Don’t blame PowerPoint for a boring presentation. The problem with today’s typical business presentation is NOT PowerPoint. The storyteller is the problem, the presenter who creates wordy, text-heavy slides and uses dull, convoluted jargon and buzzwords.
In a previous column titled, Jeff Bezos and the end of PowerPoint as we know it, I made the point that Bezos as well as other well-known business leaders are using a more visually engaging method of delivering presentations and doing so with the aid of traditional presentation software. Some readers blamed PowerPoint for bad presentations. I disagree. If used creatively, PowerPoint is a fabulous tool to present ideas that are clear, memorable, and engaging.
Recently I visited my nephew who attends the University of Oregon. He said he loves one class where the professor uses engaging images, photographs, and multi-media in his PowerPoint slides. He says another professor in a separate class uses a PowerPoint style full of text and bullet points. In the former class he stays until the end of the lecture. In the latter, he leaves early and catches up with notes online. The problem is the second professor uses PowerPoint slides as a repository for notes.
According to Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, “Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the ‘slideument.’ The creation of the slideument stems from a desire to save time. People think they are being efficient—a kind of kill-two-birds-with-one-stone approach. Unfortunately the only think ‘killed’ is effective communications.”
I was honored to endorse the 2nd edition of Presentation Zen because I believe in Reynolds’ philosophy and his approach to creating visually engaging slides. Reynolds believes that despite all the tools available to presenters today, storytelling has a long way to go. “While presentation technology has evolved over the years, the presentations themselves have not necessarily evolved. Today, millions of presentations are given every day with the aid of desktop applications such as PowerPoint and Keynote…Google Docs and Prezi. Yet, most presentations remain mind-numbingly dull.”
I co-presented with Reynolds at an event in Japan and, despite my own experience with delivering presentations, I learned a lot. All of us have room to improve the way we give presentations and that’s why I seek out designers who think visually for a living. Two such people are Yancey Unequivocally and Cory Jim, co-owners of presentation design firm, Empowered Presentations. Recently, Yancey showed me some fabulous examples of before-and-after slides created in PowerPoint. I’ve included the slides below.
The first before-and-after is a typical example of what happens when many presenters hear the advice, “add pictures to your slides.” They will keep all their bullet points and add a picture to the slide. If you still do this, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s exactly what I used to do before I started studying the science and the art of presentation design. But there is a better way as you can see the in the next slide. Empowered Presentations created one slide for each of the four statistics on the “before” slide (I only included one of the slides below). This particular presentation was part of a pitch to land a $1.5 million contract. There were twenty other bidders for the contract, most of whom used bulleted, wordy PowerPoint slides. Guess who won the contract?
Before: Picture added to text
After: Designed for impact
The second example was used for educational purposes. It was delivered by a doctor who wanted his audience to be aware of the staggering hospital costs to treat elderly patients after a fall. The first slide is an example of everything wrong with PowerPoint. It’s all bullets and your minds’ eye wants to read ahead as the speaker is delivering his information. That’s not an effective way to deliver ideas. Again, Empowered Presentations used one slide for each statistic and chose ‘painful’ pictures to demonstrate painful statistics.
After: Better illustrates point three
The dangers of bad a PowerPoint presentation are manifold. It might just mean putting your audience to sleep, or running afoul of the High Council of Information Design. But if your presentations have wider reaching concerns, like those given routinely by members of the U.S. Armed Forces, bad slides can have far greater consequences. In the military’s hands, as Brigadier General H. R. McMaster explained to the New York Times in 2010, bad PowerPoint can actually be dangerous–it gives “the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.” It certainly doesn’t help when you’re making 100-slide presentations entirely in Comic Sans, as one Army aide submitted last year.
While you’re probably not guilty of mucking up complex geopolitical strategy with your bad slides, chances are you’ve made some crappy ones–or, at the very least, been subjected to some–at one point or another. So the appeal of Haiku Deck, a free app for the iPad, should be clear. As founder Adam Tratt explained to me: “We wanted to make it impossible to create ugly [slides].”
The app, as its name suggests, is all about brevity, enabling users to make clean, concise slide shows–or decks–with a heavily streamlined feature set. Using it is fiendishly simple: You enter a few keywords of text onto a slide, and the app searches a database of over 35 million Creative Commons images that suit your subject. If your text says “Fierce Dedication,” you might get an artful shot of a tiger or a football team to use as the slide’s background (though you can always use a photo of your own). Finding that compelling image for you, Tratt says, is one of Haiku Deck’s key achievements. “People spend a ton of time doing this manually … so we thought we could really delight our users if we made the process just happen automagically, and then embed the Creative Commons attribution right in the deck.”
