Archives for October 2014

Presenting the Story of Your Data with Microsoft MVP, Nolan Haims



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, Nolan covered the following 31296748_l

  • Techniques for clarifying your data stories including picturing numbers without charts, and leveraging “The McKinsey Rule” by 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

nolan straight shot - smallWith 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. 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.

PowerPoint Paradigm Shift: The Power of Going Dark

Do you ever get into the rut of doing what you’ve always done because it’s comfortable – or because it’s the way it’s always been done?

I’m talking about presentations – specifically the ones where you use PowerPoint. We were reminded of this when a client recently shared that he led a talk to 1,000 brand managers at Procter & Gamble with no slides. He was strangely terrified of the idea initially, yet he loved the outcome when it was done.

Slides can be effective for speakers when they highlight key points. Nothing tells a trend story like a graph, and nothing illustrates the analogy you want to make like a picture. When we use slides correctly, we are more effective.

But we’re not using them correctly most of the time, or at least we can do better – it’s hard to argue with that. This article is not to remind you that we use too much information on a single slide  – too many bullet points or even words – and that pictures are better. I have no doubt that you already know that.

This article is about actually having the boldness to go dark.

Specifically, use black slides.

A black slide simply has a black background with no master template, and you insert it between your slides – or where it makes sense.

Adding black slides will do three things:

1. Clear the screen. Once you’re done with the picture, graph or supporting information, you want to remove distraction and go to a black slide so you can amplify, tell a story, or make an additional point. Audience minds will wander if you allow it to happen.

2. Bring the focus to you. It’s amazing to see the eyeballs go from the screen to you when you put up a black slide. It’s actually invigorating, and it helps connect you with your audience and so much more! It also opens up the room and allows you to go in front of the projector and not be stuck in one place (although we’re seeing less projectors, more TVs and large monitors).

3. Totally change your mindset. Create your message first, then add support. (Of course, I recommend using the Decker Grid™.) When you are delivering your key points, the background should be black so that people can hear what you are saying.

Slides should be used to accent and add support – think graphs, pictures, video clips and other SHARPs to bring memorability and power to your Point Of View.

Try it in a low risk opportunity, and you’ll love how it helps the experience.

About the Author:

Ben Decker is the CEO of Decker Communications, a presentation skills coaching firm that coaches senior executives and managers to transform business communications. For more information about the company, visit



A Listener’s Bill of Rights: Stop the Tyranny of Bad Speakers

To stop government tyranny, the nation’s founders produced a Bill of Rights.  But how do we stop the tyranny of lousy speakers?

I propose a Listeners’ Bill of Rights.

  1. The right to a point of view.  Statements like this are all too common: “Well there are two sides to the issue. I’m going to lay out both sides so that you can make an informed decision.”  No! Give both sides if you must. But tell us what you think. We’ll decide if we agree. Don’t be a wimp.
  2. The right not to remain silent.  “Question Authority” may be a slogan from the ’70s. But it’s come even more alive in the age of blogs, talk radio, text messages and Twitter. Listeners today like to talk back and kick the tires. Leave lots of time for Q&A.
  3. The right to brevity. One study indicates that after 17 minutes, no one is paying attention. Most business presentations can be delivered in 15 minutes, even if you leave half the time for Q&A.
  4. The right to a story. The more personal the better. I worked with a high school senior from Brazil as he prepared to speak at his baccalaureate service. He told of immigrating to the U.S. on his journey to become a journalist. Even the tough guys in the audience cried. And the girls swooned.
  5. The right to a solution. Don’t just tell me the “Recent Developments in Labor and Employment Law.” Tell me how I can be more successful using the latest law to represent my clients. I don’t come to speeches for information. I come for solutions to my life’s key challenges.
  6. The right to passion.  You don’t have to be like Vince the ShamWow Guy. But do you have to be like one of those ferns that adorn the lobby of your office?  Smile!  Speak with the same passion that you use when you’re talking about football (or any other personal passion).
  7. The right not to be read to. If you’re going to read your speech, just send it to me by email instead. I’ll  have my iPhone read it to me while I’m driving. That way I don’t have to feel my life being sucked out of me in your lame meeting when instead I could be doing something important, like watching my daughter play lacrosse.
  8. The right to a simple message. Here’s a recipe for one of the best speeches you’ll ever give. Start by saying “There are three questions I’ll bet you want to know about this topic.”  Then list the three questions and answer them. Then take questions.
  9. The right to minimal slides.  “Power Corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Those are the words of Edward Tufte, the graphic designer who claims that PowerPoint was partly responsible for the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. Tufte claimed that bullet-point laden PowerPoint slides confused a critical technical issue. Whether you agree or not, too many complex slides confuse the audience. Keep it simple.
  10. The right to be loved.  Great speakers understand that the only reason they exist is to help their listeners. So they focus every bit of energy on helping their audience with key issues and delivering messages in a way that connects.

About the Author:

Joey Asher is president of Speechworks, a  communication skills coaching company in Atlanta with clients including Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Bank of America and many others. His new book, 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations is available now. For more information about Speechworks, visit


More Tips for Waging the Battle With Stage Fright

Working with clients on stage fright I use a number of approaches, some of which involve embracing the adrenaline and some of which involve minimizing it. My personal favorite is to embrace the symptoms that adrenaline produces and tell yourself that it means that you’re about to do something exciting, and that your body is now geared up to do it.

But that’s because I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and some clients prefer to calm themselves down a little instead. So we work on breathing, and other relaxation techniques, as well as mental imagery.

