Steal This Presentation
September 30, 2010 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Steal This Presentation. "Right now someone is out there dying from a boring presentation. Hopefully, it's not yours." A crash course in getting the fugly out of your slides.
posted by storybored (54 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is all good and well until you work for the evil empire. Then you're bound to standard corporate templates from which you SHALL NOT STRAY, EVER!
posted by PuppyCat at 7:50 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Clearly this person has never had to make a powerpoint for the government. When I try to use best practices, I'm told to do them over again "the right way." Your tax dollars at work, folks.
posted by olinerd at 7:52 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the best trick for *giving* a presentation that a professor of mine taught me: always bring your own laser pointer. That way, when the one that the venue provides dies, you can suavely remove yours from your pocket/case and keep the presentation moving without interruption.
posted by olinerd at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2010


olinerd,

He's in Paris. This is what socialism looks like.
posted by lukemeister at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


That was visually painful... I do not like the white block text overlaid over graphics as a caption.
posted by Phalene at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2010


There's different appropriate venues for this sort of stuff. Company meetings that are intrinsically boring, not so much, but going to a conference, I'm always impressed at the people who have interesting presentations. I'm not sure if I like this guy's style exactly, but he has good advice.
posted by demiurge at 8:00 AM on September 30, 2010


If your presentation depends on your slides you are already sunk. You should have just sent your audience the slide show and saved them the trip.
posted by Babblesort at 8:01 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Standard advice here is "don't just stand there and read your goddamn slides."

It seems to me like a lot of these tips are ways of forcing yourself to follow that advice. If you bring a bunch of bullet points, you'll be tempted to recite the little fuckers verbatim. If you bring a few graphs and charts, some short headlines in bold fonts, a couple of amusing video clips and a picture of a bunny rabbit eating an iPhone... well you can't just stand there and recite that, can you?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:01 AM on September 30, 2010


For years I've wanted to create a plug-in to detect ugly Powerpoint slides and help people fix them. I was inspired to do this after sitting through one too many presentations by government/military folk.

I don't think a basic version would be too hard. A lot of the heuristics would be fairly simple. Too many different fonts. Fonts too small. Too much text. Reading level too high. Poor contrast with the background. Background too complex. Too many animations. Too much jargon. Too many bullets. Don't need full sentences.

Could use also Mechanical Turk to help evaluate the "goodness" and "badness" of slides as well, to develop an underlying model to complement the heuristics.

Since it's not in my main line of research, and since I don't think I'll ever find an undergrad here to carry out the work, I'll just tell people about the idea and hopefully someone will do it.
posted by jasonhong at 8:07 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


My presentations, which are always successful, have few or no words (on the slides). I use pictures or diagrams that illustrate my point without distracting from it.
posted by neuron at 8:07 AM on September 30, 2010


My basic mantra is "entertain first, inform second." Unless you give people a reason to care to listen to you, they won't.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:09 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Clearly this person has never had to make a powerpoint for the government.

The problem (from my point of view) is that in government culture, PowerPoint is used to convey important data far more than it should be. Things that should be put in a memo or other form of "proper" documentation get thrown into a presentation instead, often without ever intending to, you know, present it to anyone! Drives me insane sometimes.

It's a problem because PowerPoint can't convey nearly as much information as a properly laid out document can. And then people insist on reading the slides ahead of time and come to conclusions based on these bullet points in your slides that get totally misconstrued.

It's really horrifying. People show up to meetings with the slides printed out, and it makes them feel that a) they know all the information going in, b) they don't need to pay attention to what the presenter is saying (which is usually true, because the presenters are usually just reading off their slides), and c) no one takes notes because, hey, all the information's right here on my printout!

Thus, the role of PowerPoint has been blown way out of proportion and without a huge culture change, you'll never be able to use it for its intended purpose - a visual aid for a live presentation, not a crutch to convey all the information you're trying to give to people.

why yes i have been making powerpoint decks for the government why do you ask
posted by backseatpilot at 8:15 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


blinking, sparkling, or twirling text is just not cool.

