Category Archives: iWork

A Keynote tutorial showing an advanced use of MagicMove to animate a still photo

Microsoft has finally acknowledged how poorly the vast majority of its Powerpoint users apply their technology. Too much text, and chintzy clip art.

In Office365 its Office team has introduced two “new” features called Designer and Morph.

Here is an official video from one of its engineering team, Christopher Maloney.

Apple Keynote users are likely to shrug their shoulders knowing that Keynote has had such design aspirations almost from its beginnings in 2003, and the Morph equivalent, MagicMove, was introduced by Phil Schiller at Macworld in January 2009. (Steve Jobs had stopped keynoting the year before, when he introduced the original MacbookAir).

Since then, many Keynote users have adopted MagicMove into their workflow, although many of us have always thought Apple could do so much more with it.

Perhaps it will now that Microsoft has caught the bug of more evolved animation, but if MagicMove does up the ante, it will likely be because the desire for iOS parity has been achieved with more powerful A-series processors and more RAM in Apple’s mobile devices.

The bleating that accompanied the shift from Keynote 5 to Keynote 6 a few years ago, when quite a few special elements of Keynote were omitted, has quietened. More features have been returned or added to Keynote, and at least there appears to be life in the iWork engineering team with more frequent updates in recent months.

I am a big user of MagicMove, because it saves time, mouse clicks and “build clutter”. When a single slide has so many builds, it’s hard to decipher what one has created. This is not helped by the Keynote team who have not updated the layering of elements in the way Microsoft achieved it years ago, as shown in the video I created below, in 2011!

The other problem with its build order is the inability to name groups after one has combined elements. All groups are simply labelled group, rather than an even minimally useful: Group 1, Group 2, etc. Perhaps that is still to come.

It seems clear to me though that Keynote users are some of the most creative people out there, taking what the engineering team offers, then re-purposing it in novel ways which perhaps surprise and delight the team. That was certainly the experience I enjoyed when I visited the team in Pittsburgh in 2009.

So I want to take you through another tutorial on using Keynote’s MagicMove to create some popular designer memes you’ll see in videos and current affairs television, where the graphic artists have employed very expensive pro software.

I get better with Keynote when I’m inspired by the pros and try to emulate what they do as much as possible in Keynote, and only when necessary step outside and use inexpensive third party software.

Here is an example of a meme I will attempt to emulate in Keynote. What you’ll see below is a pro-user’s After Effects tutorial using a parallax effect to create movement on a still photo. The effect is seen in the first minute or so and the rest of the video is the “How to” part:

Clearly, for some presentations you’ll need to leave Keynote to use either After Effects from Adobe, or Apple’s own Motion. Each has quite a steep learning curve if you’re used to the simplicity of Keynote. The resultant movie will then be imported into your presentation.

But Keynote still has some tricks up its sleeve. In the video tutorial below, I step you through how to bring movement to a static photo, like the After Effects illustration above.

It uses Keynote’s MagicMove, Draw with pen, and Mask with selection elements, and also utilises a third party software from MacPhun called Snapheal Pro. As always your comments are valued, especially if you have other workflows to share.


Steve Jobs’ Keynote work ethic, and Keynote 6.6’s new build, “Line Draw” – learn what it does

In a timely post last week, pre-dating the release of significant updates to Apple’s iWork suite, former Apple VP Jean-Louis Gassee offered up a “Monday notes” blog entry mentioning his work with Steve Jobs, and in particular, Jobs’ use of Keynote, his presentation software first brought to market in 2003 (click to enlarge):

Jean-Louis Gassee's blog quoting Phil Schiller on Steve Jobs keynote preparation

Jean-Louis Gassee’s blog quoting Phil Schiller on Steve Jobs keynote preparation

This really echoes my own thoughts about Keynote, and presenting, and I still believe Apple’s competitor to Microsoft’s Powerpoint elicits within me a flow of ideas and concepts which its competitors can’t – just trying to manage their layout and mechanics interferes with my creativity. Others may feel other software best helps them with their thinking through of ideas.

I must say that for many people the thought of putting Jobsian efforts into their presentations feels very unnatural, especially those time-poor, such as teachers. You’ll note too how the description speaks of Jobs’ ever-present awareness of how best to convey an idea to a particular audience. Indeed, in Walter Isaacson’s biography, there’s a story of Steve Jobs being in hospital for treatment scolding his treating doctors for their poor presentations, and offering to coach them in Keynote. Jobs clearly believed that providing presenters with better tools might assist them with better presentations . I’m guessing he would not brook the argument that it’s not correct to blame the tool, but the carpenter for a poor job. For me, a poorly balanced and blunt saw will interfere with an accomplished carpenter’s efforts. Similarly, even the most expensive and exquisite Stradivarius will not make a mediocre violinist anything more than mediocre.

During the same week that followed, Apple made some major changes to its iWork suite, even though it named these as just point changes. It took the cloud based offerings out of beta, added new features, and improved iWork apps’ abilities to open old files created from previous versions. For Keynote 6.6, here are the published changes from the Keynote Help file:

New features in Keynote 6.6

New features in Keynote 6.6

In this blog post, I want to focus on and illustrate the new build animation, Line Draw.

