fun Presentation social media

The Days of Talking Heads Are Nearly Over

I ♥ David Byrne.

I even ♥ David Byrne’s “I ♥ PowerPoint.”

Really, I do.

But the days of the Talking Heads are over.

I’m not talking about the band. I’m talking TV. And presenters. And presentations.

We have social media to thank.

I ♥log
Creative Commons License photo credit: andyket

Interactive presentations are in.

Authoritative anchors reading dispassionately from teleprompters are out.

Teachers and professors lecturing from on high? Also on the way out.

Note your TV news shows asking, “What do you think? Talk back. Send us your video. Talk to us at Twitter. Comment on our blog….”

Walter Cronkite, bless his trusted soul, didn’t ply his trade in an era of interactivity. He was a talking head, appropriate for the decades he served. A deep authoritative voice coupled with a kind-looking face served him well in his time.

Today, Jon Stewart is the most trusted man in TV news. Well, not really. People just voted him as the most trusted newscaster.

In an online poll.

By Time Magazine.

See what I mean? Online polls. Talking back. Old-school journalism meets citizen journalism. Opinions. Interactivity. It’s all the rage.

Burning down the house. Last week, Stewart jokingly called his second-place poll rival (TV news anchor Brian Williams) a “teleprompter monkey.”

Does that make the new style of news anchor, a “hyper-interactive monkey?”

And how are you using social media to make your presentations more interactive, compelling, and contemporary?

PowerPoint Presentation Presentation social media Twitter

Crowdsourcing Presentation Content with Twitter

What’s Crowdsourcing? According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is outsourcing a task to a large group of people in an open call. For example, when I was asked to present on the topic of social media & reputation management to an audience of college students earlier this month, I turned to the community at Twitter as an exercise in presentation content crowdsourcing.

Using the medium to help create the message, I posed my situation and asked a question:

Within hours, I received a dozen or so intriguing replies. It struck me that many of the replies looked — and read — like fortune cookies. So I felt whimsically inspired to use a prophetic design treatment for some of the Twittered replies. Ergo,


In some cases, I worked the Tweet into the overall landscape of the Twittered prophecy.

Give credit where it’s due. When I showed each of the crowdsource quotations, I gave verbal credit to the contributor, stating their name, city, and occupation. The Tweet itself shows each of their Twitter ” handles=”” or=”” thanks=””>LisaBraithwaite @JGaler @AnitaCochran) . The audience discussed the twittered advice. Each slide served as a backdrop for an interactive discussion.

Why Crowdsource Content?
Frankly, at the time I turned to Twitter for content ideas because it sounded like fun — and because it would be very easy to do. I’m also acutely interested in what professionals who participate in social media circles might have to say on the subject — and how they’d say it. Additionally, I thought that the students in my audience would also be interested in this very relevant perspective and voice, as well.

I also found four other reasons to crowdsource presentation content:

1. Introduce a fresh voice. As a speaker, you express your own point of view and personality. And you’ll use your own pace, pitch, tone, and vernacular. A fresh, new voice can add both visual and auditory interest — while supporting your key points.

2. Introduce fresh ideas. Through crowdsourcing, you may be exposed to new ideas that can enhance the content and tone of your presentation. The Twitter community gave me plenty of content to support my overall thesis — but they also encouraged me to explore a new dynamic that may previously have gone uncovered.

3. Strengthen the audience connection to the content. Presenters often use a pithy quotation from a famous person to help convey a point. But why limit your quotations to famous people? Getting a quote from a respected professional with a unique point of view can be engaging for the audience. Using a quote from a “real” person can make the content more personal.

4. Why not? How hard is it to ask a question to a group of people? The worst that can happen is that no one responds, and you’re out a few seconds of your time! Weigh that against the best that can happen – you gain new insights into your topic that you haven’t realized before. You get smarter. You get to build and strengthen ideas. Your audience benefits from stronger, more personal content. And along the way, you meet interesting people who like to talk about ideas.

