Presentation

On Don’t Make Think

I recently finished reading Don’t Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – by Steve Krug.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be insightful:

But when I’m looking at a page that makes me think, all the thought balloons over my head have question marks in them. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.

We don’t read pages. We scan them…We’re usually in a hurry…We know we don’t need to read everything…We’re good at it.

We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice…We’re usually in a hurry…There’s not much of a penalty for guessing wrong…Weighing options may not improve our chances…Guessing is more fun.

there are five important things you can do to make sure they see—and understand—as much of your site as possible: Create a clear visual hierarchy on each page…Take advantage of conventions…Break pages up into clearly defined areas…Make it obvious what’s clickable…Minimize noise.

If the page is well designed, when your vision clears you should be able to answer these questions without hesitation: What site is this? (Site ID)…What page am I on? (Page name)…What are the major sections of this site? (Sections)…What are my options at this level? (Local navigation)…Where am I in the scheme of things? (“You are here” indicators)…How can I search?

The point is, it’s not productive to ask questions like “Do most people like pulldown menus?” The right kind of question to ask is “Does this pulldown, with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?” And there’s really only one way to answer that kind of question: testing. You have to use the collective skill, experience, creativity, and common sense of the team to build some version of the thing (even a crude version), then watch ordinary people carefully as they try to figure out what it is and how to use it. There’s no substitute for it.

Things that diminish goodwill…Hiding information that I want…Punishing me for not doing things your way…Asking me for information you don’t really need…Shucking and jiving me…Putting sizzle in my way…Your site looks amateurish.

Things that increase goodwill…Know the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy…Tell me what I want to know…Save me steps wherever you can…Put effort into it…now what questions I’m likely to have, and answer them…provide me with creature comforts like printer-friendly pages…Make it easy to recover from errors…When in doubt, apologize.

On a closing note:

But the things I’m talking- about here are generally very bad practices, and you shouldn’t be doing any of them unless (a) you really know what you’re doing. (b) you have a darned good reason, and (c) you actually are going to test it when you’re done to make sure you’ve managed to make it work; you’re not just going to intend to test it.

A highly recommended read in the areas of usability and user experience.

 

Wired For Story

In line with my plan to improve my communication skills, I recently finished reading Wired For Story – The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence – by Lisa Cron. As the title indicates this is book about storytelling. More specifically, Lisa unveils how writers can leverage cognitive secrets of the brain to better engage their readership through powerful stories. Below is a summary of the main points of the book. On the importance of stories:

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it. In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.

What’s the role the writer can play?

Writers can change the way people think simply by giving them a glimpse of life through their characters’ eyes. They can transport readers to places they’ve never been, catapult them into situations they’ve only dreamed of, and reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their entire perception of reality. In ways large and small, writers help people make it through the night. And that’s not too shabby. But there’s a catch. For a story to captivate a reader, it must continually meet his or her hardwired expectations. This is no doubt what prompted Jorge Luis Borges to note, “Art is fire plus algebra.” Let me explain. Fire is absolutely crucial to writing; it’s the very first ingredient of every story. Passion is what drives us to write, filling us with the exhilarating sense that we have something to say, something that will make a difference.

What’s the “algebra” part then?

But to write a story capable of instantly engaging readers, passion alone isn’t enough. Writers often mistakenly believe that all they need to craft a successful story is the fire—the burning desire, the creative spark, the killer idea that startles you awake in the middle of the night. They dive into their story with gusto, not realizing that every word they write is most likely doomed to failure because they forgot to factor in the second half of the equation: the algebra…It’s only by stopping to analyze what we’re unconsciously responding to when we read a story—what has actually snagged our brain’s mention—that we can then write a story that will grab the reader’s brain. This is true whether you’re writing a literary novel, hard-boiled mystery, or supernatural teen romance. Although readers have their own personal taste when it comes to the type of novel they’re drawn to, unless that story meets their hardwired expectations, it stays on the shelf.

How can we learn the “algebra” component of the equation? This is where this book comes into play:

To make sure that doesn’t happen to your story, this book is organized into twelve chapters, each zeroing in on an aspect of how the brain works, its corresponding revelation about story, and the nuts and bolts of how to actualize it in your work. Each chapter ends with a checklist you can apply to your work at any stage: before you begin writing, at the end of every writing day, at the end of a scene or a chapter, or at 2:00 a.m. when you wake up in a cold sweat, convinced that your story may be the worst thing anyone has written, ever. (It’s not; trust me.) Do this, and I guarantee your work will stay on track and have an excellent chance of making people who aren’t even related to you want to read it.

