Seeing Nancy Duarte and Australia

December 1, 2008

Got wind of the fact that Nancy Duarte was speaking at the Soho Apple store in New York last week, so hopped on the subway last Tuesday and went down to hear her present.
Looking online I see that she has presented this material many times before. Whatever. She was really engaging, and her presentation was so personal that she came across as caring about us as individuals, as people who care about what they do as professionals, as people interested enough in this craft to come out on a chilly evening in New York. She cared about taking that time to convey that message –- caring about your audience —  not because she made one cent from this, but because she is obviously passionate about her passion.


A Pre-Show that Paid Off

First up on the big screen in the Apple store was all those Mac vs. PC ads – one after another. Kind of cool and cute on TV, but really, really annoying when played in some long sequence, something they were never designed for. Also so loud that you couldn’t escape!
Then, however, a mini documentary about sound design for Baz Luhrmann’s new movie, Australia. Baz was speaking at the store the next night – kudos to Apple for cool, interesting and engaging programming. I’ve never thought much about sound in movies, other than all the obvious dialog. Even in the quietest of quiet moments, there’s the whisper of wind, the rustle of a garment. This totally interesting short movie explained in layman’s terms how all that is conceived, captured, and integrated into the finished product.
It made me go see the movie this weekend! It made me think again about how every detail in a presentation counts. Fonts, color, spacing, pacing, how every tiny thing says, “I care,” or even more importantly, “I care about my audience.”


Two true stories about customer service (and a thank you to Seth Godin)

November 13, 2008

Car Troubles

We’d just returned from a trip to Montreal, and the car was making an alarming noise. If there’s something wrong with  a font, or the way text aligns in a table, I can fix it. If the car is misbehaving, I can’t. Down to the shop it went. You know the drill. Drop it off, wait anxiously for the phone call, get out your credit card.
The mechanic (whose name is Klever!) called. “Oh,” he said, “There’s a broken hose, so that will be $20.” Was there something wrong? Was there something he wasn’t telling me? I went in, paid just that, $20, and that was it.
Now he could have told me it s $120, and I would have paid. $165, yep, I would have paid. Now, for sure, I respect Klever for his honesty, and he has a customer for life.

Ordering Furniture from IKEA

I was asked to help order furniture for a reception area. Finally decided on a small truck-full of stuff from IKEA, couches, chairs and different kinds of tables. Everything came, we got a team to assemble everything, we threw away the packaging (you know where this is going, right!) and employees began to filter through, admiring this new room and how it looked. Glitch was the bosses wife. She hated it all.
Now began the saga of epic proportions. No packaging, no problem. IKEA told us to take off the legs, and that would suffice. The (third party) delivery company finally came, and said they had an order to only pick up two pieces. Then (but not in the same conversation) they said they couldn’t take anything unboxed. It went south quickly.
The good bit. When I called IKEA’s customer service, I got a wonderful person, Marlene. “Oh yes, I remember you — I set up the return ticket for you. What’s wrong?” Then later, “You hold on the line, don’t hang up! I’m going to call the delivery people and get this all worked out for you.” Marlene and I had a nice chat, and I told her she should get a raise! Nope, won’t happen, replied Marlene, but she told me if I send an e-mail or letter to IKEA, she would get some kind of gift card, or appreciation.
How cool is that? She made my day, I made hers, and an experience that was potentially (in fact it was) horrendous, ended up having an altogether different outcome.

The Seth Godin Bit

Now this is not really about graphic design, but it is about company design, and how what people do creates perceptions and images in the public’s mind. I recently read a posting by Seth Godin where he talked about how much it costs businesses to give good customer service vs. what they get in return.
When I ask people this question, they all start to think how much employee training costs. The return, of course, outweighs anything spent. The point is, it doesn’t matter if you’re directing a country from Buckingham Palace, or you’re dishing out curry in Bangladesh, the person who gives more, serves and listens more, and connects with the customer more, wins it all.  I’ve put this short presentation together, posted on Slideshare, and I’ve included it here. Thanks Seth, this is just a graphic reproduction of your musings, but something that completely resonated with me, and makes for a powerful presentation.

A Tale of Two Stories

October 5, 2008

My wife and I both presented at an Educator’s Conference yesterday. No matter how much I read, there’s nothing like seeing other people in action to learn what works and what doesn’t.

The One That Worked

The chap who gave the keynote was great. His topic and delivery were engaging. But… here’s what didn’t work. He started off assuming that everyone had come to this same conference the year before, so in some ways this was a continuation of last year! He didn’t have a remote control, so his talk was punctuated by “next slide please.” All words on the slides, including for the header, which I couldn’t read because it was so small. Lots (and lots) of information, and he talked way too fast. He ran out of time, so went even faster at the end.

But… here’s what worked. He had a GREAT story at the end, that left everyone gasping and clapping, totally envigorated and talking about what a great presentation it was. So I learned (again) that it’s not always about the technical stuff, the slides and all that. If I’m able to more people’s hearts then that’s what counts.

The One That Didn’t

Second guy I heard was presenting a breakout. This fellow has traveled the world presenting his material in all kinds of settings. This time though, I wasn’t so impressed. He started with a video using his laptop speaker for sound. He didn’t have his presentation up and ready to go when he did start, so had to scramble to get it up and running. He continually walked right in front of the monitor, so it blacked out the screen. Only thing that could have been more distracting would have been making animal puppets with his hands!

