Revisiting Presentation Design

SlideRocket recently sent me this e-book on The Secrets of Compelling Presentation Design.  It was worth the read and a good reminder of some of my favorite tips.

  1. Keep it Simple – your background, fonts, content should all be straightforward so your audience can easily assimilate information
  2. Use Images – a picture is really worth 1,000 words and can convey a concept much more succinctly than bullet points
  3. Keep it Relevant – only use design elements (color, transitions) and multimedia (video, sound) that add meaning to your presentation
  4. Be Repetitive – you know your material well, but the audience doesn’t and they will only remember your message if you repeat it frequently
  5. Close Strong – your presentation doesn’t end after your last point, but rather after you’ve summarized all your points and given the audience clear instruction on what to do with the information they just learned

The underlying factor in every presentation tip is the audience.  Keep your audience in the forefront of your mind through the entire process and you will be more likely to satisfy them and, therefore, reach your presentation goal.

Thankful to Those Who Share

Thanks to EF and NetApp for the invitation to the Silicon Valley Philanthropy Day awards luncheon.  It was inspirational to hear from so many organizations and people who are making significant changes in our community through their philanthropic efforts.  Leah Toeniskoetter was awarded Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser for her work with Valley Medical Center Foundation.  An avid bike rider who has completed 5 Death Rides, Leah raised funds for Turning Wheels for Kids, providing bikes for children who cannot afford them.  In her acceptance speech, Leah highlighted three critical elements for success:

  1. Fundamental belief in the mission
  2. Dynamic leadership – leaders who motivate others
  3. Support of others – people and also employers who create a culture of giving

Of course, all of those critical elements require excellent communication skills.  And, speaking of excellent communication, Hannah Nguyen and her cohort from Pacific Autism Center for Education’s Youth Leadership Committee, were the audience-favorite speakers.  They won the award for Outstanding Philanthropic Youth Organization and gave an acceptance speech that was articulate and elegant.  The youngest of the award recipients, they were the most well spoken.

Robert Grimm won the top award for Silicon Valley Community Foundation Outstanding Philanthropist.  Bob’s approach, described as  ‘philanteer’ combines philanthropy and volunteerism.  Where he puts his money, he also puts his time; most notably “The Garage” that morphed into The Tech Museum.  His talk of all the organizations in which he is involved was motivational.

Thanks to Association of Fundraising Professional Silicon Valley Chapter for honoring these Philanthropic Leaders.  In the month of Thanksgiving, I have gratitude to all those in our community who share with others.

State of Start-Up Presentations

I watched the Vator Splash SF presentations through two lenses.  The first was that of a technology enthusiast, always wanting to learn what bright people are inventing.  The second was that of a communication expert, curious about how entrepreneurs are presenting.

Through the first lens, I saw some interesting technology. The People’s Choice Winner was Building Layer, which maps the inside of buildings.  The Vator Splash Winner was Front Door Software, which protects portable computers using the smarts of traditional security systems.

As the communication expert, I gathered data on the multimedia learning principles of using visuals, signaling, and full sentence headlines.  What I found is that pictures are pervasive, but signaling and full sentences are rare.

Pictures – photos, graphs, and screenshots – were used heavily in 9 of 10 presentations.  That is the good news.  Showing visuals while telling a story is the best way for people to learn the information being presented.  My catch phrase is “Show the glory, tell the story.”  The presenters at Vator Splash did a good job showing the glory.

This same multimedia learning principle indicates that bullet points flood the verbal channel of the brain with too much information, since the same channel processes words heard and read.  More good news on this front.  Seventy percent of presentations contained NO BULLET POINTS.   Only one presentation was heavy on bullet points and one on text in paragraphs.

The bad news is that not a single presenter gave an overview or summary.  There was essentially no signaling.  Signaling helps the human brain assimilate information by setting a map of where you are going, where you are, and where you have been.  My catch phrase is “Use a cue, they’ll follow you.” Now these presentations were short and many presenters may think that eliminates the need for a visual agenda and summary, but not so.

Even if you are giving an ‘elevator pitch’ you still want to give a cue or preview.  Stating your three key points in the beginning and the end will help your audience remember what you had to say, which, after all, is the whole point of your presentation.

The other pointer to remember is to put your headlines in full sentences.  Research has shown that a full sentence headline and a relevant picture is the best slide combination for learning. Building Layer was the only presentation that used any full sentence headlines – hey maybe that is why they got the People’s Choice Award.

