Friday, December 30, 2011

Inside great presentations

Last night I was reading Before & After Magazine issue number 3. Their column "The thinking designer" was about what to look for (what to strive for) in good advertisement, but it could as well be applied to great (scientific) presentations:
  • Their message is a surprise.

  • They don't lose clarity.

  • They involve the audience.

  • They challenge curiosity.
  • They command answers.

  • They let the audience think.

  • They're always well executed.
The "curiosity challenge" is also expressed in this quote from filmmaker Sheila Curran Bernard about documentaries
At its best, documentaries [in our case scientific presentations] should do more than help viewers pass the time [or information]; they should demand their active engagement, challenging them to think about what they know, how they how it, and want more they want to learn.

—Sheila Bernard
Author of "Documentary Storytelling"

    Thursday, December 29, 2011

    Design and Science

    My read these days is "Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman!", by physicist and Nobel-price winner Richard P. Feynman.  It is a good book, that among other things touches on the subject of scientific presentations. But that's not why I mention it, but rather for a shocking revelation. Feynman admits having little regard for philosophy, poetry and other activities where digressing is a common practice. I was shocked because my idea of people like him is of "universal geniuses" that acknowledge, respect, and admire multiple disciplines for what they are.

    I can't stop wondering what would Feynman think about design, a discipline guided by principles, guidelines, and subjectivity rather than by theorems and laws.

    If Feynman was a scientific genius, Charles and Ray Eames were design geniuses. The Eames office made a superb video on the sizes in the universe call "Power of Ten". Enjoy!

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Please stop!!

    Yesterday morning my wife told me there would been a talk about my home country and encouraged me to go. It was part of the "Public Colloquium — Area Studies and Political Order" at the local university. So yesterday afternoon I headed to the venue and arrived 15 minutes early thinking it would be good to get a seat on the back. I was surprised I was the first attendee and that the speaker hadn't arrived. That was the first signal of what was about to come.

    Earlier that day I had been having trouble with my phone, so tried to fix it while waiting for the lecture to start.  People started coming in and two minutes before five o'clock the speaker arrived, another bad signal. I guess it was naive from me to think the lecture would start at the announced time, it is Germany after all. When he arrived he looked more like a boxer going into a fight than like a lecturer, he barely smiled or greeted the audience. He got the LCD projector running and fired up his visuals. His only interaction with the audience was asking a couple why they didn't speak Spanish. It sounded more like an objection than like a question. I imagined the lecturer was nervous, and that's why he acted like that.

    The next bad signal was a misspelled word on the title. Instead of the word "production" he wrote "producción". He quickly reviewed his visuals, which surprisingly were few for a two hour lecture, and they weren't that bad.  As he reviewed, he kept looking at his notes —a thick stack of A4 sheets of paper— and I finally picked up that he was been introduced. It was 5:15 pm.

    The moderator did an average job, which looked fitting and proper, for the occasion was informal. After my 30 minute wait the lecture started. His English was poor. After thanking the university officials for the invitation he started by reading what I thought was a quote, so I didn't think about it that much. The "quote" was his first visual so the audience was able to read along. But when the last words of the text were something like "...and this is what my talk is going to be about." I knew the lecture would suck rotten eggs. It wasn't a quote, it was a fragment of his lecture. Oh, and did I mention he stayed on his seat?

    I realized his plan was to read the whole two hours. The problem was I didn't understand the words he uttered, and much less their meaning. He was a poor reader and had clearly not even rehearsed reading his lecture. After having reading his introduction and pointing out his talk would be divided in three part, he turned to the next slide, a shown a diagram that he told us was important. By then, I was already heading to the door. I was sorry for the other people who had to stay.

    This is where I think he failed:
    • If the announced time was 5 pm, the talk such have started at 5 pm.
    • He missed the opportunity to connect with the audience before the lecture by greetings them at the entrance and showing enthusiasm. He could have asked people how they got to know about the talk, what their expectations were,  and what their background of the subject was.  He could have "warmed up the crow."
    • He should have spell-checked his visuals.
    • He should have thought more thoroughly about his language skills and whether reading the lecture would have been the best way to pass the information.
    • He should have stood up and shown presence.
    • He should have prepared and rehearsed.
    I did learn that valuable lesson, when attending a talk try to find a seat that was easy access to the exit, because every now and then you might also want to leave earlier than planned.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Presentation sin: Filler words

    Filler words are a credibility killer. In this post, I link to the Six Minute blog for some answer to this problem.

    No matter the language of the presentation, filler words like "um", "uh", "ah", "am", "eh"are a pain to the audience. Thankfully, Andrew Dlugan's Six Minute blog on public speaking is again active and full of great advice. In one of his latest post "How to Stop Um, Uh, and other Filler Words" he  addresses the issue. I recommend you read it.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    An editorial about presentations

    In this TED presentation, molecular biologist John Bohannon, PhD share his views about (scientific) presentations. Enjoy!

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Focus to prevent unnecessary detail

    Detail clutters a presentation, and in scientific talks this gets even worse. Scientist and researchers think that detail convinces an audience. I disagree. In this post I discuss how focus helps avoid unnecessary detail.

    After I wrote about the problems with too much detail in presentations, I have started to grow more and more wary about it.  Two things that lead to too much detail are lack of preparation and unfamiliarity with the content. One solution to these problems is focus. Focus on the audience, where do you want to take to audience? Why should they come with you? What's in there for them? Be ready to answer the "so what?" question. In case you are a graduate student or a professor at a conference, you might want the audience to spend their time analyzing your idea, to alert on possible errors or to suggest possible improvement; you want to raise awareness about your research.

