Archives for April 2015

Are You a Writer or an Outliner? Tap Both Skills to Elevate Your Presentations

We were well into our day, about six hours into an all-day presentation skills workshop. My client was Micron, the well-known microchip manufacturer and largest employer in the state of Idaho, and we were in a beautiful classroom on the Boise State University campus.

And modesty aside, I was on my game. I had effectively made the case for cleaner, less-cluttered slides, impressed upon the 30-plus in attendance that presentation design is not just about making pretty slides, advocated for the use of appropriate animation as a storytelling device, and geeked out with several PowerPoint techniques that they clearly had never seen before.

I did all of this while taking questions at every turn, weaving before-and-after examples of Micron slides into each topic and while modeling various principles of presentation technique. By 3 p.m., this was a very good day in the making.

And then it happened. From the most innocent of questions, my world was rocked. I remember her name, too. Elizabeth did not mean to derail me; she was not trying to destroy my composure. All she did was ask a question:

“What are the two or three things you recommend we do as content creators?”

Two or three things? I had already offered two or three hundred. We were deep into the weeds of hyperlinks, actions, and triggers, and she wanted me to ascend to 30,000 feet? This question was way too general; how dare she!

No, my private indignation didn’t work; the problem had nothing to do with the question or the questioner. The problem was with me: across a seven-hour day, I somehow neglected a principle so utterly fundamental to the core discipline of presentation. Worse than my having neglected it, I wasn’t even sure that I was capable of addressing it.

“What are the two or three things you recommend we do as content creators?”

I stood before the room in literal silence for a full five seconds. At least I didn’t launch into an “um” storm, or worse, a BS session. I just stood there. “That’s an amazingly difficult question to answer,” I finally said. “Sharing a hundred tips is easy; coming up with just two or three–not so easy. What do you think? What do you all think,” I said, turning to everyone.

I had bought myself a reprieve, and in the course of the final hour, I tried to make good on my promise to Elizabeth that I would answer her question in due course. And it became a bit of a running joke that I would turn to her every five minutes or so and say, “Okay, there’s another one.”

But in truth, I was busted. My foundation was shaken by the notion that I didn’t have a ready answer to this profound question. In fairness, the universe of presentations is too broad to identify two or three pieces of advice common to all, and I did tell that to Elizabeth and her co-workers. So I amended the question slightly: What are the most important things to do when embarking on a presentation project?

The final 30 minutes of the workshop became devoted to that question, and the group think dynamic was really quite eye-opening. Here is what we concluded.

Are You a Writer or an Outliner?

This became a fascinating sub-plot, as we came to the realization that there are two types of people in the world. And here you thought that there were thousands or even millions. No, in fact for the purposes at hand, we concluded that there are really just two: those who like to formulate their work by writing complete and fully-formed thoughts and those who like to jot and scribble ideas.

We invested about five minutes in a debate about which type was better suited for presentation projects, but that became an immediate quagmire. You simply cannot tell a long writer that he needs to start outlining any more than you could tell an outliner that she needs to start thinking in paragraphs.

With apologies to every book author who has advocated for creating outlines to formulate thoughts, that is foolish advice. You either have instincts for that or you don’t and trying to fight your instincts would be so much worse than anything else you might do right, you would never recover from it.

Luckily for you, this argument is completely moot. We rendered it moot in that Boise State classroom when we concluded that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter which way you like to organize your thoughts. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer outlining or writing and we in positions of passing commentary do you a disservice when we suggest otherwise.

Why doesn’t it matter? Because you’re going to do both. To create a good presentation, you’re going to write and you’re going to outline and it doesn’t matter which one you do first.

If You Are An Outliner…

You will take the traditional route of jotting down ideas and finding homes for them. You will compile main thoughts, developing sub-points, and watch the progression of ideas take shape. For many people and in many instances, sentences and paragraph get in the way; they tend to clutter your brain.

You’ll worry about the actual words later–right now, you just want to capture ideas. Your brain is in total free-form mode and you completely indulge it with PowerPoint’s titles and levels of bullets.

In fact, you might have to start with something even more free-form than a bullet slide. Maybe you start with a legal pad or a cocktail napkin. Go right ahead–anything that lets you free-associate around an idea is a good thing.

When you are done, you should have a set of slides that reflects your story arc.

