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.

Two decades of PowerPoint: Is the world a better place?

Ppt This week a Wall Street Journal article entitled PowerPoint Turns 20, As Its Creators Ponder A Dark Side to Success is getting a bit of attention. The article has a few good comments from the two creators of PowerPoint, Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin, who produced PowerPoint 1.0 in 1987 and then sold it later that year to Microsoft (and oy vey! the world hasn’t been the same since).

Don’t blame Microsoft
Teacher We all agree that the majority of presentations given with PowerPoint “suck rotten eggs” as Seth Godin says in his e-book. But this is largely so because people do not know (or don’t care about) the difference between a well-written document and well-designed supporting visuals. PowerPoint users usually shoot for the middle and create a slideument, a “document” that would make your third-grade English teacher apoplectic with disgust and shame that you ever attended her class, and draw scowls of disapproval from anyone who makes a living as a designer or visual communicator.

PowerPoint is not the cause of bad business presentations, but laziness and poor writing skills may be. The point is not to place more text within tiny slides intended for images and visual displays of data. The point is to first (usually) create a well-written, detailed document. Do business people still know how to write?

“A lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don't like the intellectual rigor of actually doing the work." 

    — Robert Gaskins in an interview with the Wall Street Journal

Visual literacy and design literacy have never been more important, and these subjects should be taught in schools. However, this does not mean that the ability to write well is any less important than it used to be, in fact good writing skills are also more important than ever. The future may belong to the designers, but it will also belong to those who can write insanely well. Sadly, I’m afraid that solid writing skills will become increasingly rare.

Can reading and writing make you a better speaker?
Books I became a better speaker and presenter after college in part because I majored in Philosophy, a degree that required loads and loads of reading, writing, and arguing…daily. All this reading and writing, oddly enough, made me a more articulate speaker as I learned better how to think critically, listen to opposing views, and spell out my ideas or position clearly and succinctly. I’m not against young children using PowerPoint in schools, but I hope the presentations they are making are verbal reports which are coming at the end of rigorous research and well-reasoned, detailed written reports. I fear that the “PowerPoint presentations” are often a replacement for written papers rather than an extension or augmentation of the research and written work.

“Now grade-school children turn in book reports via PowerPoint. [The PowerPoint inventors]  call that an abomination. Children, they emphatically agree, need to think and write in complete paragraphs.”
     — Lee Gomes, Wall Street Journal article on PowerPoint

Adults do silly things with PowerPoint too
Bad_slide We can’t blame the kids for making really bad PowerPoint. They learn bad habits from us. It’s all around them, and they don’t have to look far. Even (especially?) prominent U.S. politicians can produce some really bad PowerPoint. Leave it to a U.S. politician, then, to this week proudly display a PowerPoint deck that exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the way PowerPoint is used today. It's odd that anyone can look at these slides by
Mitt Romney and then label the creator of such obfuscation and bad design as “Multimedia Mitt”.  (Is the PowerPoint bar really set that low?) No words are necessary from me. Enjoy the slide show with the world’s longest title.


Click slide above to see the entire PowerPoint deck (if you must).

Kickin’ it with iStockphoto in Japan

Istock_web Thursday I was in Tokyo (again) to meet with the execs from iStockphoto who were in town for the launch of iStockphoto Japan. If you remember from this post entitled Where can you get good images? — and this one called iStockkphoto.com: quality photos for the rest of us — I'm a raging, inexorable thunderlizard evangelist (what?) for iStockphoto. iStock is run by some seriously cool people, and over the years they’ve cultivated a loyal community of photographers, artists, and customers across the globe. Many of them, like Guy and me, have become big fans. iStockphoto in fact took a page right out of Kawasaki’s Art of the Start and have been kicking butt ever since (read their interview with Guy). Over a year ago Getty Images acquired iStockphoto for $50 million. This seems like an excellent fit since Getty Images is the leader in rights-managed stock (and high-end royalty free, etc.) and iStock is the leader in microstock with a vast community.