    If you dip your audience in detail and clutter, they might not be able to differentiate the important from the not important. Take a look at this video about awareness.

    The video is trying to prove how hard it is to focus on many things going on at once.
    You need to help navigate throw your topic to avoid this type of distraction.  For that you need to know your material.  Knowing your material is essential your presentation but it is not all. The key is to focus: focus on the preparation, focus on the audience.

    Distill your material to get the core message and the supporting points, three supporting points are enough. Segment your presentation to favor focus and your supporting points. Forget the Introduction- Motivation- Body- Conclusion scheme, that's laziness, not focus. That scheme doesn't help to navigate. That is the same thing the other 99 presenters are doing. So if you are trying to raise awareness, you are just one more doing the same thing. Maybe that's what you want, but if it is, then do yourself and the audience a favor a don't present. Present to make a difference, and free people for the evil detail that pollutes scientific talks.
    You have heard this before, less means more. Of all the simplicity quotes out there, this is my favorite one:
    It seems that perfection [or simplicity] is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.

    Antoine de Saint Exupéry
    Talk preparation is so much about what to leave out as much as what to leave in.

    Now, knowing your material makes you separate detail from supporting point. You cannot present without supporting your argument.  This can't be emphasized enough. In scientific talks details are confused with support, we think that if we show overwhelming amounts of detail, we will convince the audience. Not true, this will only overload the audience working memory and thus will cause you to lose it. You are having trouble deciding whether a piece of information  go back to the audience and what they already know. Will that piece of information  resonate with the audience enlightening them to grasp my core message?

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Visual examples: The grid

    Last month I was in Brazil for two week, and among other things I helped designing visuals. I thought I might post the process of a particular one:

    Thankfully they knew better and asked me to get some images from the internet. After searching for some pics on Wikipedia I came up with this one
    which is always much better than the first slide. However there were some things I didn't like.  The text is misplaced, the cassette image is shitty, the picture on the upper right is suppose to be a book, but it doesn't look like one, because it isn't,  all in all the whole visual could be bolder.

    So this week I decided to work on it some more and I came up with this

    using a grid. Let me explain. The normal slide is 1024 pixels wide and 768 pixels high. This give a ratio of 4:3. A natural grid is this one
    which works great because I need to place 8 images. Each cell has a ration 1:1 (is a square). So I cropped the images to make squares.  Now you might be wondering what if I have less than 8 pictures or an image can't be cropped to fit a square? I'm glad you asked! Coincidentally, because I wasn't that crazy about  the black background and oval shape, I replaced the CD for a CD ROM. Unfortunately, the new image didn't fit in a 1:1 ratio, but in 3:1. So, for exercise purposes I threw away some images and place the CD ROM and got this
      This is a more dynamic slide than the one with the 8 images, but now the CD ROM is floating on the top and it is too dominant. Because that is not what I want, I moved it to the bottom, and the result is even better!
    Now I have a new problem, the text has to be moved. An option that works quite well is to align the left of the text to the white line between the tablet and the TV.  Take a look now the slide changes.
    So that's it for the design exercise. You might have noticed I also moved the tape recorder and the textbook to the top. I did this to balance the whole slide. As I mentioned I cropped the images I got from Wikipedia. Let me show you how I did it.
    • First, I downloaded the images in its full resolution. The original size of the CD ROM is 3072 by 1084. I strongly recommend you work with full resolution images and size down later. 
    • Now, open the image in GIMP. One way to view the image's size is by pressing Alt+Return to open the Image Properties dialog box. 
    • Next, select the crop tool by clicking on the knife icon, or by pressing Shift+C. You should now see the crop options window. If not go to the Windows menu > Dockable dialogs > Tool options to make it visible. 
    • Once you have the crop tools visible, active the Fixed checkbox by click on it and select Aspect Ratio in the dropdown menu. Select the ratio that you want, in this case 3:1.
    • Finally, click and drag to select the part of the image you want to crop. By default GIMP will highlight the selection. If not, active the Highlight checkbox. Optionally, you can turn on the guides from the dropdown menu below. When you satisfy with your selection click inside the selection to crop.  
    The image below summaries all this.
    So let me recap:

    The very first slide using images communicates much more efficiently than the one with pure text. One can dwell in a slide improving detail after detail, but that's not the idea. This post was a pure exercise. Obviously, if I had thought about using the grid when I first launched on this slide, I would have done it. Hopefully, the next time such an opportunity shows up I'll know better. 

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Presentation (anti)guru: Doug Zongker

    I found this video in a blog last week. If you have been into a scientific conference,  "you will not be able to resist the irony of this short video. " Have you experienced presentations like this?  Does your presentation look that this? Enjoy.   

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Quick tutorial: Re-sizing an image (in a sort of right way) using gimp

    In this quick tutorial I show different ways to upscale an image an how to do it using gimp. 

    Last Wednesday I watched a presentation from Israeli presentation designer Jan Schultink where among other things, he talked about avoiding stretch images. You might know this case. You have a small image and want to make it bigger, so you pull the image handles but the image's proportions are not kept constant.

    To re-size an image keeping its proportions constant, press the Shift key and drag the handles.

    However you should not up-size an image. As a good practice, always use images that have at least the size height or width of your canvas (typically 1024×768). If you want to size the image in it full size and still it is some pixels short, you can use a black background to make it appear full size.

