Changing the use of images

Changing the use of images

I use images very differently now in presentations then 10 years ago:

  • Zero stock images that look like stock images (fake models, staged compositions, cliche compositions)

  • I no longer feel the urge to find an image for every slide I produce to avoid forced visual analogies, and get left with a set of images in a presentation that are completely unrelated and inconsistent

Instead:

  • Most of the time, my images reflect something real: the actual leadership team, the product, a factory, a city, a screen shot, the cover of a scientific publication, etc.

  • I am still using commercial stock images if I need isolated objects (a bucket, a hammer, etc.)

  • Sometimes I might go for a visual theme and try to find images that fit with the concept on virtually every slide (flowers, 50s, record covers, etc.)

  • Most of the images I use come from the free site Unsplash. As a result, I don’t even bother saving images to disk anymore, if I need another one, I will search for it again.

  • I often make all the images in a presentation black and white, to make the look and feel of slides more consistent, and let the accent colour of the slides (often just one) pop out more.

Photo by Math on Unsplash

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Finding a flow for your presentation

Finding a flow for your presentation

Your text book story flow might not always be the one to use in tomorrow’s meeting.

  • A 60-minute/75-page final Board presentation of a 3-month consulting project

    • Sequencing is important to take resistant members of the audience from common ground, via cold logic and facts to the conclusion that option 1 is preferred over option 2 and 3 that equal to “fall of the cliff”

    • In some business cultures it is important to establish the credibility of your work (assumptions, models, importance of people in the organisation you spoke to), before getting into the actual crunch

    • Meeting timing, having the whole meeting explode with a debate on page 3, while that highly insightful analysis is on page 7 is not helpful

  • A 5-10 minute investment pitch:

    • The order in which questions pop up in the head of an investor might deviate from the business school investment pitch flow template. First, the investor needs to understand what it is you actually want to do, then it might make sense to take out “elephants in the room” before moving on to more important issues, but which are less controversial.

    • Experience differs vastly across investors, some might need the proper 101, others dive straight into the detail, derailing your carefully laid out story

No, I am not saying to throw that perfect storyline out of the window, and in 90% of the cases it is the right thing to do, but think whether your meeting might be part of the other 10%.

Photo by Julian Lozano on Unsplash

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Tried and trusted

Tried and trusted

Sometimes, the good old way is still the best.

One of the main “side effects” of my new giant iPad is that I start reading magazines again that cannot afford/did not invest in good iPad apps, the screen is big enough to flick through PDF-copies of the paper format. It is great to broaden my news sources again (French, German, Dutch) beyond Anglo publications focused on a small number of issues.

I must say, the simple user interface of just swiping between pages without zooming, multi-directional navigation, pinching, multi-finger swipes, actually works pretty well, and is exactly the mindset I am in when developing my presentation app: 99% of business presentations do not require a fully immersive interactive experience.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

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Update on the development efforts

Update on the development efforts

The past few weeks have been very interesting for me in my new role as a developer! I have switched platforms 3x now: first starting to explore plugins for PowerPoint (Windows Forms), then moving on to coding an application straight onto windows (Windows WPF), but now I am back in the world of Javascript that in combination with the Electron platform can produce software that runs natively on Windows, Mac, and even Linux with just one code base to maintain. The first intermediate end product will be a local presentation “presenter view” tool that does not require internet connections to deliver/show SlideMagic presentations (it is all a bit clunky still in the web app), and a 100% accurate PowerPoint conversion tool for SlideMagic presentations that runs on both Mac/Windows, and is totally independent of PowerPoint itself, my software is generating the converted files directly without the help of the rendering engines of PowerPoint (plugins).

This whole process is absolutely fascinating. Now that I go through things myself I have come to realise how important it is to master (at least part of) the actual core technology yourself as a founder.

To be continued.

Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

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Two types of pitch deck issues

Two types of pitch deck issues

  1. The audience did not understand a point that you thought was clearly explained

  2. The audience perfectly understood what you said, but did not buy it

Different problems, different homework cut out for you

Photo by Chris Moore on Unsplash

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Not all feedback is born equal

Not all feedback is born equal

Not all feedback on an investor pitch is useful, for different reasons:

  • The audience might not know the substance

  • The investor who turns you down does not want to be (painfully) honest

  • The feedback giver did not actually spend any time reading your deck

  • Your mother loves you, whatever you say or do

Here are some deck suggestions that you should treat with suspicion:

  • Include the $5b [fill in Gartner IT market segment] to your market estimate…

  • …and make that billion number stand out in bold, italic, underline. Hit them with it!