In addition to enjoying the slew of new innovations, Vator Splash was a good opportunity for me to take a pulse of the state of start-up presentations.  Net, net – the trend is going in the right direction.  More pictures, less bullets.  Now all we need are previews, summaries, and full sentence headlines.


It is All in A Name

Billionaire Vinod Khosla doesn’t want to be called a venture capitalist.  And that is news.  Both the Wall Street Journal and Forbes ran a blurb on this fact.  Now that is good PR.

“Call him a visionary for his role co-founding Sun Microsystems Inc. Call him a rainmaker for his prescient investments in companies like Juniper Networks while at Kleiner Perkins. Call him a pioneer for his early commitment to clean technology at his firm Khosla Ventures.You can call billionaire Vinod Khosla many things. Just don’t call him a venture capitalist,” quotes the Lizette Chapman, Venture Capital Dispatch, The Wall Street Journal.

” “I call myself a venture assistant,” Khosla said. “It’s about assisting entrepreneurs.”,” quotes Tomio Geron,

I guess when you’ve had as much success as Vinod, that you can asked to be called whatever you like.  After all, it is all in a name.

But, I beg to differ on his negative take of the definition of Venture Capitalist.  Working with the breed for over a decade, I say that those who do it well, do it by assisting entrepreneurs.  VCs who get into the trenches alongside management teams are those who foster success.  They call themselves Venture Capitalist and they do so with pride.  After all, it is all in a name.

58,000 Students

As a university teacher, a lover of technological advances, and a communication scholar, the notion of 58,000 students participating in a free online course enthrals me.  Today’s NY Times article, “Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course” describes how Peter Norvig and SebastianThrun are offering a course on artificial intelligence this fall through Stanford. Anybody, not just enrolled Stanford students, can sign up for the course.  Non-Stanford students won’t get credit, but they will get access to the same course.

According to the article, “The two scientists said they had been inspired by the recent work of Salman Khan, an M.I.T.-educated electrical engineer who in 2006 established a nonprofit organization to provide video tutorials to students around the world on a variety of subjects via YouTube.“The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” said Dr. Thrun.”

From a communication scholar’s perspective, opening up a course to 58,000 students is most certainly changing the world through education.  So how can technology make it happen?

Apparently is starts with the basics of streaming Internet and interactive technology for quizzes and grading.  But, to avoid systems crashing, Stanford will use Amazon Cloud. Google Moderator services will help manage the barrage of student questions by polling and ranking questions that are most prominent.  Top-ranked questions will be answered in online discussion with the professors. In order to foster student-to-student interaction, a study group on reddit has been formed.

An interesting experiment in using technology to communicate and educate world wide, I look forward to watching it unfold. More information on the course can be found at

Visual Presentations

Here is a quick presentation on how you can create more visual presenations.


Download TipsVisualPresentationsJuly2011

Communication Critical in Medical Care

We all know intuitively that communication is an important aspect of medical care.  Each of us can recall experiences where a doctor did a good or bad job communicating with us.  For me, the bad job was in the ER just before my mom was diagnosised with colon cancer when I was literally arguing with a doctor who wanted to send her home with antacids without doing any tests.  My ‘perseverence’ with that doctor resulted in a CT scan that showed the cancer. Boy was that an example of a doctor being unwilling to listen.  The good experience for me was the level of details received from my orthopaedic (Dr. Diefendorf) before, during, and after my rotator cuff repair surgery.  He told me what he was going to do every step of the way and then afterward showed me in pictures exactly what he had done.

Seems the medical community has gone from acknowledging the importance of communication in the abstract to practical implementation.   New applicants to medical schools are being asked to go through the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) process, according to a recent New York Times article, “New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test.”  The applicants have two minutes to review a scenario of an ethical conundrum and then eight minutes to share how they would handle it. They then repeat the same process with more interviewers.   According to the article, “”We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important”, said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carillion.”

In an Atlantic Magazine article, “The Triumph of New Age Medicine” the medical community’s research and attitudes about alternative medicine is explored.  It is a long article with many interesting angles, but I narrowed in on the effects of communication in the equation.  The article outlines the commonality of many alternative medicine treatments; “These include a long initial meeting covering many details of the patient’s history; a calming atmosphere; an extensive discussion of how to improve diet and exercise; a strong focus on reducing everyday stress; an explanation of how the treatment will unleash the body’s ability to heal itself; assurance that over time the treatment will help both the problem that prompted the visit and also general health; gentle physical contact; and the establishment of frequent follow-up visits.”  Two aspects of this typical treatment scenario seem to make a difference 1) good provider/doctor-patient relationships  and 2) improvement of an overall healthy lifestyle.

