Page numbers...

Page numbers...

After more than 10 years of daily blog posts, they deserve a mention.

Some presentation templates have page numbers prominently featuring on every page. Page numbers are useful for coordinating viewers who each have a copy of a document in front of them: attendees of an investment bank roadshow with a pitch book in their lap, or people trying to pay attention on a conference call without a screen sharing tool. But in most cases, the presenter controls the slides and there is actually no need for them at all.

As a compromise, I tend to put them really, really, tiny in the top right corner of a slide in a faded font color. You don’t see them if you are not looking for them.

Cover image by Jess Watters on Unsplash

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SlideMagic to PowerPoint - update

SlideMagic to PowerPoint - update

I made a lot of progress over the past weeks with getting the conversion of SlideMagic files to PowerPoint sorted. Below are some of the first screen shots. All shapes are fully editable, have the exact/perfect sizing, and sit on a slide that has the grid lines as guides added to them, so it is easy to make correction if you want. Note how this also applies to data charts.

All this took some figuring out since the PowerPoint object model is incredibly complex. The pay off is that I start to understand not only PowerPoint file structures very well, but am also getting a deep understanding of my own software (the development of which I outsourced). This is sparking all kind of ideas where I can take things next.

At some stage over the next few weeks I will invite beta testers for the new software. Let me know if you are interested to join. Things will run only on Windows at the moment, and either you or your IT manager need to happy that you install all kind of plugins that have permission to write on your hard disk etc..

 A new SlideMagic tab will added to your PowerPoint ribbon

A new SlideMagic tab will added to your PowerPoint ribbon

 Making progress, the column charts will get done today

Making progress, the column charts will get done today

 The grid will be reflected in the guide lines on the converted slides

The grid will be reflected in the guide lines on the converted slides

 PowerPoint charts can be hard to line up manually, SlideMagic glues them to the grid for you

PowerPoint charts can be hard to line up manually, SlideMagic glues them to the grid for you

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Logitech MX Master 2S review

Logitech MX Master 2S review

My recent deep dive into the writing code (More than 1000 lines and counting) forced me back on the Windows platform to make the best use of Microsoft’s development tools (see an earlier post). The biggest problem I faced with the Apple Magic mouse: wild UI swings when navigating PowerPoint slides because of the imperfect calibration of the glass touch surface in Windows 10.

So, I got myself a Logitech MX Master 2S mouse…

I burnt through many of these clunky mice in the 1990s and 2000s and actually liked them, except for the “silky” silicon covers of them that would turn sticky after a year of use.

This Master 2S version got rid of that silicon by the feel of it. Yes, it is bulky and looks nerdy but I must admit, it feels actually a lot more comfortable to have something you can rest your hand on when working all day. That resting is the big problem of the Magic Mouse: by design you cannot really rest your hand on the touch sensitive glass, your hands is always hovering above it, requiring constant energy. On Mac, the calibration works, on Windows it does not.

Instead of the glass, the Logitech mouse has scroll wheels. The vertical scroll is brilliant: you feel a clicking resistance when while moving slowly, but the wheel starts spinning smoothly when you race up and down (pages of code). Horizontal scroll is another (small) wheel on the side, which is definitely less natural than the Magic Mouse.

And yes, you can continue to use the Logitech mouse when it is connected to your computer for charging.

If the silicon stickiness stays away, I can actually live with the increased comfort at the expensive of a nerdy looking device…

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Windows on a Mac - 2018

Windows on a Mac - 2018

For my SlideMagic development efforts, I need to dive deep into the bowels of Microsoft’s .NET architecture and there was no other option but to install a Windows machine on my Mac. I am running a 2015 iMac and here are my observations of using this set up as a production environment:

  • In general

    • Windows 10 is great and at par with MacOS

    • PowerPoint 365 on Windows is better (has more feature and UI updates) than PowerPoint 365 on Mac which in turn is better than Keynote (2018)

    • The CTRL-C/V vs CMD-C/V is an absolute productivity disaster, after a few days of coding I am used to CTRL, which I then need to unlearn when working on a Mac (design, music) before I have to unlearn it again.

