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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What NOT to Do when You Present

I went to a training recently (it's going to remain nameless to protect the offenders) and three out of the four presenters committed every PowerPoint sin imaginable. Sometimes I wonder if I need to keep shouting out the message about presenting and then I see that so many people clearly don't get it.

To start with, they printed out their PowerPoint slides and gave them to everyone before the presentation started. So we all had, in hand, everything that they were going to say in the coming hour.

Then they created presentations that were entirely comprised of bullet points. Each slide had a title and at least four bullet points.

Then they read the bullet points from the screen to the audience (remember we already have the slides as a handout). So we're seeing a projection of the words we have in our hands that are also being read. This is a recipe for the lowest retention possible. Studies show that when text is projected and spoken, retention drops (by 15%) and the retention wasn't that high to begin with, since only about 10% of a lecture is typically retained.

However, the last presenter did everything differently. It helps that she's a professional speaker, but that's no excuse for the other people. She showed a series of images with one or two word captions. She didn't give us handouts of her slides (ever) and she engaged us in activities that were complimentary to her topic. I've retained nearly all of that final presentation, but the first three yielded one or two facts that have stayed with me.

Please, don't use bullet points.

Wait, let me say this in a more understandable way:

  • Bullet points:
    • Bad
    • Stop
    • Don't
    • Quit it

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Alternatives to PowerPoint

Today Lifehacker is showing off alternatives to PowerPoint, they asked their readers for the best non-PowerPoint presentation tools and the top five are:

Keynote - you need a Mac to use it. Apple won't even consider releasing this for Windows, which is a pity, because it could be a serious contender with PowerPoint for market share if it could run on 90% of the computers in the world.

Google Docs - I've looked at it before and I looked at it again when they updated things. It still feels like PowerPoint 2003 (or earlier) in terms of the capabilities and layout. The one advantage is the tightly integrated collaboration that is in all of Google Docs. You'll need to do all of your photo editing outside of the program and but you can create adequate presentations in the cloud.

Beamer (LaTeX) - I tried to do anything with this, but it is beyond my skills. Basically you code your presentation from scratch. It gives you a lot of flexibility, but the learning curve is immense. If you already know LaTeX, then this is for you, if not, steer clear.

Prezi - This is the one, truly different choice that made the list. It doesn't function in a linear, slide-based setting like PowerPoint (or the other programs) rather you have a large canvas on which you can place all of your images and text. Then you navigate around through the presentation by zooming, rotating and swooping around the canvas on a pre-defined course. When viewed it looks organic and natural, but the actual presentation design needs to be, if anything, more linear and pre-planned than the slide-deck variety. (or LibreOffice) - Pretty much just the free, open-source version of PowerPoint. You can open and edit PowerPoint files and do most of what you can do in the Microsoft software. Like Google Docs, it's behind the times as far as cutting-edge features, but it's a good (and cheap) alternative if you need something for your next presentation.

What PowerPoint alternative do you use (and why)?

My vote was, and still is, for the good, old whiteboard.

Friday, February 24, 2012

PowerPoint Screenshots and Screenclips

The original image.
If you've ever found yourself in dire need of an image, either from a website or to show something on your computer, the PowerPoint screen shot and screen clip tool is what you've been waiting for. It used to be that you would have to press the Print Screen button on your keyboard to get a snapshot of everything on your computer's monitor, then you could paste that image into a program (like PowerPoint) and crop out all the bits you don't want to show. But now with Screen Clipping, you can simplify all that into one step, and I love it.

You can find the Screen Clipping option on the Insert tab of PowerPoint 2010. Click "Screenshot" and then at the bottom of the window that pops up, click, "Screen Clipping." Your screen will get all washed out and PowerPoint will minimize. When you see a black cross, you can click and drag on your screen to define the area you want inserted into your PowerPoint presentation. It's that simple.

My screen clipping
I was able to crop the top photo into the bottom photo in a few seconds (I removed the blonde joke).