    Sometimes good practices are not real practices and you might yourself forced to use an up-sized image.  Something like this (click below to see in original size and see the resulting effect).  Sloppy up-sizing  can lead to pixelized image. 
    The image to the left is what you want, a good looking image. In this case the image is 500×500px.   But instead what you find as a smaller one 75×75px (bottom right). After correctly up-sizing the result is the pixelized image on the right hand side. Source: Flick-r
    There is a way to improve the result of this re-sizing. Actually, if you up-size inside Keynote, you'll get quite a good result.  

    Left: Original Image. Right: Upsized image with Keynote

    However, you could do much better if you re-size an with a image manipulating program like Photoshop or GIMP. In GIMP there are 4 different move to scale an image: None. Linear, Cubic, and Sinc. The Figure below shows the different results (Click to see in original size).

    Up-scaling an image in GIMP. From left to right: Original, none, linear, cubic and sinc
    In case you wonder, linear, cubic and sinc refer to the way the missing pixels are calculated  i.e., interpolated. As you can see, a GIMP cubic up-scale interpolation methods yields better results than the up-scale with Keynote.

    The quality of the re-sizing depends on the image itself. So it is better to test the different interpolation methods. Case in point, take a look at the image below

    Up-scaling an image in GIMP. From left to right: Original, none, linear, cubic and sinc. Source: Flick-r
    While in the bacteria example the cubic method worked better than the linear one, in the building one, either one produces a similar result.

    My advice is to quicking scale in the image using the all  interpolation methods and decide what works better. This brings me to the tutorial.

    1. Open the image in GIMP. Recently I discover the opening a image in a layer gives more flexibility.
    Source: Flick-r

    2. Open the layer Dialog box by pressing Ctrl+L.

    3. Duplicate the image 3 times by clicking on o the duplicate layer open (fourth buttom from left to right).

    4.0 Select a new layer by clicking on it.

    4.1 Open the Scale Layer dialog box. Layer Menu > Scale Layer

    4.2. Scale to the require size and choose a  different interpolation method.

    4.3. (Optional good practice) Double click on the layer and rename to the interpolation method you just applied.

    5. Repeat from 4.0 to 4.3 until you have applied all the interpolation methods.

    6. On the layer dialog press and hold the Shift key and click on the eye  an layer to close the others. Move through the all the layers and  decide what works better.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Presentation Sin: Overboard detail

    The saying goes that the devil is in the detail, and in scientific presentations is this certainly the case. Sadly, all too often students, researchers and professors run over their audiences with too much detail. If everything is important, then nothing is important. If you provide too much detail, you will decrease the contrast of your talk, making it monotonous, losing your main point.  Short presentations, that is, 20 minute talks plus Q&A should be about --what I call-- vision: one solid point supported by two, maximum three arguments. Leave the detail for the report, article or even a book.
    Left: Clear contrast between your vision and the surroundings. Right: Tough to differentiate details from the surroundings
    Clarity, not detail should characterized short talks. If you suspect your are giving too much detail, chances are you have not defined your core message. In this case, you need to review who is your audience and why is it they are coming to see you. The fact that you know your material so well does not imply that you have to tell the audience everything you know about it. Leave them craving for you. In you provide a crisp vision they will ask you for more. This is not to say that you should not know your material. On the contrary, mastering your material is essential to clear your core message from the unnecessary details.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    Using quotes in presentations

    Following the using text in slides spirit of the past weeks, in this post I share some of quotes  I have gathered over the past year

    I learned about the use of quotes in presentations reading Guy Reynold's Presentation Zen.  There are many reasons why you would like to use quotes in your presentations. Here are a few:
    • They can summarize a point in a couple of words. 
    • They can add credibility to your point. 
    • Somebody said it better.
    • They can help you transition to your next point.
    • They make you look smart. 
    • They capsule high amount of knowledge in few words.
    As a tip, I would suggest to read the quote to your audience. It is one of those few times where reading a slide is a good thing. Also remember that the shorter the quote, the better. And as James Humes writes, try to use quotes of famous people as much as possible. 

    I have seen some people using quotes in scientific and academic fields.  Here are some of the ones I have collected.
    "Innovation proceeds more rapidly when different parties can build on each others work and avoid going down the same dead end that others have gone down."
    Bill Gates
    "The most successful scientists in the history of the world are those who pose the right questions."
    Neil deGrasse Tyson
    "Some numbers are meaningless or even misleading unless we explain the underlying trend or the big picture."
    Philip B. Corbett
     "Much wisdom was, and still is, buried in computer codes..."
    Germund Dahlquist
    "In retrospect(...) trajectory methods brought more questions than answers."
    Joel Phillips
    The tough thing about using scientific quotes is to know where to find them. My advice is to  keep your eyes open when reading books, and scientific articles and journals. Another idea is to ask your professor or adviser for good writers in your field and read some of their work. Another source are specialized newspapers like the SIAM Review in the case of applied math.

    Saturday, September 17, 2011

    A word on visuals: Using text in slides part II

    In part I I talked about the shape of the text in slides. In part II I want to address the content. There are two basic questions. One is, when is the use of words better than the use of pictures? And the other, how to effectively use words in pictures?

    Let me kick off with the diagram below that I found in Wikipedia and remixed.

    On question that putting the information shown here into a written form would take more time to process. This is the point that the director of the Data Visualization at the University of New Hampshire, Colin Ware, makes. According to Mr. Ware, hierarchical relationships are most effective presented in a structured diagram (Graphics 1, Text 0). Now take a look at the diagram below. It is called a flowchart, and it is used to graphical display an algorithm. In this case computing the factorial of n, n!. In case you wonder n! = 1 x 2 x ... x n.