Now a Harvard Business School study of speakers finds that telling yourself “I am excited” gets better results than trying to calm yourself down. Those speakers who jazzed themselves up were more fluent, relaxed and in the zone than those who tried the opposite.

Perhaps these were all extroverts, and introverts are still better off calming themselves down. I personally think that the best approach is the one that gets you through; one size probably doesn’t fit all in speech anxiety despite what Harvard says.

So, with that in mind, here are a few more tips that clients and I have tried and found helpful in the never-ending battle between nerves and public speaking.

1.Get Fit. Especially if you’re on the high end of the anxiety scale, getting some exercise beforehand is a great way to slough off some of the extra jitters. Don’t overdo it, though. You want to be calm, but not exhausted, when you stand up to speak. So exercise early but gently, and leave some energy in your batteries. This is not the time to run a marathon.

2. Meditate. Some form of meditation which involves sitting and paying attention to your breathing, or repeating a mantra over and over, or just quietly watching your thoughts, can be very helpful. But don’t try meditating for the first time the hour before your speech. Mind control won’t work when you’re agitated; you need to have already begun such a practice long before D-Day.

3. Tense and release. A simple technique you can use without much preparation is to stand somewhere quietly and tense and release your muscle groups in some order you establish. Start with your toes, for example, tense them, release them, and work your way up your body. If you do this exercise with enough attention you’ll ground yourself nicely and prepare yourself well. It’s a good daily habit in any case.

4. Breathing. Of course. I should hardly have to mention this one, but I still run across people who don’t know how to belly breathe and prepare themselves for speaking in a powerful, commanding voice. So take air in by expanding your belly like an eye dropper. Don’t lift your shoulders. Then push the air out gently using your abdominals.

It’s simple enough, once you get the hang of it, but it’s the opposite to the way you breathe normally without thinking.

5. Get your thoughts under control. This exercise is another one that only works if you practice it before you need it. Under stress, the mind hops around crazily, veering off into the “oh no it’s going to be a disaster because” scenarios that make the physical symptoms worse.

What you do is start a positive set of thoughts going, and you answer the negative ones every time they come up. “This speech is going to be a success because I’ve done my homework, I know the audience, and I’ve prepared….”

Whether you are extroverted or introverted, whether you ride your excitement like a surfer on the big wave, or seek to avoid excitement, these habits will help you find control in high-stress situations.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and presentation skill 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. For more information about his company, visit

4 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Soul-Crushing Facilitator

Recently I was reminded yet again of how poorly people understand the art of facilitating group discussions. Here’s the backstory: I participated in a meeting made up of leaders of various professional organizations in Chicago. Our goal was to identify ways for us to work better together.

I was seated at a table of four and I had just met the other three leaders in my group. Three questions that we were to discuss were printed on a table tent. Several other leaders were seated in similar configurations around the room. We were all given the same questions to discuss. The meeting organizer explained what we were all to do, gave us 15 minutes to do it, and said “go.”

Our discussion started just fine. One of my table partners selected herself to be our group’s leader. She skillfully went around the table asking for input on the first question. She did a nice job opening the door for us to contribute. The conversation soon took on a life of its own. Ideas were discussed and improved upon. All four of us talked and listened. Notes were taken. Things were going great. “I’m glad I got up early on a Saturday morning to attend this meeting,” I thought.

But then things went south. The meeting organizer walked up to our table to announce it was time to move on to the second question. “We have to stay on task and on schedule,” she said, as if to reprimand us for something we had done wrong.

The air went out of our discussion. We weren’t done with the first question, and truth be told, we’d already started discussing the second question, because it was closely related to the first.

“Where were we?” the guy across from me asked. No one knew. We’d lost momentum. The group organizer had stomped on our discussion. There were rules to follow. It was time to move on.

In her desire to keep things moving along, she actually harmed the results of our discussion. Her interruption made it clear (unintentionally, I’m sure) that rules trumped quality outcomes.

We tried to play along, and the group eventually got back on track, but we lost a few minutes as we recovered from the unwelcome (and completely unnecessary) interruption.

A Facilitator Has Two Goals

Where the meeting organizer and facilitator of the day went wrong is in failing to understand the basics of group facilitation. She’s not alone. We see this sort of thing all around us.

In our presentation and facilitation skills workshops, we use this teeter-totter image (below)  to describe what needs to happen when you’re facilitating a discussion.

You have to balance two goals:encourage control 9-1-14

  1. The first goal is related to content. You need to exert enough control over the group to meet your meeting objectives.
  2. The second goal, which is where we see the most need for improvement, is to create the conditions for a fruitful discussion by encouraging group participation.

The meeting organizer in question exerted too much pressure on the control side and crushed our discussion. It’s as if she jumped on the control side of the teeter-totter, flinging us off. Eventually we brushed ourselves off and climbed back on, but at the expense of efficiency and our good will.

4 Skills to Master

Learning to balance these goals takes practice, but it can be learned.

  1. First, you have to understand and accept the dynamics of the process, that discussions need to be controlled and encouraged.
  2. Second, you have to learn to be flexible and recognize that sometimes what’s happening in the moment is more fruitful than sticking to a plan.
  3. In order to do that, facilitators need to listen fearlessly. This is something our meeting organizer did not do. She interrupted our conversation, and exerted control over it without listening to where we were in the process.
  4. And finally, you need to learn to think on your feet. You need to be able to make split-second decisions that are for the good of the group and the meeting objective.

About the Author:

Greg Owen-Boger is vice president of Turpin Communication, a presentation skills consulting company based in Chicago. He also is co-author of the new book, The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. For more information about the book or the company, visit

Pin It on Pinterest