You're not just limited to using the images in PowerPoint, either. You can quickly grab screen clips and then save them on your computer to use elsewhere (like a blog, for example). Once you're done clipping, just right-click the image in PowerPoint and choose "Save as Picture." Choose a location and enter a name to save the clip. This is a quick way to generate a lot of clips with very little effort. Even if you're not creating a PowerPoint slideshow, it's still one of the fastest tools out there for getting the clips and saving them as images.

If you want to take a screenshot of a whole window, just click on the "Screenshot button and then click on the thumbnail for the window you want to grab. PowerPoint will insert an image of that entire window on the active slide.

What screen clipping and screen shot tips do you have?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Turn a PowerPoint Presentation into a Video

Recently I've put a few of my PowerPoint presentations online. It used to be that the best way to do this was though sites like SlideShare or other similar sites. But with the new 2010 version of PowerPoint you can save your slideshow as a video that can then be uploaded to YouTube (or any other video sharing site).

The basic process is simple. You click on the "File" tab in PowerPoint 2010 and then click "Save and Send" from the list of option. Click "Create Video" under File Types and then click the "Create Video" button on the right.

However that assign a standard amount of time to every slide in your presentation. If you have animations and video in your slideshow, you'll want to use custom timings for your slides. The way to get those is to rehearse.

Click on the "Slide Show" tab and then click "Rehearse Timings." When you do, you'll see your presentation on the screen. Press the Right Arrow when you want to advance the slide. When you're done, accept the dialog indicating that you'll use these timings and save them with the presentation. Click the "Save" button in the upper left and then you can go back to creating the video knowing that your slides will have the right timing.

If you want to record narration with the slides, you can use the "Record Slide Show" button on the Slide Show tab. This allows you to speak your piece while you click through the slides. Both the audio and the timing will be saved with the slideshow and then you can include them with the video you create.

Even though it's really cool that you can turn your PowerPoint into a video, Microsoft will only create videos in the Windows Media Video (WMV) format. If you want something a bit more friendly to other platforms, you can use a video conversion tool (like this one, or this one) to change things into a format other than WMV.

Below I've included the YouTube videos of some of my presentations. What do you think?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Standing Desk - Week 2

I know you all are waiting with bated breath to find out how my standing desk experiment is going. If you need to catch up on the drama of things you can read all about it here, here and here.

Over the second week of doing a standing desk, I started to feel more fatigue and I found that it affected my ability to work well. When I'm doing non-intensive tasks that don't take a lot of creative mental energy, I can push through the physical weariness and keep working. The more mentally demanding jobs, however, were much more difficult to do. Toward the end of last week I found myself taking more breaks to sit and, on Friday, ending out my day on the couch. I just didn't have the physical energy to keep going to write more in-depth work.

Today I'm standing again and I plan to continue standing most of the time. But I do appreciate what I learned from last week. I am a whole person and my physical state has a large effect on my mental capabilities. When I'm tired physically I don't perform as well mentally. It will take some time for me to have the physical/mental endurance to work standing all the time.

I'm also going to experiment with not doing any recreational computing from the standing position. So when I take breaks to check Facebook or play video games, I'll do it sitting. That will serve as a good mnemonic device to signal my body and mind to get into work mode when standing or relaxation mode when sitting. I find that I can relax more when I have a clear difference between the posture of relaxation and the posture of work.

What thoughts do you have? Have you taken the plunge and started standing?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What to Do When Words Don't Work

Recently Nancy Duarte featured Dan Roam on her blog and had him speak about his new book Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work. In it, he discusses the two different minds that we have - the verbal mind and the visual mind. The verbal mind is all about words and grammar and it does really well in school. Schools are built for the verbal mind to excel, but they are difficult for the visual mind to navigate. What Dan does is to build a bridge between the two minds.

The problem has been that the Verbals have been in charge, only allowing the Visuals to work in a small sector. Verbals are CEOs and they allow Visuals to be in marketing or advertising, but it's always on the Verbal's terms. Visuals are expected to either get in line or get out of the way.

Dan shows, in the video below, how grammar is both a visual and a verbal construct. It's not just about one or the other, but ways in which both types of people can communicate together to make something more meaningful.

Are you a Verbal or a Visual?

Dan Roam - Vivid Grammar from Duarte Design on Vimeo.

