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2014 My year in review

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I have seen some great examples of End of Year Review posts, for instance here and here. These great posts made me think about my own commentary about the past twelve months, and since I have been applying more and more the principle of radical openness in my life and business, I thought I would give it a shot.

Here is my 2014 Review in less than 2,000 words. This post is really a love letter to myself, intended primarily to set the tone and intention for the year ahead. To facilitate the reading in case you want to join me in my reflections, I have divided this review into five chapters: Business, Financial, Personal, Mind and Body.

Chapter One: Business

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THE RESULT

I run a small consultancy firm called La Fabbrica della Realtà. I help clients with their interactive and social communication as well as their advertising. Occasionally, I also do some delightful consulting work concerning business innovation.

At the end of 2013, I set my bar for 2014 pretty high: I wanted to double my sales by the year’s end. Although I did not reach this 100% increase, I am very happy with what I was able to achieve.
In 2014, my business grew 52%, halfway to my 100% target. I went from four active customers to five, so the increase was indeed dictated by an increase in the amount of work per client.

Oddly enough, despite the business objective not being met, I saw my total income rise 108% due to some unexpected financial not-work-related upsides. On second thought, it wasn’t odd at all. After hitting a rough patch in 2013, where my finances hit rock bottom, I dedicatedly worked towards a rebound. It seems that the universe was listening, and allowed me to exceed my ambitious goal by 8%.

THE BAD

As anyone who has been close to me this year knows, I have worked a lot. I have had work always on my mind, and this has become an issue. I will discuss more about it in the Personal chapter.

THE FUTURE

In 2014 the totality of my sales orders derived from consulting work, which takes many hours to complete. I am not going to decrease my consulting work for 2015, but I don’t want to increase it either. I aspire to diversify my income sources. I have thought and shared my plan to create a product in a couple of articles this year. This new product will launch on January 15th.

For 2015, I would like my income to be more balanced: part from consulting and part from product sales.

In financial terms, in 2015 I aim for a 50% growth over this year’s result. This is again a pretty aggressive goal, and I plan to reach it thanks to the revenue from a new product.

Chapter Two: Financial

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THE RESULT

This year, At 37, I started saving money for the first time in my life. Better late than never.

I designed a savings system that has given me much satisfaction. First, I created an emergency fund that will allow me to go without income for 3 months (okay, this seems obvious to most of you, rational financial people, but I never had such a thing before).
After I funded this first emergency account, I created four buckets. All of my income goes to the first bucket and each month, based on how full that bucket is, I “feed” three different other buckets:

“Pension Fund”: For the moment, it is just a savings account. The money that lands there cannot be touched.
“Savings”: Readily available cash, to be used in case of any emergency and to pay for taxes.
“Investment”: Money that I don’t need immediately and that can be put to work.

I was able to capture around one third of my total income inside this collection of buckets.

During this year I also invested a little over 10% of my gross income in my new product, Presentation Hero.

THE BAD

I started to be conscious about financial products around me and I spent a lot of time pondering how to build a portfolio. To start, I settled for a “Permanent Portfolio” with a little innovation added in by joining a p2p lending platform.

This forced finance schooling is still giving me a bit of anxiety as I feel that a financial rookie is ready prey to bad or stupid decisions.

THE FUTURE

Future income growth will all go into this financial bucket system. My plan is to maintain my lifestyle as it is now. I want to use a little bit of the upside to have some great experiences with the people I love, but I plan to stay in the same 60 square meters rented apartment, without a car or motorbike, and without changing any other habit that would negatively impact my financial plan.

Chapter Three: Personal

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THE RESULT

I have been single most of my life, surrounded by a terrific community of friends. However, in recent times I had been feeling that there was something missing.

Clearly, my prayers have been heard. I met a very special person that casted loving nets on me and captured me in a dance of love. This is the best result I could have ever expected for the year.

I had promised once and again that I would not behave like my partnered friends: I would not stay home every night; I would not make a nest. I would be the same approachable, open scheduled, let’s-go-out kind of person. Yeah, right.

THE BAD

I had my eyes so fixed on the business goal for the year that it was really hard to devote quality time to a very important relationship.

The one bad thing about this year is that the amount of work I have been doing has had an impact on the length of my sleep. The quality of my sleep is still great, though, as it is easy for me to fall asleep, but I have had a lot of early wake ups that I guess are anxiety related. I definitely need to work on that!

THE FUTURE

In 2015 I would like to have more peace of mind and allow myself to have more time to spend with my special one. I want to stop working full weekends altogether, or at least avoid working weekends in a row. However, I already know that will not be possible during January.

I also want to make sure that I get at least 8 hours of good sleep every day. Since it seems that I have already started to wake up earlier, it could be a good idea to go to bed at an earlier time.

Chapter Four: Mind

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THE RESULT

I have kept my mind quite healthy this year. Although I did not meditate, I have been following my “Getting Things Done” routine. I also implemented a priority-based approach for the important areas of my life, built on on this great article from “A year of productivity”. It was certainly the most important and influential thing I read this year.

My mind is most happy when I am in a state of flow. This comes to me very easily when writing. Thus, this year I have radically altered the amount of the time I spend writing. It is now the first thing I do almost every day.

Incidentally, writing has come up also in my business review: producing quality content is the most important strategic activity I can do, also from a business perspective.

Writing goes hand in hand with reading. In 2104 I have been reading mostly long-form stuff, and not so many books (although I don’t keep count). I have certainly read a lot of great articles on Pocket.

This year I had also some other goals on my mind: I wanted to meditate, get fluent in German, and start learning Chinese (this last one is a love-related goal). Results were not optimal in any of these.

THE BAD

I could not convince myself that sitting still with a nice posture in order to meditate is something I can do every day. I do many activities in a meditative state: washing the dishes manually and taking a shower in the morning are great opportunities for meditation, and while running outdoors I easily get into a very focused state.

Sitting still in the morning, though, is not for me.

My German has gotten slightly better, but I did not devote to this task as much time as I wanted. As for Chinese, I made little progress, but that may change soon.

THE FUTURE

In the future, I would like to link more of my income to the act of writing. I think it would be greatly beneficial for my mind to do what pleases her, and -if it works well from a business standpoint-, I could also enjoy the financial benefits from that.

I will try to devote some time each Saturday to German, and each Sunday to Chinese.

Chapter Five: Body

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THE RESULT

“Do you have a plan for your work? Yes. Do you have a plan for your finances? Great. But do you have a plan for your body?”

When I heard this a few years ago, it hit me hard. I was 29, a smoker; originally thin, but getting fat. In the 8 years that followed, I developed and implemented a health plan that has resulted in much better habits and in my being in the best shape I have ever been.

My body plan this year had a setback due to a small surgery that had long and annoying consequences, and that did not allow me to do physical activity for the most part of 4 months. Since then, whenever I am at home in Berlin, I’m on a solid 3-times-per-week gym routine that includes bodyweight and kettle bell training. From Spring to Autumn, I also kept a good routine of running and walking outdoors.

I started the year eating Paleo with intermittent fasting. It was terrific. Nevertheless, I was not able to actually sustain it for very long periods.

My standing desk is a loyal companion and I miss it dearly when I’m traveling.

THE BAD

I haven’t been eating that well and I realize that the energy advantage of eating fewer carbs is enormous. On the other hand, I am a “frikkin Italian” and I “frikkin” love pasta. Therefore, I can only go Paleo for so long without going nuts.

