Monthly Archives: March 2009

Presentation Magic upcoming Workshop update

Thanks to those who’ve contacted me about my upcoming workshop. It looks like it will now be post-Easter in April, and be a double bill with another presenter who specialises in vocal skills. You’ll be able to do one or both workshops. Keep watching this space, or subscribe via RSS to be kept updated with venues (likely to be in Elwood by the beach, below).

The likely venue for the next Melbourne-based Presentation Magic

The likely venue for the next Melbourne-based Presentation Magic

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The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart takes down CNBC’s Apple-shorting Jim Cramer – lessons for presenters to learn (especially Apple’s Keynote users)

One of the things I pride myself on when I hold Presentation Magic workshops is an adherence to an evidence base for almost all the guidelines and demonstrations I offer, such that attendees are ready to put into practice what they’ve learnt at their first opportunity.

I have long argued that there is very little evidence for how many people present with slideware in particular, something which has become known in the presentation criticism trade as the Cogntive Style of Powerpoint. (See my previous entry on the Ignite format for a description).

Rules such as 10/20/30 or 7 x 7 have no evidence for them other than anecdotal, or succumb to a “we’ve always done it this way around here” conformist mentality.

As a trained family therapist, I am always curious as to how family “rules” originate and perpetuate, often in the face of evidence that they’re no longer working. In the world of presenting, 2009 will see many books and blogs published which will continue to challenge customs of presenting, and this is a good thing.

In my Presentation Magic workshop at Macworld this year, I focussed day 1 on my philosophy of presenting, complete with hopefully compelling evidence. Day 2 was more focussed on the techniques I employed to convey my messages, with a strong emphasis on how to best employ Apple’s Keynote software to achieve favourable results.

I started the workshop by looking at the inclusion of presentation-style effects in mainstream media as evidence that consumers are becoming more savvy about information transfer. Talking heads in the news and current affairs programs no longer cuts it, it seems.

I started with an edited version of the opening scenes of the recent Ron Howard film, The Da Vinci Code, where Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is giving a guest symposium on religious symbolism in Paris, while an old colleague is murdered in the Louvre. I edited out the murder, wanting to focus on Langdon’s demonstration of symbolic images and how they can mislead us. We don’t know what software he uses but it’s not relevant. Here’s some screenshots of one of the scenes I used, showing his hardware setup and one of the images (Poseidon and his trident):

Tom Hanks (Dr. Robert Langdon) address his Parisian audience

Tom Hanks (Dr. Robert Langdon) address his Parisian audience

Presentation Software close-up

Presentation Software close-up

Langdon and Poseidon

Langdon and Poseidon

When I later gave a one-day version of Presentation Magic to an audience of Seventh Day Adventist ministers and youth workers soon after Macworld (religious groups are very attracted to my style of presentation training with its emphasis on history, science, visuals, and story-telling), a new TV program had just started that week (actually the night before!) called Lie to Me.

The drama series, starring Tim Roth, is loosely based on the academic and professional work of psychologist Paul Ekman (UCSF) who has studied cultural variations in facial responses to emotional states such as anger, disgust, sadness, etc. The psychologist and his team in the TV show help police and FBI verify whether suspects are telling the truth or not.

Lie to Me: Tim Roth play Dr. Carl Lightman play Dr. Paul Ekman

Lie to Me: Tim Roth play Dr. Carl Lightman play Dr. Paul Ekman

In the opening sequence, even before the opening credits roll, the Roth character, Dr. Carl Lightman, is seen lecturing an audience of FBI agents and illustrating his talk with a strong series of visual elements:

Lecturing to the FBI and displaying stereotypical scorn using two familiar public characters (the one on the left is an actor)

Lecturing to the FBI and displaying stereotypical scorn using two familiar public characters (the one on the left is an actor)

Throughout the series, common facial expressions are demonstrated using well known public figures, showing the series has an active research department tracking down stock images.

Here’s a few more from the opening sequence of episode 1 for your entertainment:

Public expressions of shame

Public expressions of shame



How I illustrated "Lie to Me"

How I illustrated "Lie to Me"

Notice in the illustration above how I actually placed the video clip into a widescreen TV to help “contextualise” the story. Rather than just placing a video file onto a slide, I embedded it into a TV image. Most audiences find this an attractive metaphor.