  • There are some glitches with running Windows 10 on my machine (presumably these do not happen when you buy a “proper” PC)

    • I had to do some pretty hard core registry entry hacking to get my mouse to behave properly (direction flipping), even after tweaks the sensitivity of the Apple Magic Mouse is too strong. Especially when resting your finger on the glass surface, this immediately triggers the wildest switches between slides in PowerPoint for example. I am considering investing in a Microsoft mouse in the hope that these are properly calibrated

    • The video graphics card is acting a bit strange here and there (this could be a problem of my specific iMac generation). In some cases, after the computer wakes from sleep, the mouse pointer is a blurry vertical line. Also, hardware acceleration has a tendency to mess up text in Google Chrome (switching acceleration of kills the user experience). As result, I am one of the 500 people in the world who run the Microsoft Edge browser, which is actually pretty good for consumer browsing, but less suited for coding. I Googled extensively to find solutions for these problems but always hit a dead end where someone discovered that these are actually graphics card drivers bugs that have not been fixed yet.

Cover image by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

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What's interesting, what's not

What's interesting, what's not

In some industry sectors, product benefits are pretty much the same in the last decade. The next iPhone has as least as good a battery life, management of all those different IT security solutions is now made much easier with the increased visibility of the security management tool, the range of electrical cars is again increasing.

Every company pitching in the same industry as you says the same thing. (“We offer more battery life, provide better visibility, etc. etc.).

In these cases, the interesting bit of your story is how you do it, and maybe even more importantly, why it is so hard for others to do this.

Cover image by Philipp Lublasser on Unsplash

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Coding...

Coding...

I left the world of computer science in 1992 after receiving my engineering degree, and recently made an effort to bring my skills back to 2018. The first version of the SlideMagic app was outsourced to a developer, and I had virtually no understanding of the underlying code, and focusing purely on designing the user interface.

As I am pushing for the next iteration of the app, I want to change that and I am making great progress. The “practice” feature I am working on is developing a razor sharp, 100% correct, conversion of SlideMagic decks into fully editable PowerPoint files. (The current conversion gives you a clean file that you can present in PowerPoint, but as soon as you start to edit PowerPoint shapes, the imperfections in the conversion are revealed, but it is already one level up from many other presentation applications that simply paste a screenshot of a slide into a blank PowerPoint slide).

The process so far has been interesting and I am starting to understand the file structure of PowerPoint files, the PowerPoint object model, Microsoft’s .NET framework and the C# language. All of this technology is sparking new potential ideas where to take SlideMagic next.

Software development in larger teams is like a funnel: you define the spec, and the developers set the train in motion to deliver it. Sometimes, the phase I am in, less organised and experimenting where I can, works better to come up new concepts to make it easier for people to create presentations and business documents in general, especially the “everyday” ones.

Apologies to the potential clients for bespoke design work I have been turning down over the past few months, but hopefully they can benefit from what I come up with at the moment at some stage in the future.

Cover image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Number (in)consistencies

Number (in)consistencies

Have a look at the elaborate footnote at the bottom of this graph in a recent Venture Beat post:

A big apology for using multiple data sources, and as a result, producing 2 sets of slightly inconsistent numbers in the same report.

Data sources are almost always confusing and inconsistent. But that is the problem of the analyst, not the audience of a presentation. Using inconsistent in a presentation makes it harder for the audience to understand your story, but more importantly it also undermines your credibility.

If you have a good reason to adjust publicly available figures (and the VB team seems to have), why not create your own new data set? This is what we did at McKinsey all the time, adding the famous “McKinsey analysis” as a source of the figures at the bottom.

So, when having to present an analysis:

  1. Analyse all the inconsistent and confusing data around there

  2. Decide if you are confident enough to make adjustments: decide whether you are going to go with the raw data, or your own data. Stick to this throughout your presentation

  3. If you decided to use your own, you can throw in a backup chart at the end that shows how/where your adjustments impacted the data that people are used to seeing.

Cover image by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Ways your presentation can look wrong

Ways your presentation can look wrong

There are many:

  • It has standard PowerPoint colors, you couldn’t be bothered to even try to make an effort

  • It looks so slick and professional, like an iPhone launch deck, that potential investors in your seed company start to wonder what you are hiding (and how smart your spending is)

  • It is clear that you made a tremendous effort to make things look slick but all those gradients, shadows, clip art, and icons somehow still do not look right

  • Those curly accents, mint green soft fonts, and cute images look pretty but it does not seem right for a semiconductor company that needs to pitch to global device manufacturers

  • The spectacular animations that keep on moving and/or these clashing colors unsettle the audience’s central nerve system

Cover image by rawpixel on Unsplash

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The summary bullet point page

The summary bullet point page

Some sections in a presentations cry for something that ties everything together, a summary at the start rather than charging straight in with 1-message, 1-slide charts. Also, these summary charts come in handy for people who are reading your slide deck, rather than experiencing the live performance.