I have previously used existing Keynote elements to achieve the same animation, but it has been complex and inelegant. Line Draw is simple: it refers to drawing a line with an arrowhead or other endpoint and having it appear right at the beginning, rather than at the end, which occurs if you use a Wipe build-in.

There is a little more to it, and so I have created a kind of “How to” Youtube video for you to study, and incorporate some other ideas for animating charts. I’d estimate it as requiring moderate Keynote skills and knowledge. Stop the video where you need to, but certainly try to emulate what I’m doing to best learn.

Here’s the video – watch it full screen:

Last week’s Apple ResearchKit introduction with SVP Jeff Williams – using Keynote’s “cube” builds to bring text on and off a slide effectively

A little preamble (Forshpeiz)

Each Apple keynote, such as the one delivered last week showing new MacBooks and the AppleWatch, brings with it much excitement and anticipation from a variety of audiences.

Tim Cook, as the Ringleader corralling the variety of speakers – some from within Apple, others from associated companies displaying their wares – likely has the final say over the form of the keynote, having perhaps learnt at the feet of keynotemeister, Steve Jobs.

I don’t think it’s my imagination but I do believe since he began this central role some keynotes ago when he formally became CEO (not just Jobs’ interim stand-in), Tim’s presentation style and confidence has vastly improved.

I no longer cringe at what appears to be his earnest but seemingly inauthentic speech patterns. He truly seems to have come into his own and is really enjoying his role of ringleader in what can often turn out to be a three-ring circus of various product displays during the keynote.

The challenge he has is recognising how to deal with the variety of audiences Apple keynotes attract.

Thinking about who your audience comprises is one of the things I speak of consistently during my workshops. Audiences for Apple’s keynotes are diverse. From investors and shareholders, through to its own employees – maybe learning of Apple’s products for the first time such is the secrecy within the Apple campus – and then going on to the general public, the enterprise, education, religious organisations and perhaps a never-ending list of Apple users and non-users alike.

There is of course another audience – Apple’s competitors for whom Apple once displayed a “Redmond, start your photocopiers” banner in the Moscone centre during one Macworld Expo introducing OS X Tiger.  Now it would likely to be: “Seoul, start your 3D printers”.



There is perhaps one other group for whom Tim and his presenting team give little consideration.

There is a group of people, like you have come to this website, who consistently look at these keynotes for indications of where Apple’s flagship presentation software, Keynote, may be going. It is here that we see Apple’s live beta testing of new features it is considering for the next upgrade to Keynote.

At its introduction at Macworld in 2003, Steve Jobs famously said that he was Keynote’s main beta tester before its release as a stand-alone $99 product for the public to buy. (Those 5000 attendees at the 2003 keynote were lucky enough to get a free copy, plus a free iSight firewire camera). So, each keynote, a group of Apple Keynote users carefully follows the presentation,  not just for the content, but for the process of delivering the content.

What’s become clear since Tim took over has been the space and time given over to high production value movies inserted into the keynote. That’s because the processes of manufacture that Apple is now employing are so complex words alone are insufficient and if a picture tells a thousand words then the movie tells 100,000 words.

No doubt, as you continue to go to others’ presentations and perhaps give them too, you will see more and more people inserting movies, and I do believe there’s a fine line to be drawn between just enough and going overboard.

I also believe Apple has begun including more animations, not necessarily those deliverable by Keynote, in its efforts to best illustrate the workings and philosophy of its products.

The Main Course (Entree)

In this blog entry, I want to focus on a text insertion method I have been employing for a number of years, but which I saw included in last week’s keynote, perhaps for the first time, but for once in very clear view.

Fortune reports on Apple's plans for Medical Research at SXSW 2015

Fortune reports on Apple’s plans for Medical Research at SXSW 2015

It’s featured in what was a surprise inclusion that none of the rumour sites picked up on.

Yet it received almost universal acclaim from websites, developers and of course the medical community. I’m speaking of Researchkit, and new relationships Apple has forged with a number of international research institutes investigating some of the world’s most pressing chronic health issues. Perhaps the icing on the cake was that Researchkit was also to go open source and not be restricted in the long term to Apple devices.

Tim Cook himself did not do the Researchkit demonstration, but left it to senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams. If Jeff has done a previous Apple keynote, I can’t recall, and a few people have suggested his presentation lacked polish.

That seemed to make no difference at all to most in the audience who grasped almost immediately the importance of Researchkit. For many, it would have been an example of how Apple can use its technology muscle to give back to the world.

Jeff had three main points he wished to make. He could have used a tried-and-true bullet point method, as most other presenters would have. But instead he chose to use some animations to bring in each point as a stand-alone message. I have used the same technique in many of my own presentations for the last couple of years, so it was great to see it validated in an Apple keynote.

I’ve taken a section featuring Jeff from the keynote, and I’m going to show you how I can reproduce it so that you too may include it should you find a practical reason to do so. It’s one of a number of ways to bring text onto a slide in a meaningful way, rather than simply select text on the slide and work your way down a bulleted list.

I have converted the MP4 video from Apple’s own podcast into a GIF which will replay over and over again, so you get an idea of what we’re trying to do here.

It starts with Jeff, to the right, and the research kit logo centre screen. The logo then moves to the left, leaving “white space” for the text to fill.


