Review: “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations” by Nancy Duarte

nancy

Precision coaching for all presenters

By Peter Watts

Nancy Duarte’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a concise primer to the skills of presenting, from planning your pitch through to polished delivery.

Of particular value are the sections on how to put together high quality visuals. Some of the book’s best sound-bites are found when Duarte discusses how to create slides that work for an audience, and since reading that section I’ve found myself looking out far more in my own work for the “visual cliches” that Duarte warns about.

This focus on visual layout gives the book a cross-over to the world of blogging because if you are a presenter who also blogs, you’ll find ideas about the use of layouts, diagrams, and imagery. All valuable for an appealing web-page.

This brings us neatly to the topic of social media, and another strength of the HBR Guide. The book brings presenting right into the present day with topics about how you can blend social media resources such as Twitter into presentations, and how to make the maximum use of web-based backchannel communications.

Nancy Duarte is incredibly generous with how she shares the stage. Every chapter contains references to subject matter experts from multiple fields, and advises different books you might like to try out. Backchannel communications for example, is a relatively new topic for me, and right there on the same page that Duarte introduces the topic, she accompanies it with a recommended author from whom you can find out more.

Now for the confession: This wasn’t the Nancy Duarte book that I initially wanted to review. My target was her recent and much-discussed book “Resonate”, but sitting at London’s Heathrow Airport and trying to buy a copy for my Nook e-reader, I discovered that Duarte’s electronic coverage is surprisingly patchy.

The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is the only Duarte title Barnes & Noble have in e-book format, while Amazon do slightly better; they have the HBR guide and “Slideology” available for Kindle. No trace of Resonate at this stage however.

Still, having chosen to go with the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations as my first trip into the writing of Nancy Duarte, I’m pleased that I did. The guide gets full marks as an all round primer, with specific focus on presentation visuals. It also deserves a place on a virtual bookshelf due to it’s generosity as a resource guide to additional subject matter experts. Finally, it gets fullest marks for it’s brevity. Brilliantly concise.

Now on the look-out for “Resonate” as an e-book!

UPDATE: March 26th

Resonate on the iPad

It turns out that Resonate is available on the iPad. Thank you Nancy for dropping by the blog to share. First look is deeply impressive, and a full review will be coming shortly.

PowerPoint slide synchronisation. My interview with Indezine

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By Peter Watts

This week it’s been my great pleasure to be interviewed by Geetesh Bajaj at Indezine. We discussed the level of synchronization that should take place between a presenter and their slide deck.

What happens if a presenter becomes over-synchronized, and how can you avoid this risk as you plan and prepare for your presentation?

Indezine is packed with ideas and tips for anybody who finds themselves using PowerPoint. Recognized by Microsoft as an MVP, or “Most Valuable Professional”, Geetesh advises large corporate clients on how to get the best from this most ubiquitous of presentation graphics tools.

Our interview, and Indezine itself, can be found by clicking this link.

Please do take a moment to go and visit. If you’d like to join the discussion by leaving a comment, then Geetesh and I would love to hear from you.

Making presentations with an iPad. It’s time.

Why the iPad is now a proven tool for presentations

by Peter Watts

Some months ago I blogged about presenting with an iPad. At the time I was still tiptoeing into the world of Keynote and tablet-based presenting.

I’m upgrading my recommendation from a cautious “give-it-a-go” to an enthusiastic “go-for-it”. After three months of extended experiment with the iPad/Keynote combo here are my thoughts:

All that’s in the news, in your presentation
I’ve come to value the way that iPad lets you flick mid-presentation between KeyNote and news/video apps such as the New York Times. Nothing adds currency to a presentation quite like current affairs.

Philips Bluetooth speaker. Much bang, little bucks.
For any presentations that require sound, I’ve added a Philips blue-tooth speaker to my kit bag. It’s small, while at the same time heavy enough not to vibrate its way across the table when you have the volume high. It’s also rugged, so you won’t need to worry about where in your luggage you’re chucking it. The Philips unit has a great battery life, and most importantly, the Bluetooth connection to the iPad is a ten-second snap.

Slimming Your Slides
Most of my original caveats about iPad presenting still stand. You can’t black-out the screen, and I’m still not convinced about using an iPhone as a remote control. The Bluetooth connection between phone and pad is temperamental, and at the end of the day, an iPhone is just too big to subtly use as a remote.

The snag does however have an upside: You produce simpler and less cluttered presentations. The discipline of having to walk to the iPad to advance your slides is a powerful incentive to strip-out unnecessary transitions or special effects.

All day battery
For all day presenting, just put the tablet into flight mode, and then reduce the screen brightness to the lowest point that you are comfortable with. When the show is over, you’ll still have battery life to spare.

Synchronisation at work. Beware
If you are a combination iPad / iPhone / MacBook user, then iCloud synchronisation is a powerful timesaver. Beware though. If you’ve been editing on one device, make sure you close the presentation before attempting to edit or view it on another. It’s easy to create badly-synced duplicates that don’t co-exist at all happily. If you accidentally make some of your edits on your iPad and then the rest of them on your Mac, then at least one of those two sets is going to be irretrievably lost when iCloud tries to synchronise it all back into one document.

Go for it
The iPad is a brilliant tool for presentations. It’s time to commit the bulky laptop carry-bag to history.

And Apple, if you’re listening, the option of iPad control from the standard Apple remote would be wonderful, and how about maybe a black-out option in the next update of KeyNote?

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Held up? Time to resource a presentation web library

Turning stuck-time into presentation research time

by Peter Watts

Technology used well can bring extra impact to your presentation.

Take a look at TED and you’ll find people using laptops, tablets, and phones in new ways to help them tell their stories.

The trick to using technology is to reach beyond PowerPoint. Start by watching some TED talks and pick up ideas about how people put digital devices to dynamic use.

