Archives for September 2014

Mark your calendars for our next webinar with Microsoft MVP, Nolan Haims

Presenting the Story of Your Data

Data doesn’t have to be either hard to understand or boring! Learn how to design charts that are both clear and beautiful.

In this presentation, we will cover

  • Techniques for clarifying your data stories including picturing numbers without charts, leveraging “The McKinsey Rule,” Adding emphasis and using color correctly, direct labeling and splitting up charts
  • Simplification and reducing “chart junk”
  • Alternatives to pie charts
  • Charting pitfalls to avoid

About Nolan

With more than 20 years experience in the field of visual communications, Nolan helps organizations and individuals show up differently and tell better stories with fewer words.

Most recently as a Vice President and Director of Presentation for Edelman, he helped the world’s largest public relations firm consistently win multi-million dollar pitches by communicating more visually.

As a designer and art director, he has created high-end presentations, keynote addresses and pitches for Fortune 500 CEOs, leading financial institutions, top foundations and all the major television networks.

Nolan trains organizations to think visually and to create and give more effective presentations. He speaks at national conferences and writes extensively on visual storytelling. Microsoft has recognized him as one of only 11 PowerPoint MVPs in the U.S for his contributions to the presentation community. Read more at his site,

In a past life, Nolan was an award-winning magician and juggler and performed with the Moscow Circus and Vermont’s Circus Smirkus before turning to theatre. He directed and wrote professionally, creating stories on stages in New York and around the country for a decade.

Nolan has a degree in media writing and theatre from Northwestern University, and lives in upper Manhattan with his wife.

2 Ways to Improve Collaboration on Presentations

Many presentations are collaborative efforts and you may have discovered that putting your comments in an email and attaching the latest version of a PowerPoint file gets confusing fast. Here are some problems with that method:

  • There are multiple versions of the file all over the place
  • It’s hard to know who has the latest version
  • It’s hard to know which edits are approved and which aren’t
  • Some people open the file from within the email (you should always save it to your computer first), make changes, and then can’t find the file

If you’ve been in collaboration hell, here is Part I of two techniques that might help.

Lots of people would like a Track Changes feature in PowerPoint, like the one in Microsoft Word. But so far it doesn’t exist. But there are two features you can use instead to collaborate with others. In fact, the second one comes close to a Track Changes feature…in a roundabout way.


Add Comments to a Presentation

This is how the Comments section of the Review tab looks in PowerPoint 2013 (right). Comments provide a way for you to add your opinion or suggest changes. On the Review tab, click New Comment to open a text box, either on the slide (PowerPoint 2007 and 2010) or in a task pane (PowerPoint 2013).

Type your comment and press Enter. A new feature of PowerPoint 2013 is that others can reply to comments so that you can create a conversation. Comments will show your initials or even your photo, if you’re using a Microsoft account. You can easily move from comment to comment and, of course, you can delete comments.

Here’s a short comment conversation in PowerPoint 2013.


If a comment is collapsed or just shows as an icon, double-click it to display it.

Compare Two Presentations

The Compare feature lets you compare two presentations. For example, you can have a presentation on your computer and then send a copy of it to someone else to review. That person will make changes and return it to you. The Compare feature shows you the differences between the 2 presentations. Follow these steps:

  1. Save your presentation on your computer. You’ll compare this presentation with the one that your colleague changes.
  2. Send the presentation to a colleague. If you attach it to an email, this process creates a copy. You can also post the presentation to a shared location, such as your OneDrive storage. In that case, you’ll need to give your colleague the link to the presentation and provide editing permission. In the email or link notification, ask your colleague to make suggested changes and return it to you with another name (such as v2 at the end of the file name).
  3. When the changes are done, open your original presentation and choose Review tab, Compare.
  4. In the Choose File to Merge with Current Presentation box, navigate to the changed presentation and click Merge. The Revisions panel opens, listing the slide and presentation changes. (Changing the theme or adding a slide would be presentation changes.) You’ll also see an icon on a changed slide showing the changes, as you see below. This is as close to Track Changes as you can get in PowerPoint.



