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If TED can FAIL, so can YOU!

What presenters and event organizers can learn from the technical glitches at the recent TED 2015: Truth and Dare in Vancouver.

When TED releases a new talk, especially the ones recorded at the “official” TED conferences like the one that is going on now in Vancouver, what you see is an engaging, polished and very well rehearsed talk delivered through a crystal clear HD video, with sharp audio, slides on cue and seamless transitions. You get the full deal.

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What happens live at a TED conference may be different.

On the kind invitation of red onion and Stefan Balzer, the organizer of TEDxBerlin, I had the chance to watch two sessions of TED: Truth and Dare unravel live before my eyes.

Watching TED as it happens is something special. There is the anticipation about the next talk, the next speaker, there is the (carefully planned) sensory and cognitive overload of watching talks back to back, there is the cultural shock and awe of seeing a topic from multiple unusual point of views in a very short time.

I love TED. And in the two sessions I got to watch the mind-bending talk from David Eagleman about new sensing devices (now already online), witnessed the empathetic talk from geometric artist Jason Padgett and enjoyed the special perspective of Daniel Kish on the world we see.

It happened a few times that in transitioning from one talk to the other, **the “clicker” to change slides would be lost and called out for by the presenters. **Even TED curator, Chris Anderson himself, had to embarrassingly ask for it at some point and wait for it to be delivered to him.

In the middle of a talk, a presenter’s wireless microphone – the cool one Lady Gaga uses – suddenly stopped working. He had to stop and wait until he was rescued with a hand -held microphone. However, you will never see THAT talk on TED.com.

Shit can happen. It can happen even to the best. Being LIVE is gruesome. I am sure that the tech team behind TED had multiple concurrent failures that were unpredictable and that they learned a new concatenation of events that they can – from next on – plan for.

I don’t think we need to stigmatize TED in any way for those failures. As an event organizer and a speaker, I have total sympathy for TED and their team. What happened to them will happen to me soon, and to other speakers and organizers.

To me, this is the telltale that making tech work around presentations is hard and needs thought. I’ve written and talked about this in the past. Here’s a few things you can do:

1. Have backup systems: backup clickers, computers, microphones, beamers. It’s nearly impossible to have a backup for every system, but it’s that single point of failure that will attract all the technological bad luck in the world. So get backups.

2. Plan for failure: what is your worst case scenario? Will your event still succeed if presenters have no working beamer and no microphone? Brief all the people involved with a plan to follow in case of failure. For instance: often it’s best to present without slides, rather than having the audience wait for you to fix the projector or the reboot your computer.

3. Know your tech: I am a technologist at heart (well also a humanist) and I love all these shiny and black pieces of metal, plastic and glass that make our modern world tick. Learn how they work! I’ve also created a presentation with the minimum knowledge that each presenter should have.

 

As a bonus I’ve collected a number of tricks and keyboard shortcuts you MUST KNOW in a comprehensive cheat sheet. You can download it here.

download cheat sheet

If the best can FAIL, so can you. Plan ahead, know your tech.

Change me, or else stay home!

“Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose. To make a change happen.”

Seth Godin

In my courses I use a lot of icons and this is the one that is most dear to me.

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It’s a square that is transformed into a circle. And in its simplicity it represents 100% of the journey of a presentation.

Right now you might be saying: wait a second, my presentation is not about a transformation, it’s about the Q2 budget forecast, it’s about workplace safety, it’s about how to carve a pumpkin.

Well, you’re correct: budget is the topic of your presentation. But at the core of your presentation there is something else.

Let’s dive in with a few questions.

– How do you aim to transform the hearts and brains of your audience through the subject of “Q2 budget forecast?”

– How will the data, information and opinions in your presentation affect your audience?

– How do you wish to move their point of view, their emotional state with your presentation?

By answering these questions you will get to what I call the “core transformation” of your presentation. And yes, it is necessary even when discussing the Q2 budget.

This one, main, transformation is what changes between the beginning and the end of your presentation. If in between the start and the grand finale of your presentation nothing changes, I hate to break it to you, but you’ve got an issue.

If your audience doesn’t have a new consciousness, a new feeling, or at least a new compelling thought at the end of your presentation, then you need to rethink your presentation project.

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I recently ran a workshop during the Milan Social Media Week in the 2015 Expo spaces. There I had 50 people work on their core transformation. I asked them to express the question “how will my presentation transform my audience?” in the form of “I want my audience to go from X to Y in regards to Z” and to write that down in such a form that it would fit a small sticky note.

This one single question sparked a waterfall of other related questions about the audience, the content, the objective of the presentation.

The conversation started by this one question is the most important you can have before you start any presentation.

This is the one thing that I wish you to take away from Presentation Hero: each time you’re tasked with a presentation, focus on this core transformation.

To do so, switch off your computer, put your phone on silent, stand up, take a bunch of sticky notes and use a wall around you. You will get your blood pumping and your creativity flowing, and you will start the presentation process by asking the single most important question.

I can assure you: it will make all your presentations better.

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An open letter to Seth Godin: let’s save the world from bad presentations

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Dear Seth,

a few months ago I started looking for an affordable, comprehensive, interactive, non-salesy presentation course to send to potential speakers of a meetup that I organize. Couldn’t find one. So I created my own.

Presentation Hero is the best possible online training course for presentations and public speaking. It collects the best storytelling advice (I used to be a story analyst for a big Hollywood studio), the best presentation structure advice (based on 10+ years of presentation experience), the best design advice (gleaned from top-notch presentations, keynotes and talks), and the best possible delivery and public speaking advice (written mostly with the introverts in mind).

Presentation Hero is:

  • practical, easy to understand and actionable: every single lesson can be applied in practice
  • speedy, concise and compact: I don’t want to waste anybody’s time watching long presentations
  • in-depth, effective and universal: the principles can be applied by anyone to any kind of presentation
  • contemporary, interactive and fun: it comes in the form of short animated videos matched with a podcast version, related reading, quizzes, etc…

My masters are Joseph Campbell, Edward Tufte, Larry Lessig, Guy Kawasaki, Garr Reynolds, Nancy Duarte, and you, Seth Godin. What I’ve learned through my journey with these people is deeply reflected in what I’m doing at my brand new school the Presentation Hero Academy. Presentation Hero is one of the courses available there.

I need the support of a thought leader like yourself to get enough traction for my venture, and I’d love it if you’d sample the materials, it takes less than 2 minutes. Getting better at presenting is like getting more exercise. We all know we should be doing it, but the couch is much more comfortable. Can you help me give a push to the couch potatoes that are wasting time instead of improving their presentations skills? You’ve been saying it for so long, now it’s time to act.

Do you feel like helping me save the world from bad presentations?

Thank you very much for your time,
Matteo

 

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.

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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.

cover_Aug_2014.013

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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