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.”


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.