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April 2009

Two presentations on chemicals & the environment

When I was 17, before Macintosh was even invented, I gave my first multimedia presentation using two 35mm projectors. My topic concerned the environment and the dangers of air and water pollution. Maybe this is why I have a special interest in presentations related to health and cleaning up the environment. So earlier this week I was delighted when Christine, a PZ reader from the US, pointed to this interesting presentation by Ken Cook, the Founder of the Environmental Working Group. His delivery and slides were pretty good (though online some of the info can be a bit hard to see on some slides). One thing you'll notice is that he occasionally used a full-sized video clip for the background image rather than a still photo (these are short clips; you can see them loop back to the beginning). This is something an app like Keynote can handle easily, including animated text over the video. Ken stated a lot of facts that frankly needed the sources cited. Many audiences will demand that the sources for a statistic appear on the slide itself, but at the very least you have to say what your source is before you show the data. This is not a perfect talk, but a good one. I hope you find it useful.

William McDonough: What's your intention?
Ken Cook's talk reminded me a bit of one of my favorite TED talks by Bill McDonough. Bill's 2005 talk is not one of my favorites because of the delivery, but rather for the content and the story. Bill's delivery style below is not as engaging as some others, and I'd much prefer he had used a remote and moved away from the computer (and took a drink of water), but his content and stories very much connected with the live audience. There is a lot of good content in this talk, so much so that you may miss it the first time. This is important stuff. My favorite bit is at the end when he shows an example of one of the cities they are building in China. This is not a perfect talk either, and the delivery style is very different than the talk above by Ken Cook, but I find the content of this talk and Bill's mission to be very to be inspiring and memorable...and so do a lot of other people.


Bill's book Cradle to Cradle (very good)
Duarte Design now does Bill's slides
Steven Spielberg to make movie about "Cradle to Cradle"

Think naturalness not perfection

Presenter In the post below I said that the presentation by Shai Agassi was my personal favorite of the TED 09 conference. It was certainly not a perfect presentation technically, so one gentleman asked me how I could recommend such an imperfect, "awful" talk as a sample model to follow. Was it not a contradiction to praise such an imperfect TED talk when there are many better TED examples? But here's the thing: perfection of delivery is not the goal, nor is it even possible, depending on how you define perfection. Yes, it's true that the manuals say a speaker should eliminate the "ums" and the "ers" and so on that sometimes litter the narration of live talks. This is good advice for the most part, especially if such disfluencies become a distraction (though at least one study suggests that such disfluencies may actually sometimes help not harm comprehension). However, to me there are many kinds of successful presentations; there is not one single formula for success.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Zen_mind In the Presentation Zen approach, if we can call it that, we are more concerned with naturalness in delivery, a delivery on stage that is more similar to a natural conversation between two people, such as a teacher to student, a master to apprentice, or among equals such as a scientist to scientist, and so on. Naturalness in delivery, then, is more like a conversation between friends or coworkers than a formal one-way lecture. We find something parallel to this kind of thinking in Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's MInd in a small section on communication. Here's a passage that hints at the point I'm trying to make in the context of presentation (emphasis mine):

"In Zen we put emphasis on demeanor, or behavior. By behavior we do not mean a particular way that you ought to behave, but rather the natural expression of yourself. We emphasize straightforwardness. You should be true to your feelings, and to your mind, expressing yourself without any reservations. This helps the listener to understand more easily."

                                                          — Shunryu Suzuki

We can apply these simple ideas above concerning Zen and communication to our everyday presentations, meetings, networking events, etc. That is, the emphasis should be, I believe, on the natural expression of yourself, honesty and straightforwardness, rather than on following a memorized script of the "right way" to behave. As Suzuki says, "Without any intentional, fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself as you are is the most important thing."


Still, speech coaches are important
JerryPlease do not misunderstand my intention. Training & coaching in public speaking (and dealing with the media, etc.) are important. Having a good speech coach and a video camera is very helpful. Recently I read a good book by Jerry Weissman called The Power Presenter: Technique, Style, and Strategy from America's Top Speaking Coach. Interestingly, right from the beginning Jerry talks about the importance of looking at speaking more like conversation rather than performance. Here again the emphasis is not on teaching people how to become performers (which more than 99% of us are not), but rather on helping them to become more natural presenters. As Jerry says early in the book while talking about his coaching career, "My goal was to move the business people I coached to become successful presenters naturally."