THE FUTURE

I would like to integrate more Paleo weeks or months in the coming year and, particularly, to continue with my gym routine. I have seen it work wonders for my mental sanity and I look better too. Hence, I hope to be able to go on with it.

Bonus chapter

This reflection on 2014 has also sparked a different train of thoughts. I have started to think about how I want to create content and be present online in 2015. You can see the result in this Slideshare.

Want to keep the slides? You can download them here.

Final Chapter

Overall, 2014 has been a terrific year. I have some great memories from these past months and I have accomplished a lot. I will not change my focus in 2015. Financially, I want to build a better business and jumpstart my new product. Personally, I want to continue investing in my important relationships and keep my mind and body healthy.

Over the year, I will surely course-correct many times, but the 50,000 feet view is very clear to me.

This is it for my Year Review. I hope you enjoyed it, and if it has inspired you, please let me know in the comments.

If you want to be a part of my 2015 Review, there is one thing for you to do: go to this page here and sign-up to my email list. You will not regret it.

Why Prezi makes you dizzy and how to fix it

prezi dizzy.015A few weeks ago we started a journey into how cinematic techniques can be applied to your Prezis and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Thank you for that!

Your clicks indicate a huge interest in the subject, so today I want to talk about one of the most common movements in cinema, and in any of your Prezi presentations: the pan.

The pan is a movement of the camera on one axis. Sometimes it explores a scene, often it moves with the character. It gives a sense of direction, a sense of movement. The camera either follows a subject or helps us discover something that is not yet in the frame.

Panning is used extensively in cinema. The cinematographer in this case does not adjust the zoom, but actually moves the camera around and allows our point of view to change.

To see a masterful example, have a look at the beginning of Strangers on a Train by Alfred Hitchcock.

The most beloved feature of Prezi is the ability to move between frames; it’s the defining feature of the product. It’s also the functionality that has been most attacked by critics.

In this article I want to address a big part of this criticism and provide some solutions. What if I told you that in the next few paragraphs you could understand the reason behind this criticism, learn the rules that allow us to always please (at least the visual cortex of) our audience, and most importantly, sync all of our transitions with our presentation’s message and narrative?

And what if I told you that it was also really easy?

Each time you transition between two slides that are very close to each other, Prezi adds a panning movement. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of “moving” the camera around. Panning is quite a complex art. And to understand it fully we need to start talking about an important variable: direction.

Whenever you move between two frames Prezi pans in the direction of the second frame. That’s not as trivial as it seems because not all pans are made equal: pans can go up, down, sideways, or diagonally and those different directions have a different meaning associated with them.

According to the book Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll, in the western world the most natural directions are from left to right and from up to down.

“Westerners” read from left to right, write from left to right, scan visuals with their eyes usually from left to right. This makes it “natural.”

(Big big disclaimer: this principle does not translate well for any culture that writes right to left!)

Moving downwards is also a natural movement as it mimics the movement of objects falling due to the force of gravity. In the western world it is also the second way we explore visuals after scanning them left to right.

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The less natural and more uncomfortable movements are right-to-left and upwards.

Moving to the left is less comfortable because it’s the opposite direction than reading and writing. Going upwards, against the direction of gravity is a less comfortable movement as defeating gravity is not easy. As it requires more force to move upwards than downwards: picture yourself on a slope on skis. Would you rather climb up or ski downhill?

We need to complicate things a bit now: not all movement happens straight on one of the two main axes.

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When we look at diagonals we see that the combination of the two most natural directions (downwards and leftwards) create the most natural diagonal. The second most natural is to follow the direction of gravity and go to the left.

The hardest diagonals are the ones that go against gravity and – you would have guessed it – the hardest possible diagonal is the one that goes in the direction of the uppermost, leftmost corner.

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Regardless of the direction we choose the first movement in our Prezi will determine what we psychologically perceive as forward. And with this comes one of the most important lessons we can learn from panning: if I am panning to the right and at some point I start going to the left I will give my audience the impression that I am going backwards for some reason.

We not only need to mind in what direction our transitions go, but also that we change this direction only when it matters the most.

Now you know 100% of the rules of panning, time to look at some examples.

4

Probably the most important structure you can use in a Prezi is the linear left to right layout. Each transition will be seen as progress, an advancement over a steady, stable course that leads to a familiar result. If you want to reassure your audience, use the layout in example 1.

Examples 2 and 3 represent consistent progress. Going constantly in the same direction gives us the impression of progress; going on a downhill slope adds the sensation of ease. These are the Prezi layouts that I would suggest whenever you tell something chronologically, when at each step you go deeper into the subject, but also when your path is easy, when the conclusion comes naturally.

Our whole presentation could be played on the uphill slope (example 4). It metaphorically means that we are racing towards the summit of a mountain. At the end we will find some kind of reward. To deserve this reward we need to endure the difficulty of going uphill.

In examples 5 and 6 I used the downhill slope followed by an uphill movement. I combined the easiest diagonals with the hardest ones. In this case here we represent a descent into a topic, followed by an ascent back to our world, back to reality. And while descending may be easy, the knowledge that we gain at the bottom of the pit is a hard burden and we need help to integrate it, to make this new knowledge “our baggage.” This is why the last part of the journey is harder. But the prize is to go back to the surface changed, renewed, rich with the new knowledge.

Sometimes the ride up could be only half of the journey. In example 7 we use the hard, uphill course to reach a summit and – after this summit – we are rewarded with an easy downhill slope. The downhill slope is ideal for gradually easing your audience out of your presentation and back to their world.

Now that we have seen the positive, let’s look at the most common mistakes that you could make while filling up your Prezi canvas with frames. Coincidentally these examples underline a lot of the reasons why experts and audiences often criticise Prezi.

Here’s a few cinematic no-nos based on what we just learned.

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In example 1 the main direction of our Prezi is directly downhill but in between there is a long transition in the opposite direction. It breaks the narrative of your presentation by bringing your audience to a place close to the beginning and having them experience the same downwards movement again. It doesn’t make sense.

In example 2 we use the downwards movement for the first half of the presentation, then we transition sideways and change direction to go up. Even if the transition in this case is quite short, this double change of direction can be disorienting.

Examples 3 and 4 feature a very similar pattern, but in this case with a movement on the horizontal axis.

In examples 5 and 7 we see a typical “dynamic” presentation where different frames are touched in a random pattern. This – in cinematic terms – is what you do when you want your audience to perceive that a character has gone mad. I really don’t see this canvas working either in boardrooms nor conferences.

Example 6 introduces an important variable: the length of the transitions. It’s great that you can create a beautiful visual map in your canvas – and this visual map can be exploited with a birds eye view – but it’s terrible when the transitions are too long. This creates an expectation of continuous motion that is frequently broken by the static frames that “block” this long action.

Let’s try to extract some guidelines from all these examples, good and bad.

  1. Don’t let your frame randomly explore the canvas. Establish a direction and a movement and apply it somewhat consistently throughout your whole presentation.

  2. Don’t change direction just to follow your canvas. Change direction if you:
    – want to trace back your steps
    – want to signify a big change in point of view, mood, topic, etc.

  1. Mind the natural directions (down and right) and what they mean. Right is easy progress, down means depth.

  2. Nest the frames close to each other: avoid long and confusing transitions.

I have prepared a checklist based on these principles that summarises this post. You should keep it handy while you create your next Prezi. You can get the checklist here.