After you pick your image, your text is automatically formatted nice and big to fill the screen. A handful of themes offer quick ways to customize your fonts and apply photo filters throughout; five themes are included with the free app, and 11 more are available with a $2 in-app purchase. When you’re done, you can show decks on mobile devices, project them from PCs, or embed them on webpages. But the most striking thing about Haiku Deck might be what it doesn’t offer. There are no transitions, no bullet points, and no graphs anywhere to be found.
The point, Tratt explains, was to make a slide show app that’s easy to use–and impossible to screw up.
“Our approach was to make a presentation tool that people would love to use and to obliterate the dreaded ‘death by PowerPoint,’ phenomenon that so many experience on a regular basis, whether in the workplace, in the classroom, on a committee, or at a conference,” Tratt said. “To do this, we tried to productize best practices espoused by the presentation design gurus like Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. They say things like, ‘use one idea per slide,’ ‘have a consistent look and feel,’ and ‘use an impactful image.'”
These are principles that Haiku Deck’s limited feature set essentially forces you to follow. It’s similar to some of the thinking behind Apple’s iOS, just on a much narrower scale: The user doesn’t always know best, and if you give him the option to customize everything, don’t be surprised if you end up with a dreadful result.
Of course, some users will chafe at the app’s limitations, and there are ways in which Haiku Deck is frustratingly restrictive. You can’t, for example, position text elements anywhere you want; in fact, you can’t even create more than two text elements on any given slide. But the developers seem to be aware of the dangers here. “Different fonts and layouts are important too,” Tratt says, “and we still have a ways to go on that.”
But for anyone who has had to squint at a PowerPoint presentation that was essentially just the unedited text from the reader’s speaking notes, Haiku Deck offers a merciful alternative. In an academic lecture or a business meeting, an overly dense slide show is like a Pavlovian signal to zone out. Haiku Deck, at the very least, guarantees legibility. On this note, Tratt sums up the app’s raison d’être succinctly: “Why does PowerPoint even have 8pt font as an option?”
You can give impressive presentations from your iPad‚ and perhaps even leave your laptop behind‚ if you prepare well and know what to expect. It’s even easier to take to the podium with newer technologies like AirPlay mirroring and the latest version of Keynote for iOS. Here are tips for moving presentations onto your iPad and delivering them live.
Get it together
Apple’s $10 Keynote for iOS () can import presentations made in Microsoft PowerPoint () or in Keynote for OS X (), but in both cases you’re likely to lose a great deal during the import process. Say goodbye to some fonts, transitions, and builds that aren’t available on the iPad, plus audio and more. (Presenter notes are supported, however, whether created on the iPad or imported from a PowerPoint or Keynote for Mac presentation.) Therefore, when feasible, create your presentation directly on the iPad.
If you do use Keynote on a Mac, be sure to read Apple’s Best practices for creating a presentation on a Mac for use on an iPad, which guides you in selecting compatible templates, fonts, and other features. Once you’ve created your presentation, you need to move it to your iPad. Although the iOS version of Keynote supports iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud feature, which automatically syncs documents on all your iOS devices with Apple’s servers, the Mac version of Keynote still lacks integrated support for this feature. (OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion will have access to iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud.)
Instead, you must log in to your iCloud account in a Web browser at www.icloud.com, click the iWork icon, click Keynote, and then drag your Keynote document into the browser window. After it uploads, the document will appear automatically in Keynote on your iOS device—but keep in mind that this process doesn’t eliminate the compatibility issues I mentioned a moment ago.
If you don’t use iCloud, another way to move the presentation onto your iPad is to open iTunes, select your iPad, click on the Apps tab, and select Keynote. Drag your presentation to the Keynote Documents list. Then open Keynote on your iPad, go to the Document Manager (if it’s not already visible), tap the folder icon in the upper-right corner, and then tap your presentation. Or, if you want the convenience of cloud-based syncing without iCloud, a service called DropDAV ($5 per month) enables Keynote users to connect to Dropbox () via WebDAV.
One note: If you’ve already created a presentation in PowerPoint, also take a look at SlideShark, a free iPad app for viewing and displaying PowerPoint presentations. It’s not perfect, but it does a better job supporting PowerPoint documents than any other iPad app I’ve seen.