Returning to the
Shai Agassi presentation at TED, for me is was a successful talk because he connected with the audience — however imperfectly — and told the story of his mission in a way that was interesting, memorable, and repeatable. It was not perfect and Shai can do better, but it was a successful talk that engaged and got people talking. In a sense, it was imperfectly natural...and effective.

This week a student of the martial arts Matthew Apsokardu wrote a very clear blog post called What PowerPoint Taught Me About Martial Arts based on some of the ideas talked about in PZ.

Shai Agassi: The most important talk at TED 09

Shai This TED presentation by Shai Agassi at TED in February was not one filled with tears or laughter or amazing visuals, but it was my personal favorite. This talk was informative, motivating, and inspiring. In 18 minutes you can not answer all the questions, or address all the issues concerning such a technical topic. But at the end of his talk, I wanted more (as did the audience). When the talk was over, I was motivated and in the mood to listen to him and others grab a marker and address the details at a whiteboard. Shai's delivery was not slick or polished, nor were his visuals, but he was himself, relaxed, and totally engaging. It was an excellent talk given in the "Naked," natural style. His pacing was good: not too slow, not too fast. He was a worthy messenger of an important topic, perhaps the most important topic of our day. If his goal was to get us talking, it worked. The halls at TED were filled with people discussing (and debating) Shai's ideas for the rest of the conference. Thanks to TED online, the message can go further and the conversation can grow. Watch the presentation below or on the TED website.

I love Shai's reference to JFK's famous and "crazy" line (highlighted in Made to Stick as well): "...put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade."  As Shai points out, we did not say in the '60s "we're going to send a man 20% of the way to the moon and there's a 20% chance we'll recover him." You've got to have a vision that is big, concrete, and specific. What Shai is saying is that we need that kind of vision and clarity now. If we do not lose our dependency on oil in the next few years, Shai's says, "We will lose our economy, right after we've lost our morality."

Above: Shai chose to use Keynote in Presenter View. The current slide is on the left, the next slide on the right, and the notes on top (this is customizable, however). As you can see, the notes contain only a few points (reminders) in a font size easy for him to see. I do not generally recommend the Presenter View in Keynote or PowerPoint for ballroom-style presentations like this one as it tends to keep presenters glued to the lectern (and the lectern itself can be a physical barrier), but its use is not necessarily always a bad thing. In this case, Shai was not glued to the computer screen (there were larger "confidence monitors" on stage as well) and he moved comfortably on stage, rarely standing behind the small lectern. If you have two monitors on stage, one of them can contain the Presenter View screen as well.

Shai spent most of the time in front or to the side of the lectern.


Car1   Car2
Sample slides.

The TED blog features an interview with Shai Agassi today.

"Good" visual examples to get you thinking

Good Recently I stumbled across GOOD Magazine, and their website The magazine was launched in 2006 and focuses on issues related to sustainable living, politics, and other social issues of our time. On their website they feature many short video presentations that you may find useful. The video presentations are not perfect, but many of them may give you some ideas for changing the way you present your supporting visuals in your talks aided by slideware. My aim, as always, is not to say that you should do it exactly like these examples on GOOD, but simply to suggest that you watch a few of these and ask yourself in what ways did the visuals work, in what ways do they need improvement, what could you copy, and so on.

Transparency: Drinking Water
This short presentation contains no voice over at all. But imagine how you could use similar visualization (at a slower rate) along with your spoken words in live a presentation.

Below: few sample visuals from the presentation.
Globe  Body
Diarrhea  90_percent
Water1 Water2 Water3

The State of the Planet
This example below uses similar visuals but this presentation includes voice over. Again, the point is to examine the visuals and narration together for inspiration concerning our own presentations. In this particular example, while the content is interesting, it seems rather random (which was perhaps the point). Still, it is an interesting example and may provoke some ideas.