Meeting the iStockphoto execs in Tokyo at their local digs. (L-to-R) Me; Bruce, President & CEO; Garth, VP Business Development; Kelly, VP Marketing

I began using iStockphoto back when they didn’t have such a large catalog of images, but I was attracted to the easy of use of the site and the concept behind the microstock agency. Now they are up to over 1.8 million images (and growing). I was at the office of Getty Images Japan to meet the iStock executives from Calgary and discuss some ways we can help each other (more on that later). They are a great group of guys. They treated me to lunch in Harajuku at the funkiest Okonomiyaki place I have even seen and I was their guest at a blowout party on the top floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills with Getty Images and 500 creatives to kickoff the launch of iStock in Japan. The folks at iStock and Getty are extremely cool…and they know what they are doing. I was quite impressed.


Bruce and the guys show me their Canadian method for making Okonomiyaki.

See more photos from my time with Getty and iStock in Tokyo.
There are many places to get photos these days, but I urge you to go over to iStockphoto and give them a try.

Quick example
Below are three slides I'm using in a new presentation I just put together today; the two images are from iStockphoto.

(1) I'm often asked by young entrepreneurs in Japan how they can get customers. I'm also asked constantly by foreign students how they can get internships in Japan.

(2) My answers always start the same: You gotta get out! The idea of getting out there, taking a risk, and selling yourself (and your vision, etc.) is not something that comes naturally to most Japanese. The quote from the Kawasaki interview with the iStockphoto crew underscores my point: nothing comes to you — you have to go get it.

(3) Having a diverse, quality network has always been important for entrepreneurs, but in today's world it's absolutely critical. So get out there and "press the flesh." Go to parties, attend conferences, chat up the person preparing your coffee at the local Starbucks in the morning, whatever. We're only here on this planet once, and you just never know who you'll meet if you get out.

Exclusive Photographer
I met Juergen Sack, a German photographer living in Tokyo who contributes to iStock in his role as “Exclusive Photographer” for iStockphoto. I’ve used many of his images before so it was fun meeting the man behind the camera. Checkout some of his images here. You just never know who you'll run into...

Interview with iStockphoto Founder and CEO Bruce Livingstone
Interview: Bruce Livingstone, CEO, istockphoto.com
• iStockphoto CEO on Getty Images acquisition: Exclusive interview on one year anniversary

Presentation & the singer-songwriter

Chinese These days I tend to think that musical performance has as much in common with presentation as the advice found in literature from the field of speech and communications. That is, we can learn a lot about storytelling and conveying meaning through engagement and emotional connections from studying what makes the great musical performers so special (beyond just their ability to play their instruments exceptionally well). And there is a lot we can learn from new-media artists as well as they continue to work closely with musicians and other performers to help them tell their stories visually.

You will love this song (and its message)
Thanks to Digg I discovered today a wonderful artist and an amazing, simple song. This song is called Chinese Translation and is performed by M. Ward. The animated video below is a great example of how simple illustrations can fit harmoniously with the music and enhance the song and the singer’s message. Not all of you will like it, and for some it will take a few takes before you come around. Others will instantly fall in love with the simple song and simple animation. (Link to higher-rez version on Joel Trussell's blog).

Afraid to do the things we know we have to do
I don’t mean to analyze the song — and clearly it will have different meanings for different people — but I love the three simple questions posed in the song:

“What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?”
“How can a man like me remain in the light?”
“If life is really as short as they say, then why is the night so long?”

We ask ourselves variations of these three fundamental questions almost daily, do we not? We often go to great lengths to find the answers, even though the answers may already be right there in front of us, if only we could see. Seeing is indeed the hardest part, and for that we may need a helpful reminder of what we already know but have forgotten from someone wiser than us.