  1. To accept a change, check the checkbox in front of it. When text was replaced, you need to check both the insertion and the deletion. If you don’t accept a change, the presentation stays as is on your computer.About the Author:

    Ellen Finkelstein can train you or the presenters in your organization to create high-impact, engaging, professional presentations for training, sales, business, or education. For more information, visit her website at

Leaders: Use Story to Create the Future

Lou Gerstner, the IBM CEO who led Big Blue out of the wilderness, said, “I tell Wall Street stories about IBM’s future because facts about the future do not exist.” What sets competitors apart today are not the scientific skills of dueling algorithms, but the aesthetic talents of storytelling: imagination, insight and creativity. With enough data, any executive can read a cross-section of the now; only a few, like Lou Gerstner, can author the future.

Story is more than a communications tool, more than a sales tool; it is a decision-making tool. I mentor my clients in all three uses of story-in-business: to bond, to persuade, to envision. Each of the three has three dimensions.

TO BOND: Use story to:

1) Speak in a human voice that creates empathy between employer and employee, building engagement in the work.

2) Inspire teamwork within and across corporate divisions.

3) Enhance the flow of communication up, down and across the corporation’s pyramid of power.

TO PERSUADE: Use story to:

1) Create positive brand awareness in the public’s mind.

2) Forge new markets within that public.

3) Sell. The modern business wraps its identity in the meaningful emotional web of story to capture the customer’s awareness and persuade sales. Compare the engaged storytelling of Siemens’ highly effective branding campaign, Answers, with the syrupy, eye-fatiguing montages of Cisco’s failed and abandoned campaign, The Human Network.

TO ENVISION: Shape knowledge and feeling into the form of story to:

1) Broaden and deepen an executive’s wisdom,

2) So he or she can make effective decisions based on both hard and soft data, and

3) Lead implementation of this strategy the way a great author guides the reader through a novel. Executive genius is a kind of literary genius.

The story a leader tells becomes corporate strategy, a map to the future others can follow to a success-filled climax.

The higher up the pyramid of power an executive ascends, the broader and deeper her vision. The more distant her horizon, the more all-inclusive her wisdom. The more complete her story, the more impactful her decisions.

Reliance on data, coupled with an inability to express oneself in story leads to disengaged employees, bland marketing, failed deal making and, most critically, bad decisions. In 2013, Siemens fired its CEO Peter Loescher because, as the German press put it, “He had no story.” Imagining corporate life like an author actually makes decisions all the more logical, all the more insightful.

A leader sees possible futures; his decisions create the future. When you use your imagination to envision the world in story form, you can sense how your corporation’s desire will rub against the world’s antagonisms before this friction sets events on fire. Story gives you foresight to see the consequences of future events long before they happen. A leader prepares for change no matter how illogical its cause. In fact, sensitivity to irrational change is quintessentially rational … if you wish to lead.

Until recently we’ve only been able to speculate about persuasive effects of storytelling. But throughout the last decades, neuroscience has researched the relationship between story and the human mind, and results repeatedly show that our attitudes, hopes and values are story driven. Fiction changes beliefs far faster than logical argument. Lawyers understand this.

Evidence has its place, but a trial tells two stories—one of which the jury believes.

Therefore, this caveat: Although we tend to watch PowerPoint presentations with skepticism, when a story absorbs us, we drop our intellectual guard. The mind-molding power of story may blind us in ways only facts can prevent. Therefore, a business leader has an ethical obligation to only use story in service of what he deeply believes to be a positive, human value.

A powerfully told tale always seems like a gift. But a story is actually a delivery system for the teller’s theme and purpose. A story sneaks a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind and can be an instrument for good or ill. Like fire, it can warm a civilization or burn it down.

Story is morally neutral. It can express profound truth or propaganda. The two greatest political storytellers of the 20th Century were Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler. Because storytelling is a form of persuasive jujitsu, and because the world is full of black- belt storytellers, the corporate leader has to train both his offensive and defensive moves. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, storytellers use empathy and curiosity to distract critical thinking.

So while you work to master storytelling for the corporate good, it’s equally important that you learn to see the pitch coming so you steel yourself against the power of “Once upon a time …”

Want to find out more about why story works in business?