In my talks, I also showed some current affairs programs and how they were illustrating their stories especially where newspapers were being quoted. What was seen were the words, and what was heard was a voice 0ver artist narrating. Here is a screenshot of a clip from the Australian media criticism show, Media Watch, I used:

Current Affairs program, the ABC's Media Watch

Current Affairs program, the ABC's Media Watch

In my own keynotes, I emulate these semiotics, which is especially appealling to young people who have grown up with this kind of visual. It certainly is far more appealing than bullet points.

But what’s more important is that it lends an air of authenticity and authority to the presentation. I’m not creating an all-text slide and copy and pasting words – I’m showing the real McCoy, whether it be a newspaper clipping, a magazine headline, or the header and abstract from a scholarly journal, as shown below:

My preferred way of displaying actual article quotes

My preferred way of displaying actual article quotes

Notice in the illustration above, that I use a screenshot from the actual article, which having initially been shown, I then fade and fuzz it into the background. Doing this requires some effort on my part, perhaps taking ten minutes to construct for a slide that may only stay on screen for less than a minute. But it conveys to the audience my respect for them, in that I go to the trouble of locating evidence to support my contentions, which are usually quite challenging for audiences whose own presentation style is the dreaded cognitive style of Powerpoint, ie presenter-centric, not audience-centric.

Let me come to the main point of this blog-entry, the week-long argy-bargy between CNBC and the Daily Show, personified by Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart. This matchup occurred following Stewart’s commentary the week before (March 4) when CNBC’s Rick Santelli, below, labelled Americans who had lost their homes as “losers”.

CNBC's Rick Sanatelli and "losers"

CNBC's Rick Sanatelli and "losers"

This inflamed Stewart who took Santelli and CNBC to task for not being tougher on financial CEOs and calling out their duplicity. When Santelli withdraw his invitation to be on the Daily Show, Stewart let loose the entire week, focussing in particular on former hedge fund manager, Jim Cramer and his “Mad Money” evening CNBC program.

Stewart showed a series of clips wherein Cramer informs his viewers of the “safety” of certain financial institutions:

Jim Cramer recommends holding BearStearns

Jim Cramer recommends holding BearStearns

Stewart goes for the jugular, contrasting the over the top graphics and hyperbolic presentation style of Cramer and CNBC with a very Keynote-like simple and to-the-point graphic, white sans-serif font on black background for impact:


On his March 9, Daily Show, Stewart continued his evidence against the trustworthiness of CNBC and its talent:

Notice how the Daily Show uses exact cutout quotes from original sources

Notice how the Daily Show uses exact cutout quotes from original sources

On Thursday, March 12, Cramer accepted an invitation to be interviewed by Stewart, and ultimately turned out to be a good sport, while Stewart aggressively filleted him.

Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart in discussion on the Daily Show

Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart in discussion on the Daily Show

What would have interested many Apple followers was the section where Stewart showed a clip of Cramer discussing the Apple iPhone in the weeks leading up to its release in January 2007, when rumours of its existence were running hot. Essentially, Cramer discussed how easy it was to manipulate Apple stock prices (“shorting”) and getting away with it.

Cramer discussing how to short Apple stock

Cramer discussing how to short Apple stock

Stewart came to the debate armed and dangerous, despatching each of Cramer’s efforts to defend his actions with evidence from previous episodes of Cramer shows which showed him to be a disingenuous showman with debatable credentials for providing long term financial advice.

I was especially taken by Stewart’s approach, since I do the same when it comes to convincingly condemning the standard, socially normed presentation style of powerpoint (and Keynote if merely used to copy the powerpoint style). The best way to do this is not by arguing with words, but as Shakespeare has Othello tell Iago, “Show me the ocular proof”, below:

Olivier's Othello seeks ocular proof from Iago for Desdimona's infidelity

Olivier's Othello seeks ocular proof from Iago for Desdimona's infidelity

Involving audiences with visual proof, have them interact with the presentation such that they cannot help but see, feel and hear the evidence in action is compelling, memorable, and engaging – if not difficult to do, because it asks you to constantly think about your audience.

Stewart’s efforts clearly hit a nerve, and proved most convincing if the comments section in the New York Times is to be believed, which you can access here (login required). Many ask why mainstream media have left it up to the Court Jester to ask the tough questions (and some recall the lead up to the Iraq invasion when asking the same question.)