As you can see, the entry and exit of the three sentences are done by a cube animation. We first saw such an animation highlighted as a slide transition when Jobs first introduced keynote more than a decade ago, and I recall thinking to myself when I saw it, that this was not your father’s PowerPoint.

In later versions of the cube slide transition – now available but poorly rendered in PowerPoint, and perhaps now overused in Keynote – the effect has been applied to text and object rendering within a slide (cf. transiting between slides).

Rather than use the blog entry here to describe what I did to replicate Jeff’s  keynote, I created a YouTube video walking you through the various steps I took so you can follow along and stop it where you need,  while you duplicate what I’m doing in your own Keynote file.

Emulating Apple’s Healthkit dual gradient design meme in Keynote – a video walkthrough for those wishing to learn more about Keynote

We’re currently in the throes of Apple changing the look and feel of its operating systems.

iOS 8 has just been released, revealing the influence of Apple Senior VP Jony Ive in bringing a flatter look. Yosemite is around the corner and it too will show a quite different feel from the desktop operating systems of the past few years.

When Apple makes these large scale changes, it introduces design memes which are often copied. Witness the original Bondi Blue iMac of 1998, and how it changed not just Apple’s design standards, but that of many other technologies, bringing multicoloured translucency to many non-IT products, for better or worse.

In iOS8, Apple has introduced Healthkit, a series of services combining both apps and hardware which resides on your iOS devices.

Below is a representation of some of its services:


Here, on the left you can see the Dashboard, with Calories burnt in orange above a Sleep measure, in blue, below. On the right, you can see a variety of health services and measures incorporated into Healthkit.

I now fully expect that these visual representations of data points will become a design meme many will choose to follow, with their crisp sharp images and icons.

(UPDATE: The folks at UI design outfit, Mercury, have offered a graphic of iOS8 elements here. Below is the healthkit range – click to enlarge).

Screenshot 2014-10-03 07.46.17

Here’s a screenshot I took of my own iPhone 6 screen showing steps taken these past few days:


I want you to note Apple’s use of dual advanced gradients. One is the entire orange soft edge rectangular shape containing all the relevant data, chart and information, going vertically from an orange to an almost blood red.

But I want you to also note the line chart showing how many steps I took the last few days, from September 26-October 1. Note in particular the area under the series of white lined data points, which too has a gradient from light orange to a darker hue.

I wanted to know if this design meme could be replicated in Keynote unassisted by third party drawing tools. This is one way I hone my Keynote skills, by setting myself challenges to reproduce what may have been constructed in professional design software.

The task then was to create an advanced gradient embedded on an advanced gradient.

In the video below, I walk you through one set of solutions, so that those with rudimentary Keynote skills can learn to apply some of the software’s deeper elements, such as grouping, drawing, outlining, gradients, colour matching, opacity and layering.

Bear in mind, the means I show may not be the only way to do this, and if you have more economical means (i.e., less mouse clicking), let me know in the comments.


Apple gives us some great transitions in its Keynote presentation software – but is there a way to add more? Yes, there is!

In January 2003, when Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s presentation software, Keynote, at Macworld, he emphasised its “cinematic” qualities. By this he meant its adroitness using high quality images, text and transitions between slides. His presentation at Macworld elicited many “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” when he demonstrated cube and dissolve transition, something the dominant platform of its day – Microsoft’s Powerpoint – could not perform with such slickness.

Jobs then elicited many cheers when he announced the $99 Keynote would be given free to all the Macworld attendees, and indeed, just like Powerpoint had become the first part of the Microsoft Office puzzle to form, Keynote became the first part of iWork.

The history is a little more political in a sense, however. 2003 was the year the five year agreement between Apple and Microsoft was to end. The story is now well known but often misinterpreted that on his return in 1997, Jobs declared the desktop wars were over, Microsoft had won, and Apple didn’t need Microsoft to lose for it to win also. As a sign of good faith, and as part of a legal arrangement due to its use of Quicktime technologies, Microsoft invested $150 million of non-voting stock (often said to have saved Apple from the brink of bankruptcy by those who insist Microsoft “saved” Apple), and Apple gave Internet Explorer pride of place as its browser of choice. Microsoft also agreed to continue developing Office for the Mac for five years.

Some would say this was a very important vote of confidence in Apple, as well as perhaps preventing accusations of monopoly operations on the part of Microsoft. The full story can be read in any number of places, but perhaps start here.

Almost twelve years later, the world of technology is a very different place. But one aspect hasn’t changed much at all, despite the evolving use of technologies and their increasing power, and that’s presenting complex information to a variety of audiences, something that forms the basis for this blog site.

It still feels to me as I travel locally and internationally that many presenters still present as if they’re using overhead projectors, for which the predecessor to Powerpoint – Forethought – was developed, so that the Macintosh Plus and Apple’s Laserwriter could produce overhead transparencies.


These presentation remain text and chart heavy, and of course if all you show is text, there is no need to give consideration to how you transit from one slide to the next.

But of course film makers, from the time in the early 20 century when film could be edited and glued back together, understood the role of transitions in helping tell a story, especially when that story was fictional. Do remember that in its early days, films usually depicted real life events, often biblical or historical in nature, and eventually evolved to create motion pictures featuring new stories.

Transitions between scenes became a tremendously important audience cue, telling them if they were to be transported back or forward in time, or to another location, or into a thought sequence of one of the characters, and so on.