Looking at the first aspect in more depth, communication is the core to the development of a good relationship.  According to the article, “A 2008 study on physician-patient relationships found that physicians deemed “exemplars” based on their reputation and awards received were likely to create an emotional bond with patients; to convey to patients that their commitment to caring for them will endure over time; and to imbue patients with “trust, hope, and a sense of being known.”

Good to know that what we all intuit is now being taken seriously by the medical community.  Yet, we still have a ways to go.  As the Atlantic article concluded,  “Every single physician I spoke with agreed: the current system makes it nearly impossible for most doctors to have the sort of relationship with patients that would best promote health. The biggest culprit, they say, is the way doctors are reimbursed. “Doctors are paid for providing treatments, not for spending time talking to patients,” says Victor Montori, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. A medical system that successfully guided patients toward healthier lifestyles would almost certainly see its cash flow diminish dramatically. “Last year, 75 percent of the $2.6 trillion the U.S. spent on health care was for treating chronic diseases that, to a large degree, can be prevented or reversed through lifestyle change,” says Dean Ornish of UCSF. Who (besides patients) has an incentive to make changes that would remove that money from the system?”

Of course, as patients we can influence change by demanding better communication from all our medical providers, and, when we have the option, voting with our pocket books for better provider relationships.

Couch it in a Narrative

Harvard Business Review did a short blurb on reserach by Emily Moyer-Guse of Ohio State and Robin Nabi of UC Santa Barbara showing that a narrative is an effective form of persuasion.

The research study had 367 undergraduates view either a narrative or a non-narrative, news-style program about teenage pregnancy.  Those who saw the narrative self-reported that they would be more likely to use birth control, more so that those who saw the news-style program.  According to the research abstract, “Results suggest that entertainment education programming may overcome various types of resistance to persuasion for some viewers by masking persuasive intent and fostering parasocial interaction and identification with characters.”

As I have said many times before, humans prefer stories.  It is easier to assimilate information, and, as this research show, be persuaded if communication is in the form of a narrative.

Persuade with 5 Canons of Rhetoric

When you want to get somebody to change an attitude, belief, value, or behavior — happens just about every day — you need to employ the art of persuasion.  A quote from a student of mine:

“Thus, to change a person’s view, their belief or their actions is to slide through their ears and into their skull and embed yourself into their brain.”

How does one do so?  Rhetoric, of course.  Since it has probably been some time since you studied the 5 canons of rhetoric, here is a short reminder.

1. Invention (inventio) is finding the means to argue your point.

2. Arrangement (dispositio) is the organization of your argument, such as the most common organization of problem/solution or lesser-used refutation.

3. Style (elocutio) is your choice of words and phrasing or how you put together your specific arguments.

4. Memory (memoria) is what you employ to help your audience remember what you tell them, such as repetition, catch phrases, and visuals.

5. Delivery (pronuntiato) is the non-verbal aspect of communication including voice volume and articulation along with facial expressions and gestures.

What I commonly see is that people will put significant effort into the first canon of invention, but very little effort in the remaining four.  It is easy to just come up with the reasons of why somebody should do as you suggest, but that is not enough.  If you employ all five principles, you will be much more effective at persuading others.  Why?  Because people on not just influenced by logic (logos), but also by pathos (emotion or passion) and ethos (credibility).

So the next time you want to persuade, remember there are 5 canons of rhetoric, and use them all.

Your Look Commands

Speech recognition technology has come a long way.  I now use Dragon Dictation on my iPhone to send texts to others.  It is as least as accurate as my touch typing.  It is refreshing to have a different way to interface with technology.

The future holds yet another way to interface — with our eyes.  It sounds straight out of an action flick to me, but there are prototype computers with eye-tracking technology that move the cursor based on eye movement.  “Pointing with Your Eyes, to Give the Mouse a Break” in the NY Times gave details on this technology.

The computer prototypes are a joint effort between Tobii Technology and Lenovo. Real versions won’t hit the shelves for about two more years.  According to the article, eye tracking technology has been around for awhile and used for people with special needs.  The innovation it to make it practical and cheap enough for mass consumption.

I look forward to trying  it out (pun intended).

Social Network Research from WSCA

At the recent Western States Communication Association (WSCA) Conference two panels “Social Networking and Beyond: Computer Mediated Communication and Community” and “Relational Communication and Social Networks” contained interesting research on how people are using social networking.  The overarching theme is that people are using social networking as a means of simultaneously forming and communicating their personal identity and relationships.   I have briefly summarized some of the research and provided links for you to dig further if you are interested.