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Why I love tech presentations, but hate these 5 mistakes

After 10 years or so as a techie, I held two self evident truths: that I was smart enough to go to the office dressed as I wished and that stuff like sales, marketing and presentations were for other people.

Fast forward a few years. Some marketing roles, many public talks and a presentation training product later, I can tell you… I was wrong about the second part.

Today the way I describe my job is mostly with the word Marketing. But 15 years ago I didn’t use the M word a lot. I was a web developer and technology project manager and I was used to taking someone else’s PowerPoint and making it into a web app, seeing someone else’s strategy and making sure that system managers and developers were able to make that strategy a reality made of code and servers.

A few years into technology jobs, I was called to a role in Marketing. As technology had become more complex, companies understood the advantage of permeating their structures with technical people. So I landed a job title that would change the course of my career.

As a techie in marketing I tried my best to be exempt of presentations. It happened one day that my boss told me: “Good idea, Matteo. Do a presentation about it.” I did my best to resist, telling her that I did not know where to begin, that I had never done that before, that it was “not my job.” She was as kind as she was merciless: “I know you can do it. If you need help ask me or your colleagues.” And so my first presentation was born.

Even though I’ve created many presentations since then, the one thing that hasn’t left me is my interest in technology. Whenever I’m at a conference or meetup I rejoice when I realize that the speaker is a techie, a geek or geekette, a nerd, a hacker, a tinkerer.

Not because the presentation will be great: but because I know that I will be interested in what they have to say.

How they will say it, in some cases, will disappoint me. Mind you, I’m not expecting them to be polished extroverts with a clear message and visuals to match. But I at least hope they will avoid these 5 sins of technical presentations.

Focusing on the “What” instead of the “Why”

CC-BY: Batman by Kevin Dooley

Imagine for a second that you’re watching a Batman movie where Bruce Wayne has no back-story. His parents didn’t die tragically and Alfred is just a house servant. He never fell in a cave full of bats, he was never afraid of them. All we see is a millionaire who likes to wear costumes, driving fast cars during the day and catching bad guys at night.

Instead of the multi-faceted, multi-layered personality of Bruce Wayne/Batman we are left with a mono-dimensional character that has no motive and does not inspire empathy. He’s just another over-privileged rich white guy with an expensive hobby. If we ignore why he does what he does, his vigilante activity loses meaning.

Many tech presentations are like that boring movie that ignores the motives driving the protagonist. These presentations focus on “what.” What technology, what stack, what solution.

Instead they could focus on the reason why that technology, that stack, that solution is interesting, is the best for that situation, is something we should care about. This would give more dimension to their “solution,” give more sense to their “stack” and give some motivation to their underlying “technology.”

Massive spoilers

CC-BY: Pondering by Jason Eppink

Imagine that the first ever Star Wars movie was titled “Star Wars, the search for my father Darth Vader.” Would you watch that movie? Imagine that the sixth Harry Potter book was titled “Harry Potter, or how Snape kills Dumbledore.” Would you have read it? We all hate spoilers. They ruin the one thing that makes stories interesting. If you don’t know the ending you can use your own imagination, you feel more involved, you identify more with the protagonist.

Tech presenters do it all the time: they start their presentation in the same way they begin their academic papers, with their thesis. Usually the thesis contains a massive spoiler like “How I solved X using Y.” Right, so you solved it. All that you leave me with is the interest of knowing the how, but I already know the ending.

You are not in academia – and even if you are – your presentation is not an academic paper: keep your lost arc hidden at least until we see Indiana Jones flying to some remote location and fighting some bad guys. Okay?

If you don’t reveal the ending, your audience will focus even more on the journey that gets you there. They will participate with you when you find a problem, start your struggle, throw a lot of tech at it, encounter even more problems and finally find a solution (or an even better problem to solve). I would watch this movie, wouldn’t you?

Optical illusions

CC-BY: Turning Wheels by Roman Soto

In many tech presentations there is a moment where I need to think about going to the eye doctor. Something appears on the screen that is so small, so lacking in contrast that I feel as dizzy as you are looking at the image above.

Slides are a low information density medium. They need to be laid out with the back of the room in mind, and big fonts are the enemies of huge chunks of code. Let’s face it: when is the last time you could see what happened on screen during a demo?

Whenever you have code on a slide or make a demo, be sure to follow these layout rules:
Tech presentations can be great OTS Learners Meetup 04122014.011
Code has to be this big + properly highlighted.

Slides are not an inherently low bandwidth medium. The thing with slides is that they have a low data density, but a huge emotive capability. Look at the emotional effect of this picture for example.
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So you shouldn’t use your visuals to explain chunks of code, but rather to get us involved in your story with the power of visuals.

Time travel

CC-BY: Back in time by JD Hankock

When I see a presentation – and this does not happen only to tech presenters – I am often witness to the most powerful time distortions. I share the same time with all the audience, but the presenter is often talking from a different temporal zone.

This distortion comes to life in statements like “I don’t know if we have time for…” or questions like “How much time do I have left?” voiced out loud to the organizers and the audience alike. This really should not happen.

Time tracking has been a geek art for centuries and we now all carry the proper technology to keep track of time. Meetings and conferences all have set schedules with precise time slots. The combination of defined time slots and time measuring devices should provide a workable solution to keep your presentations in check.

One technique can help: rehearse your presentation (many times!!!) with a timer.

Hidden Identities

CC-BY: Late for Work / Tarde pa’l trabajo by Eneas De Troya

It happens sometimes that tech presenters fail to introduce themselves properly and start their talk straight away. This often translates into a really interesting talk where only bits and pieces of the hidden identity of the speaker are revealed.

Towards the end you discover that the speaker is the world expert in what they are talking about, that they studied for 15 years, that they only recently had the breakthrough of their career.

A lot of techies have bragging rights and should say beforehand, I am X and this is my relationship to the topic I’m talking about it. I’m Matteo and I’ve studied presentations for the last 10 years.

Does this mean that beginners should not give presentations? On the contrary. With experts, the long-term, seen-this-done-that point of view is what is most enjoyable. The beginner offers a fresh look. The beginner’s mind sees many possibilities that are now precluded to the expert’s mind.

But everyone, beginner or seasoned professional, needs to properly contextualize their talk by introducing themselves. It’s not about bragging; it’s about giving your audience the information they need to get the most out of your presentation.

These were just 5 tips about what not to do. If you want to adopt a geek approach to becoming a better presenter I have 3 things for you to do. You don’t need to do all 3 but I ask you to pledge to do at least one.

One: Buy one of these 3 books and learn about presentations

The first book I feel I need to suggest is Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun. This is THE book to read if you are dealing with fear of public speaking. Confessions reads like a novel, it’s short and full of anecdotes.

The second book is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. It’s a very practical book that focuses on a design process that I subscribe to 100%. The pages are beautifully composed and the book is full of examples. When in doubt, copy Garr’s slides.

The third book is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. This is the perfect book if you feel that, as a scientist, you can’t deal with the anecdotal Confessions and if you feel that Zen is too new age. Tufte’s book is a treat: it’s magnificently edited, beautifully written and full of intellectual curiosities that will tickle the neurons of your scientific mind.

Go to a presentation meetup or a toastmasters and practice presentations

The second suggestion I want to give you is to sink your teeth into the presentation arena by training on the side stages. Toastmasters, although they use a hierarchy that is a thousand years old, are a great place to practice. Also search for “presentation” or “public speaking” on meetup.com to find events in your area. A lot of them, you will discover, are free.

