Presentation Magic at Macworld 2010 – using Penn and Teller to demonstrate some of Keynote’s magical effects

Because I’m not placing my Powertools file on the Macworld website for attendees to review (I used several Keynote files, the main one being more than 2GB in size), I thought I’d share some of the Presentation Magic workshop here on my blog.

One of the changes I made from last year’s workshop, was a more definitive “behind the scenes” look at how I created various effects and why I employed them.

In 2009, quite a few attendees wanted me to stop during the presentation and explain what I had done with Keynote to achieve the effects I displayed. It was a little offputting, with some people feeling it interrupted the narrative “flow”, while others felt they had missed out on something important for their professional development (the “how I did it” part.)

So this year, I made a more planned and strategic workflow which emphasised some of Keynote’s overlooked tools which don’t really get that much attention. Sure, the transitions, from the supersmooth “dissolve” which Powerpoint 2010 might get close to, to the “smart builds” like MagicMove get Keynote much of its attention from audiences who only know Powerpoint.

But early in my workshop I wanted to discuss basics like the layering in Keynote – the “bring forward, send to back” menu items. part of the Keynote “Arrange” menu, below:

This menu item is one of Keynote’s secret treasures, but so often gets overlooked in favour of more sexy, but too often employed effects for effects sake. Just think how tired you may have become of the “cube” transition which so excited us when Steve Jobs first showed it in 2003’s Macworld keynote, below:

During his introduction of Keynote, Jobs emphasised that each night, we sit in front of our television sets and watch production level transitions and effects, and it was these he wanted Keynote to emulate. You don’t want to know the transitions and effects Powerpoint 97 was using when Keynote was introduced! It was no surprise the Macworld keynote attendees applauded loudly when Jobs showed these transitions. It was a paradigm shift, because we didn’t know we could have production level graphics effects on a PC, much less using software costing $99.

I must say I now rarely use the cube transition, especially now that Powerpoint 2010 has included a version that seems to work reasonably well (prior attempts were lamentable). With Powerpoint upping its game, expect to see more people overusing these “new” inclusions in it, effects which Keynote users have taken for granted since 2003.

The way I introduced the Arrange menu was to briefly discuss very early in the day the basis for Presentation Magic’s name, something IDG Macworld Expo MD Paul Kent and I came up with in 2008. (He had wanted to call the User conference I delivered “The Zen of Presentations”, but out of respect for Garr Reynolds I rejected that and Presentation Magic was what we came up with). For 2009, my first two day Powertools workshop, Paul had asked me this in July 2008:

The path to success for the two day class is to clearly describe how you will BOTH take attendees inside the keynote features that will make their presentations stand out, AND, how you will provide valuable insights how to structure presentations to best use a software tool to communicate when public speaking. In other words – the class should be more than just whizzy transitions! I’d be happy to read any drafts you come up with and offer suggestions. You did such a great job last year – I’m sure you understand the essence of what I’m asking you: the attendees want to do magic with the software, but we also want to help them with the invaluable advice of crafting and delivering memorable presentations.

I took his use of the term “Magic” seriously, and began to research the psychology of magic, given it is one of the oldest performing arts. But also because in using Virtual Reality in my clinical psychology practice, I am attempting to use the age old principles of magic to misdirect and deceive to produce a clinical effect. In this case, to raise levels of anxiety so as to practice a variety of interventions. In professional magic, being deceived is perceived as delightful and engaging; in clinical psychology, it gives one an opportunity to help patients retrain their anxiety-generating mechanisms via exposure and arousal modulation practice.

There is also a code of practice for professional magic, much like there is for professional psychology. One of them is not to reveal your secrets to non-performers. So I was aware of “spoiling” the magic of presenting by showing how I conceive then construct my presentations. The task was to integrate the psychology of presenting (ie the stuff about being persuasive and memorable) with the little behind the scenes trickery Keynote can let us perform to get the Wow factor without it being “whizzy” to use Paul Kent’s term, above. And at the same time, I wanted to keep the workshop flow going so we didn’t get bogged down in the sort of “how to” detail better suited to a Macworld MacIT workshop.