If You are a Writer…

If you are most comfortable formulating your thoughts by writing in sentence and paragraph form, then by all means go right ahead. Put your hands on your keyboard and start banging out brilliance. As a writer, I know first-hand the thrill of getting into a creative groove during the process of fully-formed composition. I can get in that zone much more easily if I allow my thoughts to become sentences.

If you’re like me, don’t let anyone tell you to start with bullet points. Don’t do it! You want to open your creative canal as wide as possible, and to do that, you write. You’re a writer; that’s what you do!

Just don’t do it on the slide. Instead, open the Notes page and do it there. Write to your heart’s content. Err on the side of inclusion: when in doubt, leave it in. Take the type size down to 9pt if you have to and keep writing until you like what you have said. This is in keeping with the strategy that I shared in my Surviving Handout Hell article, in which I advocate for the use of the Notes pages for your handouts, not for your speaker notes.

Step Two

Whichever thing you did first, now do the other thing. If you started by writing, now do a big copy and paste into Word or into Notepad and start paring down. What are your major points? What are the ideas that support those thoughts? Can you represent your ideas with just a few words each? If so, build slides with those words.

If you started by outlining, copy that outline to the Notes page and fill out your ideas. If you are not a comfortable writer, look to see if somebody in your organization has already written it. If so, steal it. (These are probably the paragraphs that someone has wanted you to place on your slides and you have resisted. Now you can finally tell that person that you’ll get them into PowerPoint.)

Step Three?

It is not so obvious what to do next, and once again, it would be irresponsible to suggest that there is but one thing to do next. Just know that you will likely need to go in both directions: you will need to hone and distill your slides and you will need to flesh out your prose. It doesn’t matter when you do which–everyone is different and everyone’s personality will influence preferred work flow.

But to service your audience as best you can, you will want to ask yourself two things:

  1. How can I take this outline down to its core essence? What are the two or three words that create the perfect backdrop for what I want to say? And once I have succeeded in doing that, is there a photo that would be relevant and evocative? If so, how might I blend that photo with my simple text message to create a truly impactful backdrop for my spoken words?
  2. How can I make my paragraphs of prose into a valuable leave behind? What are all the things that my audience members might want to take home with them after hearing me speak? That table with 15 rows that was about to be instant Death by PowerPoint? It would be perfect on a handout. The footnotes, the asterisks, the commentary, and all of that horrific copyright language? Maybe all of it can go on the handouts instead of on the slides. Oh happy day!

The Three Tenets

So Elizabeth, I’m ready to answer your question now. A good presentation is made up of three things: what you say, what you show, and what you give. Your quest is to make each of them as good as you possibly can. In order to do this, however, you must turn off your auto-pilot, because if left unchecked, it would take you down a dreadful spiral.

That’s the spiral where you try to create some awkward mixture on your slide between the stuff you want to say and the junk you need to print. With all of that prose staring at you, you are likely to read your slides verbatim, and now those three tenets–say, show, and give–all become the same thing.

As soon as you accept the fact that you will be creating a dedicated handout, your entire life changes for the better. Now you can give the right kind of attention to those three tenets: What do I really want to say? What words and images can I show on my slides to help me tell my story? What kind of detail do I want to produce to support my story after the fact?

Those are the three things I recommend to all presentation content creators. Inspired by Wired magazine, I have embarked on my first-ever decision tree to illustrate this strategy. Be gentle…


Decision tree - full

Click on Image to Zoom

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 is host of the annual Presentation Summit conference, set this year for Sept 27-30 in New Orleans. Rick also is author of the book Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck & How You Can Make Them Better.  For more information about his company visit

6 Tips to Turn Your Presentation Into an Interactive E-Learning Course

The secret to creating successful eLearning experiences is developing an environment that mimics the real world. An eLearning course that encourages learners to make choices that lead to consequences or highlights the real world benefits of the subject matter, through simulations and other interactive elements, is essential to its success.

But what do you do if your content is wrapped up in a presentation that you’ve spent countless hours and resources creating, and now you want to make it more dynamic, engaging, and interactive?

The answer is to turn your presentation into an interactive eLearning course.