The Economy

This example below also uses no voice over to make its points, relying instead on text, simple data, and images including video.
More examples
Nuclear Weapons

Many more examples on the video section of the website, including Attack of the Giant Jellyfish in Japan.

Mix 09: Bill Buxton on Design & Return on Experience

Bills_book You may not have heard of Bill Buxton yet, but the Canadian designer and computer scientist is well known in the field of human–computer interaction. Currently he is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. Bill wrote a good book in 2007 called Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design. A lot of the things he talks about in his book (e.g., thoughts on sketching, on users, etc.) are applicable to presentation design as well. Last month Bill gave a good 20-min keynote at Mix09 that kicked off a longer keynote by Scott Guthrie (corporate vice president of Microsoft's .NET Developer Division). I was quite impressed with Bill's natural, upbeat performance. The guy has passion for his field, and it shows. From the moment Bill takes the stage he makes a strong connection with his energy and enthusiasm. I could tell from the moment he walked on stage that this was not going to be a boring keynote. Watch the Day One Keynote at Mix09 below (use the full-screen view for a better viewing experience) or go directly to the MIX09 website to see this entire keynote. (If you do not want to install Silverlight, you can download the whole keynote video in mp4 here. There are a few other download options on their site here, including the actual (gulp) PowerPoint deck (sans Bill's special font).

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Displaying the presenter & the visual simultaneously
Below are a few screen captures from the website. Displaying presentations online with both the speaker and visuals always visible is a challenge. Yet using two screens as shown above worked well I think, though the colorful dotted lines that comprise the onscreen background have far too much salience and are a rather cluttered distraction. (The live Mix09 stage design — with superfluous animation — was a distraction for me as well, but I guess that's just Vegas.)

This is a good time to be focused on experience, says Bill Buxton.

Good example of Return on Experience: Walter Teague's design work at Kodak some 60 years ago. (And Apple's iPod more recently).

It's not about the thing!

It's about the experience.

Oops, demo didn't work (but he moved on quickly).

Creativity, Design, & the return on Experience
Bill was not introducing new products nor tasked with going though a laundry list of features. He essentially told a few stories and gave several examples. The slides could be improved (especially a couple at the end of his talk), but for the most part the visuals supported his talk well. More then anything, I was inspired by his message. I love his comments on the ideation step of the process... "You can not be anal. These things are far too important to take seriously. We need to be able to play." Here's another takeaway:

"Our job is not to answer questions, it's to ask the right questions...that get us to the right answer."

                                 — Bill Buxton

H/T Michael Olan

Always ask: What's it like from their point of view?

Design_gym A good designer always tries to see things from the point of view of the user (or the customer, viewer, audience member, etc.). This is the ol' "It's not about you it's about them," a precept which is applicable to most aspects of business (or teaching, etc.). When we think about design, it's usually when we encounter poor design: an ambiguous sign, a confusing website, or text on an information board that is too small to read, and so on. This is why I always say to professionals aiming to become more design-mindful that they must learn to slow down and take note of the good and bad design that they encounter every day. Take a picture, write it down, keep a scrap book, pay attention. Lessons are everywhere (and free). Here's one that I noticed in my sports club the other day in Osaka that touches on the issue of putting yourself in the users' shoes and the general graphic design principle of contrast.

Clear labels
The picture below was taken with my iPhone and is a good representation of just how I saw the numbers (in lbs and kilos) printed in white on the stack of black plates on the lat-pull machine. The size and color of the sans serif type had enough contrast with the black background of weights to be read without difficulty. From even a small distance type can begin to appear fuzzy, but the sturdy sans serif typeface was perfectly clear. De-emphasizing the lbs. and kg unit marks also helped with clarity (yet, are the lbs. & kg marks really needed after the first row?).


Fuzzy labels
Below is part of a leg-press machine. This picture is a perfect representation of how I saw the numbers on the weights when I turned my heard to the left and looked down to adjust the weights. I could not read any of the numbers on the slabs of iron. Not a single one. The plates were of similar size to the previous machine, yet why was I unable to read any of the numbers (my vision is nearly perfect with lenses)? Let's bend down for a closer look.