How to avoid turning your presentation in a boring bullet point reading exercise?

The mistake people make with these bullet point summary charts is that they spent too much time on a bullet point more or less telling the whole story, and then, repeating the whole story again when they hit the slide that was supposed to deliver the message, but probably spending too little time on that one because it feels repetitive.

So what to do?

  • Keep these summary bullets really short (but meaningful)

  • Go through them as a summary (“Our product has 3 advantages: design, weight, and an exciting colour, let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail”) [CLICK, next slide].

Almost keep up the same speed as it would take someone to read the bullets, and develop a radar for when you start using the word “uh”, and go into a tangent about product colours at bullet 3.

It requires discipline.

Cover by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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Consistency = credibility

Consistency = credibility

“Our technology saves costs!”. In the early days of a startup it is often not possible to quantify exactly what the cost benefits of your product will be. And many decks I see reflect that uncertainty. In the same deck you can see:

  • Slide: cost is a big problem

  • Slide: a technology gap makes users lose a lot of time

  • Slide: our technology can deliver double the power at the same cost

  • Slide: cost savings at our pilot client were 30%

  • Per transaction cost went from $1.1 to $1.2 at 40% more power

Investors will forgive you if things are not completely certain at the moment, but get confused when you throws different stories at them.

All the points above can be rooted in one single, consistent story. Maybe it is better to phrase exactly what is happening with your product, and then show a number of scenarios who it could create value for clients.

Cover image by Brendan Church on Unsplash

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Story evolves - the chart did not

Story evolves - the chart did not

I often say that slides are a safety net for the presenter in the early days of a presentation. After a number of runs, the presenter becomes confident enough to deliver the story pretty much without slides. Putting up the next slide is merely a mental placeholder that triggers the next point in the story.

As a presenter, you might fail to notice that after a couple of months your story can change/drift, and the actual slide that you put on the projector no longer back it up completely.

It is good to do an objective 10,000 km check up now and then, maybe with the help of a person who is not that immersed in the story as you are.

Cover image by Vincent Botta on Unsplash

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Logarithmic scales

Logarithmic scales

In the 1980s, I remember plotting the results of science experiments in high school on millimeter paper. Logarithmic scales came in handy: they allow you to plot data series with big variabilities accurately, and/or they can show mathematical relationships beautifully (a completely straight line on a logarithmic scale for example).

Scientific charts are for pondering at your desktop, a different setting from a 20 minute all or nothing investment pitch. When you show a boring growth line and have to alert the audience that the tiny labels on your y axis are in fact on a logarithmic scale, you have lost some of your fire power. It looks less spectacular, and more importantly, it requires additional thought steps in the brains of your audience. The hockey stick simply works better.

If you are dealing with serious science, consider 2 charts right after each other, the first (populist) one showing the raw growth, then followed by a logarithmic one that takes the responsible scientific approach.

Cover image by Sawyer Bengtson on Unsplash

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Customer service

Customer service

Seth Godin always reminds me that it is impossible to please everyone, and as a result focus on people who really love and support your work.

The SlideMagic app and template store currently are small retail businesses where I am also in charge of customer service. And as a result, service at the moment is at the highest standards, you get a pretty experienced presentation designer to fix charts for your for $1 if things are not right.

Still, now and then you get interactions with clients who talk to you like the hotline of a major airline rather than a mom & pop store, requiring immediate refunds or else…

Hopefully one day SlideMagic will be big enough to merit an airline-size customer support desk, in the mean time I continue to develop things with followers who support me.

Cover image by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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Like writing a letter in the old days

Like writing a letter in the old days

Pitch presentations have become more common, to a level that they now match the request letters people used to write on type writers in the 1970s to pitch business proposals: most people have made hundreds of them, seen thousands of them, everyone knows how they look, everyone knows what it is trying to do, everyone knows the basics of a startup pitch.

Despite them being very common (and maybe because of), writing a good pitch letter was (is) hard. Writing the actual thing does not take a lot of time, but knowing what and how to write is tricky and that blank piece of paper is daunting.

