Archives for December 2011

Occupy PowerPoint!

By Rick Altman

Living just 20 miles from Oakland, the city described as having the eyes of the nation upon it, I know all about protests. Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the ‘60s, when anti-Vietnam War demonstrations were the rule of the day, I understand the power of group emotion.

And given that “Death by PowerPoint” is a part of everyone’s vocabulary today, it comes as no surprise that community leaders have reached the following determination:

It’s time to occupy the software.

Three of the most active members of the user community have been busy creating a strategy for occupation. Steffen Ginsler, Richar Brett-Slider, and Eskimo Winsdorf have been pooling their expertise into a broad-based strategy to eliminate the abuses in our professional society once and for all.

An accomplished VBA developer, Ginsler has created a script that installs itself without the user’s knowledge and eliminates all layouts that contain bulleted text. “It is kind of like a friendly Trojan horse,” says the soft-spoken Ginsler. “It doesn’t do any real damage to your computer, but it prevents you from bringing harm to others — namely, the people in your audience.”

Winsdorf is not quite as reserved as her friend Steffen. “Hey, what do you expect us to do when all these people are acting like idiots?” she asks, without waiting for an answer. “It’s ridiculous that there are no safeguards to insure against crappy design and sloppy standards. It’s time we took matters into our own hands!”

And Eskimo has done just that with a proprietary and patent-pending JavaScript version of a PowerPoint template that prohibits all changes from the formatting set forth in the slide masters. If you try to reformat text, move a placeholder, or cover up critical design elements, you’ll receive an immediate error message. “I wanted the script to automatically format the hard drive, but the others wouldn’t go for that. Wimps…”

In the most interesting position is Brett-Slider, a former member of the PowerPoint development team. He persuaded his successors to modify the Animation engine with password protection on the following choices: Boomerang, Spiral, Zoom, and Bounce. If users attempt to apply any of them on a slide, the system intervenes and requires a written explanation of the usage.

The explanation is sent to a panel of presentation designers, led by Nancy Latte and Garth Sandals, for review. Within 24 hours, the panel issues a ruling on the appropriateness of its usage. Based on that ruling, the Animation task pane will either provide a password for entry or the animation choices in question will be permanently removed from the program.

“Some of my colleagues thought this might have been drastic,” said Richar in his characteristic baritone. (Richar’s brother couldn’t pronounce the “d” in “Richard” when he was young; Richar dropped the letter from his name in his brother’s honor.) “I assured them that it would be a great career move — everyone talks about bad PowerPoint but nobody does anything about it. This would be their big chance.”

Areas of the program yet to be occupied include sound effects attached to slide transitions, color schemes involving red text and green backgrounds, and clip-art characters not wearing underpants. “We have occupation campaigns in place for all of these offenses,” warns Winsdorf. “We’re going to put an end to Death by PowerPoint, even if it kills us.”

There it is, in one crystalized sentence: Occupy PowerPoint will keep you from killing yourself…or else it will kill you. If only the other Occupy movements could have such a clearly-articulated charter.

About the Author:

Rick Altman has been hired by hundreds of companies, listened to by tens of thousands of professionals, and read by millions of people, all of whom seek better results with their presentation content and delivery. He runs the acclaimed Presentation Summit conference, formerly known as PowerPoint Live, and is  author of the book, Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck & How You Can Make Them Better.  For more information, visit his website www.betterppt.com

What to Do When You’re Losing Your Audience

By Olivia Mitchell

Your audience’s attention will fade over time unless you take specific steps to keep them engaged. Although our attention span is limited, we do have the ability to refocus on a task. When you push the “Attention Reset Button” you’re giving your audience that opportunity to refocus.

So that’s what you need to do when you’re losing your audience. Push your audience’s Attention Reset Button. Instead of fading to near zero, your audience’s attention will spring back.

How often should you push the Attention Reset Button?

Plan to push the Attention Reset Button about every 10 minutes. This is a practical rule of thumb which seems to work for most audiences. For example, John Medina says in his book Brain Rules:

“I decided that every lecture I’d ever give would come in discrete modules. Since the 10 minute rule had been known for many years, I decided the modules would last only 10 minutes.”

But be aware that your audience’s attention span will vary according to many factors – warmth of the room, time of day, how much sleep they had the night before, how intrinsically interested they are in the topic.

Be prepared to adjust to the needs of your audience. For instance, in the morning you might plan for intervals of 15 minutes between each Attention Reset. During the potentially sleepy after-lunch slot you might decrease that to 5 minutes.

Ways to push the Reset Button

1. Tell a story

We’re hardwired to listen to stories. They instantly engage us and require very little effort to stay focused. Even the sleepiest audience member will perk up when you say “I’ll tell you about a time when this happened to me.”