On first glance you wonder how these individuals get their ideas. Then you explore and realize that the web is swimming with creative possibilities, and that brings me to the point of this blog.

You can use moments of unexpected downtime to go out there and build your library.

At this precise moment I’m in Johannesburg, sitting in a hotel lobby, and waiting for my hotel room to become available. Housekeeping are currently attempting to wrestle the existing occupant out of it before the cleaners can go in and I can finally take up residence.

The hotel has WiFi. I have my iPhone. In just a short time I’ve been able to find new inspirations on TED, some new resources on YouTube, and a couple of press cuttings that I can build into my South Africa presentations to give my content a fresh feel.

I’ve also located several resources that although not applicable to what I’ll be doing on this trip, I can file away for possible future use.

Once you start to find dynamic new toys to build into presentations, your next goal is to build them into the presentation structure.

Any web-derived resource, such as TEDTalk, will operate in the same way as an anecdote would. Its deployment needs to be planned:

  • How does it support your story?
  • How will you introduce it?
  • How will you integrate it’s message into your presentation once the video has finished?

Once you’ve built the resource into your structure, the next step is to build it into your style. If you’re not used to deploying web resources mid-presentation, take it slowly. Build in a single item and be successful with it. You can scale-up as your competence grows.

Finally, you need to become comfortable with the technology itself, and in particular with downloading the resources from the web directly onto your presentation device. Sure you can always run video live across WiFi, but WiFi has an unfortunate habit of running slowly when you least want it to.

So next time you find yourself with an unexpected delay and an Internet connection, go on a web-hunt and find new ideas.

The presentation came out of nowhere. What to do?

by Peter Watts

Presentations can strike without notice. A colleague gets hit by ill health and you get hit by their presentation.

How to avoid that deer-in-the-headlights moment?

The key to success is your ability to rapidly master your colleague’s presentation so that it works for you as smoothly as it was about to work for them. Get the content right, and all else will follow.

Organize the slides to work for you

The biggest mistake you could make would be attempting to deliver your colleagues’ PowerPoints unmodified. That was their presentation. It made sense to them. You need something that makes sense for you.

First make a copy of the slides. You’re about to perform high-speed field surgery and you’ll cut deeper if you know a backup is saved elsewhere.

Find out about the audience. What do they need to know, and where does that intersect with what you know. Edit the slide deck to focus in on those happy intersections.

If there are any essential slides that you’re unsure about, have a colleague talk you through the salient points and help you put them into a context.

Where there are slides you don’t understand but that aren’t connected to the main purpose, delete them. Make that slide deck as compact as possible.

Similarly, delete any superfluous bullet-points that might be hanging around. Make your  slides as clean as possible to minimise the chance of audience questions being prompted by stray bullets.

Eliminate anything that might leave you staring at the screen mumbling “Well, I think that point is self-explanatory”. No-one is fooled. You are clueless in public. Zap any such slides or slide content before you present.

Structure

Put the content you are least confident of into the least memorable part of the presentation: the middle. Place strong content at the beginning and end of the presentation. Don’t worry if your colleague’s 90 minute presentation is now your 30 minute one. Brevity is an art form.

When it comes to any content that you are not comfortable with however, do keep challenging yourself: “Does this really have to be in the presentation?” If in doubt, then either delete, or remember the option of “Hide Slide”.

Questions

Before starting the presentation, plan for how to handle questions. It’s quite possible that the person you are replacing had knowledge of specialist topics that you don’t, and that there might be audience questions about those topics.

Remember as a first-base, that you are stepping in at short notice. Without you, there would be no presentation, and even though you can’t actually see it, the super-hero cape is already fluttering from your shoulders. Being unable answer specialist questions about someone else’s specialism is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.

Perhaps subject matter experts are available who while not wishing to present, would be happy to take questions for you.

If such an individual isn’t available, never be tempted to bluff your answers. Resolve that for any questions you can’t answer, you will make a note of them and get back to the audience members after the presentation.

This approach upholds your credibility and ensures people get the right answers. It also creates a reason for you or a colleague to talk to the audience beyond the presentation and thereby further develop the relationship.

What experiences of impromptu presentations have you had, or are maybe having?

What are your tips for turning unexpected pitch into richly deserved triumph?

Ancient Danish monarch: Alive and well in French election

by Peter Watts

Paris is becoming politically plastered. Last-minute election posters are popping up everywhere.

One of them has particularly caught my attention:

“La France Forte Avec Nicolas Sarkozy”
“A strong France with Nicolas Sarkozy”

Sarkozy’s choice of visual metaphor for these closing stages of the campaign has him standing against a backdrop of the ocean; He is the valiant protector, guarding the virtue of the nation. But guarding it against what exactly? With France’s two coastlines being south and west, the threat indicated must lie in one or both of these directions.

The two most likely suspects hinted at must therefore be the economic migrants who cross into France from North Africa, and the “Anglo-Saxon” economic models perceived as crossing from the U.K. and America.

Neither are electorally popular, and to put Sarkozy’s election into context, he faces one election challenger who touts state-sanctioned xenophobia, while the other supports generously old-fashioned state funding for absolutely everything.

These posters suggest Sarkozy is attempting to align himself with both opponents. By representing himself as a stern bastion against the evils from over the waves, he has dived for the basest instincts of the electoral base.

In creating this visual metaphor however, the President’s team have missed it’s most obvious symbolism; King Canute.

Depending on your reading of the legend, King Canute either sought to demonstrate the limits of Kingly power to his awestruck subjects, or truly believed he could command the waves to stop.

In either interpretation, the story didn’t end well.

Does this poster indicate that President Sarkozy is about to get his feet wet?

When choosing visuals, beware the unintended message.

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