    The pseudocode of this flowchart would be something like this: 

    read n
    f = 1, m = 1

    mark: f = f*m
    if(m == n)
       print f
       jump to mark

    In this case text performances better than graphics.

    Here are some guidelines, from Mr. Ware's book Information Visualization,  when text works better than images and vice versa. In general images are better for spatial structures, location, and detail, whereas words are better for procedural information, local conditions, and abstract verbal concepts.

    • Images are best for showing structural relationships, such as links between entities and group of entities.
    • Tasks involving localization information are better convey using images. 
    • Words work better for abstract images. That is, visual information ought to be meaningful and capable of incorporation into into a cognitive framework. If visual information is new and represented abstractly and presented out of context, image memory cannot rely into it. 
    • Images are best for providing detail and appearance . The amount of information shown in a picture should be related to the amount of time available to study it. 
    • Text is better than graphics for conveying abstract concepts, such as freedom or efficiency. 
    • Procedural information is best provided using text or spoken language. 
    • Information that specifies conditions under which something should or shouldn't be done is better provided using text.
    A final thought. Words are extremely versatile, cheap, and ubiquitous. That's part of their strength. But sometimes we forget how cheap and ubiquitous words are, and we fill one slide after the other with no other than text. Let us fight laziness and think critically about the text - its quality and quantity - that goes into our slides.

      Thursday, September 8, 2011

      Presentation Gurus: Julian Treasure

      Once again a presentation Guru from TED! Though I start to have mixed feelings about TED, I have to admit there are great presenters. Julian Treasure is one of them. His job description is exotic, he is a Sound Consultant. Enjoy watching!

      Sunday, September 4, 2011

      Lessons I learned from The King's Speech

      In February 2011, I mentioned the film The King's Speech. Finally, yesterday I had the chance to see it. Here are three things I learned.  

      Two days ago the DVD of The King's Speech was released here in Germany. I got the 2-DVD edition yesterday and watched it. It is a good film and Colin Firth, who plays King George VI, together with Geoffrey Rush (The King's speech therapist) are superb. The film focuses on the unlikely friendship between these two characters rather than in the King's speech problem. Still, I think the film touches an important point: Communication is important, but without character is superfluous.

      Some historical background. George VI is the father of Queen Elizabeth II and brother of King Edward VIII. Their father, King George V, dies in early 1936 as the World War II is breaking. The elder son of King George V, David, becomes King Edward VIII but abdicates in less than a year in favor of a woman. His younger bother, Albert, becomes King George VI and dies in 1952.

      King George VI, Albert,  suffers from stammering impeding him to be a good public speaker. Some years before he assumes the throne, Albert starts to get treated by Lionel Logue for this stammering. The two men become close friends, an unlikely friendship between a royal and a common.

      The issue here is that already by that time the role of the King of England is to appear in public and speak, that is the King of England's role was one of a public speaker.  George VI worked hard to become his stammering. Click here to see a 1938 video clip of George VI on a public appearance.

      There are though three things about the movie that are directly related to the topic of this blog. Becoming a good public speaker requires hard work, practice and (honest) feedback from others. Another is that silence creates drama, and  the right use of pauses create emphasis.

      The last one is a more of a cinematographic lesson I learned watching the film a second time with the director's audio commentary. The canvas size changes the emphasis of the message. Let me illustrate. A typical presentation canvas has a size of 1024 x 768 pixel. This size yields a width:height ratio of 4:3, also known as full screen format. A slide in this format would look like this

      A more cinematographic canvas ratio is the wide format of 16:9. The same content would look like this
      If you want to change the canvas format without changing your original screen resolution you can do this by resizing or cropping your background keeping the width constant. Here is a quick nano tutorial.

      Finally, after playing a bit with lighting and optical distortion I came up with this

      Unfortunately to see the effect you have to download images and view them in slideshow or presentation mode. Applying the optical distortion gives enhances the depth of the canvas. The idea of bringing cinematographic into slides is not mine. I got it from Nancy Duarte's reading list.

      Let me close by saying that if you haven't seen the film, I recommend you rent it. It is worth it.

      Wednesday, August 31, 2011

      A word on visuals: Using text in slides part I

      The use of text in slides is overused, almost abused. In this post I go through two useful principles to improve the use of text in your slides, namely the 6-words-per-slide and 10-20-30 principles.   
      There is a lot to say about the use of text in a presentation deck, but this is for sure: Minimize the number of words per slide. In this e-book Really Bad PowerPoint,  Seth Godin suggests to use a maximum of 6 words. In the clip below, former Apple Chief Evangelist Guy Kawasaki talks about his 10-20-30 principle. The 30 stands for 30pt (pt = point) as the minimum font size in a slide.

      To make this rule more precise take a look at the image below. Both sentences are written in 36pt, but one sentence is bigger than the other one (click on the image to enlarge.)
      Conclusion? Not only does size matter, also type matters (no pun intended!) John McWade from Before&After Magazine  suggests to look for types that
      • contain simple lines
      • have large counters and wide openings
      • little or no weight derivation.
      Here is an example

      Let me go back to Seth's 6-words-per-slide rule. Take a look at this postcard. It is ugly, but illustrates the point

      I interpret Seth's rule as "maximum one relative simple sentence per slide!" Actually, you could take it a little further: one sentence per slide, one idea per slide. This stuff makes perfect sense! I'll finish for today with two more examples. The first is a sign inside the streetcars in Leipzig.

      It translates "STOP! Do not get off after the signal."

      In English is says "Soon there will be something on the lid!".