If you have ever loved (and lost), then I don’t know how you can hear those lyrics — What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart? — and not be moved, at least a bit. They say that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. If this is so, we all ask, then why does loss hurt so much and cut so deep? The animation of the pieces of a broken heart in combination with the smooth lyrics and haunting melody convey a powerful message indeed.

Below is another video of an M. Ward song called Requiem. This video too is a good example of the visual enhancing the story being told by the singer and storyteller.

Who says we need our logo on every slide?

Brand2 “Brand” is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in use today. “Branding” is perhaps even more misunderstood. Many people confuse the myriad elements of brand identity with brand or branding. PowerPoint critic Edward Tufte, for example, has referred to the simple (and admittedly annoying) act of placing logos on every PowerPoint slide as “branding,” implying that branding doesn’t go much deeper than catchphrases and identity symbols. A logo, though, is but one visual symbol of a brand. The logo is an important part of the outward expression of a brand (part of brand identity), but the meaning of brand and branding goes far, far deeper than simply making one’s logo as recognizable as possible. Though logo placement itself is not branding, I do share Tufte’s distain for logos/trademarks appearing on every slide of a presentation. If you are presenting for an organization try removing logos (and other clutter) from all except the first and last slide. If you want people to learn something and remember you, then make a good, honest presentation. The logo won’t help make a sell or make a point, but the clutter it brings does add unnecessary noise and makes the presentation visuals look like a commercial. And people hate commercials or being sold to. We don’t begin every new sentence in a conversation by re-stating our name, why do we bombard people with our company logo in every slide?

It’s about them, not about you
Brand_gap Branding is not about how hard you can yell, how much you can interrupt people, or how much you can manipulate the market to look in a certain direction or think and feel in a certain way simply because you tell them to (over and over and over). More than anything, to me a brand is a promise and it is built on trust. And trust takes time. No brand can be built overnight no matter how much money is spent on media and marketing communications designed to get the message “out there.” Over the three-day weekend I read Brand Gap and Zag by Marty Neumeier. These are now two of my favorite books on the subject of branding (I love the simple presentation of the material as well — excellent!). I highly recommend these two books for anyone in an organization and especially for entrepreneurs and those in start-ups or small firms. Neumeier sums up “Brand” in this way:

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s not what you say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.”

Organizations, then, should worry less about advertising and spend more effort in making insanely great products and services that are worth talking about. That is, they should show us (prove to us) how great they are rather than just telling us how great they are through expensive media buys, and placing their identity graphics in every conceivable place, including PowerPoint slides.

When brand identity substitutes for content
No wonder logos and other visual brand identifiers have gotten such a bad rap. Just look around you. Perhaps the worst offenders of putting “branding” (using the term in the most superficial and largely incorrect sense here) and logo placement ahead of actual content are the cable news programs. For example, here is an interview (below) on The O’Reilly Factor (Fox News) with the program host Bill O’Reilly and guest Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is an Oxford professor and the author of The God Delusion. He is a very famous author in the world these days and a very popular speaker. Dawkins spoke at TED a couple of years ago (see video of TED presentation).

When (self) promotion gets in the way of content
Presumably, if you fly a bestselling author like Richard Dawkins to your show and want to discuss such a deep, complicated issue you would allot more than four minutes and forty seconds for the interview. And if your were necessarily limited to such a short segment surely you would like the guest to get a chance to do most of the talking. If the host’s objective was to get a better understanding of the guest’s ideas and arguments and allow the viewers to see those arguments then we’d have to conclude that the interview was a failure. In fact the host spoke about 75% of the time. If the goal was to promote the host and his show (and presumably sell more ads) then we can conclude that the interview was a success.