(Below) When I leaned down as far as I could and stuck my face just a few centimeters from the stack, this is what I saw. With difficulty I could make out the top 5-6 rows only. Did the person who approved the labeling of the plates ever actually use the machine as intended? On an assembly line or on a computer screen the labels may have seemed legible, but what about the real world context? This is a very small thing, but it matters (it can be dangerous to attempt to lift a weight that is too heavy, for example).


There are many ways to improve the legibility of the labels on this machine. First, you have to ask if lbs. is even necessary. In Japan, like most parts of the world, we use the metric system. Most of the users here will read the kg number (yet it's in a subordinate position). If both measurement units are necessary, then use greater spacing (for example) to separate the numbers similar to the first example at the top of the page. Other things that make the type harder to see include the smaller size, the thick line, and the fact that the type is oblique. Having the unit marks the same size and weight does not help either. It all just blurs together.

Reverse type
Another reason for the poor legibility of the labels has to do with reverse type Typically, reverse type is a light typeface on a dark background. For example, white on black, where the background element (such as a box) prints and the text is knocked out so that it doesn't print, letting the white paper show through. In the example above, because the background black "canvas" of the plates is the same color as the type on the white labels, it has a similar effect to reverse type. We see a lot of white, but we can not see the knocked out part or the emptiness which forms the shape of the numbers and letters clearly. In the example above, placing white type on the black plates would have made for far greater clarity.

Reverse type can be effective if used with restraint. Whether it's on a page or a slide or a poster, reverse type is going to stick out and attract the eye, which is why you use it sparingly
. If you use loads of reverse type on a single design, it may just amount to a lot of noise. Below are a couple of slides. Notice how your eye was clearly drawn to that large black dot (in fact, it was likely the first thing you noticed when you scrolled down this page).



April 7: Speaking at Apple Store Ginza in Tokyo

Next week I'll be up in Tokyo meeting with friends to talk about TEDx Tokyo. In the evening of April 7 I'll be giving a presentation in the Apple Store theatre in Ginza. The presentation will be in yasashi English with key concepts appearing in Japanese on the visuals. If you are in Tokyo next week I'd love to see you there. The presentation starts at 7:00pm.

Apple_store_4-7 (click for larger size)

Summer Schedule 09
Since we're talking about public presentations, below are a few more talks that are open to the public. (I'm keeping the summer presentation schedule very light so I can finish up the Presentation Zen Design book by early Fall.)

 • Synergy 2009. May 4-7, Las Vegas (USA)
I'm really pumped about this one. I'll be opening the Synergy Conference early in the morning on the 4th, then I have to quickly jet back to Japan immediately after the talk. My talk is not about presentations but about broader themes related to the power of simplicity and thinking differently about business and technology in the cloud space (a topic in which I have great interest). There is some amazing stuff going on right now, especially in the enterprise cloud computing space. I'm a big fan of Citrix and their CEO Mark Templeton (who is an excellent presenter); it's going to be an honor to share the stage with Mark at Synergy 09.

 • From Business to Buttons: Designing for Effect. June 11-12, Malmö (Sweden)
According to the event organizers, Business to Buttons "is the meeting place in Europe for interaction designers, business strategist and usability experts. If you want to expand your business, and become a leader in the UX field, there is no better place to get the tools and inspiration." I'm very excited to making my first trip to Sweden.

 • Webstock Autumn seminar series in New Zealand (dates not set, but looks like early July)
I was not planning on going to NZ this summer but I can't say no to the Webstock guys, and who can pass up a chance to go to New Zealand? NZ is one of the coolest places on the planet. We'll post the details soon, but looks like half-day PZ seminars in the first week of July. Webstock is fantastic organization. Pics from last year's seminars in Wellington on Flickr.

 • Tableau's Customer Conference. July 20-23, Seattle (USA)
This is a great conference not too far from my US hometown that's billed as "...three days of information, interaction, insight and inspiration" for visualization fanatics. They have some great speakers lined up including Stephen Few. I'm a big fan of Stephen's work. See the speakers.