They formed imaginary bridges between scenes, allowing – along with the editing process – for filmmakers to shoot out of sequence. A language of transitions was created, and it was this vocabulary that Jobs referred to in 2003, distinguishing Keynote’s cinematic qualities from that of the more pedestrian Powerpoint.

It should come as no surprise that Keynote was developed for Jobs’ own style of presenting, having its origins – at least from a design point of view –  as a NeXT application, Concurrence. This occurred at a time when Jobs was making his second fortune, taking ownership of Pixar, and steeping himself heavily in the machinations of the film industry. (Do locate that link to Concurrence for an exceptional first hand insight into the origins of Jobs’ presenting skills).

Both Powerpoint and Keynote distinguish themselves by their various themes, builds and transitions. There is a vast third party market for themes, and one only needs to attend a few science conferences to see how regularly certain Powerpoint themes appear, almost as if to say “This is the default for Science Presenting”.

Apple itself for its own elaborate keynotes rarely strays from the Gradient theme, and many Keynote users stay with this for their own presentations. Transitions between slides however do not see a third party plug-in system, unlike that for Apple’s professional moviemaking siblings, like Final Cut and Motion, the latter allowing you to create your own transitions for Final Cut.

These are professionally oriented programs. Keynote can be used for school projects as well as multimillion dollar deals and also appears on your iPhone, iPad and laptops of lower processing power. I’ve always wondered, and occasionally written, if Apple will introduce a plugin system for its builds and transitions, expecting or at least half hoping that with each update or upgrade of Keynote, this feature would be added.

Alas, even at version 6, Keynote’s transitions remain immutable; indeed, some got left out in going from version 5 to 6 to allow greater parity amongst all versions of Keynote, including online. Another aspect of version 5 that was overlooked, but thankfully now included in the latest version of Keynote, is movie transparency. That’s important for the next part of this blog entry.

The other features I had expected would make their appearance by now would be some kind of Apple timeline in Keynote for making more precise builds and transitions, and that of grouping and naming items. Group several items into multiple groups on the one slide, and they’re all named Group, not even Group 1, Group 2, etc. Combine that with less than stellar manipulation of layers on a Keynote slide and you have a lot of frustration at your finger tips. Not enough to send me over to Powerpoint, but the Microsoft product has certainly done a lot of catching up in recent upgrades, although it remains less than cinematic in its output.

So, is there a way to introduce new transitions into Keynote, ones that better help you tell your story and help you stand out from the crowd who are going to town using cube transitions and other overused elements?

Well, yes, in the shape of Telestream’s Screenflow software, one of several “helper” applications I use when creating my presentations. That in combination with another third party maker of transitions, Flowtility.

Screenflow may have started out as a screen capture tool – a feature that’s now even built into the current Quicktime application – but it is now way more than that. It is still a great tool for developing training tools, showing how users how to become familiar with the operations and functions of applications. It comes with a timeline, sophisticated means to add media then manipulate them, text rendering, and so on. And it also comes with built-in transitions, just like Keynote and some too have been borrowed from the motion picture business.

There are times when I want really precise build timing on a Keynote slide but sometimes, it’s just too laborious to use trial-and-error, as it stands now. So what I do is have all the elements and their builds on a slide in “as-close to final but not perfect” fashion then export that slide – on its own – as the highest quality Quicktime export I can. That file is then imported into Screenflow when I can make adjustments to fractions of a second, and even add new elements if the mood strikes me.

When I’m satisfied, the Screenflow file is exported, once more as a high quality Quicktime file, into Keynote where it will be observed by a none-the-wiser audience, and perhaps intrigue any Keynote users as to how the effect was done.

As a corollary, many Powerpoint heavy users know I don’t use their favourite presentation tool because some of the effects can’t be achieved in Powerpoint.

Unfortunately, as with Motion and Final Cut, you can’t “lift” Screenflow transitions and dump them into Keynote in some ersatz plug in system. But you can use them, and some of the third party transitions now available for Screenflow, in Keynote with a little sleight of hand. These third party transitions, from Flowtility, are really quite interesting, but as usual, one must be cautious rather than kitschy.

Flowtility allows you to download transitions as transparent movie files which can then be imported into a variety of apps such as iMovie, and of course Keynote. Here is a selection of its movie files added to a Keynote file.

In this case, the transitions occur on the slide, not between them. Your task is to remove the items your transiting from at some midpoint of the movie’s playing when the entire slide is obscured, use the Disappear build out feature, then immediately use the build in Appear feature for the new element you wish your audience to see. See my instructional video below to see how to do this:

In the case above, you don’t need to use Screenflow at all – just the transparent movies imported into your Keynote slides. If the movies play too fast or slow,  find a copy of Quicktime Pro 7 which allows you to change the playback speed, up or down. This will allow a greater or lesser pause time when the slide contents are obscured.

In the next video, I have instead used another Flowtility pack imported into Screenflow. I have used an imaginary book as the element on the slide to be introduced or whisked away, but for the video below, the sequence looks as follows, from this Screenflow screenshot:

Screenshot 2014-10-01 15.32.18

You can see the image we are working with, to its right are various media I can choose from, and below is the timeline with a thin red bar showing at what time point the transition – a camera shot – will occur.