  • Change the order of pages 5, 7, and 8

  • Keep the deck to 8 pages max

  • Combine slide 23 and 24

  • Have a look at that AirBnB pitch of 2010, and follow that structure, it worked very well

  • Add 2 years to the business plan projection

  • You need a vision page

  • Some fancy animation will put some “wow” into this page

  • Show how your technology can be used in crypto as well, that is hot

  • “I am so proud of you my son, I always knew you will do well”

This can come from highly experienced entrepreneurs or investors as well (who might be expert in another field, do not want to hurt you, had not time reading your deck).

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

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Holiday greetings to everyone

Holiday greetings to everyone

Wishing everyone a fantastic 2019! As the entire world except Tel Aviv winds down for the holidays. I will use the lull in blog traffic to churn out some more lines of code, hopefully you will get to experience the result in the new year.

Photo by Brigitta Schneiter on Unsplash

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Mac OSX after all

Mac OSX after all

My development work initially focused on Windows computers, while Mac users are likely to be the ones that are early adopters of new technology (big corporates with big IT departments usually run Windows and are less flexible to try something new), the market eventually will be Windows users.

I stumbled on a new software development platform that probably allows me to write one code base and use it to deploy software on Windows, Mac, and yes even Linux at the press of a button. This will cause some delay to the development, but can still work at the stage where I am at. I need to see whether this solution grants me the deep access to the operating system I need.

To be continued.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

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Apple pencil, finally there

Apple pencil, finally there

I have been trying electronic pencils for years and years: different 3rd party iPad styli (is that the correct plural?), the previous Apple pencil itself and previous solutions by Wacom. None of these worked good enough for me to get rid of my note book.

I think has changed with the latest Apple pencil that works on a 2018 iPad Pro. The updated pencil solved a few annoyances when compared to the previous one:

  • It snaps to your device (but still falls of in your bag)

  • When snapped, it charges, no more need to stick it in the iPad connected

  • It no longer rolls

  • It has a matt finish and feels nicer to work with

The biggest issue though used to be work flow, with 2 poor options:

  • Log into your sleeping iPad all the time when you want to jot something though in a meeting

  • Keep your notes app running all the time and thereby letting the graphics intensive app drain your iPad battery.

That has been solved by a feature buried in the settings of the Apple Notes app: a simple double tap of the pencil on the screen wakes up the Notes app. The iPad is still locked as a security precaution, you can set the time it takes for the iPad to open a new note instead of displaying the last note you were writing to anyone who taps the screen.

Photo by Kim Gorga on Unsplash

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PowerPoint on iPad review (2018)

PowerPoint on iPad review (2018)

Microsoft is on a roll, and now that I am turning temporarily into a developer, I appreciate them even more with very powerful code editors, and repeated decisions to open source their software (the entire Windows platform engine is going open source), and make other sensible decisions (moving to the Chromium browser rendering engine inside Edge).

The office apps are no exception, and I took some time to play around with PowerPoint on my new iPad.

The app looks and feels fantastic (I have something to aspire to), and all the basic design features work flawlessly. I find it easier to find my way around coming in “cold” then the keynote app for iPad. The small screen encourages you to design simpler slides, and spend less time adding stuff that is not essential to your story.

In 2018, things are still not perfect though. But most shortcomings are to blame on the iPad form factor, not Microsoft:

  • Presentation design is a creative process that needs space, a big screen, accurate placing of objects (fingers are less good here than a mouse). An iPad is just not a focussed design interface.

  • File management is still cumbersome on an iPad. Finding that deck from last week, opening a spreadsheet side by side, copying an image from the web browser, things that take a second on a computer are not intuitive on an iPad.

  • Because of the form factor Microsoft has cut down the features for PowerPoint on iPad. In itself, this is great (I am also focusing the features in my app), but, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very hard to have the same application on different platforms with different feature sets, especially if you are working with collaborators on different devices. “Please create this bar chart”, is emailed to the analyst working on an iPad in the taxi who then discovers that data charts are not really supported. It also hard to create custom themes and colour schemes.

So my verdict is basically the same as in previous review: a beautiful application that is an extension of the computer version: best used for delivering presentations to small audiences, and make emergency slide edits.

Now that iPads become very powerful the logical thing to do for Microsoft, to switch to a full blown 1-in-1 copy of the desktop application as soon as it recognises that the user has hooked up a bluetooth keyboard and (let’s see if this will ever happen), a bluetooth mouse to the device.