In some ways, we ought not be surprised. History has repeatedly shown that the clown, the comic, and the simpleton who knows no better (and nowadays we can include the lack of social graces displayed by those with autism spectrum disorders, e.g. Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory) can get away with questions and observations the rest of us shy away from. Witness any newspaper’s political comic section for cartoons that cut to the chase very, very quickly. I use them liberally in my talks, especially ones which make fun of Powerpoint (just Google <Powerpoint+comic>)

Next time you want to convince an audience of your authenticity and the logicality of your argument, go back and locate Stewart’s March 4 and 9 CNBC take down and remind yourself of the need to do proper research, using appropriate evidence, presented in a way for which few in your audience could disagree. And which packs an emotional punch or two.

If for nothing else, you will be remembered for doing the talk and the walk, something all too rare nowadays.

Learning from the bravery of others – the Ignite 20slides/15secs/5mins presentation style

An RSS feed pointed me to the latest IGNITE presentation gathering in Phoenix in late February, 2009. The purpose of an IGNITE gathering is simple – allow a community to gather and be an audience to a special kind of presentation. Speakers each have  20 slides which stay on screen for 15 seconds each and automatically move to the next.

There are no screen builds or transitions and no limits on the speakers’ subjects.

Commercial pitches are allowed but there are provisos, to wit:


We want Ignite to be about promoting and sharing burning ideas. If those ideas happen to take the form of the company you work for, the startup you’re trying to get funded, or any other self-serving commercial interest, then so be it. We’re fine with it, really. But whatever you present had better be interesting, because that’s what it’s going to be judged on in people’s minds. if you’re going to market to people at Ignite Phoenix, you’d better be smart about it. Because if you’re not, it won’t be pretty…”

Think about this for a moment. You have 15 x 20 = 300 = 5 mins to present on a topic using slides you’ve created which will change on cue every twenty seconds. Your task is to keep the audience engaged, amused, entertained, informed, and most likely provoked while keeping in memory 20 slides.

To be frank, when I saw some of the presentations, they acted as a reminder of all the rules and guidelines I teach in my Presentation Magic workshops, mainly what not to do. First, let me show you how I went about viewing the presentations, using software I located at Macworld 2009 called Web2 Delight from an Indian software company, called Global Delight.

Web2 Delight allows you to search a number of popular video and picture aggregators sites such as YouTube and Flickr. It then allows you to either stream the videos in a separate window, or download them, choosing to convert them on the fly for import into your iPod, Apple TV, iPhone or burn them to CD or DVD – a great time saver.

Using the URL for the Phoenix Ignite BlipTV location here, this is what the screen looks like when Web2 Delight locates the videos:

Web2 Delight display of some of Ignite Phoenix's video collection

Web2 Delight display of some of Ignite Phoenix's video collection

By the way, Web2 Delight has a sister product called Voila, which is an advanced screen shot maker and library which I will blog about in another entry because it has some great features presenters who use slides will want to utilise. I used it to create the screenshot, above.

When you pass your mouse over each thumbnail, an icon appears allowing to either stream the video, or download it to a desired location on your hard drive. A red progress bar appears in the thumbnail window, and you can simultaneously search and view other videos.

The download is a one-pass operation, whereas other YouTube apps. have a two-pass operation, once to download the flv file and the other to convert into your preferred format, such as mp4.

Ok, enough of the technologies, I’m using… why my interest in Ignite? And why am I sharing it with you?

Because, despite the look and feel of some of the presentations which look suspiciously like the Cognitive Style of Powerpoint (you know what I mean,

• 7 x 7 rules for lines and words per slide,

• chintzy clip art,

• overexposed backgrounds,

• pixelated images, and

• basically a presentation that is presenter-centric, not audience-centric)

• oh, and lots of pointless bullet points ;-),

the emphasis with the Ignite community is to help people think more about their presentations, and break some rules.

An Ignite was held in Sydney in late January, 2009 (I didn’t know so I didn’t go – perhaps Melbourne is ready for one) and here is the guff from its website:

“Why Ignite?
You may have heard of Ignite. It’s a presentation style pioneered in the US by some guys who wanted to spice up their presentations – and it quickly became a worldwide phenomenon.

The idea is simple – make the presenters stick to a rigid format of 20 slides, each of which changes automatically after 15 seconds, giving a guaranteed 5 minute presentation.

Why is this a good idea?

It forces the presenters to think long and hard about every slide. How many times have you heard the presenter say “this slide isn’t important”? Well – get rid of it then!

Conversely, there are the presenters who talk to a single slide for 10 minutes, by which time you’ve lost interest, the plot, and probably the will to live.