Go to a boss, meetup or conference organizer and tell them you want to give a presentation

The more extreme option is the 100% learning-by-doing approach. In this case you can give yourself 30 days to jump-start your presentation and public speaking abilities by signing up to talk at a meetup, share your work at a conference, or your present research to your colleagues. If you have the chance, record your talk on camera or even just on a sound recorder so that you can critique and improve your work.

Whatever you choose, put yourself in position to become a better presenter.

Why would I invite you to do that? Because if you do great things, you deserve to share them. Because if you’re an expert, it’s not fair to keep your knowledge bottled up: we deserve to know! Because if you’re a beginner, you can help me overcome the first obstacles that I would find as a beginner. Because – even though the written medium is still hugely powerful – when we present, we are communicating with our voice, with our bodies, with our slides, and conveying a vast amount information. Because presentations can be captured on camera and multiply your reach.

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When it comes to presentations, what do you struggle with the most?

You can be sure of one thing: you are not alone in in this fight – I had serious problems with my first presentations many years ago. Now, I’m happy to share my experiences and knowledge with you. Want to know about my struggle? I’ll tell you about it and also, how the struggle transformed into something I really enjoy.

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During my years creating presentations I’ve had to overcome a series of obstacles.

When more than 10 years ago my boss told me that my latest idea was a good one and that I should create a presentation, initially I was speechless. Not that it was the first time she’d complimented me, but as a technical person I didn’t consider presentations to be a part of my job description. I told her, that’s great, but I don’t know PowerPoint. Oh, I was young and naive…

My excuse was based on truth: I had never opened PowerPoint in my life. We all struggle in some way or another with the software because it’s complex and needs specific skills. The software was my first obstacle to overcome on the way to creating presentations.

So I created my first presentation, but even by bad PowerPoint standards, it truly looked awful. I had a new challenge: to create something pleasing for my colleagues to look at. I was clueless at the beginning, but fortunately a few years into my work as a presentation creator I came across Garr Reynolds, an author that had just started publishing a blog called Presentation Zen.

It’s quite interesting that I thought first about how my slides looked bad and that only later did I devote time to a much more fundamental question: how to structure the presentation. What goes in the beginning, what belongs at the end, how to transition from one point to the other. Studying script writing and falling in love with the works of Joseph Campbell helped me tremendously in regards to structuring a presentation. The work that I’ve done is deeply reflected in what Presentation Hero is today.

While I was figuring out how to create effective and beautiful visuals I encountered another problem. I had terrible stage fright. Even before the term was popular, I was an introvert. And as an introvert I needed some techniques to support me when I needed to “act extroverted.”

The one single thing that saved me was deep domain knowledge of what I was presenting. The fact that I had a profound understanding of what I was talking about made the fear just bearable.

I have come a long way since then, but I still fear that moment when I step on the stage and begin my presentation. Now, however, I actually enjoy that fear. It’s a bit of a paradox, I know, so let me explain. Experience has told me that I can overcome that fear (giving many presentations has cured me at least of that), but it never goes away. Its lasting presence serves as a reminder of the importance of what I’m doing. Fear is a reminder that the task is difficult, that it requires presence, attention and care.

Fear reminds me that the beginning of a presentation is an important encounter. It’s like shaking hands with 10, 20 or 40 people at the same time (or even more). It’s hard. It requires a lot of energy.

I like that fear now because it underlines that – even though I am now considered an expert – I need to prepare. It reminds me most of all that I need to respect the act of presenting, respect my topic and – most of all – respect the audience in front of me.

Presentations don’t come easy to me – to paraphrase the song. And this is the main reason why in recent years I’ve developed a trusted system to support me when I create them.

When I say system I mean a pattern, a blueprint, a set of processes that I can apply every time I need to create, design and deliver a presentation. When I say trusted I mean a reliable, repeatable and scalable process based on previous experiences.

I fear presentations, fear the exposure, fear the shame in failing. That’s why I need a process that is rooted in previous success, that I can rely on any time I need to create something new.

I am still on a journey. Each time I give a presentation I try to tell a better story, create better visuals and deliver with more empathy and confidence. I know that I can improve in all of these areas and I look forward to my next presentations as the means for doing so.

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How to create a great webinar or a presentation for a video

I love giving presentations! Being in front of your audience, seeing how they transform during the presentation, and answering their questions are just some of the things that make presenting so exciting and enjoyable.

Do you want know what I love a little bit less? Giving presentations in a vacuum. Sometimes you need to hold an online webinar. I am often creating videos for my course and YouTube. In all these cases I am missing a key element of a presentation: contact with the audience.

great_webinar

Creating a webinar or a video is not so far away from creating a presentation for a live audience, but there are a few key differences that I want to highlight today.

Bring your own enthusiasm

Holding a webinar or recording a video requires you to bring all the energy, all the excitement and power to the presentation yourself. When you’re in a room, you can often feed off of the energy of your audience, or take them on a journey from apathy to excitement. If you’re alone in front of a microphone or a camera you need to deliver just the right amount of excitement in order to motivate your audience.

But pay attention: if you go over the top with your enthusiasm you can’t see your audience reacting. Finding the balance is hard.

Don’t sit on a slide too long

Nobody likes to stare at a video that is totally static. And this is what happens when – during a webinar – you start talking on and on about a single static slide. For Presentation Hero I’ve created videos that are 2 minutes long and still contain 20 to 25 slides.

As a rule of thumb, increase the total number of slides, even double them, when you are creating a video or a webinar.

Create some movement

You know those cheesy animations that look terrible in the boardroom and distract the audience while you are presenting? Well, those same animations can be your friend if you’re creating a video. Don’t go overboard by adding animations everywhere, but where they make sense you should absolutely have some dynamic elements.

Audio is a priority

Whenever you are creating a video invest on the audio part more than on the video. We can all live with a less than perfect video image, but we will all be disturbed by poor quality audio. The market is full of really high quality microphones. Look for podcasting grade microphones for your webinars. And don’t be scared to have a microphone in the picture with you, especially if it’s a good one.

If you’re recording a video think about adding some background music. But make sure that the music has the right tone and that the volume is low enough.

Practice your timing

The vacuum is a scary place. A keen sense of time is essential: you risk losing your live webinar audience or – even worse – creating a video that is too long to achieve YouTube success. If you’re recording, strive towards creating the quickest, most compact version of your content. If you’re live, make sure that your presentation is well rehearsed and keep a timer running.

You know what else can really help you create a great webinar or video? Having a rock solid structure, where you bring your audience from the beginning, to the middle, to the end of your presentation like it’s one simple voyage. But to learn all about that you will need to wait a little bit more.

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How to end a presentation: your final impression should be as good as your first

If you have been following my last posts, you know that for the last weeks I’ve been writing about the best ways to start a presentation. I’ve provided you with valuable tips and information to create your first and second slide. This time I want to go to the other end of your presentation to deal with something as scary as the beginning of a presentation: the last slide of your deck.

Sometimes you wish every slide would be the last

As an audience member I’ve sat through many presentations where I wished that every slide would be the last. If you’re using Presentation Hero you know how to avoid this by having a very solid structure, that flows gracefully from beginning to end. But how do you end?