Dawkins  Bill_o

At no point during the 4:40 interview did you not see either Bill O’Reilly’s face or his name displayed in three large signs hovering around the guest. Why not just have guests wear Bill O’Reilly sandwich boards or at least “Factor” T-shirts? By placing guests between two large “O’Reilly Factor” signs (above) they have introduced visual elements that do not help viewers better understand the guest speaker; they have cluttered the display and turned it into a commercial. Obviously this was no accident. According to the design principle of Ockham’s Razor if we have two functionally equivalent displays — such as the display of Bill O’Reilly (right) and Richard Dawkins (left) on the TV screen — we should select the display with the fewest visual elements. One would assume that the intended function of the displays is to provide an aesthetically pleasing setting for presenters to appear and have their words heard and understood without visual distraction. But if the function of the displays (including backgrounds) are equivalent, then why not frame both presenters in displays with the fewest extraneous visual elements? Which presenter above appears in the display with the fewest visual elements?

A bit better
In this interview (below) on CNN with
Paula Zahn, Richard Dawkins gets more of an opportunity to make his case. This time Dawkins spoke for about 75% of the time. This may be a better (albeit far too short) interview compared to The Factor appearance, but CNN largely suffers from same fluff and promotion-over-content problems seen in the other cable news networks. Moreover, the first time CNN’s Paula Zahn moderated a discussion about atheists and discrimination in America in January of this year, they neglected to put an atheists on the panel. Not good journalism, perhaps, but the set looked fantastic!

Get that clutter off the screen
One of my favourite comedians is Lewis Black. Below watch this short clip of him appearing on CNN and getting fed up with the extraneous graphics on the display.

See Cleaning up our act, a post I published on August 20th last year for more on the issue of on-screen clutter. You can also see the full Lewis Black interview there.

Where do we get this stuff?
We learn bad habits from many places. How many people still put two spaces after a period, for example (an old habit left over from the era of the typewriter)? I'm not sure where we learned that putting logos and other superfluous elements on every slide was a good idea; perhaps the slide master in PowerPoint made it too easy. Most companies with a PowerPoint template certainly insist that their employees use the company logo on every slide. But is this good advice? Slide real estate is limited as it is, why clutter it with logos and trademarks, footers, and so on? I don't know if the visual clutter found in many TV news broadcasts is a cause or just a symptom of a decline in visual literacy in combination with shorter attention spans. But one thing is for certain: if you want people to hear and understand your message the answer is not to add more clutter but to remove it all. As Lewis Black says, "Get that %$#@! off the screen!"

Richard Dawkins interviews the Bishop of Oxford (34 min video)

Picture superiority effect, pictograms, & culture

Principles The picture superiority effect says that pictures are remembered better than words, especially when people are casually exposed to the information and the exposure is for a very limited time. When information recall is measured just after exposure to a series of pictures or a series of words the recall for pictures and words is about equal. However, the picture superiority effect applies when the time after exposure is more than 30 seconds, according to the research cited in Universal Principles of Design. The effect is strongest when the pictures represent common, concrete things compared to more abstract ideas.

“Use the picture superiority effect to improve the recognition and recall of key information. Use pictures and words together, and ensure that they reinforce the same information for optimal effect.”
                     — Universal Principles of Design (page 152)

Im_15_on You can see the picture superiority effect used widely in marketing communications such as posters, billboards, brochures, annual reports, etc. The effect should be kept in mind too when designing slides (images and text) that support a narrative, though this is often neglected as most people opt for bulleted lists. I have pointed to these PowerPoint-like posters in Japan for Japan Tobacco before (and here too) as they are a good example of pictogram-like images plus text that express a clear and even emotional (humorous) message. So what about the power of pictograms?

Pictograms and ideograms
Pictograms are images that represent a word; they are iconic representations of an object or an idea. For example, symbolic signs are pictograms altered to create new meaning, such as a bright light bulb (“idea”) or a skull and cross bones (“danger, poison,” etc.). An ideogram is a graphic of a nonrepresentational idea such as the ubiquitous red circle with a line through it ("prohibited, do not," etc.).