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Template requests?

Template requests?

Some users of the PowerPoint template store notice that the pace of new addition has slowed down as I am focusing on coding my own slide design application. If you have any specific requests feel free to forward them to me via jan at slidemagic dot com. It needs to be a very specific request (sorry, can’t do a bespoke design in this business model), or alternatively, send an existing chart with your content inside that I can use as inspiration for a template on the store (obviously I will remove the specifics).

Photo by Daniel Bradley on Unsplash

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iPad Pro 2018

iPad Pro 2018

I upgraded my 9.7” iPad to the new 12.9” version after trying one out. Here are my observations:

  • The size and weight of the bigger iPad is now manageable (unlike the first models). It is so light that the programmed weight to size ratio in your head gets confused. Still, this remains a “2 hand” device in most cases. If you need a 1-hand device, this one is not for you.

  • The size is the main reason I got it, it enables me to read “magazines” by smaller publishers do not have the resources to invest in proper iPad apps and simply send out a PDF every month. For this purpose it is great. An A4-sized PDF on iPad is now one on one comparable to a paper one, probably even better.

  • The best way to get a feel for the screen quality is to go back to your old device that you thought was great. It is not yet as stark as the iPhone 3 to iPhone 4 jump, but it is a huge step up.

  • The thing is incredibly fast and snappy

  • The pencil is a huge improvement. I tried working with styli and pencils right from the launch of the first iPad, none of them really worked for me. This one snaps against the iPad with magnets (although it will fall of in your bag), has a matt feel, cannot roll away due to a flat side, has a tap function to quickly change pens, and charges on the side of the device rather than sticking out of the connector. Writing and drawing is awesome. The killer question will be how it behaves in an hour meeting: unlocking the device, battery life, both of which were wrong in the previous version. Constantly messing around with buttons and passwords to jot down something, and then leaving your meeting with a drained battery. Face ID should help (hopefully).

  • I did not get the keyboard, I still believe that writing long texts can be better done on a proper laptop.

  • The iPad is expensive, but you can save on storage if you restrict your movie downloads to those you need on one long haul flight.

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Light or dark mode?

Light or dark mode?

Applications with a dark background are fashionable now. I can still remember back at the end of the 1980s, when screens went the other way: light backgrounds with dark letters, even on green and amber monitors.

Research (lots of it done in the 1980s), suggests that light backgrounds are better. Light tightens the iris, and and a smaller iris can focus better. (Think squinting and pinhole cameras).

As I am coding away on my app, I need to think about this.

  • Again, not all user interfaces are the same. Dark mode can be useful when reading Twitter feeds late at night in bed with others sleeping, but this is not the context of presentation design.

  • We need to separate presenting and designing. Presenting on a big screen is better with a dark background, since the speaker does not get overpowered by this big wall of light. (Dark backgrounds will encourage people to dim the lights in the conference room though, encouraging sleep). In some industries, people sill print decks (banking), and a white background saves a lot of ink cartridges.

  • When it comes to user interfaces, I am again on the fence. Coding on a dark background is more convenient because it is easer to see subtle differences in text color (functions, variables, etc.).

  • Apps need to be more or less consistent. Switching back and forth between light and dark is tiring. If the everyone goes dark, I probably have to follow. (This was probably one of the main reasons for people to switch in the 1980s, switching back and forth from the screen to paper)

  • There is an opportunity to make a starker contrast between the design canvas and the software UI, making one light, the other dark

  • In 2018, dark applications give the impression of being “cool” and modern, which is what a new startup needs…

In short, it is complicated.

Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash

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"Your colleague will understand better"

"Your colleague will understand better"

Overheard from a VC friend: an entrepreneur who was pitching suggesting that his colleague would for sure understand the opportunity, since he has an undergraduate degree in the subject at hand, A few mistakes:

  1. You lost a few niceness points there

  2. Your score for judgement as a salesman in sales pitches just was lowered

  3. Yes, 4 years of undergraduate education in a certain subject has value, but so has 30 years of professional and investing experience.

Even if you think the VC you are pitching does not understand the subject at hand (and you could be totally right of course), hold the feedback for yourself. Instead, make it your problem to convince him.

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

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Qwerty in software design

Qwerty in software design

For a number of reasons, keyboards do not follow an alphabetical layout, including increasing typing speed by promoting the use of alternating hands, and/or preventing jams of hammers in mechanical type writers.

