Presentation madness

Powerpoint, Keynote, … it doesn’t really matter much which piece of software you use to make a presentation. Trust me, there’s only little the software can do for you to make your presentation better, let alone good.

I get my fair share of practice making presentations since I make a few per week, but I also get to see a lot of presentations at events, with clients, suppliers, etc. The list below is an overview of my rules of thumb for creating good presentations.

The audience

First things first. Who are you talking to? It’s probably what bothers me most at conferences, all too often you see a presentation that is not at all tailored for the event. It’s more about what the presenter wants to say versus what the audience came down to hear.

But this doesn’t only count for conferences of course. Also when you’re presenting to your team, your boss or client(s), whatever the situation may be, the audience is key for what and how you will present. What is it that the listener wants to see? What do they expect? What is the context of this presentation? Trying to understand that is like a third of the success of your presentation.

The purpose

What is the reason for the presentation? What’s the goal? What was the briefing or what are you trying to get out of this? New business, an extra headcount, an extra effort from the team, understanding for a difficult decision, buy-in on a company vision, … How many times do you listen to or read a presentation and wonder: what’s the point? The presentation looked nice and all but don’t ask me what it was about.

What’s the point that your are trying to make? I think it’s important that you define the key take-aways well in advance. They don’t have to be crystalized (there’s room for that later in the process) but you need to have a good idea of what it is you want people to remember after the presentation. What it is you want to send them home with.

What is basically the end of the presentation is something you need to define at the start of making it. It’s where you need to build up to and it’s your first check on whether the presentation is in line with purpose you’re making it.

If you want me to do something, you better make that clear so I know what it is that you are looking for.

What do you need to get there?

So you know what your audience came down to see and you defined what it is that you want them to home with. Next step is to think of all the elements you need to have as key ingredients for your presentation.

Think of it as tearing out magazine photo’s before you can start making a collage. You have an idea of the end result and gather photo’s that you think will help you build a story to get there. With presentations it’s the same. Think of all the things that could be helpful to make your point. Quotes, articles, schemes, graphics, ideas, … and lay them all in front of you so you can see which ones you think you could use most.

Turning it into a story

Start with setting the scene. All too often I see a presentation that jumps right into a topic and only by the 3rd slide you figure out what the presenter is actually talking about.

“Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end.” (Philip Larkin – poet)

This is probably the most important part of your presentation. You know where you want to land with this, but how do you build up to that point? How do you make it so that within the timeframe that you got, you bring your story/presentation in the most powerful way? Will you start with laying down the problem? Or with the conclusion? There are many ways in building a great story and it’s up to you to figure that one out, but make sure you spend enough time on it. Make sure that you cut out all that is not necessary to make your story come to life.

Using post-it notes to lay out a grid of ideas in front of you and order them is a common trick but a really good one, and one that I also use when building more complex presentations.

Design

I love a nicely designed presentation just as much as everyone else. I don’t think it’s key to a good presentation though, it sort of adds an extra quality to it. Too many people seem to think design is amongst the first things to get right – that’s really not how it’s supposed to be. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen at conferences were of the worst design you can imagine… including Comic Sans.

Make sure the fonts are correct, the typo is the same throughout the presentation, the photo’s are aligned, … these are all easy to do and make the presentation from not looking sloppy. A great design doesn’t make it a better story, so make sure this is not where your main focus is. Or let me say it like this – a presentation full of quotes on a photographic background per slide is not a good presentation, just saying.

Check it

It’s ready so give it a swing. Go over it, maybe with a colleague or someone close to the topic, and see what you (and they) think about it. Did they see the point you were trying to make? Was it clear how you tried to build up to that? Did you feel comfortable with the story? Isn’t there anything missing or isn’t there too much you’re trying to say? The stage is a terrible place to figure out whether you made a good presentation or not, so make sure you got that checked before.