  1. Choose the right eLearning authoring tool.
    There are a number of eLearning authoring tools that can help eLearning professionals transform presentations into dynamic and interactive eLearning courses. Here are the best eLearning authoring tools that you may want to consider:

    • Lectora 12 is the ultimate eLearning authoring tool for professionals who want to easily turn their presentations into eLearning courses. A remarkably simple, yet exceptionally powerful tool, Lectora 12 makes it easy to create eLearning courses that get results. Or, develop eLearning in the cloud with Lectora Online, perfect for collaboration and teamwork.
    • Elucidat is the fastest way for SMEs and non-technical authors to create engaging, interactive and gamified eLearning. It is a Brandon Hall Award Winning Authoring tool, which provides the building blocks you need to create well designed and engaging eLearning without having to start from scratch. It is the perfect tool for turning presentation content into interactive eLearning courses.
    • Gomo is a cloud based, award winning e-learning software that allows you to create beautiful multi-device HTML5 courses in minutes. Use their intuitive drag and drop interface to convert PowerPoint presentations into highly interactive courses without programming. Drop in sound, video, animation, quizzes and rich interactivity to engage your learners. Also you can embed third party content from across the Internet, including Twitter feeds, YouTube and Vimeo videos, Google Maps and more. Last but not least, you can deliver your single-source content directly from Gomo to all your devices (including full-screen on smartphones and tablets) as well as desktops and your LMS.
    • Adobe Captivate 8 reimagines the way interactive eLearning is created for a multi-device world. Create multi-screen responsive eLearning without programming. You can use the intuitive UI to transform PowerPoint presentations into engaging eLearning and mLearning using actors, voices, interactions, and quizzes. Also leverage best-in-class HTML5 publishing to deliver any content to mobile devices, the web, desktops, and leading LMSs.
    • Based in PowerPoint, iSpring Suite 7 provides comfortable content authoring right in the familiar PowerPoint interface. Though it’s extremely easy to use, the tool is supercharged with a wide range of cool capabilities like adding rich media and characters, creating quizzes and interactions, and much more. After the course is ready, it can be easily published for virtually all browsers, mobile devices and LMSs thanks to the support of a cross-platform content format.
    • With Articulate Storyline 2 you can convert presentations, such as those created in PowerPoint, into interactive eLearning courses that feature rich and immersive multimedia content. Articulate Storyline 2 features a wide range of templates, screen capture tools, and a character library that you can use to design your eLearning course.
  2. Don’t be afraid to reorganize the layout.
    After you’ve chosen the ideal eLearning authoring tool, bear in mind that you don’t necessarily have to stick with the existing layout. In fact, you can make the eLearning course more interactive and engaging by merely rearranging the layout and design or by using page layout templates to speed up the eLearning development time. For example, if you have a PowerPoint presentation where the only distinguishing features are bullet points and a handful of stock images, you can change the background, include clickable links to outside resources, or add additional relevant and attention-grabbing graphics to make it more exciting. All by using a simple eLearning template.
  3. Create a branching menu for easy navigation.
    One of the most effective ways to integrate a healthy dose of interactivity into your new eLearning course is to add a menu at the beginning that allows learners to access to various modules quickly. Rather than sticking to the linear structure that virtually all presentations follow, you can now group content based upon ideas or subject matters and separate them into different modules.
    This also helps to prevent cognitive overload, given that your learners will only have to digest small bits of information at one time, and enables the learners to take control over their own eLearning experience. You can often create these branching menus by simply hyperlinking the modules on the main page.
  4. Use hyperlinks to integrate video into your eLearning course.
    Speaking of hyperlinks, their usefulness doesn’t stop with branching menus. In fact, they serve a variety of purposes in interactive eLearning course design. You can even use them to integrate videos into your eLearning course, whether you’ve created them yourself, use stock video, or you are taking advantage of previously uploaded videos, such as those on YouTube. This gives your learners the chance to expand their knowledge base and explore a topic in depth, without even clicking away from the eLearning course itself.
  5. Integrate characters and audio to make it immersive.
    When you want to turn your presentation into an eLearning course, even something as seemingly insignificant as background audio integration or use of a character  can make a world of difference. To include audio, you can add royalty free music or stock audio into your eLearning course to make it more immersive and entertaining.
    You can include a character by simply choosing eLearning stock from eLearning Brothers that offer 500,000 high quality stock assets. Turn an eLearning character into a host that helps the learners throughout the eLearning course or offers insight into key subject matters.
    For example, if there are bullet points within your presentation, why not let a stock image and a character share those important bits of information with the learners through dialogue boxes or audio narratives.
    The learners can then click on the box if they want to view all of the bulleted information at once or need to refresh their memory about a particular sub-topic. You can also integrate vector stock graphics or infographic that may supersede your design capabilities.
  6. Include stories and scenarios to boost interactivity.
    You can include stories, game templates, and scenarios into your new eLearning course design. These elements not only make the eLearning course more effective, but more emotionally-centered too. If you currently have a static page within your presentation that delves into a real world example, for instance, you can transform it into an interactive scenario that encourages the learners to make choices and learn about real world consequences based upon the content that you already have.
    You can also opt to create stories that tie into real world situations or challenges, and then ask your learners questions based upon the story and also include links to videos or virtual lectures that pertain to the subject matter being discussed. This will instantly make your one-dimensional presentation into an amazing and memorable experience for your learners, thanks to the fact that they can connect and interact with the content.