• Read Robert McKee’s FREE white paper on how to incorporate story into your business. Click here to access the full white paper.

• Join Robert McKee for his STORY-IN-BUSINESS seminar on September 26 in New York City. This exclusive, one-day event shows businesspeople how to create and use stories to persuade, inspire and engage employees and customers. As a PresentationXpert reader, save $50 when you use promo code SIB50Off to register!

About the Author:

Robert McKee is “the world’s best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturer,” according to the Harvard Business Review. He has been helping writers tell powerful stories for more than 25 years through his legendary STORY Seminar and his award-winning book, STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. More than 100,000 students have completed his courses, including numerous Academy Award, Emmy Award, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. Now Robert McKee is helping business leaders from companies like Microsoft, HP, Siemens, Mercedes-Benz, Time Warner, The Boldt Company and others use story to more effectively persuade and engage their various stakeholders. Find out more about Robert McKee, his STORY seminars and additional resources to support writers by visiting

Presenters, Take Heart: Steve Jobs was no LeBron James

Watching LeBron James play basketball is amazing. His rare combination of height, strength and athleticism has allowed him to dominate the league as no one has since the heyday of Michael Jordan. It’s inspiring to know that you are watching one of the best who has ever played the game.

I have a similar feeling when I watch Steve Jobs speak. I have seen every presentation of his that I can find on YouTube. As a business communicator, I know I’m watching an all-time great.

I often show my students video clips of Jobs to demonstrate his masterful stage presence, his deceptively simple style and his use of narrative structure to deliver his message, but sometimes I think it is counter-productive. Watching Jobs seems to almost discourage my students.

LeBron James is an inspiration to many, without ever making them think they can do what he does. Few are blessed with the size, grace or athletic skills necessary to play in the NBA, let alone to be a superstar.

My students seem to think the same of Jobs. They can’t imagine that they could ever command an audience with such assurance or speak with so much skill or authority. They see him as inspirational, but not instructional.

There is, however, an important difference between James and Jobs. As incredibly skilled as Steve Jobs was as a speaker, he was not doing anything that you and I can’t learn to do.

I can’t learn to be 6 feet 8 inches tall. I can’t develop the speed, especially at my age, to run a fast break or build the athleticism to leap and slam the ball through the hoop. Physically, I simply cannot do it.

But all Steve Jobs did was stand on a stage and talk. I can do that…and so can you.

You can learn to refine your thoughts down to a single, crystal-clear message.  You can learn to structure your presentation to deliver that message with impact. You can learn to stand and move with at least the appearance of calm assurance. You can learn to use pause and pace to build anticipation.

Steve Jobs wasn’t a great speaker because of any innate talent or freakish physical advantage. He was a great speaker because he trained himself to speak well, because he thought deeply about what he wanted to communicate and how he needed to say it and because he prepared tirelessly for his presentations. Anyone, at any age, with any type of body, can do that.

I can do that…and so can you.

About the Author:

R.L. Howser is a speaker, writer, university professor and journalist with more than 30 years of experience as a professional communicator. He teaches presentation and communications skills at Keio University, Tokyo University of Science, Hosei University and the Kenichi Ohmae Graduate School of Business. Howser also was the 2010 and 2012 Toastmasters Japan Champion of Public Speaking. For more from his company, Presentation Dynamics, visit


How to Prepare for a Presentation Voiceover

At some point, most of us will be required to record ourselves speaking, whether it’s recording a podcast, adding voice-over to a presentation or creating an on-demand webinar. Like most people, you probably don’t enjoy hearing yourself speaking on ‘tape,’ but here are a few ways to make sure that everyone else will.

The Kit

Most new desktops and laptops (in fact virtually everything you might carry away from a large electrical retailer) are bundled with a “goodie” bag of peripherals that will almost certainly contain a headset with microphone. The best thing you can do with this free headset is recycle it without even taking it out of its plastic bag. Similarly, the built-in array of $1 microphones drilled into the frame of your $1500 laptop might help you through a Skype call in a pinch, but if you’re doing any kind of serious voice recording you need to drop some dollars on a decent headset.