2. Make them laugh

Nobody can not pay attention when the rest of the audience is laughing. We want to know what’s funny. The critical caveat is that your humor should be relevant to your presentation.

3. Make a transition

Use transition statements as a signal to the audience that they should refocus. They may have become distracted for a couple of minutes and then found it hard to get back on track with what you’re saying. But if you make a transition statement such as:

So that’s the problem we’re facing, now I’ll go onto my recommendation to address it…” it gives the audience a chance to get back on board.

4. Break for Q&A

The traditional method of ending your presentation with Q&A is a waste of a great way of re-engaging your audience. A short Q&A session during your presentation is more engaging because:

  • It’s a change from just you talking
  • Audience members can ask you questions about what they are interested in
  • There’s a live element to a Q&A session that keeps people hooked.

Build Q&A into your presentation, rather than leaving it till the end.

5. Change something…anything

We pay attention to change. You’re probably not aware of the air conditioning hum running in the background, but as soon as it stops you’ll notice it. Here’s what you can change in a presentation:

  • Change the type of visual aid you’re using (eg: from PowerPoint to a flipchart or whiteboard.)
  • Change the spot that you’re presenting from (eg: stage to floor, part of stage.)
  • Change presenters
  • Change where people are sitting in the room
  • Change what audience members are doing (eg: from sitting down to standing up.)

6. Get them to talk

Allowing people to process your ideas by asking them to talk to the person sitting next to them is an excellent way of re-engaging them. For example, you could ask them to share with their neighbor, “What are three things you’ve learned so far in this presentation?”

7. Get them to write

Asking people to reflect by writing is also useful. For example “Write down three things you’ll do differently as a result of my presentation.”

8. Take a microbreak

In a longer session (anything more than 50 minutes) take a 2-3 minute break for people to stretch their legs, use the restroom and refresh their drinks.

Warning: Be Conceptually Relevant

Don’t be one of those people who tries to spice up a deadly dull presentation with cartoons or funny images which are not conceptually relevant. It looks desperate and research by Richard Mayer (the guru of multimedia learning) shows that it harms the ability of the audience to take in your core message.

 

What ways do you have of pushing your audience’s Attention Reset Button?

About the Author:

Olivia Mitchell is a presentation skills trainer and blogger. Visit her blog Speaking about Presenting for many more valuable presentation tips.

Rick Perry and the Blank Mind: How to Avoid a Similar Fate

By Nick Morgan

Like many Americans, I was riveted by debater Rick Perry’s apparent brain freeze as he attempted to talk about the three cabinet departments he would kill if elected president.  As a speech coach, I sympathize, having seen clients do the same thing many times – and done it myself.

What I recommend is having a minimal set of notes as a safety net so that if your mind does go blank, you’ve got something to fall back on. Knowing that the safety net is there will usually help the brain relax and therefore avoid the problem in the first place. The presidential debaters get paper and pens; Rick should scribble down a few key ideas to help him relax and get through those endless Republican debates with no more flubs.

What really happened to Perry?  We’ve all been there, when a combination of stress, fatigue, and lack of focus makes us forget that name, that date, or that trivia question. Adrenaline plays havoc with our normal waking mind, and in an effort to keep us alive, shuts down many of our ordinary cranial activities. We’re focused on getting ready to escape danger, not calmly detailing lists of 3 items.

That fight-or-flight response is something we’ve evolved to help us in crises; unfortunately the modern era is full of moments that invoke the adrenaline response but aren’t really suited to actual fighting or fleeing. (Neither of those two options was available to Rick on TV.)

The result can be embarrassing – but usually not as embarrassing as Perry’s because the stakes are not as high.

Perry and his handlers came back gamely with an appearance on David Letterman’s show designed to push us all to laugh the whole thing off. Unfortunately, the net result will be to laugh the whole Rick Perry campaign off in the long run.

Here’s the truth. Perry’s campaign is over. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Why? Two reasons. First, this whole episode feeds the developing Perry narrative, that he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. That will kill his campaign no matter how much we are willing to laugh at a specific mistake, or how amusing the comeback attempt.

Second, most people’s perception of the presidency is that it’s serious business. You can’t self-deprecate your way to the White House. When it comes to pulling the voting lever, Americans opt for someone they think can actually handle the job.

But the Perry kerfuffle does raise a larger question: are debates a good way to test the mettle of a presidential candidate? After all, once you’re in the White House, it’s not about remembering stuff moment to moment – you’ve got aides for that.

I think the short answer is that, as Winston Churchill said of democracies, they’re the worst possible system – except for all the others. Highly imperfect, debates are nonetheless the only glimpse most of us get of presidential candidates in something approaching a real, unscripted moment.  Hence their fascination – and the importance of moments like Rick Perry’s.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication, and the good and bad speakers of the day. His passion is to connect the latest brain research with timeless insights into persuasive speaking in order to further our understanding of how people connect with one another. For more information on his company, visit www.publicwords.com

7 Tips for Powerful Sit-Down Presentations

By Dianna Booher

Whether it’s answering an offhanded query, “How’s the project going?” or selling your ideas for conducting a new employee survey, every presentation you make is an opportunity to establish an executive presence and move up in your organization. Consider these tips for improving both the substance and style of your next presentation so that you can speak up with confidence and authority.