Use an external display
If your audience is very small—perhaps you’re showing your portfolio to a potential client or giving your boss a quick demo—you could show your presentation on the iPad itself, albeit without the presenter notes. But you’re more likely to prefer using a projector or other display.
Plug it in One way to do this is to plug a video adapter into your iPad’s Dock connector, and then connect that to your display. You’ll get the best results (and the highest resolution) using a display or projector with either the $39 Apple Digital AV Adapter (for displays with HDMI inputs) or the $29 Apple VGA Adapter (for displays with VGA inputs).
If you’re connecting to a television with neither HDMI nor VGA inputs, you can instead use the $39 Apple Component AV Cable or the $39 Apple Composite AV Cable, as appropriate, although both offer lower resolution than the Digital AV and VGA adapters. Although this wired approach works just fine, it’s difficult to hold your iPad while giving a presentation without the video cable falling out—I speak from personal experience.
Mirror a newer iPad With an iPad 2 or later, either the Digital AV or VGA adapter lets your iPad mirror everything from its internal screen onto the external display, which may be useful if you want your presentation to include demonstrations of other iPad apps or content that’s not within Keynote itself. However, note that on the original iPad, where mirroring is unavailable, Keynote itself produces no external video signal until you tap the Play button (which is probably what you want anyway).
If you prefer to roam across the stage holding your iPad while you speak, you can beam your presentation’s audio and video wirelessly using AirPlay mirroring—provided you have an iPad 2 or later running at least iOS 5. To pull off this trick, you’ll need an AirPlay receiver connected to the projector or display and on the same Wi-Fi network as your iPad. Apple’s $99 Apple TV () can serve this purpose, if you happen to have one handy. Alternatively, assuming a Mac or PC is available, you can install either of two similar utilities: AirServer (Mac version, $15; Windows version, $8) or Squirrels’ Reflection (Mac only, $15). Either of these apps can turn a computer into an AirPlay receiver, no Apple TV required. They even support displaying screens from multiple iOS devices at the same time. Note that the PC version of AirServer currently lacks audio support, but the developer says it’s “coming soon.”
Once your AirPlay receiver is set up, you can mirror your iPad’s display by double-pressing the Home button, swiping the multitasking bar toward the right, and tapping the AirPlay button. Tap the name of the device you want to use for mirroring and then set the Mirroring switch to On.
With an app like Reflections or AirServer running on your Mac, you can mirror your iPad’s display and audio wirelessly.
Control the presentation
Once you tap Play, you can use your iPad to control the presentation as well as provide presenter notes for yourself (a cheat sheet, if you will) that the audience won’t see. To change what’s on the iPad’s screen when using an external display, tap the Layouts icon and then one of the follow buttons: Current (the current build of the slide as shown on the external display), Next (the next build, which may or may not be the next slide), Current and Next (current and next builds side by side), or Current and Notes (current build and any accompanying presenter notes). This final layout is the only one to display presenter notes, but you can supplement it by tapping the button in the upper left corner to display a list of slide thumbnails, which can aid in navigation (tap a thumbnail to jump directly to that slide).
In Keynote’s Current and Notes layout, you can see presenter notes underneath your slides. The thumbnails on the left are optional.
To advance to the next build or slide, tap once anywhere, or swipe toward the left. To go back, swipe toward the right. A nice extra in Keynote for the iPad is a “laser pointer”: Touch and hold on the iPad’s screen to show a red dot, which moves with your finger on the main display. Lift your finger and the dot disappears. This is useful when you want to call attention to a particular area of a slide. To end the presentation (and turn off Keynote’s video output), tap the Close icon.
To highlight a particular word or image on a slide in Keynote, use the simulated laser pointer.
If your iPad is physically connected to your display—or if you want to be able to move around during your presentation without carrying the iPad with you—you can download Apple’s Keynote Remote app ($1) on your iPhone or iPod touch. Follow the instructions to pair Keynote Remote with your iPad using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and then your iPhone or iPod touch becomes a remote control for Keynote on your iPad, complete with previews of your slides.
Senior contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of the ebook Take Control of Working with Your iPad.
[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about iCloud, AirPlay, and the third-generation iPad.]
Our “What Not to Present” contest was epic! Many thanks to all of you kind folks that submitted entries and spread the word about it. Many amazingly horrendous slides were sent in from all around the world. We laughed. We cried. We cringed.
Stay tuned for future blog posts where presentation experts Garr Reynolds and Ellen Finkelstein will use your egregious contest entries to give you some valuable, free advice on how to make presentation slides that wow audiences (for the right reasons).