The clue to do this came about when I stumbled across a Penn and Teller YouTube video. These are two of my favourite performers, not just for their magic acts, but also their television show, now in its seventh series on Showtime, called “Bullshit!”, below:

The video I discovered, and subsequently showed at Macworld, was a performance showing Teller, the silent one on the right, above, walking out on stage to a bass guitar accompaniment played by Penn Jillete (left) who narrates a story of magic’s sleight of hand’s seven basic elements which Teller demonstrates. But half way through the video, Penn has Teller turn 180 degrees, to show the audience the magical elements in action, revealing how Teller performed his sleight of hand. It was a perfect metaphor for what I wanted to do, giving me “permission” to reveal some of the secrets of Keynote presenting where effects are hidden from the audience, who don’t even know they’re being misdirected and persuaded at the same time.

Below, please watch the video in its entirety, then I’ll show you what I did with Keynote to demonstrate the magic of the “Arrange” menu. See if you can remember the seven elements of sleight of hand when the video finishes:

Did you remember the seven elements?

Here they are if you didn’t remember:

Here they are displayed on a Keynote slide using a font which conveys the art of performing (Academy Engraved LET)

I wanted to assert that very few of those attending would be able to remember all seven, even a few minutes after seeing them mentioned several times during the video. Seven is the upper limit for working memory (four elements or chunks more the norm), where we try and hold onto concepts or memory elements before they are encoded for later retrieval. They can easily be pushed out of memory when new concepts come along, unless we can find a “hook” to keep them in. Indeed, even with the offer a free Presentation Zen Design book as incentive, no one took up the opportunity to try and publicly recall all seven.

Simply relisting them, as I do above on a slide (naturally I left out bullet points or numbers as they would only distract not add to their recall), wouldn’t help much.

The task was to make this part memorable, entertaining, and a teachable moment with respect to Keynote’s abilities. So I decide to create some slides which listed each element, and show how Keynote could emulate each one using the “Arrange” menu elements. I’ve put the slides together using Keynote’s Quicktime export menu so you can watch them in YouTube. Note that I begin the video with a quotation you will be hearing a lot in the next month, given how Apple has described the imminent release of its iPad:

The author of the well known phrase is Arthur C. Clarke, shown in the video in his home in Sri Lanka sitting before his iMac. (I showed this slide to the Keynote group in Pittsburgh last year, with its smoky background theme from Jumsoft. The Keynote team aren’t happy with such animated backgrounds, despite their increasing frequency of use. They break quite easily and don’t allow for smooth transitions. Indeed, during my Powertools workshop, this slide froze my Macbook Pro for a minute, which perfectly illustrated my Keynote team story!)

Here’s my series of slides from YouTube (stop and replay the video as necessary to determine for yourself what I did):

After I showed each slide, I dragged the Keynote window to the main projector screen, and showed how I used the “bring forward, send back” menu items to create a series of layers so that the words could move between layers to emulate the effect it was describing. Not all could be illustrated this way, sometimes it being better merely to illustrate the concept using familiar, funny or exceptional items to enhance encoding and recall. There is empirical evidence that matching pictures with words enhances recall, so I asked the group to remember the seven elements by thinking of the pictures I used to illustrate the concepts.

So the question you might have is how did I perform some of these effects?

Here’s a clue:

Further hint: I use Global Delight’s Voila software to take, manipulate and export screenshots.

I’ll put more of my Powertool’s workshop slides up on the blog in the days to come.

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2 responses to “Presentation Magic at Macworld 2010 – using Penn and Teller to demonstrate some of Keynote’s magical effects

  1. nice info, thanks for sharing.

  2. Yea, Les! Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and expertise…with us Northern Hemispherers.

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