You see these kind of signs and symbols everywhere especially in airports, in international tourist destinations, etc. They are used today to create simple, iconic images that can communicate a message clearly in an instant and across cultures. Not all pictographs or ideograms translate well, in fact they are often culture specific. For example, while we were out on a bike ride along Osaka Bay over the weekend, we took a break to buy some fresh bentos and iced tea for the day’s trek. As we entered the local super market I noticed this sign (below). This sign cracked me up, but my wife thought I was nuts for finding anything odd or amusing in this.


No Smoking. No Photography. No….Bombs?

When I first saw this sign the three messages I received in an instant were “ No smoking,” “No pictures,” (reasonable) and “No….bombs?” What? No bombs? That can’t be right I thought, so I read the redundant text messages that appear under each image. The text under the “bomb” says “Do not bring in dangerous items.” “No Smoking” and “No Photography” are concrete ideas and specific, but “No Dangerous Items” is a bit more abstract or at least not specific. What exactly constitutes a “dangerous item”?  And is there a better way to visually represent the idea of “No dangerous items” other than an image of the kind of bomb with a burning fuse that is commonly used in Saturday morning cartoons?

Door1 Because I am more of a visual person it is the images not the images plus text together that stood out to me. The first two images (No Smoking, No Photography) need no text at all to be understood in Japan, they are common. In the case of the “bomb” it is the image and the text together that gave it meaning. So perhaps the bomb graphic at least helped the message get noticed. Just an image of the bomb alone may not be understood in Japan either (though frankly nobody notices these signs anyway, hence the need for two No Smoking signs on the same door).

Is it culture?
Bomb_2 Culture surely plays a role in how pictorial representations are interpreted. My wife did not at all share my fascination with these pictographs. The black cannon-ball type bomb is commonly used in cartoons in many cultures and holds the same place as the rubber chicken as a comedic prop (a rubber chicken is not widely understood as a comedic prop in Japan, however). You can even find the bomb clipart in various forms available for download on the Microsoft website.

Wtf_bomb This particular case is not a big deal, but it is a reminder that when we are going to present overseas it is wise to take the time to consult our host country counter parts and advisors to see if all our messages — including visual ones — are understood in the same manner we intend for them to be. The world is a pretty small, interconnected place these days, but one’s culture still influences the interpretation of graphic depictions so it is best to see if our visuals “translate” well. Graphics usually “translate” more easily than words, but this is by no means always the case. Since the understanding of visual representations is usually a learned skill, technical communicators must be particularly careful as the levels of visual literacy will vary widely in different parts of the world.

Flip charts as visual enhancers

Flip Presentations enhanced with effective visual support are usually better than presentations given without visual enhancers. But no one says you have to use PowerPoint or Keynote or any other form of digital multimedia for that matter. Before there were projectors and computers — even before there were overhead projectors (remember those?) — there were flip charts and large pads for presenting your ideas in visual form to your audience. While I spend most of my time working with people who are using multimedia and new media, I actually am a big fan of the ol’ “large pad and marking pens."

Advantages of the large pad
Old_flip I really like the idea of "getting off the grid," stepping away from the computer and “going analog” in the preparation stage of the presentation process. Large sheets of paper and marking pens — as “old school” as they may seem — can be wonderful, simple tools for presenting your ideas or recording the ideas of others. When I was at Apple, I used to lead brainstorming sessions by sticking large “Post-its” on the wall. I wrote the ideas down or others would step up and sketch out their ideas the old fashioned way while arguing their point or elaborating on ideas by others. It was messy, but it was a good mess. By the end of the session the walls would be filled with these large “Post-its” which I then took back to my office and stuck on my own walls. As I (and others) developed the structure and visuals for the future presentation, we often referred to the myriad sheets on the walls which were on display for days, weeks, and months. I know many people plan their presentations right from the start using software tools, but I don’t recommend it. There’s just something about paper and pen and sketching out rough ideas in the “analog world” in the early stages that seems to lead to more clarity and better, more creative results when we finally get down to representing our ideas digitally.