We randomly chose our top 3 winners, but then quickly realized that we had to do more. So we are giving away ANOTHER projector to the slide we thought was the most horrendous. We passed the ugliness around the InFocus offices and to many of our partners pandering for votes — and we have a winner!
First, our random winners:
And the winner of the worst slide is…
Congratulations to the winners! We’re very happy you joined in on the fun.
Here are some honorable mentions:
I’ve been re-listening to Mark Goodacre’s podcasts on Mark and was sad to hear that he’s now given up using video clips in lectures because they’re too prone to go wrong. I’ve been there, done that and suffered the humiliation. However, when you have a bona fide excuse to a clip from Life of Brian to an audience largely unfamiliar with it, then it’s just a crying shame if you have to pass it up.
As it happens I’ve not been allowed to leave it alone. Aside from my own need to use clips when I speak, part of my paid role also includes doing it for others. And then make it easy for someone non-technical to get it to work on the day. So I’ve had to push on through, and over the last year or two I’ve learnt a lot, made some discoveries and now feel I’ve pretty much honed the process to a relatively easy state. In the, somewhat optimistic, hope that I have I thought I would share what I do so anyone wanting to incorporate clips into future presentations can do so as well. You have to download a few pieces of free software, but once you’ve done that you should be away.
The key trick is to incorporate any potential clips into PowerPoint. I know PowerPoint is the Ryan Air of presentation software (everyone slags it off but uses it anyway) and I know that smug mac types will be reading this safe in the knowledge that everything they do is better than if they did it on a PC, but here’s something for us lesser mortals. I for one actually like PowerPoint. It’s a tool that’s widely abused, and the majority of presentations are just awful, but if you take your time to “get it” then it’s a great, if somewhat flawed, tool.
One of these flaws is that even in the more recent versions of PowerPoint, the only reliable video file type it can handle consistently is WMVs. But it’s well worth doing, because once you’ve set it all up in the relatively pressure free, serenity of your office, then all you have to do is click for the next slide. You don’t have to insert, wait for them to show all the different video logos, trailers, menus etc. (or hope that it’s remembered the correct place to resume from). You don’t have to open a new piece of software and drag the screen into the right place, or change the source on the video projector. You don’t have to make sure you’re alert so you stop it in the correct place. All you have to do is click. Once.
So here’s a quick guide as to how to get video clips converted into WMV files so that you can import them in to POwerPoint and start your clip just by clicking for the next slide.
Rambling over. Useful bit starts now
There are two major ways of doing this. It’s worth getting both in your arsenal in case there’s a problem with one or the other.
Method 1 – Import from YouTube
This has now become super easy thanks to the later versions of RealPlayer. If you don’t have that on your PC already, then you need to download it. RealPlayer, bless ’em, have now incorporated two additional pieces of software into their free version, “Converter” and “Trimmer”. They are both simple and do what they say. It also has a widget so that if you are watching a video in Internet Explorer it pops up to ask you if you want to download it. This means that you can download things off some other sites as well as YouTube. So you need to get Real Player. Generally I use Mozilla rather than IE, but most people have a copy of it anyway, and besides I think RealPlayer also allows you to just type in the URL and it will download it for you, anyway…
So here’s what you do:
1 – Find the clip in YouTube. Watch in IE and when the box pops up (or if you right click) select “Download this video”. The video will begin downloading.
2 – Open RealPlayer Trimmer. Find the video file you just downloaded and drag it into the Trimmer window. You then use the sliders to cut it down to where you want it. You can do this to within a second or two so it’s not a hugely refined editing tool, but for lectures / presentations it’s more than enough. Save this as a new file.
3 – Open RealPlayer Converter and drag the new file into the window. Then in the “Convert to” box select the WMV profile, set where you want to save it and go.
4 – Then open PowerPoint. Choose “Insert” and “Movie from File” (precise wording here will vary depending on version). I tend to use start automatically, but sometimes put a slide in before hand. It saves faffing around with a mouse trying to click in the right place. You can expand the video to a larger size and sometimes you have to change the width relative to the height (click on and drag in one direction only). You can hone this by watching the video through and looking for anything that should be a circle (sun, moon, car tyres etc.).
And there you go. Could hardly be more easy (although I suspect there is the odd short cut). However the downside is that YouTube vids are frequently low quality so here’s a better way for higher quality clips.