Note: the book link earns me a small commission on any purchases made. I haven't read the book yet, so I make no endorsement.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Standing Desk - Week 1

This is my (messy) standing desk.
I spent one week (four day actually) getting accustomed to the standing desk setup. You can see my configuration pictured on the right. The TV/second monitor swivels depending on the time of day. During work hours it extends my screen space, but in the evening, it's our primary source of entertainment.

I found the lap-desk at Goodwill and it puts my computer at the right height so that my elbows are at 90 degrees when I'm typing. That meant, though, that I needed to adjust my typing habits. I've grown accustomed to resting my wrists the laptop below the keyboard, but when my arms are at the right position, that hurts my wrists. So there's another habit I'm changing.

The size of the TV isn't too bad since it sits at the back of the desk and I have the laptop at the front of the desk, the tops of the screens are about the same height from my perspective. It's a little too low, but because it's a dual use item that's going to have to remain the case for now.

My biggest adjustment has been standing. I opted to stay with slippers, working on the theory that my feet are the best design for supporting my body and the slippers don't interfere with the way my feet work. Shoes force feet to conform to a certain orientation. I gradually ramped up the standing from one hour on and one hour off, to 1:15 on 0:45 off, 1:30 on 0:30 off and on Friday 1:45 on and just 0:15 off. That makes today (Monday) the first day of all day standing. I'll sit for lunch and other breaks, but my work will be only standing.

I already mentioned that one benefit I'm feeling is being physically tired at the end of the day, which has helped with my insomnia. I also feel like I'm taking a break when I'm done with work, which is a good thing too. Overall, I'm loving the standing desk, but I'll keep experimenting to see what's working and what isn't.

Do you have any thoughts or questions?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Standing Desk - Day 3

I've been through the first two days of the standing desk experiment and am writing at the cusp of the third. Based on some good advice from several people on Facebook and from the article on Lifehacker, I've been gradually phasing into the standing desk mode.

On the first day I stood for an hour and then sat for an hour. At the end of the day I was definitely tired of standing. It didn't help that we went to rehearse with our community choir that night so there was more standing in store for me. So when day two rolled around, I was a bit on the tired side, but I still upped the standing from one hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. I also dropped the sitting time to just forty-five minutes. Again, at the end of the day I was tired of standing and ready to sit, but it wasn't unbearable.

My tiredness is mostly in my feet and back. But it's not too different from when I've worked standing jobs in the past. It's nice that I get to transition into things though. One of the issues that I had to address is the height of my second monitor. My main computer is a laptop, so I placed that on a portable lapdesk with legs that increases the height perfectly for me. But the monitor was still at desk level, which was too low and placed my neck in an awkward position. I found a five inch riser for the monitor which brings it up enough so that the top is at the same height as my laptop screen from my perspective.

Another issue that I'm dealing with today is that I have grown accustomed to resting my arms on something. When sitting, I'll rest my arms on the desk, but that doesn't exist in the standing position so I have been resting my arms on my wrists on the keyboard of my laptop. At the end of the day yesterday it was to the point of begin painful. So, this morning I'm having the force myself to keep my wrists in the correct neutral position. Even as I'm typing this I can feel the muscles getting tired from the unaccustomed work, but it will be better in the end if I don't develop a repetitive stress injury, so I'll tough it out.

What else do I have to discover? Today I ramp up the standing to 1:30 and sitting to 0:30 and by Friday I'll only be taking 15 minute sitting breaks. The plan is to start on Monday standing all day.

What thoughts do you have? What questions do you have?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Standing Desk - Day 1

After a conversation with my friend, Jason over the weekend I decided to try out a standing desk. I've been freelance writing for 19 months now and doing it full-time for the last 15 or so. It's awesome to be able to work from home and have a flexible schedule, but that means that I'm sitting down most of my day.

According to several studies, sitting for long amounts of time is detrimental to your health. It slows the metabolism, decreases circulation, harms posture and is linked to the onset of diseases like diabetes and cancer, even in people who regularly exercise when they aren't at work.

So I'm about one hour into the first day of standing at my desk. Yesterday we found a perfect folding desk at Goodwill that sits on my regular desk and puts my laptop at the right height for typing, plus it has enough space for my mouse and a cup of coffee.