      Sunday, August 14, 2011

      A word on visuals: Image resources

      You might be willing to include images in your next presentation, but might be confused to know where to start. In this post I give a provide resources on where to get free images, how to choose good images and how to process them to fit your needs.

      Sadly, I forgot to take my camera to Paris. You got to love Wikipedia!

      I'm back from a (long) summer holiday in partly Paris. I was really  impressed by the quality of their advertisements. I was in fact so impressed that I'm  again immersed in graphic design and photography. So I thought I would write about photography resources: where to get free photos, what makes a image good for a presentation, and some tips on how to improve those free photos to get them to work.

      Where to get free but good images?

      I have mentioned this place already, but it so good I'll mention it again. Compfight is a Flickr search engine that filter images according to their license, either commercial or creative commons.

      So people already know that Wikipedia is another great place for images, but what I have found even more helpful is their Wikipedia featured pictures. According to them, "these are images that the Wikipedia community finds beautiful, stunning, impressive or informative."

      But even a better source of image in the Wikimedia is Wikimedia Commons. The quality of their images is even better. But there is no reason to stop for static images,  in commons you can also download video and audio.

      What makes an image good for presentations?

      What makes an image good for presentations is the title of a two part series article at Powerpoint Ninja on basic information on how to choose good images for presentation. The article has two good related sources on composition in photography:

      5 Elements of composition in photography

      10 Top Photography Composition rules

      How to improve those free photos to get them to work?

       So now you know where to get images and what to look for to make them work, but here is the caveat. Seldom images come in the way you want them or need them. If you know your ways into the GIMP of Photoshop you won't have trouble getting images ready, but if you don't,  first start by learning how to use the curve tool:
      The curve tool window is a mighty tool for image correction.
      Left Photoshop, right The GIMP
      A good place to learn to use this tool is by reading section 6.2 of Grooking the Gimp, then watch episode 037 "The two minute holiday shot edit" of Meet the Gimp to learn so more usefully techniques.

      The after picture in the  before-after of the Tour Eiffel (image downloaded from the "Tour Eiffel" Wikipedia page) was just a two click process. Learning about layers and blending modes also pays off.

      Saturday, July 9, 2011

      The Power Button

      The Power Button is the other punch to engrave key points on the audience's mind. It introduces your Power Line to the audience, by set them up to listen to you. 

      Last week I wrote about James Humes' Power Line as the first punch to engrave your key idea in the audience's mind. The second punch is the Power Button and it is the launcher of your Power Line. In the words of the author:
      The Power Button says to the audience "Ready—Set—Listen" to set them up for the Power Line that follows.
      I heard a very well known professor in the field of applied math using this Power Button back in 2009 in the Netherlands. Almost two year later I still remember his Power Button. Unfortunately his presentation was bad, but with the (perhaps unconscious) use of the Power Button he engraved in the mind the idea that 
      Tangential interpolation methods are the only possible set of method to attain H2-norm optimality.
      Nevermind that his means, I just want to point out this Power Button worked.  So, what there exactly his words?
      This is the only way [pause] I repeat, [pause] the only way to obtain H2 optimality.

      Comparing this Power Button and Line with the ones presented by Humes, I understand why they worked. First the pauses, second the  repetition of the word only  and third the emphasis on the word only in the second part of the line. Actually the pauses surround the word repeat leveraging it and graving the attention of the audience. The use of the word only was also striking because in the context of applied math it is seldom that there is only one way of doing something.

      Here are other examples of Power Buttons from the book of Humes
      Let me again assert my firm belief [pause] that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. -Franklin D. Roosevelt
       And so my fellow Americans: [pause] Ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.
      - John F. Kennedy
       The Power Button is underlined, the Power Line is italicize.  Note the presence of pauses in the three examples. As I mentioned some time again, pauses draw attention and tell the audience something special or important is about to happen. Also note that in the use of the words repeat and again. The content of the Power Line is not new to the, but it is a power cap. Kennedy also summarizes with this And so my fellows americans
      This double punch, Power Line-Button, is an extremely effective rhetorical tool to delver your key message.  There isn't any excuse anymore, go and engrave your ideas on your audience.

      Sunday, July 3, 2011

      The Power Line

      Many scientific presentations fail because the presenter lacks the energy and enthusiasm to connect with the audience. In this post I offer some advice on what to do whether you want to present or not to fix your key point in the audience's mind. The method is called Power Line Power Button.

      One of the reasons why so many scientific presentations suck is that the presenter fails to connect with the audience. Geology professor Jay H. Lehr knows this. In 1985 he wrote a 4 page article called Let There Be Stoning (click here to download it as a pdf file) describing the landscape of scientific presentations. This article ought to be a compulsory reading for all college students (and professors). Yes, your guest is right; I strongly encourage you to read it.

      Some scientific talks will be inherently bad because the presenter has no passion for that topic he or she must present. In an ideal world these people shouldn't be allowed to present that topic. If you find yourself in that place, I advise you to either talk to your professor, adviser or boss, and tell him it would be a win-win situation if you talk about something else that you feel passionate about, or ask if it would be  possible to find somebody else to do give that talk. But if this is not possible, then make yourself and the audience a favor and keep your presentation very short. Reduce the number of evidence and data to the acceptable minimum and keep the number of key ideas or findings below three.

      On the contrary, if you are enthusiastic about your topic, follow the same advice, only stretch it just a nudge. That is, keep your talk short. If you hit the right note people would like to talk you after the presentation. There you can further explain and show more data. Provide the right amount of data and evidence during your presentation  to get the audience interest in you. And to keep that interest alive never provide more than three key points or finding. You would be lucky if your audience remembers one of them.