That is pretty much the feeling you get when having to email a pitch deck to someone.

Cover image by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

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Pitch deck = open book exam

Pitch deck = open book exam

Well said:

So a pitch deck:

  1. Makes you in charge of the flow

  2. Helps you show data

  3. Is a check list

  4. Lets you rehearse

“Earth shattering, stunning visuals that will convince the investor in the spot” does not feature in this list.

Cover image by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

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Pitch who you are

Pitch who you are

I cannot find the original tweet anymore, but the gist of it was this: if you are pitching your company to investors and pretend it is later stage than it really is, don’t be surprised that the whole story will come crashing down if the VC starts discussing metrics that are appropriate for the stage you claim to be in.

It is better to be honest about the stage of your company, but then blow investors away with indicators that show that you are well on track to reach the next level soon, either with or without her.

Cover image by Miguel A. Amutio on Unsplash

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Listen to the CEO

Listen to the CEO

The other day, I watched a documentary about film scoring, in which the composer could not stress enough how important it is to listen to the director, and the director only.

In presentation design, I see something similar. There is only one owner of a story. In many cases this is the CEO of a startup who needs to raise money, the Senior Partner in an investment fund that needs to raise money, the CFO of a publicly traded company that is updating the analyst community.

This person has a clear idea (most of the times) what her story should be. Or this person might actually not be 100% sure about the story. Or have ambiguous ideas, or contemplating different options. Existing slides/decks or other people’s stories are an interpretation of that story, or a representation of last quarter’s story. These sources hardly ever show ambiguity or uncertainty.

Part of the challenge of being a good presentation designer is to have the credibility to stand up to the CEO and push back against her if you think it is wrong, but also challenge interpretations of other people in the organisation. Credibility you get from being a good visual designer, a good communicator, but most of all, actually understanding what the story is about at a reasonably detailed level. The latter has nothing to do with presentation design.

Cover image by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

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Fresh ears and eyes

Fresh ears and eyes

Artists and designers often say that when you use a fresh pair of ears and/or eyes to examine your work again, things can appear to be completely different from how you remember them (both in a positive or negative way). Why?

The brain mixes up reality and imagination. When writing songs for example, I can get totally immersed in what I am creating, and after a while my brain probably hears what it wants to hear, which could deviate somewhat from what my instruments produce. Your brain added context.

Listening to it again the next morning with the imaginative context, can be a rude awakening… This is a similar effect as the “Curse of Knowledge”, which says that experts find it so hard to explain something to an audience that misses their mental frame of reference.

With first versions of presentation, I almost always try to avoid sending things out “hot from the oven”, instead sleep on it one night, and use those fresh eyes as a sanity check.


Cover image by Rachel Pfuetzner on Unsplash

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When it is in the papers, it is not new

When it is in the papers, it is not new

People do not update their presentation decks that often, and as a result, case examples or data that was really cutting edge 6 months ago, can quickly become stale, or even incorrect. Putting up a slide with Stuxnet, the $1 Shave Club, the Gig Economy, mobile first, can flick a switch in the mind of a clued up audience to stop paying attention or worse, feeling offended.

Usually when examples hit mainstream news sources, it is not going to wow your audience anymore. Keep your presentation fresh, with insights and data that only you can provide (and are allowed to share): meetings with customers, discussions with portfolio companies, niche scientific and technical publications, access to different countries, languages.


Cover image by Manuel Pena on Unsplash

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One spreadsheet = truth

One spreadsheet = truth

Small inconsistencies in the numbers of your presentation (28 or 27 portfolio companies, 27 or 28 investments?) can confuse the audience (they are trying to figure out the numbers instead of listening to your story and evaporate your credibility (if that number is wrong, what about the others?).

Most of the time, what looks like small mistakes aren’t actually mistakes, just different cuts of the numbers (including follow up rounds, excluding Ireland, first 9 months instead of half year, rounding, etc. etc.). The analyst can easily defend them and nobody did anything wrong.

But, these “mistakes” are a pain. How do you prevent them?

Create one very simple spreadsheet with the top line numbers that is the source for every slide in the deck, and in case your presentation derails into an argument about data, put in that spreadsheet in the appendix to kill these discussions in a second.

This all sounds very easy and obvious, but think about it next time, someone makes a direct edit in a column chart from the top of her mind (“hmmm, that 27 should be 28”).


Cover image by Mathyas Kurmann on Unsplash

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