What other reasons might you decide to crowdsource a presentation? And what might hold you back from getting ideas from people in the crowd? 🙂

(For another example of crowdsourcing, feel free to respond to this question about college graduation keynote speeches!)

design fun PowerPoint Presentation social media

Three Transparently Phony Ways to Appear Less Confident

Confidence. Somehow, this word became virtuous in the 1980’s. It remained a positive trait — until fairly recently.

Confidence men, we called them in the 1930’s and 40’s. Over time, we shortened this to “Con Men” or “Cons”. Overly charming, smooth. Hucksters. Yech.

Cons transmit that they are absolutely positive in their correctness. Who trusts the overly confident?

Bernie Madoff and his ilk have made us collectively uneasy about confidence again.

Striped bachelor
Creative Commons License photo credit: Matti Mattila

How to appear less confident

If you’re an overly confident speaker, you might have a big problem connecting with a modern, tech-savvy audience. (Especially here in the American Midwest!) In an era of quickly produced, less-than-polished user generated content — your confidence might seem inappropriately over-the-top.

Here are 3 quick and completely insincere ways to tone down any over-confidence you may have as a speaker or presenter.

  1. Toss in filler words. A few, “ums and ahhs” and nervous shuffling can go a long way to instill the idea that you’re thinking about what you’re saying. You’re not glibly reciting a speech. You’re not absolutely convinced that you are unequivocally correct. You’re open to starting conversations and creating a dialog. Your social awkwardness in public speaking indicates that you’re thinking. That you’re concerned. That you care enough to be nervous. Audiences warm to this kind of humility.
  2. Ugly up your PowerPoint slides. Nothing says, “I’m overly image conscious” like professionally designed PowerPoint presentations. When it looks like a presenter spent 80 hours in meetings with a team of designers, writers, and speech coaches to deliver a one-hour presentation — that’s the take-away. That’s what the audience will talk about behind the speaker’s back. The message won’t stick when all people talk about is how pretty the slides were and how Hollywood the storytelling was.
  3. Dress out-of-sync. I watched a multi-millionaire give a presentation to 200+ business people. The audience? In modern business attire. The presenter? In a sad, schlumpfly suit from the 1980’s. The audience LOVED him. Think they merely tolerated his eccentric garb because he was rich? Guess again. I also watched a junior software engineer wearing an unpressed polo shirt and lumpy khakis present to a board wearing business suits. They ADORED his presentation, too.

If you’re an awkward or eccentric speaker, rejoice. This is your time! Embrace your humility! Hug your weirdness!

And if you’re a con artist, your audience will likely see through your naked attempts to “Aw, shucks it up” for them. After all, this is the age of authenticity and transparency — two achingly glorious buzzwords that shine a bright, unflattering spotlight on slick over-confidence and transparently phony faux-humility mannerisms.

Social awkwardness is in!

Nerds, enjoy it while it lasts…

What will the next wave of popularity be?

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The Creepiest PowerPoint Design Trend of 2009


Those were four words on four slides in a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation I witnessed last month. The remaining 700 slides in the presentation each had one word on them, as well.

OK, I’m exaggerating. There couldn’t have been 700 slides in that presentation.

But it seemed like it.

In the presentation I saw, random buzzwords that the speaker used in his narrative kept fading in-an-out of the PowerPoint slides projected behind him. Oh-so-slowly.

After a few minutes, I blinked, shook my head, and looked away. I was getting too mesmerized by the slow word parade.

I was looking for meaning in those words. I was looking for context. There wasn’t any.

After looking off to the right for a few moments, I focused on merely listening to the speaker while I stared at a blank wall. The presenter was telling a story about a problem his customers had, and how his product helped solve it.

It wasn’t a half-bad story, so I turned to look at the speaker.

Then, I saw it.


I grimaced. I had to look away again.

Since this presentation, I’ve seen a few other slow-word-parade style presentations. I suspect presenters create this style as something of a mood board to set the tone for the presentation. It can be easier and cheaper to toss word salad at people than to craft a story and work on polishing the delivery.