Another check that you need to perform is timing. I hate it when people don’t respect their timing, it’s a simple thing but a form of respect that you don’t abuse the slot that you were given for your presentation. Often people give presentations that aren’t specifically tailored to an audience nor a certain time slot and you can tell from the very first minute that that is the case. Don’t do it. If you want your story to come over right, you need to manage it within the time that you got. It’s different for everyone but I mostly count around 1.5 to 2 minutes per slide, which gives 15 to 20 slides max for a 30 minutes presentation (without title or exit slide)

Bonus check

Sometimes the organizer asks the audience to give feedback on the conference and when they do make sure you get the feedback on your presentation. You might learn something from it. And in case it’s a public event, check out Twitter after your talk as well. And don’t just look for kind words, but for what people tweeted about the presentation, see if are the key elements of the presentation, see if it are those things you wanted people to remember (and share).

Good luck.

The #ASS of Kris Hoet

Okay, I’ll admit, Tom De Bruyne made me do it. About a week ago Tom and Astrid – founding partners of Sue Amsterdam – organized The Awesome Slideshow in Boom Chicago (Amsterdam):

“10 inspiring speakers from the creative industry share their favorite stuff they
found on Twitter. Get inspired in one afternoon with a top-selection of awesome
ideas, thoughts, actions and campaigns.”

Hashtag for the event: #TheASS. Here’s my presentation and underneath you will find a little bit of background with the video’s, why I chose them for this presentation. (Video’s are all in the presentation)

Do mess with perfection. It’s the campaign line of the new Ford Mustang (check out their app btw) and I chose it because it’s more in tune with the idea I have around experimenting than the often used “fail harder” line. Why? Because “fail harder” all to often seems to result in a mediocre output and I don’t think that’s right. Do mess with perfection does a better job at making sure you experiment but with the end goal to make something awesome. Not mediocre. What do you think “fail harder” would look like in Jeb Corliss’ stunt? Therefore the ‘Grinding the crack’ video.

Big data. I love data. Not like an analyst or a statistics guy but because of what you can learn from data… if you’re looking at the right thing. Data visualizations are very welcome in helping you understand data – and then I don’t mean all these 15.000 pixel long infographics that show up on a daily base. I used some examples in my presentation, once including a tool you can download here: IOgraphica.

Gamification. Not games. Not contest. But fun game inspired elements to deploy on real life. Like what they did in Chromorama with the London Subway.

Known + Unknown. What happens when you combine knowledge from offline shopping behavior with online analytics methods. Awesome this Shopperception video – again see presentation.

Hackable. Kinect showed us once more, almost all year long, that you’re better off making things so that people can explore beyond the initial purpose of what it was made for to begin with. It might inspire everyone.

Laughter from nowhere. Kevin Slavin learned us to look at second screen in a totally different way, too bad his presentation from last year’s Think Digital congress isn’t online where he talked about that. I used the example from Clik just to show that most of our second screen thinking is really too basic.

The world is our canvas. Although the example in the presentation is a quite literal example, the point I wanted to make was that there are no more limitations to what we can do, that ‘out of the box thinking’ has never been so valid as today. There is no frame, the world is our canvas.

DIY 2.0 3D printers, open source code, Arduino, … it’s incredible what people like you can me can make today. We already have more democratic ways of promoting ourselves – thank you web 2.0 – but today we also see the same principles being used to fund as well as fabricate ideas. And that’s awesome.

The last video – of Casey Neistat, yes the same guy that made that Nike video – because it’s fun and it reminds us that everyone with a good idea can get noticed.

Key take away – It always seems impossible until it is done. Something we remind ourselves of at the agency as well every time someone presents us with an idea that looks impossible :-)

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Creativity World Forum 2011: Making ideas happen

The Creativity World Forum 2011 had to live up against high expectations. When the event was organized for the first time in 2008 (in Antwerp) Flanders DC showed all other conference & congress organizers in Belgium what the new benchmark would be. I really enjoyed the 2008 edition and thus was really looking forward to the event. This years program was a good start. With people like Jimmy Wales, Keith Sawyer, Malcolm Gladwell, Scott Belsky, Oliver Stone, … it’s clear that the €300 investment for a packed 2 days would be money well spent.

I think that this years event had an even clearer focus on creativity than the one 3 years ago. With in my opinion 2 big topics related to that: the first one being about ‘how to be creative’ and the second one (maybe biggest one) about ‘making ideas happen’. Often speakers would refer to the fact that coming up with ideas isn’t that difficult but choosing between ideas and making them happen is.

