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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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…
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Analyse all the inconsistent and confusing data around there
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
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.
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
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.
“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.