Personally, I find this word-mood board style of presentation design distracting and disturbing. It was hard for me to focus on connecting with the speaker or his story. I found myself thinking that he would have been much more effective with absolutely nothing in the background.

I’ve seen this technique a number of times this year. Let’s hope this a trend that will, uh — fade quickly!

What are better ways to set the mood for your presentation?

PowerPoint Presentation

Stop! In the Name of Acronyms!

“Stop! Police!”

That’s what I’d yell if I was a police officer chasing a suspect. And apparently, I’d be wrong.

New York City Cops IMG_2912
Creative Commons License photo credit: stevendepolo

A buddy was watching a crime drama a while ago. I came in late. As I settled on the couch, a police officer was chasing a suspect.

“Stop! NYPD!” shouted the policeman. The bad guy kept running.

“What’s NYPD?” I asked my chum.

“This story is set in New York. NYPD is New York Police Department. Everyone knows that.”

“Really?” I asked. “If I was visiting New York, and some nut with a gun was chasing me screaming out alphabet soup. I’d run faster.”

Of course, screaming out the acronym NYPD is ludicrous. If I was in Chicago, would police officers scream, “Stop! CPD!”? And if the Ontario Provincial Police yelled, “Stop! OPP!” — suspects would probably break out in laughter.

It doesn’t take any longer to say “New York” than it does “NY”. Same number of syllables. So it’s not a matter of speaking an acronym for speed. And it’s not a department that’s chasing a bad guy — it’s a solitary officer. Even weirder — why say the name of the city at all? Isn’t that redundant? After all, the suspect probably knows what city he’s in!

I asked my crime-show loving friend all of these questions. He seemed annoyed.

“Because it’s TV. I’m sure they say, “Stop, Police” in real life. Now can we please watch the show?”

I stopped talking, but I kept thinking about it. In real life, people can get a little acronym happy. The police officer became so accustomed to interdepartmental and collegial jargon — he forgot that anyone outside his circle wouldn’t know what the heck he’s yelling about.

It’s not just television show detectives that have acronym issues. As a consultant who gets brought into larger organizations, one of my first tasks is usually to crack the acronym and jargon code that insiders use among each other. This can actually be kind of fun — like a puzzle. Or learning a new tribal language. It also helps keep my wits sharp for when adolescents and young people start talking in Instant Messaging Lingo (IM, for short!) –“OMG! POS – TTYL.”

So when it comes to crafting presentations or communication pieces for an external audience, consider hiring a writer or editor — if for no other reason than to have an outside set of ears and eyes experience the communication piece. You won’t believe the alphabet soup I’ve often encountered in external marketing presentations. It often slips by, unnoticed to ears that have grown tone-deaf to the buzz of interdepartmental acronyms.

It’s really that ubiquitous. Don’t believe me?

For a fun little exercise, open up any one of your recent corporate or organizational PowerPoint presentations. Do an acronym count — it’s quite likely that you’ll find at least one.

And before you think, “Yeah, but everyone knows THAT acronym…” please think about how little work it might take to change it. You can make yourself more clear by actually speaking the words — instead of chanting the letters that represent the words.

This one simple act may keep your suspects — er, prospects — from running away!


Are you nutritious or superstitious?

My host told me to go ahead and fill up at the wet burrito bar a half hour before I was scheduled to talk to a large audience. I politely declined.

I can’t eat just ANYTHING before a major presentation. I don’t want to subject the audience to a fit of, em, gastronomic distress during a presentation. I know better than to digest a large, spicy, bean-filled meal  minutes before having a microphone clipped near my face.

And yet, I need to eat. I expend energy during a presentation. I’m not the kind of person who can go without food.

So what can I eat before a presentation? I got into the habit of packing a peanut butter sandwich. On whole grain bread. And drinking water. That’s it. That’s been my go-to for a pre-presentation meal for an awfully long time. It gives me energy. It sticks to my ribs. No blood sugar crashing — and no burping. It also packs easily. I can put a few peanut butter sandwiches in a zip lock bag, and they can survive a mean day of travel. Pair it with a banana or other piece of fruit, and it works for me.