Don’t “Let Down” for Sit-Down Presentations

In a business setting, you may make presentations to only a few people seated around a conference table or desk. Although there is no correlation between audience size and importance of the outcome, consider several issues in light of the informal setting.

First, consider the group’s expectations. Do not assume that because the audience is small, its members do not expect a formal presentation—visuals and the works.

Second, because you are seated around a desk or table—at eye level with the group—you must convey your enthusiasm, assertiveness and authority at “half mast,” through your facial expressions, posture, and voice. Sitting down may tempt you to slouch, but don’t. Sit comfortably erect, leaning slightly forward in your chair to show attentiveness and enthusiasm for your subject. Sit back in your chair to convey openness to questions.

Position yourself to maintain eye contact with everyone in the room. Do not get stuck between two listeners so that you have to turn your head back and forth with each point, as though you are watching a game of table tennis. If possible, remove any physical obstacles that block vision or create “distance” between you and your audience.

Sitting down or standing up—decisions count either way.

Never Let Facts Speak for Themselves

Facts need interpretation. According to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If you don’t believe this, tune in to the next political campaign. People can make facts and numbers mean almost anything. Interpret yours so that your listeners draw the same conclusions you intend.

Make Statistics Experiential

People digest numbers with great difficulty. Graphs and charts help. But if you can go beyond these common visuals, do so. For example, one manager speaking before his peers at IBM about his budget being cut dramatically yanked off his jacket to reveal his white shirt—with great big holes cut out of the sides and back. Amid the laughter, he made his point dramatically and memorably.

To demonstrate the cost of absenteeism to your organization, have your group complete a worksheet on “Employee Ed” who misses six days a month three times a year. Then increase those absences per warehouse in each division as the audience calculates on their worksheets. The numbers will come alive as they themselves work with the changing results.

Use Metaphors, Similes, and Other Analogies to Clarify and Aid Retention

A metaphor is a word or phrase substituted for another to suggest similarity. For example: “My friend is my Rock of Gibraltar,” “Time is money,” “Kill that idea,” “That question will be the litmus test,” “This new product line will be our insurance policy against obsolescence.”

A simile compares two things with the actual words like or as in the analogy. Recently, I’ve heard business presenters use examples such as these:

“Trying to process these data with your computers is like trying to mow your lawn with a pair of scissors.”

“Your files are like athletic socks and dress socks; you don’t need both every day. Access should determine how you should store them.”

“This new legislation before Congress is like throwing a nuclear bomb at an ant hill—and missing the ant hill.”

The more complex the idea, the more important it is to simplify and illustrate by comparison.

Use Analogies to Provide a Consistent Framework

Think how many times you have heard the functioning of the human eye and its parts compared to the working of a camera—an excellent analogy for clarifying a complex process. Or how often have you heard complex routers referred to as a telephone switchboard—with each part of the equipment explained as it compares to a small telephone system?

Probably the best-known analogies and allegories are Biblical parables and Aesop’s fables. “Concern over the unrepentant means leaving the 99 sheep to look for the lost one.” “The tortoise runs a slow but steady pace and crosses the finish line a winner.”

Such visual or emotional analogies help audiences follow a lengthy presentation step by step.

Remember that Timing Indicates Emphasis

In general, a good rule of thumb for allocation of your overall time is to spend 10 to 15 percent of your time on the opening, 70 to 85 percent on the body, and 5 to 10 percent on the closing. This allows slightly more time up front in the introduction to grab attention, “win over” a hostile or uninterested group, and establish credibility than to close the presentation.

If your presentation includes an involved action plan, that section most likely should be part of the body of your presentation, and your close should focus on the final persuasive push toward the decision to act.

On the other hand, you may discover that you need to cut. In doing so, always keep the audience’s preferences in mind. Think of your presentation as a roadmap. If your audience wants to take only interstate highways to their destination, do not pencil in all the farm-to-market roads along the way. This merely clutters the map.

With regard to information overload, as John Brockmann so aptly put it, “Most houseplants in the U.S. are killed by over-watering.”

Never Ramble on Past the Point of High Impact

Anything you say after your polished point of close dilutes your impact. Do not ramble on with anticlimactic drivel. Say it and stop.

About the Author: 

Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase their productivity and effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and cross-functional communicationClients of her communication skills training firm, Booher Consultants, include IBM, Northwestern Mutual and Lockheed Martin, among many others.  For more information, visit www.booher.com

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