      A way of how to engrave the most important key point is given by the American presidential speechwriter James C. Humes in his book Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln.  Humes' engraving method is a double punch one. He calls them Power Line and Power Button.  The Power Line is almost self-explanatory. While preparing your talk prepare one sentence (a line) that sums up your most important key point. To help coin that Power Line Humes  explains the C-R-E-A-M method. C-R-E-A-M stands for Contrast - Rhyme - Echo - Alliteration - Metaphor.  Let me describe them briefly.

      Contrast is about pairing antonyms in your Power Line to create tension. Use one word in the first part of your line, and resolve in the second part using the other one. Here is an example for Humes' book.
      There is only one answer to defeat and that is victory.
                                                                     - W. Churchill
      Rhyme is an old trick of storytelling. The best way to explain this is through an example.
      There is no hope for those who use dope.
                                                - Jesse Jackson
      Echo is the repetition of a word or a phrase. There are three possibilities, repeat a word in the second phrase that you used in the first, repeat the noun and repeat the verb.
      Ask not what your country can do for you,
      but rather what you can do for your country.
                                                    - J. F. Kennedy
      Alliterratation is the repetition of  consonant sound on two of more neighboring words.
      That we shall pay any price, bear any burden...
                                                         - J. F. Kennedy
      Metaphor is meant to leave the audience with a vivid image of the message you are trying to get across. In the context of war this example does exactly that.
      A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.
                                    - General George Patton
      That's the C-R-E-A-M method to help you coin that Power Line. In the next post I'll address the Power Button to engrave that Power Line in the audience's mind

      Saturday, June 25, 2011

      Presentation Gurus: Richard Feynman

      Last week I showed you an example of using photographs as visuals. Actually the last couple of posts have been heavy on my own examples. Let's change that by introducing a real guru on scientific presentations. Meet physicists Richard Feynman. Feynman was a great presenter who didn't live to meet the PowerPoint generation. I was able to find this on YouTube.  Enjoy!

      Saturday, June 18, 2011

      Visual examples: using photos as visuals

      In this post I give an example of how photos can be used in a presentation's visuals. I show one more example of image manipulation and how to use the power of analogy to produce beautiful visuals. 

      I'm helping a friend creating a presentation stack for a talk about an exchange program between a university here in Germany and the Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil. Strictly speaking this is not a scientific presentation, but it will take place in a university context. The audience is made of potential students that would take part on the program exchange. After gathering the important facts, I went to Wikipedia and Fickr to pull some images. All the images have a creative commons license.  Here are some examples:


      To start, Sao Paulo. I pulled this panorama of old downtown Sao Paulo from Wikipedia. The original is larger than the size of canvas. Instead of trying to scale it or crop it to make it fill in one slide, I animated it in Keynote by moving from right to left.

      We worked on a top-down idea for the talk, so after talking about Sao Paulo,  I went ahead and pull this other picture of the University in Sao Paulo from Wikipedia. I kept the font the same: Helvetica -bold-48 in white. The text's color background is not random. I used the color picker tool in Keynote and chose a back gray. The photo and the slide don't have the same size. I filled the missing space felt by the photo by making the slide's background color black. This is more pleasant for the eye. I placed the text near to the building complex to direct the eye gaze. People will read to the text first, and then look at the building.

      We moved to talk about one relevant fact about the school: How big is it? A school's size is an important criteria  for students,  to decide whether or not they want to go. I distilled the question to How many people are there? The number administrative staff is certainly important, but not for the target audience. What was relevant for them was the number of professors and students. I rounded the numbers. That's a little details that makes a big difference. If you can, do it.

      I pulled the professor's photo from Fickr. It has the same height of  the slide but only half of the width. To make the slide more dynamic, I used I trick from Garr Reynolds: Blending the image from transparent to the slice's background. I did it using GIMP's Blend tool. The trick works pretty well in this case.

      Did you notice that the woman is looking at the text? That's coincidence either. This is to help to direct the eye gaze to the text.

      Now to the exchange program! The program offers a double title (Abschluss in german), one in Germany and one in Brazil. Therefore the analogy two graduations. I was aware this slide broke the style I had been using some far. I had to. I pulled this image from Fickr as well. I think is beautiful, and didn't find anything better, so I went for  more style. The slide's background color is the same as the photo's corners. The image came with the vignette. I added the reflection effect direct in Keynote.

      An important piece of information is when can the students go on the exchange program. In this case it from the third year onward.

      These are the two last slides. Again more information about the exchange. What you guess what information?  Students might get a scholarship for  traveling and room & board expenses. 

      I think these three lasts slides are the best ones mainly for two reasons, the quality of the photos and their analogy. In every slide I have tried to apply Seth Godin's rule-of-thumb on keeping the number of words per slide below 6.

      I hope these examples help you getting some ideas for the presentation's next visuals.

      Sunday, June 12, 2011

      A word on visuals: Two photo tricks

      Scientific presentations can profit  from cinematographic storytelling, specially from those effects that direct the eye gaze. In this post I present the vignetting and background blur effects. They are quick to prepare and yield great results. 
      If you are including photographs in your presentation there are two classic tricks to help to direct the attention of the view to exactly what you what. The tricks are called vignetting and background blur. You might already know what I'm talking about. The tricks are used in movies like The Graduate (1967) and Citizen Kane.  To show the first effect I created an artificial image using Inkscape.