Of course, I veer from this pre-performance diet from time to time. Out of circumstance and politeness, I’ll often eat whatever my host will present to me. As long as it’s not stinky, sugary, or burpy, I’ll probably eat it. And sometimes, event coordinators serve meals that are great for performance energy, but they’re delicious, too. 

But as much as I’d like to tell you that my peanut-butter presentation diet is a sensible solution to keeping my energy high while avoiding discourteous gastronomical side effects, I have my suspicions. It seems that performers and presenters are a superstitious lot — we get into habits that have nothing to do with reason. I’m the sort that usually has a peanut butter sandwich on my person while travelling.

But is that good nutrition…or weird superstition?

Many actors say “break a leg” instead of “good luck” before a performance. Whistling behind the stage or uttering the name of a certain Shakespeare play? This is also supposed to bring bad luck. And let’s not forget all the good luck superstitions: athletes and actors are famous for carrying good luck talismans or undergoing quirky little rituals before performing.

Is my peanut butter sandwich + water pre-presentation diet practical and sensible — or have I veered off into the land of the supernatural? Could my peanut butter sandwich simply be a good-luck charm? Am I nutritious or superstitious?

What’s your presentation diet plan? What foods do you avoid — or are absolute must-haves on the day of a performance?

Even if it’s not food-related — what’s the oddest ritual or habit you’ve heard of someone routinely undertaking before a performance?


The 4 Most Important Elephants of Presentation

In grad school, a marketing professor insisted on an oral report. One student in class did not speak English as her first language.

When she gave her report, she began talking about “The Most Important Elephants of International Marketing”. We all thought, of course, that she mispronounced “elements”. After the first time, most audience members, including myself, merely smiled.

But after a few minutes, it became clear that she was going to repeat the word “elephants” — multiple times — for the remainder of her presentation! So our professor interrupted the speaker.

“Excuse me,” he said kindly. “I hate to interrupt you. Your speech content, so far, is very good. But one small thing is unclear.”

He explained that an elephant was a huge animal with a trunk, tusks, and floppy ears. The speaker looked bewildered.

So the professor pantomimed the trunk and made a strange elephant noise. The professor suggested that perhaps the word she wanted was “element”.

Down for a drink!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mara 1

The speaker looked embarrassed. She blushed and stammered. Trying to recover, she asked the laughing audience:

“So elephants are very big, powerful animals, yes?”

Of course, we all agreed with her.

“My ideas are big, powerful ideas. Just like elephants. So please continue to think of my elements as elephants.”

For the remainder of her report, she would say the word “elephant”, then excuse herself and carefully say “element”.

It became clear to me that she had rehearsed her report, and used the word “elephant” in rehearsal . For her speech, the wrong word was ingrained in her brain. It wasn’t going away any time soon! Nonetheless, she recovered nicely. She delivered a wonderful presentation, elephants and all!

I learned four unintended lessons from her talk:

  1. Practice doesn’t make perfect. If you’re rehearsing incorrectly, you can count on faulty delivery. Rehearsing alone is fine – but not forever. Get feedback.
  2. Mistakes can be endearing. No one thought the speaker was an idiot for making a mistake. The audience empathized with her, and found her mistake charming.
  3. Preparation pays. Even though the speaker bobbled one word, it was clear she knew her material. She recovered, and delivered a report that likely earned her an “A”.
  4. The unexpected can rivet attention. Because of one mispronounced word, I remember a 15 minute speech — 20 years later. Why not use a homophone — or other unexpected technique! — to make your next presentation more memorable?

What’s your most important elephant when you deliver a presentation? Or rather, what unexpected technique do you like to employ to make your presentation content stick?


PowerPoint Presentation

Your PowerPoint Is Not Your Presentation

“May I have a copy of your PowerPoint presentation?” asks an audience member.

“What for?” I ask.

“So that I can look at it later.”

“Is there something I said that isn’t clear? Do we need to go back?” I ask.