BUT, there is a caveat:

The only caveat is that you have to be as honest about your story as you would be about a novel you pick up in a bookstore, or a movie you begin watching with one finger still poised on the remote. The idea is to pinpoint where each trouble spot lies and then remedy it before it spreads like a weed, undermining your entire narrative. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds, because there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching your work improve until your readers are so engrossed in it that they forget that it’s a story at all.

So What are the secrets?

Secret #1: How to Hook the Reader: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next. Secret

#2: How to Zero in on Your Point…To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must he there on a need-to-know basis.

Secret #3: I’ll Feel What He’s Feeling…All story is emotion based – if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading.

Secret #4: What does your Protagonist Really Want?…A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go.

Secret #5: Digging Up Your Protagonist’s Inner Issue…You must know precisely when, and why, your protagonist’s worldview was knocked out of alignment.

Secret #6: The story is in the specifics…Anything conceptual, abstract, or general must be made tangible in the protagonist’s specific struggle.

Secret #7: Courting Conflict. The Agent Of Change…Story is about change, which results only from unavoidable conflict.

Secret #8: Cause of Effect…A story follows a cause-and-effect trajectory from start to finish.

Secret #9: What Can Go Wrong And Then Some…A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.

Secret #10: The Road from Setup to Payoff…Readers are always on the lookout for patterns; to your reader, everything is either a setup, a payoff. or the road in between.

Secret #11: Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…Foreshadowing, flashbacks, and subplots must instantly give readers insight into what’s happening in the main storyline, even if the meaning shifts as the story unfolds.

Secret #12: The Writer’s Brain On Story…There’s no writing; there’s only rewriting.

Other highlights from the book, include:

So, What Is a Story? “What happens” is the plot. “Someone” is the protagonist. The “goal” is what’s known as the story question. And “how he or she changes” is what the story itself is actually about.

What Is This Story About? 1. Whose story is it? 2. What’s happening here? 3. What’s at stake?

Don’t Bury Your Story in an Empty Plot…A Story Is About How the Plot Affects the Protagonist

Knowing what the focus of your story is allows you to do for your story what your cognitive unconscious does for you: filter out everything extraneous, everything that doesn’t matter. You can use it to test each proposed twist, turn, and character reaction for story relevance.

That’s what readers come for. Their unspoken hardwired question is. If something like this happens to me, what would it feel like? How should I best react? Your protagonist might even be showing them how not to react, which is a pretty handy answer as well.

Adding External Problems Adds Drama Only If They’re Something the Protagonist Must Confront to Overcome Her Issue That’s why, when writing your protagonist’s bio, the goal is to pinpoint two things: the event in his past that knocked his worldview out of alignment, triggering the internal issue that keeps him from achieving his goal; and the inception of his desire for the goal itself. Sometimes they’re one and the same.

Six Places Where the “Specific” Often Goes Missing: 1. The specific reason a character does something…2. The specific thing a metaphor is meant to illuminate…3. The specific memory that a situation invokes in the protagonist…4. The specific reaction a character has to a significant event…5. The specific possibilities that run through the protagonist’s mind as she struggles to make sense of what’s happening…6. The specific rationale behind a character’s change of heart.

Unless They Convey Necessary Information, Sensory Details Clog a Story’s Arteries.

There are three main reasons for any sensory detail to be in a story: 1. It’s part of a cause-and-effect trajectory that relates to the plot—Lucy drinks the shake, she passes out. 2. It gives us insight into the character—Lucy’s an unapologetic hedonist headed for trouble. 3. It’s a metaphor—Lucy’s flavor choice represents how she sees the world. And that, my friends, is what makes stories so deeply satisfying. We get to try on trouble, pretty much risk-free.

Withholding Information Very Often Robs the Story of What Really Hooks Readers

The Importance of the Highway between Setup and Payoff: Three Rules of the Road…Rule One: There must actually be a road…Rule Two: The reader must be able to see the road unfold…Rule Three: The intended payoff must not be patently impossible.