I strongly recommend you find a set with a ‘boom’ mic attachment (the microphone is perched on an adjustable arm fixed to the side of the headset) rather than a standalone microphone. Having the microphone attached to your head means it’s easy to find the optimum positioning of the microphone relative to your lips, and once fixed in place the angle and distance will be consistent (unlike a fancy desktop or lapel microphone which requires rigor mortis-like control of the upper body).

My personal favorite mid-range set is the BeyerDynamic MMX2 which delivers really impressive recording and playback quality for the price. A cheaper option is the Sony DR-350USB, which performs adequately but features a detachable microphone tube that’s easily lost. As well as an adjustable microphone arm, look for a spongy pop-shield on the microphone itself  and a USB adapter. The USB connection is important because it means the audio signal remains in digital form all the way to the application, instead of being converted to analogue during the process when you plug in via the standard 3.5 mm jack-plugs.

The Script

If you’re recording a conversational podcast, this won’t apply – but if you’re recording any kind of voice-over, you simply cannot “wing” it. You can try, but it will take all afternoon and something nearby will get smashed in the process. Even if you have a great deal of experience and speak frequently about your topic, you can’t tell what you think until you see what you say, to paraphrase E.M. Forster.

Script every word you’re going to say, but don’t stop there because what you’ve written is a document, not a script. When we write we take the time to employ a broad and impressive range of vocabulary, impeccable grammar (usually) and tight, well-constructed sentences. Few of those qualities actually apply to the way most of us speak. This is important because if you don’t make an effort to ‘naturalise’ your script, your narrative will be about as charming and compelling as automated call-handling software.

So read out your script aloud a few times, try to zero in on any phrases that sound contrived or formal, and rewrite them in a more laid-back style, as though you were talking to a friend. For example, “unprecedented market success” might become “the best sales we’ve ever seen,” and “industry-driven insights” might become “things we’ve learned from other companies.” This is a very personal thing and no one can do it for you – you need to actually talk out loud and test it, and see how you would express those thoughts in plain speech, your way.

It’s not about being sloppy or imprecise with your language, it’s about trying to sound sincere, credible and comfortable in what you say. This will make the script far easier for you to record, and far easier to listen to as well.

The Setting

Most of us don’t have access to a recording studio, but there are some steps you can take with your surroundings to keep the quality high. Decent-quality headset mics provide a degree of noise-cancelling, so you don’t have to wait around all day for the birds to stop chirping outside, but location is important. Large meeting rooms with lots of shiny surfaces will play havoc with the finer resonances in your voice, and your recording will sound tinny, echoey and unpleasant.

Find a small room and make sure you’re not disturbed. The buzz from fluorescent lighting may be picked up by a microphone, even if you’ve long since stopped noticing it, and for laptop users it’s also worth running on battery while you record, as the AC power input can also interfere with some soundcards and create a background hum.

If I can get away with it, I try to do all my recording in my bedroom at home. Surrounded by soft furnishings, the higher and ‘noisier’ frequencies in the voice seem to be deadened, making the overall sound a lot richer. I’m not an acoustic engineer and I can’t justify this, but it seems to work well in practice.

However, make sure you don’t lie down on the job in this lovely comfortable place. Physiologically and psychologically, it’s much better to be upstanding while you’re recording. A standing posture opens up your chest and makes it easier to take full breaths, as well as increasing the overall volume of your voice (not the same thing as ‘loudness’). When you stand up, you’re also free to gesticulate as you speak, which is highly recommended because the more physically animated you are, the more enthusiastic you will sound, and enthusiasm is very, very contagious.

So there you have it. Get the right kit, use a script, and record in the right place. For technical advice and instructions on how to use PowerPoint and other software to record your voice-over, see my other article here.

About the Author:

With ten years’ experience developing presentations for industry-leading companies all over the world, John Bevan heads up the visualization department at BrightCarbon Ltd, specializing in transforming raw data and text-based content into dynamic and compelling visual slides. BrightCarbon creates persuasive, clear and compelling presentations for B2B and B2C sales, internal and external training, online and on-demand presenting, and interactive tablet presenting.

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