Too detailed?

Too detailed?

Analysts at the bottom of the hierarchy get sometimes mocked for being “too detailed”, the senior partner can make a point at a super high level of abstraction, and this big picture view gets equaled to, well, being senior and successful. Making your way up = losing that obsession with detail?

Well, not really. There is a role for everyone in the team:

  • Sometimes you have to go through massive amount of detailed analysis to support a basic outcome (option B is cheaper than option A) that can be communicated beautifully on just 1 bar chart.

  • That senior partner at some time was a junior analyst as well and all those years of crunching detailed analysis has given her the background to lift things to a big picture perspective.

  • Someone with a more senior role on a project has insight what all the different bits of a project are doing, making it easier to put things in perspective

So, if you as an analyst drop all sensitivity to detail to prove that you are ready to move up, things will go wrong.

Cover image by Andrea Sonda on Unsplash

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Slide designs on 16:9 screens

Slide designs on 16:9 screens

16:9 monitors are the norm now. And while this aspect ratio definitely works great for movies, I find wide layouts work less for presentation slides. Titles tend to get very loooong, and it becomes harder to make nice diagrams that usually call out for a 1:1 shape.

You might not realise it, but the slide headline on top of a traditional 4:3 slide actually created a slide canvas that is pretty much 16:9 below it.

Here is one way to deal with this screen aspect ratio: place the slide title to the left of the slide and use the full vertical space for the slide content next to it. What do you think?

Screenshot 2018-11-04 07.48.41.png

Cover image by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

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Business presentation market

Business presentation market

A series of tweets that got me thinking, as someone who is still arguing about Windows versus Mac in 2018

I am definitely in the 10% category, and I think my target audience is as well. Professionals making stuff on PCs is a pretty old/stable market. Many other presentation apps are aiming for the 900m and many of them branch out to other types of content than just business presentations. But 100m is still a big number. I am working hard on making those pro apps a bit less “pro”.

Cover image by Vincent Botta on Unsplash

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Maybe a few more pictures?

Maybe a few more pictures?

Many people find it hard to pose for pictures naturally. Here is a good trick to calm them down: switch of your camera and say the photoshoot is done, but then say, “wait, let’s do a few more just in case”. Your subject is likely to be more relaxed and these are the shots that are probably going to be used in the end.

Cover image by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

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Most rewarding blog post

Most rewarding blog post

The comment section on this blog is usually fairly quiet, so I don’t get a lot of direct feedback about whether my posts are useful or not. There are regular readers who send an email now and then, and I bumped into people I thought were strangers but had been following me for 10 years.

In general, I hope my blog gives the world better/less boring presentations, and cuts the time people spend creating them, there are so many better things to do than designing slides. Also, I hope that I can give the foot soldiers, the junior analysts, who are working late in various office towers around the world to meet a presentation deck deadline, some encouragement to speak up about what they think is right.

One post provokes a lot of responses: a little trick to recover a PowerPoint file on a Mac after a crash, even if Microsoft claims it is no longer there. It is just great to get these responses, some of them in language that captured the energy when that document you had been working on all night re-appeared on the screen.

Cover image by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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Document editing 1990s vs now

Document editing 1990s vs now

This post by Seth Godin about “STET” reminded me of my time at McKinsey, where in the early 1990s presentation design was pretty much a manual activity. You would draw all your charts by hand, then give them to the graphics department who would produce them for you.

Graphics designers make typos: suggested valuations of take over targets could be cut in half, or worse changed by +/- 10% which makes the error much harder to spot. Graphics designers had mostly no understanding of the context of the document, which could lead to pretty funny interpretations of hand writing.

As a junior analyst, you found yourself in a sandwich: every sentence and number had to be checked for typos, graphics designers tend to push back on poor chart design (please ask the senior partner to stop writing these dense bullet points will you), and the senior consultants would use the opportunity of this “slow” production process to try out endless variations of headlines and chart orders. Most instructions were scribbles on faxes and/or instructions in lengthy voice mails. All of this usually at hours where the rest of the world was no longer in the office.

Looking back at those days, I estimate that roughly 25-50% of the time (=fees) of these management consulting projects would go into document production. The solution was there, now we just need to put it on paper convincingly (and for the analyst: with the correct numbers).

Today, everyone probably has an understanding of PowerPoint that is good enough to produce most of these documents. This is a huge efficiency gain. But we also have lost something I think. That process where everyone is painstakingly focused on those 25 pages with a red pen really made sure people put their thoughts in slides, with everyone more or less in agreement. A more careful approach than quickly slapping/Frankensteining charts together.

Cover iamge by Mark Rabe on Unsplash

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Automatic 16:9, dark background conversion

Automatic 16:9, dark background conversion

The SlideMagic presentation web app has a few neat tricks up it sleeve, one of them is automatic conversion to a dark background (and back). I managed to get that one to work as well in the new PowerPoint conversion plug in.

And I added a new one that has not yet been implemented in the web app: automatic 16:9 conversion that keeps your picture cropping in tact. The tool reads the center of the image crop, and repositions the picture correctly in the new aspect ratio.

It is interesting to see what you can do now that I have control of an entire presentation file with all its bits and pieces and can basically tell an algorithm to do with it what I want.