Different endings

If you’re delivering a sales pitch, ideally you don’t want to reach the end of your deck. You should be hoping that your prospect engages in a conversation with you way before you reach the last slide of your presentation. This means that you provided enough information to peak their interest and you will give them a much better experience by having a simple conversation and using a slide here and there to support your words, but only where necessary.

When you’re giving a talk in a big auditorium you can have two endings. The first ending is right before the Q&A session. The second ending happens at the tail end of the Q&A. In my opinion in the first case the best slide to end is a “summary” slide, in the latter case you can have a more traditional closing slide. What do I mean by that?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the last slide. Let’s have a look at common stuff you may want to have on your last slide.

Your name & email contact

Repetition helps the memory. And your name is an important piece of information at the end of your talk. Maybe your audience wants to know more about you, find your contacts or even get in touch.

Your twitter handle

Conference-goers are heavy twitter users. Having your twitter handle on the last slide can immediately increase your following. But if you’re presenting to a small group or selling a product you can also dispense of your own twitter and feature a company account instead.

Your company name or logo

This is a great moment to display a company logo. People may want to better understand where your knowledge, information and insight comes from, where they are shaped and live. When you’re talking you become an ambassador for your company.

A product shot

If during your presentation you’ve talked about your book or any other kind of product of yours, the last slide gives you the opportunity to feature a “pack shot.” If your deck was “content, content, content”, you’re allowed a small space to pitch.

A URL to download your slides

I like to include this in most of all my presentations. What you can do is upload your deck to your favorite slide hosting site and include a short, personalized URL. I usually have my presentation hosted on Slideshare and then I create a short url with the name of the conference in it. http://fbbr.co/pcamp for instance pulls up my latest presentation at the Product Camp in Berlin.

A call to action

People tend to do what they are told to do. It’s not that everyone does, but in general – as a species – we like to trust. If you want your audience to perform a “next action” like sending you an email or sharing your slides, have this invitation on the last slide.

A word of wisdom

Sometimes you want your audience to remember something very specific out of your presentation. Maybe it’s a quote dear to your heart, maybe it’s a piece of advice you wished you’d heard growing up. It may well belong in the last slide.

Something funny

If your presentation is ending, your audience will use this time to create what will become the lasting memory of your talk (or lack thereof). Ending on a high note, making people laugh, leaving them while on a high level of energy and arousal helps them create a more positive and lasting memory. Having something funny or simply empathetic on your last slide can help this process.

Now let’s go to the stuff you may have on your last slide but serves no purpose. This is just clutter on your last slide.

Thanks

If you don’t thank your audience you are indeed rude. But nobody says you should do it in writing. If you feel the need for a thank you slide make it your second to last.

Credits

In the age of creative commons it’s really important to properly credit the authors of the work you included in your presentation. It’s becoming increasingly popular to credit each work directly on the slide where it’s displayed and that is a good solution to avoiding an overcrowded last slide full of credits.

Pic’n’mix

My suggestion is to pick and mix the elements that you need in your last slide. When I give a talk in public I always have a small line with my twitter and a URL on all sides, so I usually focus the last slide on my call to action. In my case usually that translates into a URL to download the presentation and the invitation to share.

Sometimes presentations can have a more directly measurable call to action like subscribing to a mailing list like this one. This kind of call to action, when it comes at the end of trustworthy content, can be very effective.

Focus

Don’t overcrowd your last slide. Make sure to focus the attention of your audience on one single action. Should they follow you on twitter? Email you their opinions? Start a new behavior? Remember a quote? Send their resume to your company? Be clear and focus on one single, major objective.
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Top 20 Presentation and Public Speaking Blogs (2014 edition)

top 20 blogs

I’m a bit of a blog junkie and my RSS reader is always overflowing with new stuff to read. When it comes to presenting and public speaking there are hundreds of blogs. Among those I have selected the top 20 that you shouldn’t miss. Well, naturally that’s just my opinion. And I look forward to hearing yours.

Let’s begin!

1. Presentation Zen

Presentation Zen headerThere was a time when there was nothing, then came Edward Tufte, and after that Garr Reynolds. What started as a blog became a series of books and a business. Presentation Zen is an indispensable resource for anyone who is serious about presentations. Garr’s prose is emphatic, his examples practical and hands on, and his inspiration always original.

Presentation Zen – Twitter: @presentationzen

 

2. SlideShare blog

slideshareSlideShare is now a presentation mogul owned by one of the most trusted companies in Silicon Valley: LinkedIn. The slide-sharing platform has done wonders in spreading the idea that presentation can be a great medium for conveying information even outside the board room and on social networks. The SlideShare blog is a great way to discover new content, highlights effective techniques and allows you to follow the latest trends in presentation design.

Slideshare Blog – Twitter: @slideshare

 

3. Duarte Blog

duarteIf presentations were a country, Nancy Duarte would be the President. She’s a bestselling book author and has created a thriving business around presentation design. On her blog she and her staff provide insight, techniques and advice on presenting.

Duarte Blog – Twitter: @duarte

 

4. Prezi Blog

preziThere used to be a time when Prezi was an alternative presentation platform. They are now firmly entrenched in the mainstream, as is their blog. Check it out if you are looking for sound presentation advice together with a selection of the best Prezis on the platform. Don’t miss their weekly roundup and – if you haven’t already – check out their 100 presentation resources page.

Prezi Blog – Twitter: @prezi

 

5. Scott Berkun

scottScott Berkun is a keynote speaker, best selling book author and generally just a smart and fun guy. His blog is not only focused on public speaking, but he also delves into a variety of topics that, if you’re into presentation, you’ll find interesting anyways.

In addition, Berkun works for Automattic, one of the best companies in the world in terms of company culture. That’s a big, big plus!

He’s also really active on twitter.

Scott Berkun blog – Twitter: @scottberkun

 

6. Speaking.io

speakingioSpeaking.io is my new favorite resource when it comes to public speaking. Zach Holman from Github has put together a collection of presentation resources specific for techies that need to tackle presentations. I love his videos and you can see that he’s going places.

speaking.io – Twitter: @holman

 

7. Note & Point

noteNote & Point is not really a blog, rather a curated collection of inspiring, perfectly executed decks. Sometimes the best way to get inspired is to see what others are able to accomplish with a medium. Note & Point gives you just that: on demand, slide-making inspiration.

Note & Point

 

8. Ethos 3

ethosEthos 3 is a presentation design and presentation training firm, one of the many professional shops in the field. They are eager to share their knowledge in a lively, frequently updated blog. Their trademark is the “tips in 140 chars or less” series.

Overall very good quality content and advice. One to watch.

Ethos 3 Blog – Twitter: @Ethos3

 

9. What the Speak?!

whattheBryan Kelly has a familiar voice for many presentation enthusiasts as the host of “What the speak!” – a podcast that features eminent presentations experts, public speakers and coaches. No, it’s not a blog. But it’s a great resource presented in an entertaining and fun format.

What the Speak?! – Twitter: @WhatTheSpeak

 

10. Indezine

indezineIndezine is one of the most active and popular resources when it comes to presenting with PowerPoint. Geetesh Bajaj provides a regular and healthy does of daily tips to make the best of the Microsoft presentation software. But don’t just look for the news: Indezine has an extensive repository of guides, tutorials and templates spanning from image manipulation to presenting with the iPad.