The one image is “stretched” for a certain time – a few minutes in this case – then a cut is made every few seconds. Each cut, like an edited strip of film, is shifted to overlay the previous cut, and Screenflow automatically creates a transition area, the default of which is a dissolve transition, although this can be reset to the user’s preference.

One then selects each transition from a gallery, including the defaults, plus the addition of new purchased items. A small snapshot of each transition is embedded so you can see a static preview. In this way, you can “fake” a transition from one slide to another, by having a transition occur as a movie on the one slide. Here are some of Flowtility’s Pro transitions:

Your task is to know the content of the slide at the beginning pre-transition and what it will look like at the end. Your audience will be none the wiser.

There is one aspect you need to know.

Often, Keynote’s own transitions manipulate what’s on the screen and distorts or animates it as it moves to the next slide. Magic Move is a great example, and still underused by many. Others like Droplet manipulate the image before the audience’s eyes.

Screenflow’s transitions can do some of these too, but they are essentially parallels to Keynote and offer nothing new. The effects not seen in Keynote which interest us here function as you will have seen from the sample video above by obscuring the objects on the slide then revealing them.

That is, for a moment, the slide’s content is not seen, and this is where – like a magician’s sleight of hand – you replace one image or set of objects with a new set, which in fact is your new slide. This all occurs on the one slide, because what the audience is witnessing is a movie exported from Screenflow.

The next Keynote slide can be the end result reconstructed as a whole – or even a screenshot transited to – with an “Appear” transition in Keynote so the audience is none the wiser. This can be done with a click manually, or automatically once the Screenflow movie has stopped playing. Just remember which style of transition you’ve used.

The new slide could conceivably contain all the elements of the previous slide, such as text, images, backgrounds, etc., but represented statically. They then can be built out or moved individually, depending on your story.

So, that’s one way to add some new transitions to a familiar friend in Keynote. More advanced users may wish to play with Apple’s Motion software, but for many this will be going past the point of necessity.

On the other hand, I think all presenters who use Keynote would do well to download a copy of Screenflow and explore its virtues. In a forthcoming blog article, I’ll discuss how I use its ChromaKey or Green Screen effect to create more engaging webinars in concert with Keynote.

Think including a TED talk video can enhance your Powerpoint or Keynote presentation? Think again and think like a magician

Last month, June 2014, I was part of a nationwide travelling convention intended to bring high school teachers up to date with the field of Positive Psychology and what it can offer students.

This year its organisers wanted to pay particular attention to the place of Technologies in mental health, and so I was tapped to offer a series of talks as well as presentation skills workshops.

The talks were part of a seminar featuring how to best understand how current and imminent technologies have a role to play in mental health in schools. The presentation skills effort was a one hour talk, showcasing the highlights of my half day and longer workshops.

All in all, there were about a dozen speakers, comprised of authors, psychologists, researchers and technologists including those from the Australian arms of Microsoft and Google, who visited the cities of Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

The arrangement, as told to me by the organisers, was that each city would receive the same presentations. On the surface, that sounds ideal and easy: the same talk four times. But as it turns out for a few of the presenters, including myself, this wasn’t ideal and in fact we gave variations for all of our presentations. It was an iterative process, learning from each presentation what worked best and which slides and ideas appealed to the audience.

By the fourth conference I felt I had “honed” my presentations and delivered the “biggest bang for the buck”; that is, in the time I had these were my most impactful presentations.

During each of the conferences, conducted over two days including large auditoriums and break out rooms for smaller concurrent workshops, I was able to attend as an audience member and watch others in action.

For each conference, there were times when all the attendees (400+) would gather in one large auditorium to hear the speakers, including me on technologies.

What I, and the organisers, found interesting were those highly paid professional speakers who gave the same presentation each time. I was perhaps the least known to the audience of all the presenters and likely the least financially compensated, so I had to prove myself and win over the audiences with my content and presentation style. Which is why I welcomed the opportunity to present and improve each time.

By the fourth conference, three weeks after we had started, the organisers appeared a little frustrated with the “sameness” of the highly paid speakers. Perhaps they had become insensitive to the content after so many repetitions, or perhaps they became more critical of the content itself and the delivery style. Perhaps they had become more objectively reflective of the presentations without the anxiety of how the conferences were going over. (By the fourth, the series was considered both a financial and educational success).

I shared with the organisers my own sense of certain presenters “going through the motions”, whereas I had taken on board feedback and my own personal debrief to change my presentations. I was a little surprised when the organisers shared their own sense of disappointment and unmet expectations. Their highly paid speakers had been a drawcard and given the conference series some gravitas. But by the fourth presentation, the presentations had lost their punch and like the Emporer’s Clothes, were revealed for what they were: A collage of ideas, on passable slides, hung together with TED-type videos.

This was brought home to me in one of my presentation skills sessions when a very perceptive audience member, who had witnessed one highly paid speaker address the entire conference and had come away clearly disappointed, asked me about videos in presentations.

Usually, if I’m asked about videos, it’s more to do with issues of copyright, or more mundane aspects such as how to import videos into their Powerpoint stacks. (Thankfully, more recent versions of Powerpoint have made this more Keynote-like, with some built-in editing features in addition).