I feel that many of today’s presentation (and all other productivity) software is still in the ABC phase. Functions are grouped logically so you can more easily find them the first time around. Instead, they should be grouped in the way you actually use them:

  • How often are they required?

  • What features are typically used together?

The resulting user interface might not be logical, but will be very useful. Work in progress.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Linchpin jobs - chart makeover

Linchpin jobs - chart makeover

Seth Godin designed this framework to explain what Linchpin Jobs are:

I did a quick makeover of the diagram, keeping the design super simple (life is too short to be spending designing charts at your desk):

  • Move from an XY to a 2x2 layout to make it easer to read the axis

  • Changing the labels of the boxes, axes to get rid of excess text, make them more consistent

  • Change the colours so that the cog jobs stand out (I think they are worse than what I call “lazy specialist” roles

Screenshot 2018-12-09 08.39.00.png

Cover image credit: Jared Goralnick

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Debating

Debating

By coincidence I watched part of the live coverage of a political debate in the Dutch parliament yesterday (after reading a newspaper that provided a link). Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Most of them are debating to each other, technocrats, rather than the general public and looking to score quick points on technical details. The audience for the live debate is probably pretty small, but news outlets tend to pick sound bites in their coverage later on.

  • All of the politicians want to have the last word: they quickly make an additional point, leaving no time to let the answer sink in, and move on to a completely different subject not to give the opportunity for additional intervention

  • The whole format of an open political debate about a very complex treaty without a clear agenda does not really work, people jump back and forth between totally different topics: fundamentals, practicality, interpretations of words, etc. etc.

  • Politicians like to stick to their hobby horses. Finally, someone makes a point that could be considered reasonable by the opposing party, open the way for a compromise or agreement, and boom, it is followed by the usual dogmas that will block any further changes of mind.

Maybe a good slide deck that breaks down the discussion in 2-3 tangible options what can be done next, with clearly grouped pros and cons can help structure this debate a bit :-).

Photo by Giovanni Gras on Unsplash

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PowerPoint at Amazon

PowerPoint at Amazon

I met someone at Amazon the other day, explaining how they deal with communication (spoiler: no PowerPoint):

  • For a decision, you have to write a memo (2 pages max), no slides / PowerPoint

  • The memo gets handed out in the meeting (no pre-reading), and people have 30 minutes to read it in silence

  • Then, the discussion follows, going straight to Q&A, no presenting

There are obviously some good things about this approach:

  • No time wasted on designing 100+ page PowerPoint decks

  • No time wasted in sitting through presentations where people are reading slides from the screen

  • Less risk that people will jump in the conversation without having done their homework

  • No pre-reading late at night after the kids are asleep

But…

  • Writing a good memo might be more time consuming/difficult then creating a quick presentation

  • Some information on which you want to base a decision is better presented visually than in paragraphs (pros/cons, graphs with trends, tables with financial data)

  • Sometimes, you actually need some time to ponder things over before making a big decision.

On balance, it is probably the right thing to do because it creates a strong cultural statement.

(BTW, I am going to experiment with uploading the cover images in colour, a nice change for 2019, what do you think?)

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash

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Way back

Way back

I was looking back at my old site on the Wayback Machine the other day and noticed how my approach to presentation design has changed. Back then, I would put huge efforts in finding unusual images, study advertising design, push PowerPoint to its limits. The result: some pretty unusual presentations.

Today, I have become much more pragmatic: presentations should be easy to understand (which might mean cutting that exotic visual metaphor), have a pro/no-nonsense look, and very easy/quick to put together, there are more important things to do than battling presentation design software.

Have I become lazy? I don’t think so. Just a more realistic and practical approach to presentation design.

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Set up stress

Set up stress

This post on AVC describes a common situation: technical problems when setting up a presentation. Different computers and different screens (dimensions, operating systems, resolutions, cables, plugs) make it unpredictable what happens when you connect the 2.

This a particular problem in marathon meetings, where a large number of presenters show up one after the other. It is a time waste for the audience and a concentration breaker for the presenter.

The solution in the post was an interesting one: use Zoom (or another web conferencing service) locally (i.e., standing in the same room). This eliminates the need for hardware connections and allows presenters to line up, solve any technical issues before they are due on stage.

In the absence of such a solution, my recommendation would be to always carry a USB stick with your deck around (in PowerPoint and PDF), just in case. Ultimately portable projectors will be compact and capable enough that everyone who has a high-stakes presentation to pitch will carry one around.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

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