On a concluding note:

Here’s a secret: when you’ve tapped into what it is we’re wired to respond to in a story, what we’re hungry for from the very first sentence, it is your truth we hear. As neuroscientist David Eagleman says, “When you put together large numbers of pieces and parts, the whole can become something larger than the sum…The concept of emergent properties means that something new can be introduced that is not inherent in any of the parts.” What emerges is your vision, seen through the eyes of your readers, experienced by your readers. So what are you waiting for? Write! Although they may not know it yet, your public is eager to find out what happens next.

A must read book on story-telling and writing. For another recommendation within this subject area, I suggest Storycatcher, and The Story Factor.

On Impro

Earlier this year, famed author Dan Pink posted an article titled: Rebirth of a Salesman–Six Books on the Art and Science of Sales. One of the books on that list that I had not read yet and that caught my attention was: Impro – Improvisation And The Theatre – by Keith Johnstone. In his commentary, Dan wrote:

A work of drama theory? Yes – and that’s why you should read it. Smart sellers, like good improv actors, know how to hear offers. 

So I decided to order this book, read it, and share with you some of my key learnings. Keith starts by explaining the tenets of his teaching philosophy. First, on the importance of focusing on improving the overall team performance:

Normal schooling is intensely competitive, and the students are supposed to try and outdo each other. If I explain to a group that they’re to work for the other members, that each individual is to be interested in the progress of the other members, they’re amazed, yet obviously if a group supports its own members strongly, it’ll be a better group to work in.

Second, on the responsibilities of the teacher and his/her role in removing the fear of failure:

The first thing I do when I meet a group of new students is (probably) to sit on the floor. I play low status, and I’ll explain that if the students fail they’re to blame me. Then they laugh, and relax, and I explain that really it’s obvious that they should blame me, since I’m supposed to be the expert; and if I give them the wrong material. they’ll fail; and if I give them the right material, then they’ll succeed. I play low status physically but my actual status is going up, since only a very confident and experienced person would put the blame for failure on himself. At this point they almost certainly start sliding off their chairs, because they don’t want to be higher than me. I have already changed the group profoundly, because failure is suddenly not so frightening any more. They’ll want to test me, of course; but I really will apologise to them when they fail, and ask them to be patient with me, and explain that I’m not perfect. My methods are very effective, and other things being equal, most students will succeed, but they won’t try to win any more. The normal teacher-student relationship is dissolved.

Third, on the importance of maintaining eye contact with all the students:

When I was teaching young children, I trained myself to share my eye contacts out among the group. I find this crucial in establishing a ‘fair’ relationship with them. I’ve seen many teachers who concentrate their eye contacts on only a few students, and this does affect the feeling in a group. Certain students are disciples, but others feel separated, or experience themselves as less interesting, or as ‘failures’.

And last but not least, on the importance of providing constructive positive feedback:

I’ve also trained myself to make positive comments, and to be as direct as possible. I say ‘Good’ instead of’That’s enough’. I’ve actually heard teachers say ‘Well, let’s see who fails at this one’, when introducing an exercise. Some teachers get reassurance when their students fail. We must have all encountered the teacher who gives a self-satisfied smile when a student makes a mistake. Such an attitude is not conducive to a good, warm feeling in the group.

Following the introductory section, Keith, begins addressing the four areas of improvisation: status, spontaneity, narrative skills, and masks and trance. STATUS On the role of the teacher in establishing safety and enabling his/her students to stretch beyond their comfort zone – in this case the ‘preferred status’:

If you wish to teach status interactions, it’s necessary to understand that however willing the student is consciously, there may be very strong subconscious resistances. Making the student safe, and getting him to have confidence in you, are essential. You then have to work together with the student, as if you were both trying to alter the behaviour of some third person. It’s also important that the student who succeeds at playing a status he feels to be alien should be instantly rewarded, praised and admired. It’s no use just giving the exercises and expecting them to work. You have to understand where the resistance is, and devise ways of getting it to crumble. Many teachers don’t recognise that there’s a problem because they only exploit the ‘preferred’ status. In a bad drama school it’s possible to play your ‘preferred’ status all the time, since they cast you to type, exploiting what you can do, instead of widening your range.