So, during my last workshop, I was taken aback when the audience member asked if there’s a scenario where you can put too many videos into a presentation. It was in fact the same thought I’d had the same morning witnessing the highly paid speaker I’ve referenced previously.

When asked of her concerns, the audience member seemed somewhat unable to describe quite what it was that was concerning her, which made it difficult to give a good answer. It also made it difficult that the speaker in question was in my audience!

I offered that there are no “rules” one can refer to, such as “no video more than 3 minutes long”, or no more than n videos per 30 minutes of presenting.

But afterwards, it bothered me that with so many TED talks being repurposed, presenters are now becoming lazy, using videos like old-fashioned cue cards or text-heavy slides to convey complex ideas. And this is what the conference organisers had shared with me, without being as specific: that their well-paid speakers were using others’ work to illustrate their ideas, and rather than using one or two very cogent and on-point videos, their presentations were now more than 50% taken up with the work of others.

Now, there is skill needed to locate and then include in one’s talk appropriate video materials. But it’s clear too that there comes a point when audiences see through this, the presenter has lost control of the presentation and instead has become the “host” of a collection of videos, like a version of Australia’s or America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Let’s review for one moment the obvious video failures we see over and over again in conference presentations by presenters who need to up skill their mechanical aptitude, such as:

1. Rather than smoothly transitioning to the slide embedded with a video, they need to drop out of the presentation stack (revealing the remaining 300 slides), locate the video on the desktop or in a folder nested three levels down, and open it in Windows Media Player so we can see the Play and Fast Forward buttons, and how much time remains. If we’re unlucky, they will not know how to have it play fullscreen, so we see a portion of their Windows desktop screen and all their short cuts.

2. The presenter hasn’t tested the audio system so the audience is either blasted or the sound is either mute or too low to hear. Then we watch as they “click, click, click” the volume button (if they can find it). Memo to Mac Users: Make sure you go to System Preferences->Sound->Sound Effects and leave the “Play feedback when volume is changed” unchecked, (below):


3. Presenters have chosen video of such low resolution that it has to be played the size of a postage stamp lest it pixelate so badly it becomes unwatchable.

4. Being a little smart, they drop out of their presentation, go to the YouTube page they have bookmarked, then wonder why the video isn’t playing (um, you need an internet connection) or if there is a connection it is so poor the video continuously buffers.

5. Not knowing how to edit using video software, they have dumped a half hour video onto a slide, haven’t cued it up, then dragged the slider to “about the right position” telling us what they want us to see is about to start “… about now….”

These are some of the mechanical issues so often seen at conferences.

But what of the conceptual errors in presentations?

The biggest problem as I see it is one amateur joke tellers make: they haven’t properly set up the story, so as to deliver the punchline and grab a laugh.

In the same way, I’ve witnessed presenters simply drop into a video and while it’s playing explain what the audience is viewing and why it’s relevant to their talk. Not just is it splitting audience attention – “what do I listen to – the video or the speaker?” – but it can easily leave the audience in a state of unease and confusion.

In my own experience, I spend time “setting up” the video or at least the point of shifting gears away from having the audience attend to what I’m saying, to what is on display on the screen. This is no different than a stage magician controlling the audience’s attention in order to direct or misdirect them.

So I might say, “One person who seems to understand this principle, is Dr. X. In addition to her writings, last year she presented at Conference Y, and I’d like to show you a little of her presentation. In particular, as you view this, notice….”

I then get the heck away from the screen and stand to the side of the room observing the audience. I always show video full screen, or embed them in a familiar object, such as a TV screen image, as below.

Edison crazy ones

What you see above is a slide from a Keynote 6 stack from my Positive Schools technology presentation. It shows a scene from the “Crazy Ones” Apple advertisement of 1997. I placed the clip, which I finished at Edison portrayed in a still shot, in a portable TV set of the era, to set the scene.

The idea was to introduce the video, and then stop at this point and ask the audience if they recognise any of the people seen, such as Richard Branson, Maria Callas, etc. I then segue into a discussion of Edison and his inventions and how they upset existing industries including energy (gas), and music (Live musicians).

A curious aside: For my Melbourne presentation, I had discovered a wonderful video from an Apple Distinguished Educator called Ray Nashar. I didn’t know it at the time, but after my presentation an audience member had tweeted to Ray that I had used his video in my talk. I then found out he was a local teacher.

Below, is my Keynote slide where I introduce his short video, created entirely in Keynote. I introduced the video by first repurposing some of his slides, placing cropped images of the two gentlemen below on the one slide – they are Ray Kurzweill and Sir Ken Robinson – then going into the video having set up who these featured people were and why was including Ray’s video in my talk.


As it turned out, this was one of the most requested links I was ask for after my talk, via email or Twitter.

Here’s Ray Nashar video, Education is a Conversation, below, and you’ll see why it was a little effortful to create the combined slide, above:

Videos in presentations must have their own reason for being there

Each presenter will develop their own means by which to introduce videos, but they must have a reason for being included, rather than simply fill time or make the presenter’s job easier.

Some presentation trainers might quote you ratios or percentages of video to overall presentation, but I can locate no empirical evidence to show what is best for any given audience or subject.

