Monthly Archives: July 2014

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.


Why Academic conferences need to change, and why Powerpoint is a dead technology walking

I’ve been travelling around Australia giving workshops to teachers about presentation skills as well as technologies and mental health. Few teachers have ever heard of Apple’s Keynote presentation software, as I discovered when many came up to me after my presentations to ask how I did what I did – the why was pretty obvious!

I’ve also in the meantime been asked to become part of my professional society’s organising committee for its 50th anniversary conference in Queensland in 2015. I was part of the organising conference for its 25th anniversary where I was much involved in both the social program as well as the media coverage.

I think this time around my involvement will be concerned with social media, something that didn’t exist as we know it now all those years ago.

So with this in mind, I was delighted to see in my Zite feed today a blog post from a professor of Sociology, Steven Fuller, now at Warrick University in the UK.

Here is its title, and link:

Six principles for organising academic conferences in the 21st century

When I read the blog entry, I tweeted, “Halleluya, Brother”, so happy was I to see someone who also wished changes for academic conferences.

You can read the bulk of them at Fuller’s blog, but let me highlight (with the author’s permission) his first thee principles for presenters:

1. A conference is a distinct channel – perhaps even genre – of academic communication. It is not a watered-down or zombie version of the academic print culture. It requires its own ‘peer review’ standards that do not simply trade on the conventions of academic writing. Thus, instead of abstracts, prospective presenters should send video clips of 1-3 minutes that convey what will be said and how it will be said.

2. Presenters should be strongly discouraged from reading their presentations. More generally, presenters should be forced to make a special case for presenting material that is already available in print. The norm for conference presentations should be new material – unless a presenter hails from a field with which conference members are unlikely to be familiar.

3. Presentations heavily reliant on Powerpoint should be gathered thematically into what are essentially high-tech poster sessions rather than be given stand-alone speaker slots. This may mean that a larger percentage of the space in the conference facility is given over to such sessions. Indeed, organizers may wish to consider that the explicitness of many Powerpoint presentations render the human presenter redundant. Thus, interested conference goers may simply be directed to a computer terminal where all the Powerpoint-based presentations are loaded, perhaps with recorded voice-overs from the absent presenters.

I like these sentiments – a lot!

Fuller clearly understands that academic conferences need to change, and how presenters are selected and expected to present is different from that which pervades conferences now, based almost exclusively on the same principles as for paper publications.

He recognises that conferences are not the place for the regurgitation of printed articles, but are a meeting place of ideas, and where presentations to large groups need to be exceptional.

Along the same lines, today I also continued to read an eBook by Clive Thompson, called Smarter than you think: How Technology is changing our minds for the better.

It neatly follows my lectures to teachers this past month where I have described the history of moral panics down the centuries when new technologies have been introduced. Whether it be the loss of jobs or whole industries, our brains are changing, “knowledge is power” struggles, or issues of privacy, how we change technology and how technology changes us is an important ongoing discussion we need to be having.

Certainly, technologies like Powerpoint and Keynote and Prezi are changing how we distribute knowledge, and readers of this blog will be aware of my beliefs that it’s not all positive, especially in the case of Powerpoint. While many still follow the meme that Powerpoint is merely a tool badly used by too many, I fall into the camp that it is a very poor tool to begin with for knowledge distribution, especially in an age which is demanding far more audio-visual literacy, as Thompson points out.

A few choice quotes from the book:

thompson ppt



I don’t know that I need to place too much context around these quotes about Powerpoint – the astute reader will get the picture. It’s one of the things I have been banging on about consistently in my Presentation Magic workshops for those who attend: that the world of knowledge transfer, sharing and engagement is undergoing a radical shift and the usual means – i.e., traditional and socially normed – will no longer cut it as the 21st Century progresses.

Using software merely as an advanced overhead projector system – for which Powerpoint was originally developed for the Macintosh in the mid-1980s is a dead technology walking, no matter how you spruce it up, as we’re about to see when the next version for Windows is released soon.

The next generation of learners, employing their iPads in school, will be using Keynote or equivalents available on the iPad since 2010, with Powerpoint on the iPad mainly used by those currently in industry compelled to use the desktop version and needing some sort of tablet parity mobility.

But may I suggest, a whole generation of young people will never use Powerpoint. Kind of makes a mockery of all the educational administrators all those years ago who insisted their schools to standardise on Microsoft products like Word and Powerpoint because “that’s what the kids will be using when they enter the workforce in ten years”.

Yeah, right!