Later in his presentation though was the worst crime — flipping past multiple slides to get to the next point he wanted to talk about. All this said to me (and perhaps to everyone else) as that he hadn’t prepared his slides for this event. He’d just used an existing presentation. Nothing wrong with that, but to leave in all the stuff that he didn’t want to use?

So there it is — THE STORY WINS.

Really, really happy

August 16, 2008

How I Learned to Love Math

July 28, 2008

My dad was an accountant. You know all the stories about psychiatrist’s children being messed up? Doctor’s children all unhealthy? Yeah. I hated math. I HATED math. But…
I play the piano. When I was a kid I didn’t have to be told to practice. I played and played for hours. I devoured sheet music and looked for more. The nun who taught me piano lessons would whack me on the knuckles with a big wooden ruler if I got my scales wrong, sending me home in tears after every lesson. I still played.
Then on to play in big bands, swing bands, jazz bands, rock bands, piano bars — the whole enchilada. It was all about math.

The Lowest Common Denominator
All those notes I played, all those musical bars I filled up with way too much stuff. I’ve realized its not about what I play at all. The notes are not nearly as important as what I DON’T play — what I call playing the spaces. How do I take that piece of music, play that with other people, and play only what’s absolutely necessary? That’s hard. Playing tons of stuff and lots of notes, big fat chords and tons of pretty things, that’s easy. Distilling it down to its essence.

Communicate Only What’s Needed
Graphic design is all the same. Don’t clutter. Leave the space. Get rid of the extra stuff. Be concise. Common denominator. Use the math.
Its the same concept, and that’s why I love (at least that part of) math. Design to me means just that — getting rid of all that extra stuff, so the message is crystal clear. Its what Garr Reynolds talks about constantly — zen design. I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but I’m glad I got into Powerpoint. I hated it. (Like old math). But now I see that doing the presentations I have, I’ve been forced to think in a new way about the message, about communication. About having one slide, one chance, one second, to get it right and say just what needs to be said, and nothing more. Really hard, but really worthwhile.

Design and Grand Central Terminal

July 23, 2008

I’m really lucky to work right next to Grand Central Terminal in NYC. Design is never much further than right outside the door. Yankee fever isn’t much further than right outside the door either. Model’s downstairs made a flag out of Yankee caps. How many people stopped and took photos? A gazillion a day.

Did they see it?

Did they see it?

In Grand Central there was a diamond promotion recently — had them all stopping and taking photos! This was made entirely out of red roses. As they faded, wilted and turned black they dramatically spelled out the fact that while red roses mean love, they do tend to droop — but diamonds are forever.

Are they forever? At least they'll last longer than roses.

Are they forever? At least they'll last longer than roses.

Inside the main terminal itself of course there’s huge design statements everywhere. What a gift this is — coming in on a train to this incredibe space every day.

Learning Every Day

April 13, 2008

I’m preparing for a presentation in San Francisco next weekend. This is at an important meeting — where a large organization is talking about change, and bringing in participants from all sectors. This particular group is a bit stuck in terms of growth. As a designer I’ll be talking about how team members can be incredibly empowered by first having great material to use, and then knowing how to use appropriate media for each specific target audience.

Since my first real Powerpoint presentation back in August last year, I’ve researched a great deal, My wife knows when I get that Powerpoint look, and doesn’t want to hear ANY MORE about it. (Except when I’m helping her with hers!)

First In the Alphabet Doesn’t Mean More Important

I’m struck by how many people write and publish on Powerpoint, but more importantly on the art of good presenting. Its as though we’ve got our P’s mixed up. PRESENTING is all caps and powerpoint should be subscript. We’ve got things in the wrong order, thinking that a good powerpoint makes a good presentation. While there’s some truth to this, a poor presentation will never be rescued by a good powerpoint, but I think a great presentation will not necessarily be killed by a bad powerpoint.

Great Teachers

When my kids were a little younger, I got really involved with our local school district. We were always talking about change, and I went to endless committee meetings about curricula, curricula curricula. If we could just get the right curriculum for math, for reading . . . The older teachers would nod, knowing that they’d heard and attended meetings with exactly the same discussion ten years, fifteen years before. If you think back to your favorite teacher, or the teacher who managed to make a difference in your school life, you’ll quickly realize that your recollection has nothing to do with what curriculum your teacher used — it was all about the teacher as a person.

Each time I present, someone will nudge over a little jump drive, saying, “could you put that on my drive for me . . ” and I always oblige. Now I understand, however, that its me I want them to listen to, not just be wowed by the pretty stuff on the screen. So no, I won’t give them the material, but I will be very happy to meet with their particular organization.

Owning Your Presentation

We had a conference call last weekend to prepare for San Francisco, and one person, who has important stuff to contribute, can’t make it. The coordinator then asked her to send that Powerpoint, so someone else can present it. Good idea?
One of my wife’s good friends, was asked to speak at a big conference. The organization had spent a good deal of money and time making a series of killer powerpoints (although perhaps not the type of “killing” they had envisaged). It emerged that being asked to speak really meant just giving one of these powerpoint presentations. Time to disengage! She didn’t though, and struggled to make sense of material that she didn’t know, necessarily completely agree with, and definitely nothing that moved her in a way she felt she could passionately present.

On to SF, with a BIG THANKS to all the authors/presenters I’ve been reading. I don’t know if I’m a better presenter for all this, but I love what I’m speaking about, and I feel great about my materials.