Method 2 – Import from a DVD
This is obviously a little more tricky as DVD companies don’t want their product to be pirated. But if you own the DVD you are using then I don’t think that morally there’s any difference. It’s just a matter of convenience.
But to do this you have to download a few pieces of free software. The first is Handbrake. I have to admit this seems to work better on Macs, but I’ve recently discovered a critical setting I was overlooking before and so I think I should be fine now. However, just to be on the safe side I would also recommend using Freestar DVD Ripper. It’s not quite as good as Handbrake, and sometimes you have to play around with the setting to get rid of unwanted subtitles, but it tended not to have the problem I now hope I’ve overcome with Handbrake. It’s a useful second option.
You also need to download Any Video Converter which out of everything I’ve mentioned today is the software I’ve been using the longest (except for PowerPoint obviously). Once you’ve got those you’re ready to go. Here’s how
1 – Place DVD in drive and open Handbrake/Freestar. Select the chapters you want to rip and any other settings (it’s worth playing around with these). Make sure you go to “Video filter” and select “Deinterlace”. If it offers you a choice fast is usually OK. If you fail to do this it might go all odd looking. It’s also worth keeping the video’s size the same as the original. Click “start”.
2 – Open Any Video Converter and “Add Video”. In the “Video Codec” box on the right hand side choose “WMV V9”. If you have a relatively recent version of this you should be able to trim it to the correct length here as well using the “start time” and “stop time” options on the right. Also worth making sure the video is the same size. If you need more volume this is the time to fiddle with that too (under “options”.
3 – Then, as above, open PowerPoint, choose “Insert” and “Movie from File”. See up their for tips. If you’ve done it this way there should be no problem making the movie fill the whole screen without a drop in quality. Note: for some reason the opening still that PowerPoint shows you when you’ve imported it is significantly lower quality than the film itself so don’t worry if it looks a bit blotchy.
Having said all that here are a couple of other things to bear in mind.
1 – This is an easy process, but it’s not necessarily quick. It’s worth doing it whilst you are doing something else as the various stages take a while to complete once you click go/start.
2 – It’s well worth watching your film before you’re done. I think you end up doing it quite a few times naturally but critically do it once in the context of PowerPoint before you finish it, and once before your lecture in the actual room, this gives you a chance to check that you’ve plugged the sound in correctly and that everything is OK. You can then relax a bit more knowing that it should all be OK. And the beauty of it is that you don’t have to rewind, or hope the DVD player slips into standby and so on. You just return to the relevant slide and click again.
3 – There is, however, one pitfall to avoid, which hopefully these checks will highlight. Unlike picture images, PowerPoint doesn’t embed a copy of the video into the PowerPoint file. It only remembers the link, and how you’ve set it up to run. So if you’re planning on taking your presentation along on a memory stick or a CD, or even if you’ve just saved the video on a drive which won’t be available to you when you give your presentation, be careful. If you forget this you might end with no video.
It’s easy to avoid though. You just need to make sure that both the presentation file and the video file(s) are all on your laptop / memory stick, and that your presentation is looking for them in the place where you’ve stored it. If you prep it all on your own laptop anyway this should be no problem (unless you move everything), but if you are using a memory stick / CD just be aware of that one.
4 – Next – legalities. I’ve written this to help those who are planning on using video clips anyway. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean that you are allowed to. I have no idea what the legal situation is in most countries. In the UK and many other places you can buy a licence from Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI). It doesn’t cover all films, and technically you are still meant to be using the DVD rather than ripping a clip, but things are different for different contexts and countries so find out what applies where.
5 – Lastly, I have a couple more things to say about the much maligned PowerPoint. Yes, it’s often bad, but it’s also a very powerful tool for something that the average person can do without too much hassle. It’s really worth getting to know. The best piece of advice I know for crafting presentations is to try and think of your slides as a billboard. Use a high impact image a small amount of text. Unlike some, I do think bullet-pointed list have their place – particularly if you are giving out lists, but always include a few high impact images. My mate Lee Jackson is a consultant on this kind of thing, and you can view a presentation of his on designing presentations, with a few top tips at slideshare.net which he’s also had published in PSA magazine. And if you’ve not seen this video yet, then you really should.
The other thing is that very recently someone sent me a link to some new presentation software called Sparkol. There are costs involved with this but it’s for add-ons rather than the basic cost (so you can get a feel for it) and it looks like it might be a good way to progress in the quality of your presentations. I’ve not tried it yet, but plan to do so very soon.
Nice one Matt 🙂