On status, as the central element of any exchange:

Although this short essay is no more than an introduction, by now it will be clear to you that status transactions aren’t only of interest to the improviser. Once you understand that every sound and posture implies a status, then you perceive the world quite differently, and the change is probably permanent. In my view, really accomplished actors, directors, and playwrights are people with an intuitive understanding of the status transactions that govern human relationships. This ability to perceive the underlying motives of casual behaviour can also be taught.

SPONTANEITY Keith believes that we all start out with more spontaneity as children, but our education system plays a big role in reversing that:

1) Most children can operate in a creative way until they’re eleven or twelve, when suddenly they lose their spontaneity and produce imitations of’adult art’…Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more ‘respectful’ teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many ‘well adjusted’ adults are bitter, uncreative frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that’s what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing. 2) Imagination is as effortless as perception, unless we think it might be ‘wrong’, which is what our education encourages us to believe. Then we experience ourselves as ‘imagining’, as ‘thinking up an idea’, but what we’re really doing is faking up the sort of imagination we think we ought to have. 3) At school any spontaneous act was likely to get me into trouble. I learned never to act on impulse, and that whatever came into my mind first should be rejected in favour of better ideas. I learned that my imagination wasn’t ‘good’ enough. I learned that the first idea was unsatisfactory because it was (1) psychotic; (2) obscene; (3) unoriginal.The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal. My best known play—a one-actor called Moby Dick—is about a servant who keeps his master’s one remaining sperm in a goldfish bowl. It escapes, grows to monstrous size, and has to be hunted down on the high seas. This is certainly a rather obscene idea to many people, and if I hadn’t thrown away everything that my teachers taught me, I could never have written it. These teachers, who were so sure of the rules, didn’t produce anything themselves at all. I was one of a number of playwrights who emerged in the late 1950s, and it was remarkable that only one of us had been to a university—that was John Arden—and he’d studied architecture. 4) Students need a ‘guru’ who ‘gives permission’ to allow forbidden thoughts into their consciousness. A ‘guru’ doesn’t necessarily teach at all. Some remain speechless for years, others communicate very cryptically. All reassure by example. They are people who have been into the forbidden areas and who have survived unscathed. I react playfully with my students, while showing them that there are just as many dead nuns or chocolate scorpions inside my head as there are in anybody’s, yet I interact very smoothly and sanely. It’s no good telling the student that he isn’t to be held responsible for the content of his imagination, he needs a teacher who is living proof that the monsters are not real, and that the imagination will not destroy you. Otherwise the student will have to go on pretending to be dull. 5) Reading about spontaneity won’t make you more spontaneous, but it may at least stop you heading off in the opposite direction; and if you play the exercises with your friends in a good spirit, then soon all your thinking will be transformed. Rousseau began an essay on education by saying that if we did the opposite of what our own teachers did we’d be on the right track, and this still holds good. The Stages I try to take students through involve the realisation (i) that we struggle against our imaginations, especially when we try to be imaginative; (2) that we are not responsible for the content of our imaginations; and (3) that we are not, as we are taught to think, our ‘personalities’, but that the imagination is our true self.

NARRATIVE SKILLS One technique for generating stories, that resonated with me, is to think of them as events that interrupted an established routine:

An improviser can study status transactions, and advancing, and ‘reincorporating’, and can learn to free-associate, and to generate narrative spontaneously, and yet still find it difficult to compose stories. This is really for aesthetic reasons, or conceptual reasons. He shouldn’t really think of making up stories, but of interrupting routines. If I say ‘Make up a story’, then most people are paralysed. If I say ‘describe a routine and then interrupt it’, people see no problem.

In concluding the narrative skills section, Keith offers advice on the necessity to distract the student’s initial focus away from the content so as to release their imagination:

You have to trick students into believing that content isn’t important and that it looks after itself, or they never get anywhere. It’s the same kind of trick you use when you tell them that they are not their imaginations, that their imaginations have nothing to do with them and that they’re in no way responsible for what their ‘mind’ gives them. In the end they learn how to abandon control while at the same time they exercise control. They begin to understand that everything is just a shell. You have to misdirect people to absolve them of responsibility. Then, much later, they become strong enough to resume the responsibility themselves. By that time they have a more truthful concept of what they are.

