Welcome to 2010, which is either the end of the first decade of the 2000’s or the first year of the second decade. Personally, I see it as the end of the first decade since there was no year 0.
In previous years, by now I would be in the US, either in NYC, Miami, LA or San Francisco (or all four from Christmas onwards) preparing to attend Macworld. But right now, things here in Melbourne are quiet and leisurely, so it gives time to catch up on TV and videos I didn’t see during the year, and of course prepare for Presentation Magic at Macworld in February.
Why would I spend time doing this during summer, when so many Aussies are outdoors? Well, it’s not as if I’m in hibernation, but we occasionally have such hot days here (over 40C several days in a row) that it’s best to stay indoors and avoid getting burnt to a sizzle. But more importantly, I get a chance to take my time pouring over media which I use for inspiration when preparing my Macworld presentation, as I’ll describe in a tip for better presentations a little later. But first…
What I was doing in 2009
I’ve just about finished working on a year long project with my old college professor helping him develop a corporate-based resilience/better workplace performance program and book, using Keynote as the central message delivery tool. The delightful Acorn software has proved its utility in helping transfer Keynote’s exported slide images into a format suitable for inclusion in a workbook. Quite pricy at $49.95, I had originally purchased it as one of the apps. in a bundle that itself was about $60, so it’s update fee of about $20 was reasonable.
The main reason for getting the update was to take advantage of its ability to resize the images Keynote exported its slides as (72dpi) to a size the book publisher demanded (300dpi). Once this conversion takes place in only a moment, there is a menu instruction in Acorn which allows you to directly bring the image into Mail and send it, saving quite a few clicks.
Working over the length of time we’ve spent together with the Prof who is steeped in using Powerpoint for all his training and lecturing, has allowed me to see how he has grasped the more visual method I’ve been advocating for a few years now, in place of a text-dense style more commonly seen in the sciences and enterprise setting.
After a little time getting him oriented, the Prof quickly understood what I was on about, and became a very good apprentice, a rather ironic reversal of roles, but not an unprecedented one in the science field. I had a distinct advantage in being persuasive because the Prof’s background is delivering training systems in emotional regulation to teachers, students, and school systems. As such, he was very much up on children’s development in terms of their cognitive and emotional development, and of course their learning styles.
And being heavily involved in the teaching and training of teachers, he was aware of just how much new media is influencing that teaching, which made my use of Keynote so much easier for him to absorb.
A second and ongoing example
I’m also working currently on a new professional education program for my professional society. The aim is to bring recent graduates, as well as old heads, up to date with new new business models of practice management. This is especially important in Australia because of the admission of psychology services into our nationalised medicine scheme. Prior to 2006, mental health services within the public sector were primarily delivered by GPs and psychiatrists. Private psychologists’ services were only rebated if you had private health insurance, which here in Australia operates on a user-pays system, rather than the employer providing benefits.
When psychological services became rebatable under our universal health scheme, many psychologists left government and corporate employ to set up practices, while many freshly-minted graduates could hang up their shingle without the previous need to gather experience as an associate or employee of more experienced practitioners. Without their courses offering any business skills training, you can imagine that not all graduates, no matter how effective they may be, will survive the vicissitudes of being self-employed.
Hence, the desire to offer post-graduate training in business skills, which will also give applied training in both marketing and ethical behaviour. I was asked to join the reference group not just because I was a well known practitioner, but because the group leadership hoped to tap into my presentation skills.
The group has been meeting for several months, with a number of modules written already. Now it becomes my task to begin to turn them into some deliverable format suitable for both group training, and web-based delivery. Now, a few of the group know of my particular skills, while others merely thought I was proficient in Powerpoint. After all, how much variation can there be in how psychologists present?
A few weeks ago, with the group wishing to move to the next stage of the project, from writing to delivery, it was my turn to show my wares. At the last moment, one of the module writers decided not to travel to the meeting, leaving me to develop his module presentation alone, and to present it too. Because the module was text-dense, written as a Word document, it took some time to think through how I would stick to my design principles, avoid doing an expected text-dump onto a slide, yet capture the attention of the rather jaded group who have seen more than their fair share of disengaging presentations.
I had to also consider not taking them too far out of their comfort zone, so I chose a combination of text and visual slides. The question was how to introduce the text while not making it seem like just another Powerpoint slide, and to do it in just a few slides, because we were time-poor.
I managed to do so in such a way that the original plan of videoing the presentation with a group present to make it “feel” involving was dropped, in favour of a DVD and web-based presentation without the need for a live audience recording.