Indezine - Twitter: @Geetesh

 

11. Public Words Blog

The Public Words Blog is an institution when it comes to effective, actionable public speaking advice. The blog is deeply linked to the coaching and training practice of the Public Words. Certainly a favorite in my rss reader.

Public Words Blog – Twitter: @publicwords

 

12. Manner of speaking

John Zimmer’s blog is a simple, colloquial and pleasurable read with a very special bonus: a whole section devoted to analyses of speeches

Manner of Speaking – Twitter: @ZimmerJohn

 

13. PPT POP

With a modern design and well illustrated articles and infographics PPT POP is one of the new blogs to watch in the presentation space. The blog is authored by Clemence Lepers, a marketing ninja living in Shanghai.

PPT POP – Twitter: @pptpop

 

14. Ellen Finkelstein Blog

Ellen is one of the most active presentation coaches and PowerPoint experts on the web. She’s been in the presentation space for a long time and provides both software specific tips and broader presentation resources.

Ellen Finkelstein Blog – Twitter: @EFinkelstein

 

15. Idea Transplant

The blog of Jan Schultink is a collection of brief and interesting thoughts on presentations, marketing and business. Certainly worth tracking.

Idea Transplant – Twitter: @ideatransplant

 

16. SlideGenius Blog

SlideGenius is a presentation design shop from San Diego, California that shares presentation tips and tricks on their blog.

SlideGenius Blog – Twitter: @SlideGenius

 

17. Bright Carbon

Head over to the Bright Carbon Blog to find the point of view of professional presentation trainers and consultants from the UK.

Bright Carbon Blog – Twitter: @BrightCarbon

 

18. Stand Out From the Crowd

If you get over the scary looking header image, Jim Harvey’s blog is full of useful presenting tips. The blog is focused on PowerPoint and Prezi.

Stand Out From the Crowd – Twitter: @impacttips

 

19. No Sweat Public Speaking

Speaking in public is associated with fear of public speaking. Fred Miller specializes in just that on his blog.

No Sweat Public Speaking – Twitter: @fredmiller

 

20. Speaking PRO Central

This site aggregates a number of popular public speaking and presenting blogs, by linking to single articles, providing a convenient way to follow a great number of sites.

Speaking PRO Central

 

The long tail of public speaking blogs.

There are a ton of good resources in terms of public speaking that did not make the cut of my very subjective “top 20″ and those are listed here for you to browse, look around and evaluate.

Soap Presentations Blog – Twitter: @SOAPprez

Make a powerful point – Twitter: @powerfulpoint

The Virtual Presenter – Twitter: @RogerCourville

Speak Fearlessly – Twitter: @SpeakFearlessly

Sketch Bubble Blog – Twitter: @sketchbubblecom

Nuts and Bolts Blog – Twitter: @Nuts_BoltsPPT

All about presentations – Twitter: @aap_blog

Speak up for success – Twitter: @jezrakaye

Michelle Mazur Blog

Professionally speaking

Presenternet Blog

Finally here you can find some great resources that have lacked some serious updates in recent times.

Presentation Magazine – Twitter: @presentationmag

Six Minutes – Twitter: @6minutes

Presentation Advisors – Twitter: @story_jon

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Beginning a presentation: how to create a gorgeous second slide

Two weeks ago I gave you great tips and advice to start your presentation with a powerful first slide. Now that you’re able to craft a great opening slide, you need to know what to do next: your second slide!

second slide cover

Let’s start diving into the second slide with a very common question:

Should your second slide be The Agenda?

I can hear a chorus of angelic voices shouting “nooooooooooo,” can you? The Agenda is not a necessary evil. It’s a an evil we can dispense of for many reasons.

First of all, if your talk is so complex that it requires a slide to explain how it flows, maybe you really need to simplify it. Moreover the agenda slide shifts the focus from you… to a bulleted list, setting the mood for a slow, boring, badly delivered presentation.

Doesn’t your audience need an agenda?

By all means they do need an agenda! The best talks are the ones where the audience gets to know the exact structure beforehand. It makes them feel like they’re in control of what’s happening. It calms them down when the presentation is slow and boring and it energizes them when the talk is entertaining. Knowing the structure of a talk makes it easier to follow along. For instance, your audience will think that your first two points were great and eagerly await the third if you tell them it’s coming.

So how do we deliver the agenda to our audience? The answer is easy. We make a pause, look them in the eye and spend 20 to 40 seconds explaining how our talk is structured: we are going to tell 3 stories, we have 2 important themes, we are going to talk about topic x by performing 3 experiments together with the audience.

You don’t need a slide. This is the moment you are making an agreement with your audience about how you are going to spend the next few minutes together. It’s best that you step forward, look at them with an open and honest gaze, and tell them how you’re going to use their time.

This is also a great time to tell your audience how much time you will spend talking and when you want to field questions.

In the meantime your perfectly crafted first slide remains on screen. It’s gorgeous isn’t it? It deserves a little more screen time.

Great. But how about the second slide?

If it’s not the agenda what do you feature there?

There’s not one single answer, but if your conferences are like my conferences I would use the second slide to reinforce a point made before. Let me elaborate on that.

At the beginning of a presentation you share two facts with your audience: who you are and what you’re going to talk about. I suggest that the second slide of your presentation reinforce either of these two points.

If you’re at a conference where there is a skilled M.C. that has clearly talked about your bio and has introduced you properly, you can use the second slide to reinforce the topic you are going to talk about.

One thing you can do is to reveal – if it’s not known – what your relationship is to the topic (you’re the world expert, you became the world expert but you were ignorant about it only 1 year ago, etc.), so as to reinforce both your bio and the theme of your presentation.

You should do this also in a less formal setting if everybody doesn’t know who you are. In this case place a nice picture of yourself in the second slide and give not only a brief bio to your audience (and when I say brief it means you are allowed to use between 10 and 20 words), but also – as above – your relationship with the topic.

Regarding your portrait, when I talk about a nice picture I mean – whenever possible – something shot by a professional. If you can’t afford a photographer, you can shoot great pictures with smartphones nowadays. So go out on a sunny morning wearing something not too flashy (avoid any clothing that has brands on it), choose some neutral background and have a friend take a few head shots of you.

To summarize

No agenda: agendas are for G20 meetings, not for entertaining and informative talks.

Reveal your structure: by verbalizing the structure of your talk your audience becomes your accomplice

Introduce yourself: don’t let your audience discover who you are at the end of the presentation. Tell them beforehand, but be quick.

Reinforce the topic: if everyone knows who you are, reinforce the topic. Answer the question, why am I going to talk about x?

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Developing products with the help of Confucius and Lester Freamon from the Wire

 

Tales from my entrepreneurial path from consulting to developing products, following the money and the meaning

This post belongs to a series. For the first two episodes you will need a special skill. You see, they have been written in Italian: the first one is on innovating in Europe and in the USA, the second about my choice to move to Germany. The latest episode – written in the language of the Bard – is called “My path to product”. This new episode has become a talk that I have give to the Berlin’s Product Camp and to Berlin’s 4 Hour Work Week Meetup.

Developing products with the help of Confucius and Lester Freamon from the Wire

Slides from my talk

You can find the content in form of slides.

Want to keep the slides? You can download them here.

Video of my talk

Here’s the video of the talk recorded at Betahaus in Berlin.

The talk last until 19:40 and after that you have the Q&A. After that some mysterious black and silent video. Maybe it’s a viral gimmick, most probably just a glitch.

