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April 2010

Visualizing the consequences of sugary drinks

Can_soda There is evidence* that a diet which includes loads of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) can lead to serious health issues over the long term such as Metabolic Syndrome and its myriad complications, including Obesity. The consumption of HFCS has increased substantially over the past 30 years, as has the obesity rate in the US (and some other developed countries). In the popular media, documentary films like Food, Inc. and TV shows in the UK and US by Jamie Oliver have talked about the ubiquity of sugar in our diets and the consequences associated with this reality. At the end of last year, the New York City Department of Health followed up its poster campaign encouraging people to reduce (or eliminate) sugary drinks by creating a 30-second Public Service Announcement with the same message as the posters. The posters received a lot of attention and generated some controversy as well. Some people found the posters -- which depict realistic human body fat flowing out of bottles into glasses filled with ice cubes -- too gross and too disturbing to hang in public. The PSA video kicked it up a notch and truly got people to take notice.

Exercise: Visualizing your message to create a change

Recently, I have shown this video below to students and trainees. At first I ask them to sketch some slides on paper that incorporate this sentence: "Drinking one can of soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter in a year." I asked them to think of ways they can make that message more visual and memorable. People come up with ideas including sketches of a year's supply of sugar on a table from just the 365 cans of soda, or 365 cans of empty soda cans and bottles around a single office cubicle, or sketches of bloated bellies and people with worried looks standing on scales, and so on. This activity gets people thinking of ways of combining visuals with type to amplify the impact of a message. After a brief discussion, I show them this PSA from the NYC Dept of Health. Watch the clip below or here on YouTube.

The PSA: Don't drink yourself fat

This 30-second video — which has no voice over — receives a lot of moans and groans from the audience. No one expected a visualization like that. Is it over the top? That's a matter of personal taste I suppose. It certainly gets people's attention and makes its point. Only time will tell if if makes any difference in New York and beyond. (For me personally, it already has had a profound effect.) On the New York City Department of Health's website you can learn more about the campaign. Here you can read a bit about the controversy. The video below (or on YouTube) touches on the public's reaction to the PSA.

The reactions
Watch a short AP story on people's reaction to the ad in New York City.

Thirty seconds is not a long time, yet a visualization like the one in the NYC Dept of Health's PSA is effective for getting attention and making a memorable point. The aim was not to provide detailed information in the actual spot, but rather to make a powerful visual impression that's visceral with the hope that we'll stop to rethink our habits and investigate further on their website and from other sources. In an actual presentation situation, we can also use high-impact visualizations so long as we provide context and the details of why and how, and when, etc. In an actual presentation we can take more time to illuminate further by way of examples and by introducing more evidence to backup our claims.

* Sugar: The bitter truth Watch this 90-minute presentation by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology as he explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that too much fructose and too little fiber appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic. Dr. Lustig is a good speaker. If his visuals were of a much higher quality this would have been a far better talk, however. Still, if you are very interested in this topic, you will find the presentation very interesting indeed.

The storytelling power of photography

Renee_TEDxTokyo We all know the power of great photography. To me, there is still nothing like the still photograph to convey emotion and the significance of a particular moment. Obviously, photographs are not just for print. Ken Burns, for example, says that he views the photograph as the basic building block or DNA of his documentary film making. "Pictures," he says, "are often our closest representation of the reality we're trying to come to terms with." With that in mind, I'd like to point you to a 13-minute slideshow by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Renée Byer. Renée is the sister of my pal Tom Byer (the famous soccer guru "Tom-san" in Tokyo) and she was one of the fantastic people who presented for TEDxTokyo in 2009. Since her presentation was about the photographs, she chose to sit down close to the audience and read a transcript in sync with the large images projected behind her. I remember this presentation very well; I was sitting in the front row with Barry Eisler and we were both deeply moved by the end.