The first day started with failure. Jimmy Wales said “don’t tie your ego to a particular business” referring to the fact that he himself had failed several times before starting with Wikipedia. It’s also the main reason why he likes Silicon Valley so much, in his eyes it has the culture that supports failure – in Silicon Valley one who fails is still better than one that never tried. Peter Hinssen in his talk made similar references to failure, definitely a popular topic. Peter focused even more on speed however, that’s where his famous ‘good enough is great’ reference is coming from. In the context of speed and the examples he gave that makes sense to me, in all other context I find it rubbish (as you could read right here).

“If you freeze an idea too quickly, you fall in love with it. If you refine it too quickly, you become attached to it and it becomes very hard to keep exploring, to keep looking for better. The crudeness of the early models in particular is very deliberate.” (Jim Glymph of Gehry Partners)

It was Alexander Osterwalder – known for his book on Business Model Generation – that used this quote during his talk. I liked the idea of putting even more effort into prototyping, which he sees as having a conversation with an idea. I like that. Another element that helps being better at creativity is collaboration. That’s the main topic Keith Sawyer talked about, debunking again the myth of the Eureka moment from the lone genius. Creativity is a group effort, ideally a cross-group type collaboration effort. See also my presentation on Agile Planning where I talked about this as well. Last speaker of the first day Malcolm Gladwell. In a sense he talked about the opposite of Jimmy & Peter earlier that day. Why is it that we tend to reward creativity/innovation so much on being the first to do something? History has proven that it almost never is the first to come up with an idea to be the one to market it. In his opinion the innovation strikes hardest when the tweakers come in. Really interesting but although being the first is definitely not enough, this talk almost sounded like a plea to be the third in all that you do… I don’t think that’s supposed to be the truth. I did remind me of a quote Tom Kelley from IDEO used during the first Creativity World Forum:

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes” (Marcel Proust)

Presentations linked to a book always tend to be hyper structured. I like that. Scott Belsky’s presentation was one of those clear and structured talks. Probably no coincidence that he sees structure as a key element in making ideas happen, next to collaboration and leadership. Interesting thought on that last topic by the way – silence the visionary. Anyway, I’m a fan, make sure you check out the man’s work. Good start of the day as well, later on there was Jamie Anderson who kinda confirmed what we had heard before and then Garr Reynolds came to talk about Presentation Zen. Good presentation as to be expected, but maybe just a bit too many quotes and also it was great to see him stick to the timing, but still weird for a presentation guru to have to skip like so many slides to make that happen.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)

Probably the quote I liked most from all the ones Garr used in his talk. It is indeed of great importance to try and “unlearn what you have learned” as Yoda would say, to be really creative. How can you look at things in a really new way when your expertise makes it so that you automatically scope out what in your mind is not possible? You can’t.

Last but not least, final speaker of the 2 days, was Oliver Stone. He did a panel conversation with some Belgian movie director who’s name I’d happily forget, and I think we all just listened. Just think about all the movies this man has created, you can only respect that. One of the things he said that resonated most with me, something that I’ve been thinking about actively since then was the following question: “what’s the narrative of your life”? Something we should all ask ourselves from time to time. On being creative, Stone urged us all to think about the time we create for ourselves to be creative, because we’re not making enough time for it in general mostly because of the loads of distractions we have these days.

Key take aways from these 2 days:

How to be creative:

  • Create time – there’s no flash of insight, eureka moment but it’s more like an emergence of time. So create that time needed.
  • Prototype – have that conversation with an idea
  • Collaborate – get people together, cross-group preferably and share ideas liberally

Making ideas happen:

  • Choose between ideas – it’s more important to realize a few ideas, than to have created many
  • Organize yourself – creativity x organization = impact (dixit Scott Belsky)
  • Progress begets progress – show progress, surround yourself with it as it’s important to keep going that you see the results during the process
  • Share ownership of ideas

Make change happen:

  • The flip, the shift, … – it doesn’t really matter what you call it, when change really happens, it happens big time. This means that is impossible to stick with the things you know if you want real change to happen.

Thanks again Flanders DC and everyone involved for making this event happen. See you again in 3 years.