MASKS AND TRANCE On masks and trance, Keith summarizes the role these two tools can play not only in acting but also as therapy but cautions on the importance of having a teacher who’s role is to keep the student safe during his regression:

If you were to use Mask work literally as ‘therapy’, and to try and psychoanalyse the content of scenes, then I’ve no doubt you could produce some amazing conflicts, and really screw everyone up. Mask work, or any spontaneous acting, can be therapeutic because of the intense abreactions involved; but the teacher’s job is to keep the student safe, and to protect him so that he can regress. This is the opposite of the Freudian view that people regress in search of greater security. In acting class, students only regress when they feel protected by a high-status teacher. When the students begin Mask work, and ‘characters’ inhabit them for the first time, it’s normal for everything to be extremely grotesque…. But when you give the student permission to explore this material he very soon uncovers layers of unsuspected gentleness and tenderness. It is no longer sexual feelings and violence that are deeply repressed in this culture now, whatever it may have been like in fin-de-siecle Vienna. We repress our benevolence and tenderness.

This book, while primarily written as a practical guide of techniques for improvisation, has numerous lessons that extend into other areas such as psychology and influence.

On Presentation Zen

I just finished reading Presentation Zen – Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery – by Garr Reynolds.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “If we desire to communicate with more clarity, integrity, beauty, and intelligence, then we must move beyond what is considered to be  “normal” to something different and far more effective. The principles I am most mindful of through every step of the presentation process are restraint, simplicity, and naturalness: Restraint in preparation. Simplicity in design. Naturalness in delivery. All of which, in the end, lead to greater clarity for us and for our audience.”

2- “Not all presentation situations are appropriate for using multimedia. For example, if you have a small audience and data-intensive materials to discuss, a handout of the materials with a give-and-take discussion is usually more appropriate. There are many situations when a whiteboard or flipcharts or a paper with detailed figures make for better support. Each case is different. The discussions in this book, however, center among those presentations when multimedia is a good fit with your unique situation.”

3- “Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind gives us the context of the new world we’re living in and why “high touch” talents—and that includes exceptional presentation skills—are so important today. Professionals today around the globe need to understand how and why the so-called right-brain aptitudes of design, story, symphony, empathy, play. and meaning are more important than ever. The best presentations of our generation will be created by professionals—engineers as well as CEOs and “creatives”—who have strong “whole mind” aptitudes and talents. These are not the only aptitudes needed by the modern presenter, but mastering these talents along with other important abilities such as strong analytical skills will take you far as a communicator in the “conceptual age.””

4- “You can wreck a communication process with lousy logic or unsupported facts, but you can’t complete it without emotion. Logic is not enough. Communication is the transfer of emotion.”

5- “Once you realize that the preparation of a presentation is an act requiring creativity, not merely the assembling of facts and data in a linear fashion, you’ll see that preparing a presentation is a “whole-minded” activity that requires as much right-brain thinking as it does left-brain thinking. In fact, while your research and background work may have required much logical analysis, calculation, and careful evidence gathering or so-called left-brain thinking, the transformation of your content into presentation form will require that you exercise much more of your so-called right brain.”

6- “Life is about living with limitations and constraints of one type or another but constraints are not necessarily bad, in fact they are helpful, even inspiring as they challenge us to think differently and more creatively about a particular problem. While problems such as a sudden request to give a 20-minute sales pitch or a 45-minute overview of our research findings have built-in limitations—such as time, tools, and budget—we can increase our effectiveness by stepping back, thinking long and hard, and determining ways we can set our own parameters and constraints as we set out to prepare and design our next presentation with greater clarity, focus, balance, and purpose.”

7- “One of the most important things you can do in the initial stage of preparing for your presentation is to get away from your computer. A fundamental mistake people make is spending almost the entire time thinking about their talk and preparing their content while sitting in front of a computer screen. Before you design vour presentation, you need to see the big picture and Identify your core messages-or the single core message. This can be difficult unless you create a stillness of  mind for yourself, something which is hard to do while puttering around in slideware.”

8- “Questions We Should Be Asking…• How much time do I have? • What’s the venue like? • ^hat time of the day? • Who is the audience? • What’s their background? What do they expect of me (us) Why was I asked to speak? What do I want them to do? What visual medium is most appropriate for this particular situation and audience? What is the fundamental purpose of my talk? What’s the story here? • And this is the most fundamental question of all. Stripped down to its essential core: What is my absolutely central point? Or put it this way: If the audience could remember only one thing (and you’ll be lucky if they do), what do you want it to be?”