      • Original

      •  Vignette. According to Wikipedia vignetting is a reduction of an image's brightness or saturation at the periphery compared to the image center. Vignetting helps directing the viewer into your slide. You can create this effect using the GIMP of Photoshop. Basically you just make an oval selection around the object of interest. Invert the selection. Turn on the quick mask. Apply a Gaussian blur. Turn off the quick mask. Finally, slide the output level on the Levels menu  towards the left. If this was too fast google for vignette tutorial gimp or photoshop. 

      • Background blur. This effect goes by different names such as shallow focus, depth of field or background blur. Check out the example below. Although the picture already has the dancing girl as main element, the picture can be improved by making the girl pop out of the background by blurring it. This effect is even simpler to get in photoshop or GIMP than vignetting. First, select your object. Then inverse the selection and apply a Gaussian blur. 
      Girl dancing. Image pulled from Flickr
      Example of background blur

      Tuesday, June 7, 2011

      Visual examples: remixing a math presentation

      Designing math visuals is tough because of the level of abstraction. In this visual example I remix 5 slides of a math presentation.  I illustrate a way around the level of abstraction and show how to reduce to information per slide.

      In the past couple of days I have been working on remixing some slides of a math presentation. It is a project I have been wanting to do for a long time, and I'm happy I finally did it! The original presentation is called A short course on: Preconditioned Krylov subspace methods by Yousef Saad. You can download the presentation here.  Don't let the title scare you! Understanding the content is not important in this case.  I encourage you to download the original slides and compare them with the remix below.

      I've chosen this presentation for three reasons. First, it is a classic example of average visuals in scientific talks. Second, I know the topic, so I could be sure I knew how to remix it without making (hopefully) content mistakes. Third, the topic allows for very few diagrams or pictures.  Basically I reduced the information per slide, and went nuts on transitions and animations to lift the lack of diagrams and pictures. Because of the time it takes to correctly set up the transitions and animations, remixing the first five slides took two full days and resulted in 30 slides. I'm aware that people can't spend that much time preparing their presentation's visuals. You could get a good speed up by just dropping the transitions and animations.  I did it to give some design ideas. I hope you find them useful. The improvement is the reduction of the information per slide.  I'm very interested in your comments and suggestions. Click on the movie below to watch the presentation.
      Update 7/10/2011. Please note that Mr. Saad has in no way endorsed, overseen or comment this remixing. In fact he might not even be aware of it.


      Wednesday, May 25, 2011

      Tech talk: 3 Applications to help you boost your slides

      Slideware doesn't always offer the right features to visualize presentations. In this post I present  Gimp, Inkscape, and Blender, 3 free multi-platform applications to take your visuals to the next level.  

      Slideware offers limited features to create that diagram that you want, or to manipulate that image in the way you want.  But you don't have to settle for that ugly looking diagram or unwanted photo effect, let the multi-platform Open Source Software help you. Maybe you have heard about The GIMP, which is a similar application to Adobe Photoshop. If you haven't, take a look here.  Gimp is free and runs in Windows, Linux, and Mac ... and it is powerful. It is so powerful that it can be intimidating. From all of the free resource to learn how to use it, or to bring it to the next level I recommend these two sites:
      • Meet the GIMP is an excellent blog on GIMP with tutorials and articles.
      If you know what a vector graphic is you can skip to the next section. If you don't,  take a look  a the image below.
      Comparison between bitmap and vector-based images. Image from Wikipedia.

      The image on the left has been pixelated. It has happened to all of us trying to make an image bigger or trying to zoom-in. This is characteristic of  bitmap images like photograph in jpeg format. A tip to avoid using pixelated images in your presentation is to use images as large or larger than your presentation canvas. The image on the right is a scalable vector graphic (svg), and as it exemplifies , these images scale - increase their size - with no distortion; zooming-in isn't a problem either. When creating a diagram you need a program that handles vector graphics. Luckily there as fine free application for doing this.

      Inkscape is an open source vector graphics editor. Click here to see what Inkscape can do. To get started with it download it and follow the tutorials. If you want to learn more this site:
      Finally, if the stakes of your presentation are indeed high you might consider going for some 3-D rendering. A friend did this is college to illustrate the process of fabricating a semiconductor. It was neat, though simple: just some cubes with basic colors and straight forward animation. If you are going for 3D  be aware its craft and technology can have a very steep learning curve. Blender is a free open source 3D content creation suite with a very large community eager to help the rookie.
      So there you you have it: 3 multi-platform open source application to bring your creativity to your presentation's visuals.

      Monday, May 23, 2011


      It is is been a while since I last wrote here. If you are a regular reader, you might have ask "Hey, what happened?" The silence has caught your attention. Pauses in a presentation work in  the same way. Making a pause forces the audience to focus on you. Think about it, even if the person on the back reading email will look at you asking himself if the talk is over. There is your chance to relaunch and engage him or her in your presentation. A pause is a powerful attention-grabbing tool, so use it, pause.

      Wednesday, April 20, 2011

      On introductions and vocal delivery

      Keeping the promise of elaborating on delivery I give two examples  of scientific talks. If speaker have awareness on their vocal delivery, their talks would immediately improve. 