Large pads for live presentations?
Dm_chart During my training as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the ’80s, flip charts and marking pens were ubiquitous teaching aids. A great advantage of these tools, of course, is that they require no electricity. This was a powerful advantage since there often was no electricity. But for live presentations in modern offices and schools today, is there still a place for flip charts and marking pens? Absolutely there is. And since slide presentations — especially poor ones — are common place, keeping the lights on and using only paper and pen for your visuals may be a much appreciated differentiator. Below are two on-stage presentations by comedian Demetri Martin who uses flip charts (“large pads”) to visually enhance his messages. These clips are a good follow up to the last post on PowerPoint humor; I guess you can call these "flip chart humor." Enjoy.

Demetri Martin uses flip chart to display "findings"

Below: Just for kicks, I took two of Martin's crude "large pad" visuals and put them in the form of Keynote slides, which are equally crude in their own way. (Click for larger view.)

Procrast  Mountains
LEFT: Pie chart about procrastination. RIGHT: Ability to draw mountains over time.

Demetri Martin: Material Enhancers

Tips (etc.) on using flip charts
Here are a few links where you can learn more about the art of presenting with flip charts.

Using flip charts (an entire website on flip charts)
 11 tips for using flip charts more effectively from 3M
Make the Most of Flip Charts (3M site)
Flip Charts: Low Tech Powerhouses (from LLRX.com)
Post-it Meeting Charts (product info from 3M)
10 Tips On Using Flip Charts And Whiteboards
Cool flip chart easel
Libby trial jury quibbles over flip-chart paper (CNN)

Books on using flip charts or Post-its
  Flip Charts: How to Draw Them and How to Use Them
  Post-It Ideas That Stick! 222 Ingenious, Creative, Practical and Simply Preposterous Ways of Using Post-It Notes
  Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes
  The Big Book of Flip Charts
  Flip Chart Magic!

PowerPoint: sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying

PowerPoint is a great tool for displaying visuals that enhance, illustrate, and generally magnify your narrative. It’s been used effectively for years by millions of professionals from such disciplines as academia, engineering, medicine, business, education, government (mostly ineffectively in this case), design, technology, and comedy. Comedy?

PowerPoint as pure comedy gold
Below are a few examples of presenters using PowerPoint to help illustrate their messages. In each case the tool actually enhanced the presenter's ability to make a connection with the audience and drive their messages home. The first two presentations are by Don McMillan. Don is a former engineer with a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. He gives some good advice on using the PowerPoint tool properly.

Is there life after death by PowerPoint?

Users guide to life
Whoever it was that designed humans did a pretty good job, McMillan says, but they provided no good documentation. McMillan has compiled his own data and shares some of it below in what he calls the Users Guide to Life.

Economics explained in ten bullet points
Standup economist Yoram Bauman (he’s an actual economist too) uses PowerPoint and bullet points to effectively state his case. See, bullet points are not always a bad thing.

Chicken, chicken, chicken
It is said that only about 7% of our messages are expressed verbally. Is it possible, then, to make a connection with an audience and make meaning using traditional death-by-PowerPoint techniques and limiting your vocabulary to one word? Watch this presentation below by Doug Zongkers and find out.

Motivational business presentation by David Brent
No PowerPoint here, but what would presentation comedy be without reviewing a presentation from business guru and Renaissance man David Brent (Ricky Gervais), know for his maverick management techniques and political correctness. Below David gives tips on motivating employees.

(I love to laugh; it's good for health. I know I'm very slow, but last week I finally received my DVDs of the complete series of The Office (BBC). Believe it or not, I'd never seen it (nor the U.S. version). This show is absolutely brilliant. I've become a huge Ricky Gervais fan and just love Extras as well. The subtlety of the humour is priceless and really brings a "smile to the mind." Hope some of the clips above brought a smile to your mind as well.)