9- “Two Questions: What’s Your Point? Why Does It Matter?”

10- “If you remember that there are three components to your presentation—the slides, your notes, and the handout—then you will not feel the need to place so much information (text, data, etc.) in your slides. Instead, you can place that information in your notes (for the purpose of rehearsing or as a backup “just in case”) or in the handout.”

11- “Here’s a quick summary of the six principles from Made to Stick that you should keep in mind when crystallizing your ideas and crafting your messages for speeches, presentations, or any other form of communication.

1) Simplicity. If everything is important, then nothing is important. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. You must be ruthless in your efforts to simplify—not dumb down—your message to its absolute core…

2) Unexpectedness. You can get people’s interest by violating their expectations. Surprise people. Surprise will get their interest. But to sustain their interest, you have to stimulate their curiosity. The best way to do that is to pose questions or open holes in people’s knowledge and then fill those holes…

3) Concreteness. Use natural speech and give real examples with real tilings, not abstractions. Speak of concrete images, not of vague notions. Proverbs are good, say the Heath brothers, at reducing abstract concepts to concrete, simple, but powerful (and memorable) language…

4) Credibility. If you are famous in your field, you may have built-in credibility (but even that does not go as far as it used to). Most of us, however, do not have that kind of credibility, so we reach for numbers and cold hard data to support our claims as market leaders and so on…

5) Emotions. People are emotional beings. It is not enough to take people a laundry list of talking points and information on your slides—you must make them feel something…

6) Stories. We tell stories ail day long. It’s how humans have always communicated. We tell stories with our words and even with our art and music. We express ourselves through the stories we share. We teach, we learn, and we grow through stories…”

12- “What made this CEO’s presentation so compelling and memorable was that it was, above all, authentic. His stories were from his heart and from his gut. not from a memorized script. We do not tell a story from memory alone; we do not need to memorize a story that has meaning to us. If it is real, then it is in us. Based on our I research, knowledge, and experience, we can’ tell it from our gut. Internalize your story, but do I not memorize it line by line. You can’t fake it. I you do not, no amount of hyped-up, superficial enthusiasm or conviction will ever make your time with an audience meaningful. If you do not believe it, do not know it to be true, how can you J connect and convince others with your words in story form? Your words will be just hollow words.”

13- “Below is the four-step approach I usually take…Step 1 Brainstorming. Step back, go analog, get away from the computer, tap into the right brain and brainstorm ideas. do not edit ideas much here: the aim is to just let it flow. I explore. It may be messy. That’s OK. What I’m tying to do—whether I am working alone or leading a group—is to see the issue from all sides. But to do that, you have to take a step back and see the big picture…Step 2 Grouping & identifying the core. In this step, I look to identify the one key idea that is central (and memorable) from the point of view of the audience. What is the “it” that I want them to get? I use “chunking” to group similar ideas while looking for a unifying theme. The presentation may be organized into three parts, so first I look for the central theme that will be the thread running through the presentation. There is no rule that says your presentation should have three sections or three “acts” from the world of drama. However, three is a good number to aim for because it is a manageable constraint and generally provides a memorable structure…Step 3 Storyboarding off the computer. 1 take the ideas sketched out on paper in Step 2 and lay them out with Post-it notes. The advantage of this method (compared to the Slide Sorter view in PowerPoint or the Light Table view in Keynote) is that i can easily add content by writing on an additional Post-it and sticking  it under the appropriate section without ever losing sight of the structure and flow…Step 4 storyboarding in Slide Sorter/Light Table view. If you have a clear sense of your structure, you can skip Step 3 and start building the flow of your presentation directly in slideware.”

14- “When I use the word simple (or simplicity), 1 am referring to the term as being essentially synonymous with clarity, directness, subtlety, essentialness and minimalism. Designers, such as interaction designers, for example, are constantly looking for the simplest solution to complex problems. The simple solutions are not necessarily easiest for them, but the results may end up being the “easiest” to use for the end user. The best visuals are often ones designed with an eye toward simplicity. Yet, this says nothing about the specifics of a visual presentation. That will depend on the content and context.”