The final four minutes
Renée_Byer's_photo Renée finishes her presentation by showing photos from her series called “A Mother’s Journey," which tells the sad and evocative story of a mother's love and determination as she witnesses her young son die of cancer. As Renée says in her narration, "...dying is hard enough. Our society should make living through it easier." By the time Renée finished her slide show, there was not a dry eye in the house. It was not a fancy presentation and there was no dramatic or polished narration. The photos spoke louder than any words could. Renée's talk was the last of the session. During the break I found her on stage and just gave her a big hug. Although we had just met the day before, Renée was able to create such emotion with her simple delivery and powerful images that I had no words for her other than a warm embrace of appreciation and a gentle "thank you."

Making presentations that stick

Sticky_messages Almost three years ago I praised the ideas expressed in the bestselling book Made to Stick. I even featured the ideas briefly in the first book, Presentation Zen. Earlier this month Fast Company Magazine featured a 3-minute video by Made to Stick co-author Dan Heath on their website called Presentations that Stick. Watch the video below or checkout the transcripts and resources on the Fast Company site. As you may recall from the book Made to Stick, if you want to communicate your ideas in a way that makes an impact, then craft messages that embrace storytelling, are simple, concrete, credible, emotional, and have an element of unexpectedness. In the video below, Dan reminds presenters to (1) be simple (without being simplistic), (2) show something, and (3) tease before you tell.

Example: The Girl Effect
Below is the YouTube version of the Girl Effect, the sample that Dan mentioned in the video. (Go here for the high-rez version on the Girl Effect website.

NOTE: Presentation at Apple Store in Ginza (Tokyo) this Tuesday (4-13)

Ginza If you are in Tokyo this Tuesday — or know anyone who will be — please consider stopping by my free presentation which starts at 7:00pm, April 13 (Tuesday) in the Apple Store (Ginza) theatre. I'll be talking in English about the ideas in the PZD book, as well as ideas in the third book called The Naked Presenter (out in summer). I'll also touch on "the 10 Ps" of a great presentation, specifically focusing on "the 5Ps" of delivering naked. We'll also look at what good cooking and good presenting have in common. Loads of free stuff to give away such as PZ books in Nihongo, PZD books in English, PZ t-shirts, PZ stress balls, and some free stuff from iStockphoto. It's going to be a lot of fun. We had twice as many people as seats last time in December, so please get there early to get a seat.

I am working with Apple right now to see if I can present in the London store in mid-June. If there is interest in UK, I'd love to swing by. I'll let you know.

You can learn a lot from a child (redux)

Violin A few years ago I wrote this post called You can learn a lot from a child which features a video of a presentation by Severn Cullis-Suzuki. I was reminded of this because of recent events: over the weekend our daughter was born here in Japan. This is my first child, and I think already she is teaching me lessons. This has me thinking a lot more about new beginnings and the beginner's mind and the incredible potential that is within any child. Of course, all parents hope their children will grow up to be creative and original, and they want to teach their children well. But I wonder if creativity and originality are not taught as much as they are inspired. That is, we can not so much really teach one to be creative but we can inspire them and create the stimulating environment for them to let their own natural talents come out. So what then is the role of teachers? I am not certain, but the best ones -- the ones we remember, the ones who really impacted our lives -- are the ones who inspired us to explore and inquire and discover on our own long after we left formal schooling. I am not suggesting that inspiration is a panacea, but we do not give it the respect it is due. We do not give inspiring teachers the credit they deserve. Children remind us that inspiration matters. It matters as much for scientists and engineers as it does for artists. And children remind us that we are all artists.

What adults can learn from kids
This short TED talk by "child prodigy" Adora Svitak is getting a lot of buzz this week. What Adora says is not really anything we do not already know, but perhaps we need constant reminding. I guess children are good at reminding us about what's important.

Adora makes several good points and spends several moments talking about "the beginners mind" though that is not what she calls it. It's a good talk. It's not the best presentation ever or even the best presentation given by a child, but I think it's well worth watching; it's at the very least provocative and may get you thinking. (Adora does not use many visuals, but she uses Prezi for the few that she does show. More and more you are seeing digital natives use presentation apps other than PowerPoint or Keynote. Using apps other than PowerPoint comes very natural to younger people, perhaps because they are not bound to the slide deck culture.)

Beginner's Mind
Here are two different treatments of a quote on the beginner's mind (source).

Beginner1  Beginner2
(click for 800x600 size)

Kindergarten Is the Model for Lifelong Learning