By using these tips you can turn any presentation into an interactive eLearning course that engages, motivates, and excites your learners.

About the Author:

Christopher Pappas is founder of The eLearning Industry’s Network. The network includes more than 250,000 professionals involved in the eLearning Industry.

10 Ways Leaders Use Fear to Enhance Presentations

You’ve read about the survey that reports people fear speaking in public more than death, along with all the advice about how to overcome nervousness. But if you’re a leader, a healthy dose of fear can be a good thing. In fact, if fear doesn’t propel you to a top performance, you may hit rock bottom in your career.

Speaking before clients, peers, or the public is a high-stakes proposition in the age of MTV, Instagram and live Twitter feeds from your audience members out to the world. Audience members do not expect an unprepared rambler to waste their time postulating on topics that don’t interest them.

The secret to delivering a top performance in such an environment is understanding that fear can either motivate you or paralyze you. So let’s assume you want to use fear as a motivator to perform at your best. Here’s what today’s audiences are expecting, and what you’ll need to do to rise to the occasion as a leader:

  • Fact-check before they do. Assume that every member of your audience has a cell phone in hand or at least nearby as you speak. When you toss out controversial or shocking data, assume that will motivate them to fact-check you while you’re speaking. Depending on whether they find you right or wrong, they’ll either tune out the rest of what you say, send your error out on the Twitter feed, or ask for your source in the Q&A period. Better to correct before you open your mouth.
  • Substitute specifics for platitudes. Today’s audiences know how to search the Internet, and they’ll find general information on just about every subject imaginable. They’re expecting leaders in the field—real experts—to provide specifics relevant to their needs and objectives. (See the next point.)
  • Dig for audience information. The more you know about your audience and how they’ll likely use your information, the greater chance you’ll have to make what you know relevant and specific to them.
  • Avoid the “all-nighter” cram session. Remember the old college days when the weekend trip, the sports tournament, or the lovers’ spat necessitated your putting off studying until the last minute? Then you were forced to stay up all night to prepare for the big exam the following day. Not your best effort. A healthy dose of fear about the expectations of your audience and your discomfort in standing before them unprepared can nudge you to start solid preparation early.
  • Know your content cold. This doesn’t mean running through your slideshow multiple times in your head. Not just writing out an outline.  Nor just writing out a script. Knowing your content means that you thoroughly understand your topic—where the stats came from, what they mean, what action they suggest for your audience or organization. Knowing your content cold also means understanding the cause-and-effect relationships among all the various details in your talk.
  • Understand the “why” behind the structure. In your calm moments of preparation, you (or someone on your team) have structured your presentation or talk in a particular way. Why?  Identify the specific reason the “C” section follows the “B” section. Then if the time for your talk gets cut short at the last moment, you’ll understand what can be cut, what has to stay, and what order has to remain intact.
  • Practice your delivery. Pay as much attention to how you’ll deliver your presentation as to what you’ll say. Do a walk-through. Yes, talk the entire presentation through.  Aloud. From beginning to end. That’s the absolute best way to discover the rough spots: missing or awkward transitions, odd phrasing, wordy overview statements, wimpy wrap-ups on key points, and a lackluster close.
  • Polish your phrasing. Words matter. You can introduce your point with this statement: “Our costs have been contained this quarter across the board.”  Or you could introduce the point this way:  “You’ve tweaked your budgets from T-bone steaks down to gourmet burgers this quarter. Nice job in controlling costs!”  The most noticeable spots for humor, metaphors, analogies, or punchy phrases will be your lead-ins or wrap-ups to key points.
  • Anticipate questions. Today’s audiences consider time to ask questions as their God-given right. So whether you take questions throughout your talk, stop at various spots throughout your talk for questions, or allow time at the end, be prepared to showcase your expertise by upfront preparation. Make a list of likely questions you’ll receive, and prepare your answers before you ever take the stage. Plan your opening overview statement, your elaboration to support that overview, and any stats, illustrations, or examples to clarify your answer.
  • Remember why you’re a leader. You like challenges. You set the standard. People look to you for the model of “how things should be done.”