The Post

Three and a half years ago I left my day job to start an independent consulting firm. I now have clients spread across all of Europe and make a living out of it. It pays rent in Berlin, travel and I’m able to save something every month. I’m pretty frugal, but I’m not missing any material comfort.

This is what success is to me: being in charge of my own lifestyle. (And this phrase call for a post of itself, but… focus padawan, focus!)

There is one thing that saved me in my dealings as a consultant: having my clients on a retainer agreement. Negotiating the rules, length and rates in the longer term has made my business sustainable.

I learned a ton of other things, but this is by far the most important one. Sitting down with my clients and spending time figuring out how to make a plan together is what keeps me sane and in business today.

I’m not just a consultant. Sometimes I am inspired by people or ideas that lead to a sort of creative collaboration. I don’t see this as consulting, but more of a partnership.

Through my clients I gain access to how traditional, established businesses work. Through the startups I get in on how small, nimble teams think about big problems. One job, the best of both worlds.

There’s even more: I get to teach startups how traditional businesses solve certain problems, and more often I invite traditional companies to adopt the ways of the startups.

Yay. Success all around. Everybody’s happy.

Sorry. This is getting boring. Let’s introduce what any good story needs: some obstacles to overcome. Let’s go back in time to see how I learned what I learned because, as Kierkegaard says, “Life can only be understood backwards: but it must be lived forwards.”

Flashback to previous times, when I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t.

3+ years ago I signed a big client – that, for full disclosure, was also my former employer – and so my consulting company “La Fabbrica della Realtà” was born.
I had one big client. I took care of them, made sure they were always happy. I was often in their offices, always punctual in my deliveries.

I thought that the work of the consultant was just that: to make one client happy. And so I did.

This left me with some free time. In this time – instead on focusing on my consultancy business – I started to develop other projects.

If you’re an entrepreneur you see already where this is headed.

Yes! At some point something changed inside the organization of my client and my services were needed less regularly. I noticed, but did not act on it.

At some point I burned through what savings I had at the time, until I reached the climactic figure of 0 in my bank account. This was right after SXSW 2012, where I spent all my time pitching an idea to save the world, that would ultimately save neither the world nor myself.

Reaching zero didn’t mean that I was going to become homeless. I could have asked my family for help, I have friends around me that could have chipped in financially. I was never going to go hungry.

But I had to start to make some choices: cutting on nights out, avoiding restaurants, using all the groceries I had at home before going to get more, buying new groceries at the discount supermarket and billing them on a 60 day credit card.

There was something really good in all this. I felt a sense of loss: I lost my easygoing lifestyle, my careless let’s eat out and buy top grade groceries attitude. Did I mention I’m Italian? There is no limit to what I can spend on cooking ingredients. Fancy, imported and overpriced mozzarella di bufala? Give me more.

I finally felt hungry again. Hungry for the better mozzarella I couldn’t afford anymore, but also hungry for a rebound.

Hunger is a strong motivator. But you need to give it direction. Fortunately I have great friends, and the best advice came exactly from one of my friends and fellow entrepreneurs, Andrea Volpini.

For those of you who have seen The Wire, Andrea was like Lester Freamon, only way more zen. Lester’s the smart, seasoned detective that changes the scope of a drug investigation when he suggests to stop following the drugs and to start following the money.

It was with total calm that Andrea told me, “Matteo, you’re a consultant. This is where you make money, as a consultant. And right now your consulting business is not growing. Go back to working as a consultant and you will have solved the problem.”
So I did. My mission: win back past clients, find new clients.

I had found a new focus – following the money – and a new modus operandi: I would accept any consulting gig, even the ones I was not necessarily 100% qualified for, and I would also lower my rates to make my services more affordable for more clients.

Things were bad in the bank. But really well-aligned and organized in my brain.

Consultants sometimes need consultants. And fortunately I was able to convince some good friends to help me rebuild La Fabbrica della Realtà.

Daniela Berto is a designer, matchmaker and consultant. She started me off with the basics: she convinced me that I needed to apply to my business the same techniques that I apply to my clients.

I had used the Business Model Canvas for my clients, but had never applied it to my own business. So I drafted my Canvas. That was quite a moment. By answering each and every question that the Canvas required I was able to shed light on my business and start to see things clearly.

The Canvas of my business showed me I had a lot of potential I was not acting upon. How could I start to realize it?

I needed a website. I had borrowed the name La Fabbrica della Realtà – which is Italian for The Factory of Reality, by the way – from my blog.
I’ve been blogging on and off for more than 13 years and it seemed natural to use the name of my blog as a company name. But I hadn’t cared to build a website.

Why not? Well, at the time, I lacked the clarity I’d now gained after two years of consulting.

Building a website is a great way to understand your uncertainties. If you want to create a good website, you need to make hundreds of small decisions. And each of those decisions has ramifications.

I had to think about how to organize my services, what role to give to past projects. I needed to describe both visually and with words my bio, my vision, and what I had to offer. I had to collect case studies of all the work I’d done in the past.

I’m tremendously happy with the result. You can see it here.

Now, if you are following me with some attention you might ask: did the new website bring a lot of new business?
The answer may surprise you. My new website has not brought in a single new client. So, is the website a failure? Not at all. You see, each and every new prospect, referral or person I have pitched to directly has used my site to decide if they should hire me.

The typical call with a new client nowadays runs something like this: “Hey Matteo, my associate John Doe has a very high opinion of you and has suggested that I hire you. Oh, and then I saw your website and I’m very impressed. Would you…”

I feel so good when this happens. I think about how hard it was to understand what I was doing and to create a website as the tool of my relaunch. Now, seeing the fruit of all this work gives me a feeling of satisfaction I’ve never experienced before. It’s simply priceless.

One thing continued to elude me, though. In my website I could define my personal positioning very clearly and describe my offerings with a degree of confidence, but could not come up with a convincing description of the company itself.

How you describe a consultancy of one is… how you describe yourself. And this self branding problem is quite widespread.

More than six months after going online with the new website, and after many many drafts I finally could define what I do, not only in words – but as I love doing – with a little sketch:

La Fabbrica della Realtà is an innovation laboratory centered around people and ideas.

You have no idea how much work there is behind this definition.

Not only had I come up with a definition of my business, I had come up with one that aligns with my personal ethics. I’d come up with a credo that defines my goals in life.

All right. Finally I had solved the problem. I had won back my original clients, encountered some new clients, started making some money and was back on track. Now you may ask: why hadn’t I done all of this at the beginning, three and a half years ago, when I first started my business? Why hadn’t I begun with a stronger strategy, with a business website, etc.?

To respond I need to tell you a short story within my story.
I was walking around the European Maker Faire in Rome and I encountered a poster from Reggio Emilia’s Fab Lab. It read “Se faccio capisco”, translated “If I do, I understand.” It’s Confucius. It struck me like lightning. That’s exactly what had been happening to me. Confucius was speaking directly to me. What a feeling.

I needed to be doing to truly understand what was happening, to learn from what was happening I needed it to happen. It’s the doing that enables the understanding. Bingo!

Welcome to typical me. The title of this post says I’m going to discuss productizing, and 1850 words in… there’s still no mention of products. I’ll get there in just a few more paragraphs, promise!

Now that I know how my consulting business works, how I can expand it and to what degree I want it to grow (hint: not too big), my next big challenge is building a product!

We all know that consulting does not scale. You can increase the amount of hours you work, hire more associates and raise your hourly rates, but you’re always going to reach a limit.