The overarching principle – ALWAYS – is that you, the presenter, remain in charge of the presentation, even if you’re showing videos of people of great celebrity or fame. They become YOUR support acts, and your audience will want to come to appreciate your wise and clever selection of brief clips which best illustrate your ideas, in addition to what you say, what you ask, what other graphics or text you use, and what you ask the audience to do, implicitly or explicitly.

Just like a magician with his or her props, which help to tell a story for which there is a surprise punchline, your video selection helps your audience stay engaged, reinforces your message, and helps you remain authentic and authoritative about your presentation subject.

As with your slides, they are not your presentation, but supplementary elements. Carefully chosen, embedded without showing how the magic is done (i.e., dropping out of your presentation to enter Window Media Player etc.) and of decent resolution and sound quality, your included videos can take a humble presentation and turn it into something special, making you a special presenter.

Don’t give away your power of engagement by having the videos tell all your story, but have them as your support act, assistants or props where the audience attention leaves and comes back to you on your command.


The moment I lost my cool presenting on Keynote at Macworld this year (and why)

Many who attend my Presentation Magic workshops are often in for a surprise. Some come along hoping to learn more about the mechanics of Keynote or Powerpoint; some to overcome their performance anxiety, and others because they’ve been before and want to know what new goodies I may have to share in an updated workshop.

In truth, I cover a lot of these bases, except the one about the mechanics of Powerpoint, but then again there is no shortage of coaches for getting better at working through all that Powerpoint has to offer.

But as I frequently mention, all that sage Powerpoint advice hasn’t improved the “presentationsphere”, especially in the worlds of science, medicine, engineering and the law.

No, what attendees get is a day of reasoning about why it’s important to change the way we present, to understand to whom we’re presenting, how to best take our complex messages and make them accessible and memorable, and then see first hand how I think through all of the above, with examples I have constructed, or in the case of others’ presentations, deconstructed.

This year, I returned to Macworld/iWorld after a year’s absence to show how my presentations have been affected by the introduction of Keynote 6 on the desktop.

I drew about 50 to the all day workshop, and SRO to the 45 minute quick look I gave a few days later.

It was at the Quick Look session that I momentarily lost my cool. In truth, I tried to pack too much into a brief session, including how to use Keynote with Green Screen or Chroma Key effects, much like you see weather presenters on the TV news.

I wanted to show how understanding where the presentation landscape was moving – to a much more interactive and less linear style – would drive the future use of Keynote, and change how its users thought about presentations in general.

So I was feeling somewhat under the pump, as the saying goes, juggling a variety of Keynote stacks, so I could move swiftly between ideas.

Things did not start well when I played a game of Keynote-based Family Feud, selecting two member so of the audience to guess the top answers to the question,

What are the best new features in Keynote6?

The intention was to use the Keynote 6-based hyperlinked stack of slides to highlight some of its improvements. This is based on an old stack going back to Keynote 3 or so, when hyperlinking was introduced to Keynote. It’s a way to have fun, and show the power of such a feature to “move around” a slide deck with a live audience and bring more engagement to the presentation.

To do it, I use my iPad to mirror the projector data display, and by pressing on its screen, can either produce a “buzz – you’re wrong” sound, or a “bing – you’re correct” sound, with which a numbered panel “cubes” around to reveal the correct answer and how many votes it got.

Unfortunately, the two competitors I chose were not sufficiently familiar with the possible answers, that I had to return them to the audience and turn it into an audience-wide activity. We got to all fiver answers in the end, and I was able to show some of the features. But it was also clear to me that for many in the audience, the switch to Keynote 6 from Keynote 5 was not the Little Shop of Horrors it had been for power users hungry for an update after almost five years.

Indeed, I would hazard a guess that for many, Keynote 6 and its equivalent on the iOS, was their first experience at Apple’s efforts on the presentation front.

This led me to the next part of my brief talk, and that was the justification for why it’s important to understand and use the best tools available to get across complex messages. As in previous workshops, I showed a variety of scenarios where presentations were being employed in unexpected scenarios, such as cruise ship lectures, sermons and of course MOOCS, the online training courses which have traditional universities quaking.

But I also wanted to say that in the world of science, those who endorse the scientific method, with their publications appearing in scholarly journals written in an academic style – devoid of self-reference and emotion – are coming up against opposing camps who do not have to hold to the same level of peer review,  scientific endeavour, and who are well-funded.

I had in mind a video to show, one which I have used on various occasions, featuring the television performer, Jenny McCarthy, below, speaking on ABC television about dietary treatments for autism. I wanted to hold her up as a poster child for whom television wishes more of, because she brings “easy on the eye and ear” charm, even though her message(s) are often contradicted by the published data in scholarly journals. In the ABC TV news item, only very brief mention is made of a journal editorial in Pediatrics, the bulk of the time going to McCarthy’s personal experiences, which are contradicted by Pediatrics.


Now, almost everything I say in my workshops has been rehearsed and matched to the slides I show. When I go off-script, I usually render the screen black (the B key on your keyboard or a button on your remote) and have a discussion with the audience.

But in preparing to discuss why presenters need to upskill, and with my arousal levels already high with wanting to get through all material I had prepared (which needed a very tight adherence to allotted times), when it came to my introducing the science vs. anecdotal evidence argument (one characterised by Jenny McCarthy’s interview), I blurted out a phrase which I had thought about in preparations, but had decided was too emotional to actually mention.