It only took about 10 minutes, and the process of convincing the group to shift its expectation occurred on the first slide, which I wanted to reflect the composition of the intended audience: it needed to be dynamic including the promise of a non-standard, not-boring “powerpoint”. So I chose a professional looping animation, a soundtrack from Garageband’s “news and broadcast” grouping, and a fade-out build so that a few moments after the soundtrack started, the animation would already be rolling.
Let’s first look at the slide as the group saw it, then I’ll explain what I actually did:
Here’s what the slide options in Keynote’s Inspector look like to do this:
A very simple-looking slide actually has more going on than first meets the eye.
Here’s the running order:
1. The soundtrack from Garageband called Celestial Body begins on my click. Simultaneously, the background animation Design 02 .mov file begins (2). At this point, the audience only sees black but hears the sound track.
3. I slowly auto-dissolve out the black Shape that covers the slide so that when the animation is visible, it’s already in motion. I wanted this to represent dynamism in action, rather than a still shot that then moves into action. That looks like a slideshow, while I wanted something that looked unPowerpointy.
4. I then brought the title in with a build style which matched the direction of the background animation, again to give a sense of dynamism. The build style is called, Lens flare, and I asked it to last two seconds.
The deep impression I wanted to leave on the small audience was that this was not their father’s Powerpoint they were about to watch. I wanted to approach the kind of current affairs or professional level training schemes a very expensive contract would allow, even if we were doing the certificate on the cheap!
This first slide grabbed their attention, but I had to follow up with a second slide sequence to “sell” my concepts of shifting away from standard slide construction and presentation. Because the module writer was not present, I asked him to take two pictures of himself, one facing the camera, and the other side on, pointing at something off camera.
I then imported the pictures into Keynote and used the alpha masking to eliminate the background, leaving only the writer, Chris, present. From there, I had to use a little magic to demonstrate to the group what the slides would look like to the audience watching via DVD or the web. So what you see below was the slides constructed for this particular audience, not the final audience, to whom Chris would be speaking “live”.
I had to represent Chris somehow, rather than me reading his words. So what you see is my representation of how Chris would interact with the slides when we record the real deal for the real audience. Naturally, he would be speaking between words appearing on the screen, but speaking the words as they appeared. I’ve also included the opening title sequence once more to show how the next slides would appear.
Finally, I wanted the group to see how to illustrate references to books and journals. The following sequence shows Chris referring to a marketing publication published by the Tasmanian government. So we show Australia on a globe, swoosh in the publication’s cover (with a slant distortion courtesy of Picturesque), then show the URL for the publication’s pdf (which moves Chris out of picture), then “open” the publication and then highlight a specific section. Almost all of this can also be done in Powerpoint.
Now for your Keynote (or Powerpoint) first tip for 2010:
In order to remain creative, as I hope I have been (at least my intended audience thought so), you must keep flexing your creative muscles. This means not waiting until you have to do a presentation to practise using your preferred slideware’s gifts. Otherwise, you run the risk of using the same techniques over and over again, and not stretching yourself intellectually and creatively.
To do this for myself, I watch current affairs programs, TV documentaries and mainstream movies and try and emulate some of the effects I observe. These media often represent some of the most intriguing and engaging visual styles, as well as being what so many young people take for granted, making your standard Powerpoint or Keynote look quite dull.
Sometimes, it’s clear Keynote can’t duplicate the effects, but a reasonable facsimile can be attempted. This is one way to understand the software’s strengths and limitations (and also serves my secondary purpose of speaking with the Keynote developers to advance its capabilities for the next update). I’ll sometimes go back to existing slides and re-invigorate them with new effects, especially how I bring in text. In fact, I have a Keynote stack called “bringing in text” which is like a growing library of text effects I keep adding to as I gather new ideas.
I keep a similar stack for callouts and highlights where I can practise timings, animations and builds before exporting the slide effects into an upcoming presentation stack. Often these slides are half-finished because I can’t quite achieve the effect I want, and other times I’ll go back and try and complete the slide.
Now I know many in the presentation business will think this effort is unnecessary, but because I teach and give presentations, it’s important that I bring to my audiences new ways of thinking and doing, rather then merely learning how to understand Keynote’s operations. There are plenty of books around for that, but I want to go beyond the mechanics of Keynote and take it to another level that pairs Keynote’s abilities with audiences’ need for engaging and entertaining presentations.
I’ll keep adding more tips in the coming days, as I keep preparing for Macworld, and try to raise the bar higher.