15- “General Design Principles:

1) The Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is a principle borrowed from more technical fields such as radio communications and electronic communication in general, but the principle itself is applicable to design and communication problems in virtually any field. For our purposes, the SNR is the ratio of relevant to irrelevant elements or information in a slide or other display. The goal is to have the highest signal-to-noise ratio possible in your slides…

2) The picture superiority effect says that pictures are remembered better than words, especially when people are casually exposed to the information and the exposure is for a very limited time…

3) Empty space (also called negative space or white space) is a concept that is supremely simple, yet the most difficult for people to apply. Whether people are designing a document or a slide, the urge to fill empty areas with more elements is just too great. One of the biggest mistakes that typical business people make with presentation slides (and documents as well) is going out of their way to seemingly use every centimeter of space on a page, filling it up nth text, boxes, clip art, charts, footers, and the ubiquitous company logo. Empty space implies elegance and clarity. This is true with graphic design. but you can see the importance of space (both visual and physical) in the context of, say, interior design as well. High-end brand shops are always designed to create as much open space as possible. Empty space can convey a feeling of high quality, sophistication, and importance…

4) Contrast simply means difference. And for whatever reason—perhaps our brains think they are still back in the savannah scanning for wild predators—we are all wired to notice differences. We are not conscious of it, but we are scanning and looking for similarities and differences all the time. Contrast is what we notice, and it’s what gives a design its energy. So you should make elements that are not the same clearly different, not just slightly different…

5) The principle of repetition simply means the reusing of the same or similar elements throughout your design. Repetition of certain design elements in a slide or among a deck of slides will bring a clear sense of unity, consistency, and cohesiveness. Where contrast is about showing differences, repetition is about subtly using elements to make sure the design is viewed as being part of a larger whole.

6) The whole point of the alignment principle is that nothing in your slide design should look as if it were placed there randomly. Every element is connected visually via an invisible line. Where repetition is more concerned with elements cross a deck of slides, alignment is about obtaining unity among elements of a single slide.

7) The principle of proximity is about moving things closer or farther apart to achieve a more organized look. The principle says that related items should be grouped together so that they will be viewed as a group, rather than as several unrelated elements. Audiences will assume that items that are not near each other in a design are not closely related. Audiences will naturally tend to group similar items that are near to each other into a single unit.”

16) “Technical training is important, but technical training is something acquired and will always have the feel of artificiality unless one has the proper state of mind. “Unless the mind which avails itself of the technical skill somehow attunes itself to a state of the utmost fluidity or mobility,” says Suzuki, “anything acquired or superimposed lacks spontaneity of natural growth.” In this sense, I think instructors and books can help us become better at presenting well, but ultimately, like many other performance arts, it must grow within us.”

17) “These precepts offer good advice for delivering effective presentations: (1) Carefully observe oneself and one’s situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one’s environment. (2) Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake. (3) Consider fully, act decisively. (4) Know when to stop. (5) Keep to the middle. These are wise words indeed, but these are not “effective presentation principles” at all, they are Jigoro Kano’s Five Principles of Judo as outlined by John Stevens in Budo Secrets (Shambhala; New Ed edition).”

18) “Professional entertainers know that you want to end on a high note and leave the audience yearning for just a bit more from you. We want to leave our audiences satisfied (motivated, inspired, more knowledgeable, etc.), but not feeling that they could have done with just a little less. We can apply this spirit to the length and amount of material we put into a presentation as well. Give them high quality—the highest you can—but do not give them so much quantity that you leave them with their heads spinning and guts aching.”

19) “The first step down the road to becoming a great presenter is simply seeing—really seeing- that that which passes for normal and ordinary and good enough is off-kilter with how we learn, understand, remember, and engage. No matter what your starting point is today, you can become much better. In fact, you can become extraordinary. I know this is true because I have seen it many times before. I have worked with professionals—young and old—who believed that they were not particularly creative, charismatic, or dynamic, and yet with a little help they were able to transform themselves into extremely creative, highly articulate, engaging presenters once they realized that that person—that remarkable presenter—was in them already. Once they opened their eyes and made the commitment to learn and leave the past behind, it was just a matter of time before great progress was visible. Interestingly, as their confidence grew and they became more effective presenters, their newly found confidence and perspective had a remarkable impact on other aspects of their personal and professional lives.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Presentation Zen