What I said was,

“There are Barbarians at the Gate”.

 This a two-part reference to firstly, a book and movie of the same name, the story of the leveraged buyout of the R.J. Nabsico company. It stars my favourite Barbariansatthegate-bookactor, James Garner, in a central role as his character orchestrates the aggressive buyout from Nabisco’s shareholders.

The whole movie is available to watch (it being a Made for TV HBO special) on YouTube here:

Barbarians at the Gate

My use of this film title really is idiosyncratic. My thinking was to use the word “Barbarian” in the way many ancient societies had used it to denote those who did not belong to the mainstream society, whose values were uneducated and callous, and who had a disregard to seeking a society’s higher values and ethics.

The term itself has an incredibly rich history as a reading of Wikipedia will show.

…”at the Gate” is a reference to an imminent takeover. It’s my personal reference to the many threats to the pursuit of evidence as orthodox science best offers, compared to anecdotal evidence, folk lore, and that derived from politics, religious belief and the seeking of power.

It was my emotional recognition that contemporary science is losing the battle for the public mindset in such important endeavours as climate change, vaccination, evolution, and evidence-based health care, such as some US states’ refusal to fluoridate their water supplies.  Some would include gun control efforts in health care too.

One of the ways it’s losing that battle is the across-the-board poor presentation skills scientists display as they present to themselves, and seem to have very little idea of how to present complex ideas to the general public.

It’s a lament I continue to mention in my own promotional materials for conference workshops were I say that presenters are expected to describe their research conforming to an evidence-base but usually present to their audiences with a distinctly non-evidence based means, the so-called Death by Powerpoint.

It’s a really serious challenge for scientists who hold themselves to a higher level of evidence, who couch their findings not in certainties but in probabilities, and whose language is replete with unemphatic suggestion. Non-scientists in contrast ignore such niceties and speak publicly far more often in certainties, hyperbole, and misleading statistics. They capitalise on the general public’s poor understanding of science, and its methods.

Others have previously joined the chorus, such as Richard Somerville, a scientist at UCSD, and science communicator, Susan Joy Hassel. Writing in Physics Today, October 2011 (PDF), they declare

It is urgent that climate scientists improve the ways they convey their findings to a poorly informed and often indifferent public. 

They set out a number of hypothesis for this declaration as well as ways the indifference of the public can be overcome, especially how science uses language, as seen in this diagram below:


[ASIDE: Thus, I’m certainly not alone in recognising this gap between how science publicly presents itself, and how scientists think when they’re off the record. It’s why attending conferences is so important for professional development because it’s at lunch, or over coffee, or in a low-key networking event that leading scientists will speak more about their hypotheses and opinions – educated ones – and where one can learn so much. As a private practitioner in psychology, I try and abide by the evidence my betters in research provide, but it’s usually  years behind what I’m discovering from my patients.

So while I allow the research-based evidence to guide my practice, thirty years of working with thousands of patients is not to be sneezed at, especially given the research can’t be descriptive of all the permutations and combinations of patient presentations (symptom description) I’ve seen over the years. As one of my supervisors once remarked, therapists learn the most from their patients, then the supervision of their work with patients, then from workshops and other professional development, and least from the first degrees. Professional knowledge “turns over” so fast one might have to start learning facts again as soon as one’s degree course is completed!  END OF ASIDE]

There are very few scientists who know now to work the media, understand its games, and respond accurately yet firmly to journalist questions. It’s as if they’re always fearful their Head of Department is watching or the Fellows committee of their professional society is tut-tutting over some effort to explain complex phenomena in lay terms.

So we have few science media stars, or conversely, the few that exist are trotted out like the Usual Suspects such that in time their important message is lost through sheer familiarity.

What this means is that science and its practitioners must deepen the reservoir of talent who can reach out to the public with understandable and actionable message delivery. They must enrich themselves with stories the public can understand, rather than the story telling implicit in writing research-based publication: Introduction, Subjects, Method, Results, Discussion, References.

They must help the public understand in meaningful, visually elegant ways statistical concepts, probability theory, uncertainty, and confidence limits. So rather than being persuaded that 95% is a high level of confidence in one’s hypotheses, only to have an opponent say “but you’re not 100% sure, are you?”, scientists should offer up an understandable metaphor to throw back at their conservative interviewers:

“If you knew an area you wished to cross was 95% covered with land mines, leaving a random 5% free, would you take the risk of crossing; or, if you wished to swim across a river but knew that of the 100 people who tried before you only 5 got across with the rest being taken by crocodiles would you take the risk? Well, that’s how certain we are of…”

Concluding remarks:

All this means the modern skill set of scientists, at a time when conservative governments such as we have here in Australia are diluting the role of science in society, must encompass more than lab-based endeavours. It means starting with giving better presentations to themselves and the community, and seeing presentation skills as an implicit component of being a professional scientist.

Those in the sciences who dismiss these endeavours as not core to scientific endeavours might sooner or later find themselves without funds to carry out applied research, much less basic research.

To invoke another movie, All the President’s Men, scientists would do well to heed the words of Deep Throat to Bob Woodward: “Follow the money” to see how science is currently confronting barbarians who wish nothing more than to dismiss science’s values, methods and endeavours as an intrusion into their “entitlements” to carry on, business as usual.