Many of the greatest movie stars confess that they fear standing before the public—but they do it anyway and earn Oscars for their performance. As others have said before, courage means acting in the face of fear.   

So go ahead, feel the fear, and take the stage. You are prepared to succeed.

About the Author:

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of more than 46 books, published in 26 languages. She consults, writes, and speaks on leadership communication, executive presence, productivity, and faith. Her latest books include What MORE Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About ItCreating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate With Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, and Bloomberg have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. For more information, visit

Searching for Free PowerPoint Photos? Try These Resources

As you’ve no doubt noticed, Microsoft stopped offering free photographs via Now, when you select Insert/Online Pictures you are faced with a Bing search engine. Which is great if you’re looking for photographs that may or may not be legal for you to use in your presentation.

Microsoft plays it safe by telling us that the image results are licensed under Creative Commons and that we need to review the specific license for any image to ensure we can comply with it. The trouble is, it’s a real “time sink” tracking down these licenses because the results are from all over the place: blogs, commercial websites, error 404 pages, etc. To paraphrase a famous 2014 meme, “Nobody has time for that.”

Ignore Bing

My advice to you is to forget the Bing search engine altogether and stick with the sites that legitimately offer free and copyyright free images. This helps you if, for instance, you’re creating a presentation for your company that will be distributed to people all over the world. The last thing you need is a copyright infringement lawsuit!

The other problem, as I mentioned, is the time you waste tracking down the licensing information. Using the Bing search engine to insert pictures into PowerPoint, I spend at least five minutes per image looking for the license. The presentations I create tend to use a lot of photographs, so that’s a lot of time spent in admistrivia. No thanks.

Where to Find Images with Easy-to-Find Licenses

I have a number of go-to websites that clearly state the licensing terms for their images:

Flickr. Before Instagram made everyone a “photojournalist,” Flickr was the go-to website for people to post images they shot themselves. Guess what…it still is!

The image licensing ranges from public domain to usable with restrictions to all rights reserved, but fortunately it’s easy to filter out the results you can’t use. Just enter your search term in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen and click the magnifying glass. Then when you get your results, select the license you want:

Flickr license filter

“Commercial use allowed” and “modifications allowed” give you the most flexibility, so I always select one of these. This a great site for finding low-cost and free images. The prices vary, but the images with the smallest file size are always free with attribution. The resolution of these images is just fine for PowerPoint.

FreerangeStock The topmost images that come up in the results page are from a commercial royalty-free image vendor. The free stuff is right below that. FreerangeStock asks for author attributions as a courtesy, but their terms dictate that it’s not mandatory.

Where to Find Images in the Public Domain

Public domain images can be used by anybody, for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without attribution or compensation. In other words, they’re totally free. The downside is that you need to use broad search terms and be willing to settle. For instance, search for “lab technician mixing chemicals under a fume hood” and you’re likely to come up empty. Look for “scientist” and you’ll see better results.

Here are my favorite websites for finding professional looking images in the public domain:

LifeOfPix. The images here are just gorgeous!

SplitShire. See above note. Stunning!

Death to the Stock Photo. Sign up for a free monthly email containing beautifully shot images.

Morguefile. This site tends to have images of varying quality, but there is enough of a range to satisfy most needs. Plus, the images tend to be high-resolution, which is nice.

How Do You Attribute Photographs Correctly?

Now that you’ve taken the high road and legally obtained images you can use, it’s time to tell the world where you got them and under what terms. There’s a lot to it, so click here to read another article about how it’s done.

About the Author:

Laura Foley helps people become more fluent in PowerPoint through workshops, consulting, and presentation design services. She has developed presentations and provided training for clients such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions/General Dynamics, Juniper Networks and the Harvard Business School. Her Cheating Death by PowerPoint training has been featured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Simmons College and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.  For more information, visit her website at

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