I hope to get the plug in ready for release soon, some further stress testing is required, plus I need to get smart on signing software / distributing license keys. Watch this space.

Capture.PNG

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Stock image creep in Unsplash

Stock image creep in Unsplash

I really like the free photo site Unsplash, I hardly use stock image sites such as iStock or Shutterstock anymore. As a pro with paying clients, the prices of the stock images are not really a concern in the overall budget of a presentation design project, it is simply the dilution of quality of these big stock photo sites with cheesy images.

Capture.PNG

But worryingly, I see the first “stock images” pop up on Unsplash as well, I hope they will continue to curate their uploads carefully, or maybe add a “stock image alert” warning button on a photo.

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Rehearsing

Rehearsing

Rehearsing a live presentation is the best way to invest time in your pitch, better than tweaking slides and editing headlines.

Many rehearse settings go as follows: the project team takes turns in going through their slides, sitting down at the table, looking at the laptop, starting and stopping (to do a quick edit), and not doing a real practice: “OK, on this page I will lay out the company strategy” <CLICK>.

This is a bit like an imaginary workout: “and then I will do the 10 lifts”.

The real practice:

  • Can be on your own in the beginning (so you can embarrass yourself if needed)

  • Laptop with the slides behind you (or dual monitors with presenter view)

  • Imaginary objects to create an “audience”, divide your eye contact to the red chair, the water jug, and the desk light for example.

  • No stopping, at least not in the middle of a slide, if you trip up, you have to correct as if it happened in front of 200 people.

  • Time your talk

Even if you think you know your story, you will notice that it is tough to say things clearly, without “uh”s, without duplicating what you already said, without getting stuck, but things will improve radically after a few iterations.

I think 99% of the world’s brilliant speakers simply have given a the same pitch in some form or another hundreds of times. Yes, they get confronted with a new slide and present it brilliantly without preparation, but, that slide probably contains a story that they have told many times before.

Cover image by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

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2x2 matrix overload

2x2 matrix overload

This 2x2 chart is hard to understand (source on HBR)

From a design point of view:

  • Axes labels are hard to read

  • Axes labels are too blunt, mathematics has its uses

  • Too many dots at locations that are too precise

  • Typography of the labels goes across the boxes

  • The 4 quadrant labels do not stick out enough

And that’s the design part. More importantly, the content… The title of the chart seems to suggest that it is just an example of how to use 2x2 matrices, but I think people are serious about its content. A comparison of apples and oranges. I need to start casually learn how to do data cleaning, and not yet get into AI but be prepared for it, and to use AI, I don’t need to understand statistics at all.

Cover image by Nick Femerling on Unsplash

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What do you do?

What do you do?

It is important to settle the basics about what you actually do in the first instance of a pitch. It will pop some of the suspense, but in return you get the upside of an audience which pays attention instead of one that is trying to figure out what you do.

In fiction, readers are longing for that moment where the entire plot comes together. In business, not really.

Recently, I coached a company in the field of quantum computing, and I suggested to put 3 very short bits of info at the very start of the presentation, and claimed that this would actually not kill the “suspense” in the talk.

  • A super quick “reminder” of quantum versus traditional physics

  • A super quick highlight what quantum vs. binary computing is

  • A super quick description what a “quantum computer” actually is, physically.

The challenge is not to elaborate about the points above on that first summary point:

  • In Newton’s traditional physics, objects have a specific location and behave according to the laws of gravity (i.e., electrons “flying” around an atom nucleus), in quantum physics, these boundaries no longer exists and you are no longer able to say where objects are precisely.

  • Quantum computing uses this ambiguity of an infinite number of states an object can be in, instead of a discrete 0 and 1, we now an infinite umber of states that opens up the potential for massive parallel computing

  • Today’s quantum computing setups are lab installations in which scientist try to control / measure these states, and try to use the speed of their variations to solve problems where you need try out a particularly large number states (i.e., trial-and-error AI algorithms). It is still early days.

Not scientifically correct, probably not correctly worded, but people will get the idea.

Cover image by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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PowerPoint conversion is working!

PowerPoint conversion is working!

I managed to implement the conversion of all SlideMagic features, including the tricky ones (data charts, image cropping and positioning, speaker notes, etc.) into a razor sharp PowerPoint deck with all shapes, data charts, objects completely editable if you created them yourself from scratch.

(This as opposed to the current PPT conversion that makes a rendering that works as you as you do not touch/edit any of the shapes inside the deck)

Now it is on to debugging and making everything super robust in every possible user (ab)use scenario.

The current setup is in a lab environment and not yet kosher enough for public release. If you are curious, are have a SlideMagic deck that you are desperate to convert, email me your SlideMagic presentation ID and I can apply the new technology for you. The conversion software only runs on Windows, but since it is me doing the conversion on my machine (for now), both Windows and Mac users can submit their decks.

Cover image by Rob Bye on Unsplash

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The art of procrastination

The art of procrastination

Waiting with things until it is too late to do them properly is not very good practice. But postponing the moment you open your computer to start making slides before you have a really good idea could be helpful. Take time to ponder different approaches.

In the video below, film score producer Tom Holkenborg gives his point of view from the world of music.

Cover image by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash

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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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