There’s a problem: you see, I was an employee for 10+ years and I was trading my time for money. Then I became a consultant and I was still trading time for money. Products have eluded me for a long time, but now they are the perfect solution to my problem.

While looking for my own product I learned many many things. First of all I studied how others developed products and detailed my findings in “My Path to Product”. But more recently I came across three principles that I call the three keys to product discovery.

The first key is expertise. When you look for products, look deep and close to your areas of maximum expertise. Ideally you should already know every stakeholder in the market of your product, all the influencers and – whenever possible – know the clients by name. Why? Building products is hard, the closer you are to your area of specific expertise the better you will be at gathering feedback, understanding your clientele and being able to market to prospects.

My second key is ease. For anyone coming from a guilt-based value system “ease” is a negative value. I was taught in school that if something is easy, this means that you’re doing the wrong thing. If something is easy then you need to up the anti or change the topic altogether. Products don’t work that way. You need to find something that comes easy to you because you need to do it a lot, rehearse it a lot, re-work it a lot, so it might as well be something that comes easy to you. In particular, look for stuff that comes strangely easy to you and hard to other people.

My third key is passion. You must have fun dealing with your product, you need to love your customer base, you must enjoy spending time with them, you need to be passionate about how they use your product, and admire the final products that they will build through yours.

So these are my three keys. You might ask if they have been effective in unlocking my own product. They have!

It’s Presentation Hero, a presentation training course that promises to save the world from bad presentations!

In the end I decided on the infamous info-product. I looked back at my last 15 years of work and found one common thing in all of my work engagements: presentations. As a “self-taught-everything” I self-taught myself presentations a long time ago, and now I want to tell you what I’ve learned by crafting presentations for the last 10+ years.

I believe I can really change how you think about, structure, design and deliver your next presentation with my course. And I’m so happy to report that not only many individuals already trust Presentation Hero, but quite a few companies and agencies are approaching me to deliver Presentation Hero to their associates and employees.

If you want to learn how to craft better presentations, how to deliver them in the boardroom and in the conference hall, become more skilled and confident and increase your personal brand I invite you to keep in touch by signin up to my free newsletter.

Along the path to developing Presentation Hero I have found a ton of useful resources. I wanted to end by sharing some of them.

Following Patrick McKenzie (Patio11 here and on Hacker News) has provided me with invaluable resources. If you don’t yet, I recommend you subscribe to the Kalzumeus Podcast, a collection of miscellaneous knowledge on the art and science of creating service businesses. He’s also a consultant turned product guy and you can learn a ton by following his journey.

I also suggest watching some of his presentations, in particular this one delivered at MicroConf. Even though I wish he had me as a coach for those slides…

Which leads me to MicroConf. The great thing about this conference is that you don’t need to attend it. The best talks are online. Just set aside the appropriate amount of time and watch those videos. Add them to your queue, save them to pocket. They are worth your time.

Patrick gives you a ton of advice related to software products, but in this case I am developing an info-product, so I also looked for more specific advice and I found it by starting to follow the blog and podcast of Nathan Barry. Nathan has written a nice walk-through of product launches called Authority. The book is an okay resource, it won’t change your life. But do yourself a favor: follow his blog, get on his email list. They are all great free resources worth following.

There’s a bunch of technical knowledge that goes into creating an info-product, especially one that involves videos. I’m not going to talk about that because I think it’s too specific. One thing that every product needs is marketing, and I get my marketing advice these days mostly from Noah Kagan. Again. Get on the blog, subscribe to his email list, and you will not be disappointed.

I think that it’s through Noah that I first encountered Brian Dean. He’s the mind behind the most brilliant SEO blog I’ve ever seen. It’s called Backlinko. Brian provides super actionable, instruct-able articles where you learn how to do only the most effective SEO. But it does not stop at that: he masters a content marketing formula that has changed the way I publish my blog. Also in this case, subscribing to his list is highly suggested.

As I researched the best platform to publish an online course I came across a service called Fedora. Yes, it’s the same name of the Linux distribution, but in this case it’s a SaaS online course system that lets you upload your course materials, manage payments and email your users.

There are many other platforms out there but none will be as focused on acquiring new users. I highly recommend it.

Wrapping up. I don’t know how my product will evolve. I don’t know how successful it will be. I still can’t write a post like “How I fired all my clients and started partying 24/7 while making a passive income from my presentation training.” I really don’t think that the objective here is the passive income or the 24/7 party either…

What I can tell you is that my success or failure is dependent 90% on my strength, abilities and resources, maybe 9% on pure, condensed luck, but 1% of my success or failure depends on you. How do you react to this content? Do you want to follow up, does it inspire you to comment, to forward it to other people? Does it drive you to know more about me, to singup to my presentation email list?

Success has many facets. One part of my success would be represented by you following my advice and discovering a new resource. I don’t get kickbacks, but I establish my usefulness. I know that the path is long and the rewards are waiting for those that diligently do the work.

This is why I get on with mine, so that in the future I can tell you about my “success story”.

Thanks for reading this far. Hope you enjoyed.

How to start a presentation: crafting the perfect first slide

How to start? That’s the main question when it comes to presentations. It’s very challenging to create a first slide that will get your audience’s attention and convey the message of your presentation. I want to show you how to make the best out of it and how to use it to deliver your message effectively.

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The First Slide

You have lived this scenario a thousand times: you enter a conference or meeting room, unsure if it’s the right one, glance at the screen to see if the slide that is being projected aligns with the topic of the presentation that you are expecting. Based on that you take a seat.

Or maybe you’ve been on the internet a few times and have seen the first slide of presentations being used as a “preview image” on social media, inviting you to click and see the whole presentation.

You may even know (and love) Slideshare, the most popular slide hosting site on the web: here the first slide is used to invite you to click, like and download a presentation deck.

You have spent time waiting for a presentation to start looking at a first slide, wondering if the presenter would be any good, wondering who they were and what to expect.

The Jobs of the First Slide

From the cases that I just outlined it’s easy to understand that the first slide has many jobs, many functions, many purposes. First of all it needs to convey clearly the message of your presentation. It can do that – in the traditional template – with a Title and Subtitle. At least this is how PowerPoint displays a “title slide”. But those are not fields that you must fill in.

In fact there are more important objectives that a first slide can help you accomplish: depending on the setting you should have your name or your twitter handle in the first slide. In some settings it would be better to have both.

Sometimes it helps to display a 3 word bio. Oftentimes you also represent a company so your logo also belongs somewhere on this first slide.

Some people even feature the location and the date of the presentation. Is this information really useful or just filler?

It’s easy to have an overcrowded first slide that – while trying to accomplish all the objectives – fails miserably at conveying any useful message.

Focus, focus, focus

My solution is to focus on one objective first. The most important one is usually the title of the talk. It’s great if your title goes well with an image. Image and title are then the core element of your first slide.

Once you have a powerful title with a powerful visual you can think about the output format of your slides. When I’m presenting at a conference I always display my twitter handle and a website as part of the first slide.

If your output format will be paper or a slide sharing platform you can have a super clean title slide with just a title and visual and devote a second slide to you, your contacts and your bio. If you are presenting in a more formal environment you may want to skip the social contacts and focus on your name and bio a bit more.

The important thing is that your core message comes across clearly.

Want more presentation advice for free? Subscribe to Presentation Hero right now.

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