“No, no. Great presentation. I just want a hard copy.”

“Well, no,” I answer. “My PowerPoint slides are my props. They’re not my presentation.”

OK, I don’t actually say that last bit.

I often want to, but I don’t! Instead, I usually say,

“I’m glad you liked the presentation. But public speaking is a part of my livelihood, and I give this presentation multiple times, in multiple venues. I don’t want the presentation floating around the internet. I’m sure you understand. But tell you what, after about six months or so, I’ll probably be done giving this presentation, so if you want to leave me your card…”

Seriously. Be a polite audience member. Never, ever ask a presenter for his or her presentation. (Not unless the presenter offers it to the audience as a download or CD or print out first. I sometimes do this after a 6 month run.)

If you like my presentation, I’m flattered. Really.

But my PowerPoint slides are usually props for my speech.

Would you go up to a juggler and ask, “Neat act! May I have your balls?”

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ladonite

OK, maybe you would!

But if you’ve been paying attention and taking notes during a speech or presentation, you won’t need the PowerPoint presentation. Really.

So don’t ask!

In fact, I often design stand-up presentations so that they are complete gibberish if someone looks at the slides only. Without my narrative and personality, the PowerPoint presentation usually won’t make much sense. It won’t help the viewer in any possible way.

I suspect that most people ask because they like the presentation. I also suspect they have personal or psychological problems! Like pack rats, they like to collect useless things. Or that they want to get all CSI on how I might have programmed an animation. Or they might be lazy and want to rip off a graph — or cut, copy, paste a factoid or graphic — instead of re-create it themselves.

But know this: to a presenter, it’s not one bit flattering when an audience member asks for a hard copy of the presentation. It signals they weren’t paying attention.

Instead, a thoughtful, polite audience member might ask, “Could you please show us the slide with X on it again? There were a few numbers on it that I’d like to reference…” or something that’s slightly less offensive than asking for the entire presentation.

Really, if you’re a happy audience member, find another way to show appreciation. Applause is always appreciated.

Also: be a presenter with balls. If someone asks for your presentation, learn to tell them no.

Maybe then, well-intentioned audience members will learn to quit asking!

(PS — How do you tactfully tell an audience member, “NO!”)

PowerPoint Presentation

Which PowerPoint Presentation Would You Prefer?

Today’s PowerPoint presentation question is inspired by a Molson Canadian Bottle Label.

Answer Honestly
Would You Prefer…
  • A hum-drum speaker using a scrumptious looking PowerPoint presentation?
– OR –
  • A scintillating speaker using a visually so-so PowerPoint design?
Well, beer drinkers and others — what’s your answer?
PS — In case (hah! case!) you have no idea what I’m talking about with regard to beer campaign labels, see the Molson bottle photo below. Or, if you’re a logician, you can label (hah! label!) this PowerPoint Presentation Fallacy as “False Dilemma.”

Either way:


PowerPoint Presentation Twitter

PowerPoint Pet Peeve: The Passive Voice

Which sentence do you like better?

  • A PowerPoint presentation was given by the CEO.
  • The CEO gave a PowerPoint presentation.

Both sentences relay the same information. So why do you like the second one better?

  • The first sentence is longer. It uses the passive voice.
  • The second sentence is shorter. It uses the active voice.

When I listen to speakers who almost exclusively rely upon the passive voice, I go a little bonkers. Why?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jacob Garcia

The passive voice is mushy and weaselly. It signals that the speaker is trying to hide something. When someone says, “Mistakes were made ,” I instantly want to spring up and scream, “By whom?”

If one more benefit shakes out of using Twitter, let it be a giant reduction in people using the passive voice. Active voice is shorter, swifter, and more powerful. It takes responsibility. It’s the stronger, nobler choice.

I have no idea why so many presenters use the passive voice. Do you?

And what are your grammatical presentation pet peeves?

(Of course, it might be a fun exercise to write your blog comments, exclusively using the passive voice. That might help me exorcise my peevishness!)