Today I'm going to stand for an hour at a time. One hour on and one hour off. It takes time to build up the endurance to stand all day after sitting so long, so I'm not going to over do it.

My big issue right now is my external monitor (which is also our 32" TV). It sits too low when I'm standing, but I don't have a good way to raise it up right now. Currently I'm using a book under the stand to tilt it so that it's angled a bit. We'll see how that works out.

Have you tried a standing desk? How did it work for you? Do you have any advice for me?

Monday, February 06, 2012

How to Run a Not-Boring Meeting

The word "meeting" can, unfortunately, carry similar connotation to the words "punishment," "prison," "torture" and "boredom." The problem is that too many meetings conform to the negative stereotype, so when it comes time for you to host a meeting, people will automatically think of it in terms of their negative past experiences. We aren't so different from Pavlov's dogs in this respect.

However, you can use a few bits of neuroscience to transform your meetings from torturous into productive and even fun.

John Medina, Doctor, professor, author (of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School ) and brain scientist, suggests using three truths about the human brain to make your meetings better. I've covered Brain Rules on this blog several times before, so you might be familiar with some of this material.

Start with vision. Too often meetings start with a look at the minute details of a situation, but that's not how the brain works. We need a vision of the overall importance of something so that we can fit the details into that framework. Always start your meetings with a vision for what might happen in the future. If you start with the details, they will be lost as people try to figure out what you're point is. If they don't have exactly the same vision as you or if they can't fit the details into a vision, you'll lose them.

Use 10 minute segments. Our brains can hold on to an idea for about 10 minutes. After that we need another hook to re-connect with what's going on. The hook can be a joke, a story, a video clip or anything else that connects with your topic in an emotional manner. You'll notice that great speakers pepper their presentations with hooks that keep people engaged for long periods of time. If you go past the 10 minute window, people will start mentally dropping out until you give them another hook to latch on to.

Show them something old and something new. Our brains match patterns very well. It's how we recognize faces, voices and just about everything. We quickly decide if something is a part of a schema that we've seen before and then we classify it according to that category. So, you should ideally show people how your topic fits into an existing pattern and then show them how it differentiates from the existing pattern.

The basic meeting outline would be: Cast a vision for what you want to accomplish, give an emotionally charged example of the vision and then for no more than 10 minutes look at the details of how your topic fits into an existing pattern. Then have another emotional break and spend 10 minutes examining the deficiencies of the existing pattern. Finally, one more hook and then 10 minutes of how your topic is a new and different pattern from what people have experienced before.

What have you done to run great meetings?

What's the most boring meeting you've attended and why?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Free eBook, The Marriage Challenge

My eBook on marriage is free today through February 6th. Yesterday, the first day of the promotion, it was downloaded 661 times and jumped up to #435 on the Amazon Best Seller list. It's also at #2 on the Marriage Best Seller list.

I'd love it if you would download the book and share it with your friends and family. You can get it here (and it's free!).

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Draw to Search for Images

My rendition of the Earth from space.
What Google thinks my rendition looks like.
 If you're looking for that perfect image, sometimes you can imagine it, but you can't find it online. Along comes the "Unofficial Google Image Search by Drawing" site. It presents you with a palette and colors and you can draw what you want to find. It's a wonderful idea, in theory. When I tested it out, however, it didn't work so well. You can see my drawing of the planet on which we resided. Not bad for using a mouse and doing it in just a few minutes (I think). But Google thinks it looks like a pie chart or the Soviet sickle and hammer. Not very helpful.

However, you can also click the "Webcam" link on the page and snap a shot from your computer's camera. I did that of a picture of the planet and Google was able to interpret things much better. But that begs the question: if I can take a picture of it, why do I need to search for a picture of it?

Webcam picture of the Earth from space
(note, it's of another picture, my computer wasn't in space).
Since this is a proof-of-concept, I think it's OK to cut them some slack. It's a cool idea and as it gets better this could offer great ways to search for images.

How would you like to search Google?

What makes it easier for you to find just the right picture?

How Google interprets the webcam picture (much better).