Valerie Barker from San Diego State University discussed research comparing Mixi Diary vs. Facebook.  She looked at Japanese vs. American young women’s uses of these social sites.  Mixi is popular in Japan like Facebook is in America.  She notes that there are differences:  Mixi is used primarily through mobile devices.  On Mixi the network of friends is smaller with more of a sense of privacy and a closer experience than Facebook use among American young women. Motives for using the social sites include social identity gratification (bolstering a sense of belonging) and social compensation (making up for offline unhappiness).

Ahlam Muhtaseb from CSU San Bernardino shared research entitled “Mobilizing Online: The Internet, Political Involvement and Community Participation of Arab Americans”  Ahlam found that from a convenience sample of 185 Arab Americans, 75% were users online users and 25% were non-users.  Users showed a greater propensity for community participation, in particular political involvement with a statistically valid correlation between users and voting.

Makenzie Phillips from Boise State University researched social networking sites for surveillance in romantic relationships and found that 83% of respondents are engaging is some type of surveillance behavior.  Jealousy and entitlement were predictors of surveillance behavior.

Karen Lollar from Metropolitan State College of Denver has been tracking Denver neighborhood’s use of social sites, such as Neighborhood Link for the past 10 years and shared how neighbors are interacting differently online. She has discovered that most online topics match what neighbors discuss face-to-face, such as pets and local civic issues.

Erin Koppel from University of Arizona looked at 2008 Pew Internet data on social networking use to determine if relationship initiation and relationship maintenance was related to age and found only a negative correlation between age and relationship management online. She noted that this counter-intuitive result could be because of the nature of relationships that exist on the site.

Lynne Webb (and others) from University of Arkansas researched how ethnicity was enacted on Facebook and found that of the 488 open profiles they studied, 29% showed some ethnicity, primarily through quotations or applications.  Webb noted that Facebook does not give space in the profile set up for people to share anything about their ethnicity.

There is such a wealth of information to be studied as social network sites become a pervasive form of communication around the world.  Delving into how communication remains the same and changes as the medium changes will be of great research interest in the coming years.

Speech Recognition, Getting Closer to Mainstream

As an individual who prefers the spoken word over the written word, I have been longing for the day when I could have my eloquent phrases automatically turned into flowing text.  When working on my master’s thesis a few years back, I purchased iListen for Mac in hopes of typing less.  After 5 or 6 attempts, I gave up.  Too much trouble.  But, in the technology industry, a few years makes a lot of difference.

In the WSJ article “Get Ready to Speak to Your Phone — and Be Understood” Ben Rooney gives us an update on the technology. The company that has been behind the technology all along, Nuance, is still the one making technological advances.  (Nuance – NASDAQ: NUAN closed at 20.32 today, near the 52-week high of 20.97).  The Nuance technology is behind Dragon Naturally Speaking, GM’s OnStar, and many mobile phone’s predictive text.

I did just a bit of research and discovered that the first speech recognition technology came from IBM in 1961 — the IBM Shoebox.  It was literally the size of a shoe box and had nine lights.  As you spoke a digit 0-9, the corresponding light would shine. Now we are accustomed to basic speech recognition for voice dialing, call routing, and simple data entry, such as credit card numbers.  Windows Vista added Windows Speech Recognition, though it is positioned as “Accessibility Technology.”  Let me know if you have used this technology on a daily basis, and if so, what you think of it.

I am ready for speech recognition to be mainstream.  I imagine telling instead of typing this blog.  I imagine explaining an entire problem to an automated tech support line and getting a relevant answer.  What do you imagine?  How long will we have to wait?

Technology Can Be Turned Off

Technology can be turned off. That is a reminder from Sherry Turkle director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self from a USA Today article, “2010: The year technology replaced talking“.  According to the article “Americans are connected at unprecedented levels — 93% now use cellphones or wireless devices; one-third of those are “smartphones” that allow users to browse the Web and check e-mail, among other things. The benefits are obvious: checking messages on the road, staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent waiting around. The downside: Often, we’re effectively disconnecting from those in the same room.”

Just like any other tool, these technology devices that help us communicate and share information with anyone, anywhere, anytime, are only as effective as the tool user.  Sometimes we forget that we are in control.  Yes, we can turn off the devices.  Yes, we can use them to be more efficient and fun when we want or need them.  But, they do not need to degrade the quality of our communication with other humans.  Used well, they can increase the quality of our communication with others.  It is only when we forget that they can be turned off or ignored that it becomes a problem.  And, that is a human problem not a technology problem.