Is ‘good enough’ the new black?

During the presentations of last night’s Mobile Monday in Brussels (#momobxl – tablet edition) it struck me how often businesses’ seem to work with a ‘good enough’ strategy. It came up during Corelio’s presentation on their mobile approach as well as during SBS’s presentation on the 2nd Screen (Tweede Scherm). The basic idea to create something fast and put it in users hands as soon as possible. Now I’m a big fan of an agile and iterative development approach, I don’t like ‘good enough’ though. Good enough means ‘almost good’ as in ‘mediocre’. How can that ever be a strategy?

‘Good enough’ is also not very inspirational, it’s not very ambitious. A point I wanted to convey during the Q&A session of the event but without success. The response was that (especially the Belgian market) is still very small when it comes to tablets and that we need to be careful with the investments we make. We also need to be careful with what we wish for, since the general public is trailing us geeks and therefore obviously not into digital like we are. Fair enough, but why is that an explanation of ‘good enough’?  The following analogy was made: “ we want to drive 300mph with a car and we’re only just figuring out what a car is, these things need time”. My take on that is that businesses (again especially in Belgium) are not dreaming of driving 300mph at all, they’re trying to drive a car the way they learned to ride a horse. In this case that means merely duplicating experiences on new platforms. And again, that’s still no reason for ‘good enough’.

It might be a Belgian thing, but I just don’t get it. I know, it’s a small country with limited reach and thus limited budget. But that’s no explanation on why things can’t be ambitious. What they can’t be great… instead of good enough. Dream big for god’s sake – “The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become” dixit Hugh MacLeod (‘the hughtrain’).

The Garden of Tweetdom

Since Marcus decided (on purpose!) to have his little event in London pretty much the only week I wasn’t in town…. just kidding, I will have to share the slides with all of you who have missed it just like me.

Watch what happened when God created Twitter and be the witness of the first conversations between Adam, Eve and the snake!

Here’s some video footage from the event.

Euroblog 2008

This last Thursday and Friday I attended and participated in the Euroblog 2008 event in Brussels organized by Euprera – the European PR Education and Research Association. The symposium was very much an academic event with a lot of academic speakers and attendees, and less practioners (at least that’s how I experienced it).

That wasn’t a surprise though, as the event was clearly set up to try and have the academia embrace the need to change. Still, sometimes, I felt like I didn’t belong there. Now I don’t mean anything bad with this, there’s just a very clear gap between the way we all approach things. It made me think of trying/testing out the water in a swimming tool. If you’re a practioner like myself you will get ready for the pool, put your toe in to get an idea of the temperature, probably feel like it’s colder than you would have wanted it to be but you’ll get in the water anyway and start swimming. You’ll talk to other people in the pool, maybe about the water, or maybe about that new glide which you then try out as well. This is the way me (and other people) started their blog, signed up for Twitter, Friendfeed, etc etc. After the presentations from the academia, it became clear that they approach ‘the pool’ in a different way. They talk to people outside and next to the pool about the temperature of the water, use a whole bunch of metric equipment to test the water conditions, relate all that info to ideal human body conditions, etc etc (this still fully dressed of course) to work out a project trajectory to get into the water at some point in time.

And I know this analogy is a bit black&white, but I think you get my point. On Friday I sat on a panel myself that was a mixture between academia and practitioners and there the difference was less visible (on the panel itself). The discussion itself with the panel and audience was pretty interesting to me as well. It highlighted once more some of the fears but also strengthened the idea that there aren’t enough case studies to go by.  At one point I feel this is just another ‘reason’ to keep away of change as long as one can. But as you (might) know from an earlier post I do feel we have to reach out more to get more people embrace the need to change so maybe we should just see what we can do about it – there really is more than just Kryptonite you know ;)

Don’t get me wrong, I did like the event. Some discussions where pretty interesting, some presentations like the one’s of David Jennings and Martin Oetting where very enjoyable and it was very good meeting up with the Edelman Digital crew: Steve Rubel, Marshall Manson, Rick Murray, … but also David Weinberger or Neville Hobson, the latter whom I met in person for the first time after being in several online conversations before.