      Continuing the theme  better shown than tell, I look at Columbia University  physicists Janna Levin's 2011 TED Talk The sound of the universe makes (click here to go there). In particular, I look at her introduction  which takes roughly one minute.  In these  74 seconds there are 188 words, here is the transcript (I added the times with an offset of -15 s):
      I want to ask you all to consider for a second the very simple fact that, by far, most of what we know about the universe comes to us from light. We can stand on the Earth and look up at the night sky and see stars with our bare eyes. The Sun burns our peripheral vision, we see light reflected off the Moon, and in the time since Galileo pointed that rudimentary telescope at the celestial bodies, the known universe (0:30) has come to us through light, across vast eras in cosmic history. And with all of our modern telescopes, we've been able to collect this stunning silent movie of the universe -- these series of snapshots that go all the way back to the Big Bang (0:50).
      And yet, the universe is not a silent movie, because the universe isn't silent. I'd like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack, and that soundtrack is played on space itself. Because space can wobble like a drum (1:06). It can ring out a kind of recording throughout the universe of some of the most dramatic events as they unfold (1:15).
      Visualizing this portion of the transcript with a word cloud we see she is on track. The 5 most frequent words are:

      Wonder  why light makes it to the top 5? Note the contrast. She introduces the topic of sound by comparing it with movies, i.e., light. She appeals to the audience's experience of looking at the sky at night. She paints an image with her words: "The Sun burns our peripheral vision", "The universe is not a silent movie", "Space can wobble like a drum".  There is crescendo: Our eyes, Galileo's telescope, today's telescopes; and then it cracks : It is a silent movie, but the universe isn't silent.   

      She expresses her purpose brief and clear: "I'd like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack," -- and then goes on-- and that soundtrack is played on space itself. Because space can wobble like a drum." And before we can ask so what? she tells us why it is important: "It can ring out a kind of recording throughout the universe of some of the most dramatic events as they unfold."

      Here is are another example. This is a chemistry lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from professor Donald R. Sadoway. The lecture is called "Phase diagrams" and the overall course "Introduction to Solid State Chemistry" (click here to watch). Again, I'm focusing on the first minute of the introduction.
      We are going to do  the first of three lectures on the last topic. We are going to talk about phase diagrams, starting today, Monday, and wrapping it up on Thursday. 
      Phase diagrams are related to the question of stability and sustaining the solid state. And we've talked about the behavior of solids, and used solids to teach the rule of rudiments of chemistry. But today I want to talk about  conditions under which solids are stable.(0:30) And under what conditions do solids remain stable, when do they become unstable.
      This is important in industry, for example. If you are running a cast shop (?), you are breaking auto parts if you want to know what the solidification temperature of a particular alloy is. It is important in failure analysis, something like the fall of the word trade center, looking at the metal specimens  to determine what was the motive failure. The temperature excursions leave a signature, a thermal signature indicative of the history of  what happened to that object. And by determining whether that  above the phase transformation temperature  we can retrace, reconstruct the incident.(1:03)
      This is a great introduction. In the first 30 seconds he already stated clearly what the topic of the lecture  is and how it relates to the previous lectures. In the next minute he already explaining why this is important. Note how he increases the speed at the beginning of the last paragraph. That's call pace increment. He also changes the increases the pace between sentences: rule of rudiments of chemistry. But today...  That stresses the contrast between the past and the present. 

      The examples are vivid because of the topic and narration: Temperature excursions leave a signature, a thermal signature indicative of what happened to that object. This is not science/engineering, this is storytelling.

      Journalist and presentation consultant Carmine Gallo gives 4 tips to improve the vocal delivery in his book 10 simple secrets of the world's greatest business communicators:
      • Tone it up. Your voice should be like a stunning landscape portrait with peaks and valleys, variations in pitch, volume, and inflections.
      • Pick up the pace. Even research shows that listeners prefer a rate of speech that's a bit faster than average. 
      • Pause... for impact. Your job as a speaker is to "unlock" the potential of your presentation by respecting its words enough to take a breath every once in a while so your audience can soak in the message.
      • Punch key words. Stress the key words in each sentence.

      Saturday, April 16, 2011

      Visual examples: Multimedia learning

      I'm helping a friend with the visuals of a lecture on Multimedia learning based on the book of Richard Mayer of the same name. I asked if I could use some of the material to post here, so here we go:

      2 traditional views of the learning process. Information aquisition (IA) + knowledge construction (KC). IA is better explained by the empty vessel analogy: The brain is an empty vessel and information is poured into it. KC refers to the sense-making process of the information that is presented. Ideally, good multimedia leads to KC allowing the learner to remember and apply the learned material. Traditionally, in the design of multimedia, this 2 concepts clash. An example is extraneous processing overload.
      Extraneous process overload is likely to occur when the lesson contains attention-grabbing irrelevant material and/or when the lesson is designed in a confusing way. 
      Avoid redundancy, i.e., presenting multimedia material in spoken text, printed text and pictures is likely to be less effective as multimedia material presented only spoken text and pictures or printed text and pictures.
      Case for adding on-screen text to narrated animation is based on the learning preference hypothesis. 1 delivery path of presented information to the learner: Information may have a hard time getting through. Even worse, one available path may be block if the learner is not efficient in processing material in that form.
      When 2 paths are available more information can still through the learner. However, there may still  more blockage in the inflow of information if the learner is unable to use one of the paths.
      3 delivery paths allow to receive more information than is available using just 2 paths. The premise underlying  the learning preference hypothesis is that learners should choose the method of instruction that best suits the way the learn.
      Inspired by Nancy Duarte's Scene not slides example, I created this :

      I think of it not as an animation but as a long wide slide that doesn't fit into a single screen. For it to make sense, here are the slides with the notes:
      Pictures, written text, and spoken text together in multimedia presentation overload the capacity of the human information processing  system. The big truck represent words: printed and spoken.
      At the sensory registry printed words are separated from spoken words.

      In addition to this separation the working memory is overloaded by the selection of images and words in both visual and verbal channels.

      After being selected words and picture continue being processed.