Ignite is all about making the slides dynamic and exciting, and forcing the presenters to think about what they show.

If you’re sick of Death By Powerpoint, then come along to Ignite Sydney, where you’re guaranteed a fun night of entertaining and educational presentations.”

Now both Sydney and many other cities’ Ignites are online now, some using BlipTV and others YouTube.

What is clear when you watch some of these videos is how tough it is to organise one’s timing, such that one doesn’t break some of the Rules of Multimedia knowledge transfer which have been offered the presentation community by evidence-based researchers such as Richard Mayer and John Sweller.

The most prominent rule I’ve seen broken (and hey, I’m as guilty as the next person, perhaps more so since I do know better!) in the Ignite videos – and the format of a fixed 15 seconds doesn’t help – is the overload produced when audio and video channels collide. That is, our two main senses for retrieving data and beginning the process of making sense of it – every pun intended – are the auditory and visual-spatial organs. When the two offer the brain much the same message, albeit in two different forms, there is a better chance of not being overloaded and remembering the main message, than when the two channels are receiving dissimilar material.

With the 15 second rule in Ignite, presenters are faced with either having really rehearsed their timing and words, much like an actor hitting their marks, or an opera singer being one with the orchestra; or allowing the slides to cue them in to what to say. Each is not without its difficulties. The former requires hours of rehearsal and practice, most likely more than most presenters will want to spend for what’s really just a fun night out.

The latter, while much easier, runs the risk that the slide runs the show, and the presenter becomes an adjunct to the visuals, not a very satisfactory outcome. In other words, if the slide changes while the presenter is still talking, guess where the audience’s attention will go?

I spend a considerable amount of time both discussing this and demonstrating in my Presentation Magic workshops such that the audience experiences what I’m demonstrating, and hopefully will make an effort to change their ways.

I don’t want to select for you some of the IgnitePhoenix casualties – those who really had a hard time integrating what they were saying with what they were showing – because what they did deserves positive reinforcement, not public humiliation. You can go look for yourself and see if you can detect what I’m talking about…

But I did find one or two who not just gave engaging presentations, but seemed to hit their marks nicely, such that from the video alone I didn’t suffer overload or channel conflict.

The one I liked the most so far (and I haven’t see all) is Pamela Slim’s, whose newsletter and blog on being entrepreneurial I subscribe to.

You can see Pamela’s Ignite presentation, here. (You can scroll to the bottom of this blog entry for the entry)

(UPDATE: I’ve looked at a few more from Phoenix, and the one more that stands out is called “Toilet Training” by Dan Messer. He takes us through a history of effluence, from Roman times through to the modern electronic self-flushers. What makes his presentation stand out is his ability to weave seemingly unconnected historical events into a seamless storytelling for the entire five minutes he has to present. So many of the other presenters are telling the audience facts with little use of the slides to enhance their message delivery. Truly, see each of these presentations as mini-lessons in presentation giving. Most are what not to do, a few are gems, and they will be easily recognised, even if the subject matter holds no initial curiosity for you.)

Now there are some concerns I have with the Ignite idea, in that we might just be replacing one cognitive style of Powerpoint with another. But clearly, in its favour, Ignite will simply not sustain the way so many presentations continue to be conducted (all text and reading) and so it does represent a small advancement.

But I’m not sure it represents a necessarily brilliant advance which best matches how information can be shared. I mean, could you imagine a film as brilliantly edited as “Apocalypse Now” (Walter Murch) being held to 15 second scenes?

For now, the Ignite concept, which began in Seattle in 2006, represents another effort to help us question the social norms which have seen Powerpoint become the lingua franca of information exchange, and anything which helps us question its dominance in 2009 gets a conditional vote of approval from me.

Update: Trawling about the blogosphere, shows my hometown of Melbourne will have its own Ignite on April 1, 2009, and yes I have put my hand up via email to have a go, all my caveats above notwithstanding.

I’ve writtent to the local organiser, Stephen Lead, with some questions of clarification (e.g. is 20 secs a maximum or fixed amount, are movies allowed to be embedded, animations too? etc) and I’m having to assume that if it follows the Ignite guidelines it will be shown via ..ugh, Powerpoint. But at least it will restore Powerpoint to what it’s good for – as a picture show application.

The Melbourne information is here, so enrol and come along and have some fun!

Escape from Cubicle Nation: The Upside of Fear