Slideshare announces cool slide contest

Slide Earlier this week Slideshare.net announced their "World's Best Presentation Contest." They are offering some pretty cool prizes such as a laptop computer for the 1st prize, some Xboxes, and some iPods. People can vote on their favorite slide decks; the top vote getters will receive iPods. The "World's Best Presentation" winners will be decided by Slideshare and the four judges, Guy Kawasaki, Bert Decker, Jerry Weisman, and myself. Context is obviously important so take note of this section in the upload instructions:

While uploading the presentation file, you should tell us something about it in the description section. This will give the voters and judges some context as to your presentation. Specifically, tell us which of the below options describes how your presentation was or is meant to be used. "PowerPoint Deck as Leave Behind" OR "In Person Presentation Support" OR "Both" OR "Other".

I think "other" could mean the slideshare viewer itself. That is, you could rework your slides so that they are as clear and meaningful as possible on their own for online viewing and also take advantage of the slideshare features. I've talked a lot about slideumentation and the problem of trying to make visuals that are also meant to be handouts, this usually does not work very well. But you are free to be as creative as you can within the limitations of Slideshare, so why not experiment and see how powerful a message you can convey using the limited tools before you. I'm looking forward to seeing something great!

Slide design: signal vs. noise (redux)

Mackey A few weeks ago, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey, gave a presentation called "Past, Present, and Future of Food" for an audience of 2000 in Berkeley, California (watch the video). You can read about the context and content of Mackey's presentation here in this UC Berkeley News article. Essentially, John Mackey was there to make a presentation and have a conversation that would persuade Michael Pollan (who was critical of Whole Foods in his bestselling book The Omnivore's Dilemma) and a skeptical Berkeley audience that his large company still has the credibility to lead the food movement into the future. Mackey (see his blog) gave a 45-minute talk "aided" by 67 text-filled slides followed by an on-stage conversation with the host Michael Pollan. Most people felt that the evening generally was successful given Mackey's sincerity, honesty, and general likeability, but John Mackey's "multimedia presentation" as it was billed, could have been so much more.

Live and learn
Mackey's presentation in Berkeley is a wonderful example of a presentation by an intelligent, personable, and passionate leader that easily could have been insanely great but was not. "[Mackey] raced through the slides like a Ph.D. student presenting his dissertation," said the UC Berkeley reporter in the audience. It was not a disaster by any means, based largely on Mackey's sincerity and the courage it took just to show up at all, but it's a shame the presentation itself was not better planned and delivered given the importance of the topic and the profile of the speaker. Frankly, when you're trying to change the world, there is no excuse for being dull.

How could it have been better?
There are so many ways in which John Mackey could improve his presentation. Here are just three:

  • It's a story. This topic screams "Story" yet there was no story that I could follow. There were bits and pieces (some of it interesting) and way too much history and data-without-purpose.

  • Make it shorter. Cut the presentation part of the evening to 20-25 minutes and spend more time discussing on stage with the host, taking questions from the audience, etc. This is when the evening really got interesting.

  • Make it visual. There are no boring topics, but this topic is especially interesting and provocative. There is no reason in the world to make this dull visually or otherwise, but he did. (Although the movie he showed in the middle was shocking and provocative.)

There are numerous other things to consider too, but I'll focus just on the slides here as it is a good follow-up to our discussion last time on the signal-to-noise principle.

Signal-to-noise ratio (redux)
Last time we were talking about the advantages of a high signal-to-noise ratio in presentation visuals. Mackey's slides are a great example of slides that did not really do anything to help the audience. The slides were stuffed with text, small photos with superfluous animation, and Excel-generated charts so bad and so ugly it's hard to imagine a cheetah with only a cursory understanding of PowerPoint making anything worse. Here you can download the slides (PDF) used in John Mackey's presentation.

A couple of samples

This slide was on screen for 10 seconds. John Mackey's only point: Mexico is first in organic tropical fruit production; Paraguay second, Ecuador third. Perhaps there was another way to support his point visually during that 10-second period? Did people remember this fact (among the scores of other facts), and how did it contribute to the story?

