVE: Spent two days sharing ideas with Nancy Duarte (far left), CEO of Duarte Design, the biggest and best presentation design firm on the planet (two of her brilliant, awesome assistants also joined us). Duarte have relocated to their own extremely cool and large building in Mountain View in the heart of the Valley. I could talk to Nancy about design and presentations until the cows come home. Interestingly, I don’t think we ever really talked about PowerPoint or Keynote. We talked about story and message and visual communication, structure, and on and on. I guess this underscores the idea that great presentations and great design are not about tools or technique, they're about ideas and getting messages to stick (more on that later). Oh, and Mark Duarte let me play with his iPhone. I’m hooked. Blown away in fact. Must….have…iPhone….now…..Argh!


Stopped by Guy Kawasaki’s house for some words of wisdom about writing, etc. As always, Guy’s words were inspiring. Thanks Guy! Also met some friends at Apple to get their advice on the book, writing tips, etc. Cupertino and Palo Alto have the best climate; it seems like it is always sunny and 79 degrees.


Snapped these pics while out on a run the first day. I was in search of inspiration or perhaps just finding a healthier way to procrastinate.

Sunrise from the hotel balcony.

And a few minutes later, a rainbow.

Working in the hotel room. Although I have more written material than necessary and several outlines on paper, I still put it up on the wall where I could get a better picture for the flow and feel for the narrative. (A note to myself on the TV: don’t waste time!).

Back out on the beach I stumble across a hula lesson and take this snap.

Back to work, this time on the balcony over looking Waikiki Beach.

Thanks again everone — a hui hou!

Presentation Zen (the book)

Greetings from the sunny Oregon Coast, which for me is “the other side” of the Pacific Ocean. This part of the world has always been an inspiration for me. I’ve been to many parts of the globe, but the breathtaking, unspoiled nature, and awe-inspiring seascapes found here at the end of the Lewis & Clark trail never fail to remind me of what’s really important in life. Here I am reminded that life is not always about “extraordinary accomplishments” but is instead just as much about finding the extraordinary in the simple and ordinary which we often never see because we fail to slow down. I live in the middle of a metro area of 20 million people on the other side of “the other side” of the Pacific in Osaka. Alone time can be hard to find in Japan. Walking alone on the beaches or hiking in the lush forests here one can find clarity, perspective....and meaning.


Alone time on the Oregon Coast (pic snapped via remote control).

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone."
                                                   — Rollo May

The book
The Oregon Coast is the appropriate place, then, to announce to you that Peachpit Press will be publishing my first book on the topic of presentations. The name of the book is Presentation Zen (we’re still working on the subtitle) and it’s due out in late fall of this year. Several very cool publishers had approached me about writing a book related to the content found in the Presentation Zen blog. I submitted proposals to two and in the end went with Peachpit. I’ve been a loyal reader of many of the Peachpit offerings and just had a really good feeling about them. I’m the author of the book and I am also responsible for all layout and design. The schedule is amazingly tight, so this summer I am spending all my energy on the book, including chronic episodes of self-loathing, doubt, and procrastination. But from what I hear from my friends who have published best-selling books, self-loathing, doubt, and procrastination are quite common among professional authors.

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

                                                  — Thomas Mann

Sunset at 9:05 pm in Cannon Beach.

Great, another book on presentations

Does the world really need yet another book on presentations? There are indeed some good books on presentations out there, but I still think the genre is underserved. Presentation Zen is in full color with many, many visuals and sample slides. The presentation of the book is as important as the content. The book is meant to be a complement to the books that are already in print. It is not a “how to use PowerPoint” book (there are many) nor does the book prescribe a method, a method to be followed A to Z. Instead, Presentation Zen discusses approaches to presentations, approaches that are creative, simple, and highly visual with many real world examples. Just as there are many paths to enlightenment, there are indeed many ways to prepare and design a successful presentation. But regardless of techniques or style or software applications and so on, there are common communication and design principles that insanely great presentations share (simplicity is one of those tenets). There are a billion ways to present poorly, but if we look below the surface we see that good presentations have much in common. The book, like the blog, will look at some of those common principles.


Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach...always an inspiration.

You can be a part of it
I need your help. While much of the writing is done, there is still time and room for me to incorporate some of your thoughts, insights, and examples. If you’d like to share your experiences please send me a note. If the material in the blog has been helpful at all for you I’d love to hear how. What specific posts have been most useful (or useless) to you on the PZ blog? What success (or failure) stories do you have in applying the “PZ approach” in your work? Do you have any slides (good or bad) that you can share? Your stories are important to me and I’d like to share them with a wider audience. I will not reprint your name or material in the book or use a slide, etc. without first confirming permission with you. Even if you want to remain anonymous I’d love to hear from you. I read every email I get from the blog and appreciate them greatly (and have learned a lot from them). Look forward to hearing from you.

Writing a book is like having homework every minute of the day
If you are interested in writing a book, listen to what my favorite comedian Lewis Black says (YouTube video) about his experience writing a book in his speech at a book signing event.

I’m off to Silicon Valley now to visit buddies at Apple, Duarte Design, etc. and then to Hawaii alone to work on the book 24/7. There will not be many blog posts until September, but once the book is done I will continue “giving it away” and blogging as usual (I have a ton of topics in the drafts folder). From time to time I’ll post on the progress of the book, etc. Thanks to everyone who stops by Presentations Zen...I appreciate it very much (Domo arigatou gozaimasu!).

Zentation: Is it Zensational?

Zentation Do you know about Zentation? Zentation provides you an easy way to show your slides in sync with your video. As you know, just making slides of your presentation available for someone who missed your talk is not ideal (in fact it's usually a bad idea). But if there was an easy way (without having to buy software) to show a video of your presentation and the slides in sync with your video then that would be pretty cool. Zentation does that. Zentation is not perfect, and for my kind of presentations it does not really work so well, but for people who have a relatively few number of slides in their talk, it seems to work pretty well.

Leave it to Guy
As always the presentation is only as good as the content and the presenter, regardless of how well the technology works (or doesn't), so I could not find too many great presentations on the site (but I didn't  look too hard either, so let us know if there are some killer preso uploaded there). But leave it to our buddy Guy Kawasaki to put up a presentation that worked very well on Zentation. Even if you have seen Guy speak on the Art of the Start before, check this out. Again this is not ideal perhaps, but it's much better than just slides. Of course, if your slides and you are both
clearly visible in the video, then Zentation would not be necessary. (I'm still looking for an easy way to pull off the effect of your local TV weather caster, where the presenter and large screen behind him are easily viewable).

(Above) Guy Kawasaki at the 2007 Event Marketer Conference. You can watch it just as it appears above — which I like since the presenter and slides are right next to each other — or click on "full screen" to see a much larger slide (and slightly larger video screen).

Robin Good wrote an excellent, detailed review of Zentation back in April.