"In our excitement to produce what we could only make before with great effort, many of us have lost sight of the real purpose of quantitative displays — to provide the reader with important, meaningful, and useful insight."

                                                             — Stephen Few

It would not have been hard at all to simplify Mackey's visuals so that they augmented his talk better. The slides below, for example, I generated in Keynote in just a few minutes (the same could have been done in PowerPoint 2007).

Break up the bullets

Many of John Mackey's slides were packed with several small bulleted points. Usually he only touch on one or two of the points written in each slide. The slide below (left) is not unusual in today's business world either. This is a poor visual (and a poor document). The slide on the right is an attempt to highlight just one of the points from the original slide to complement the narrative.

Profit  Sustain

No pie for you!
Few I am not against pie charts outright. In business, for example, we have become quite used to showing simple data like market share (our share of the pie). However, it is true that pie charts are over used and often inappropriate. Rather than making data easier to see, a pie chart (especially a 3-D rendering of one) can make data harder to understand visually and quickly. In Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few the author says "I don't use pie charts, and I strongly recommend that you abandon them as well." Few says that pie charts communicate poorly. I tend to agree with Mr. Few. Take a look at the example below from John Mackey's presentation.

"Europe accounts for 66% of the world's arable land in organic production" — I think that was the main point. This was on screen for a very short time. Can you tell which slice is "2%"?

            "I come to a food event for pie, not pie charts!"

                        — from coverage in the UC Berkeley News

Let's look at a few example of alternative ways to show the same information below (though the best design choice may have been to omit the use of this and perhaps all charts entirely).

The colors were derived directly from the Whole Foods Market website using the eye dropper tool in Keynote's color picker. Asia, Africa, Oceania were combined because 1%x2 plus 2% were difficult to show without clutter (though it is very possible to do so).  A declarative sentence would be better, but I was not sure what the key point actually was.

A pie chart with many small "slices" can become tedious and cluttered. Below I put the data in the form of simple bar charts while experimenting with colors.

V_bar1  V_bar2
Generally, if the bars are a different color, there must be a reason. On the right N. America is highlighted.

H_bar1  H_bar3
Using horizontal bars to show the data it seems easier to make quick comparisons, but my designer wife disagreed favoring the pie chart for giving one "the feel" for how one part compares to the whole. Pie charts are ubiquitous in Japan as well.

Another possibility. This has good contrast, but the image may add noise for some audiences. Or does the image add an appropriate "emotion" and interest or serve as a kind of mnemonic which aids in memory?

The pie chart
Apple_ad Virtually every presentation book on the market recommends the use of pie charts to show how parts make up a whole. Some experts in the visual display of quantitative information, however, strongly recommend against using pie charts. The use of pie charts is ubiquitous in today's world, but we may want to re-think our usage of such charts. Sometimes the use of pie charts can indeed seem ridiculous such as when used to show 12-15 "slices." This Apple commercial pokes fun at the pie chart, and below is my version of the Pac-man pie chart that has been circulating around the internet for some time. Again, I think pie charts can be used from time to time, especially in business, but it's worth reexamining our old charts to see if there is a more appropriate way.


An example of a different way
Take a look at these slides below on the Sustainable Food Laboratory website (Keynote and PowerPoint versions available for download).  These slides were used in a similar kind of presentation to the one John Mackey gave in Berkeley. I would love to hear the presentation that goes along with these visuals.

Sustain1  Sustain1a

Kicking it up a notch
I have a lot of respect for John Mackey and I was a loyal Whole Foods customer when I lived in Palo Alto and Cupertino, California. If the Whole Foods CEO is going to do a lot of public presentations like this in future, with just a little coaching and presentation redesign, he can kick his overall impact up several notches. I'm hoping that he does.

"My Letter to Whole Foods" (by Michael Pollan)
"An Open Letter to Michael Pollan" (by John Mackey)
Many Eyes
Tons of great articles by Stephen Few