:(
posted by headnsouth at 8:18 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a problem because PowerPoint can't convey nearly as much information as a properly laid out document can

On that note: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint
posted by MuffinMan at 8:20 AM on September 30, 2010


I get the sense this advice is intended more for story-presentations and less for results-oriented-presentations. In science, yes, I need to interest and engage the audience, but I am not there to entertain them. Puns = laughed with. Slides that are pictures of teddy bears in nurse costumes = laughed at.
posted by maryr at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


What could top this presentation?
posted by Wet Spot at 8:34 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I took a Tufte seminar once. One of his tips was to take your key points and key documentation and get them into 4 well-designed well-typeset pages that you can fit on a single folded 11"x17" that you'll have ready at people's places before the presentation starts (the premise was presenting at a meeting, not giving a lecture.) That way, many attendees will have already encountered the important parts before you even start speaking.

Figuring out how to express your ideas in 4 pages such that conciseness serves them instead of hurts them... well, that's why Tufte has sold a lot of expensive books.
posted by Zed at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Awesome, wonderfully informative presentation. Thanks for the link.
posted by Argyle at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2010


Rule 1) Make sure that your medium is appropriate for your message and your venue. For instance, slideshow presentations almost never make sense when displayed on a web page. (This guy fails already)

Rule 2) Legibility and information conveyance are of the utmost importance. This can go hand-in-hand with good aesthetics, but doesn't have to. This guy also fails here. Steve Jobs usually uses plain white, sans-serif text on a black background. It's fine for him, and it's fine for you.

Rule 3) if you only have 5 minutes worth of content, make sure your presentation is no longer than 5 minutes long. Print out pages of notes and addenda for the attendees of your meeting if you want to include non-critical supplementary material that will only be of interest to a small part of your audience.

Rule 4) Don't read off of your slides. Ever. It's insulting to the intelligence of your audience.
posted by schmod at 8:39 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess this guy's presentation would be more effective if all the examples weren't vapid advertising / social media self-promotion. Yes, I agree that powerpoint is a poor window in which to display data, charts and diagrams, and that there's a better way. But by focusing on a field that basically doesn't need or use them, I have to come to the conclusion that this is for Someone Else. I mean, every number those slides is closer to "plausible" than "true."
posted by pwnguin at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem ... is that in government culture, PowerPoint is used to convey bury and obfuscate important embarrassing data far more than it should be.

I have watched some very cunning people give what on the surface appear to be unbelievably shitty PowerPoint presentations. Except that they're not shitty at all, they're the deadly-beautiful stealth bombers of project failure, delivering their payloads of bad news on slide 34 of 50 to an audience deep in a post-lunch bulletpoint coma.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2010


I bet if you counted up the man-hours taken up by making just the worthless Powerpoints, and applied them to space exploration, that we would all be enjoying our ride on colony ships to part unknown by now.

If you add masturbation in as well, we would be made of pure energy and will have gone beyond the galactic rim and met up with the Vorlons, but let's face it - masturbation is far more important than Powerpoint.
posted by Sukiari at 9:06 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just yesterday, I suffered through several presentations with powerpoint. The worst part was that they scheduled the most important technical thing at the freakin' end when everyone was full from lunch, tired, and dreading a long commute home during rush hour. and yes, the slides (except for one outside person) were boring and read from directly.
posted by vespabelle at 9:21 AM on September 30, 2010


(Seems like giving presentations is like driving. We're all above average.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:24 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


What pwnguin said. Some of his tips are useful in most cases (color scheme, fonts), but the rest seems to apply only to presentations that have 1) a product to sell and 2) a simple message to convey. Some concepts just can't be expressed using a couple of words and a teddy bear pic. Presenting complex information is challenging and cannot be solved that easily.
I did like the "steal this presentation" argument though. It will be useful the next time someone asks me about the best way to "protect" his/her Powerpoint presentation from those pesky internet pirates.
posted by elgilito at 9:37 AM on September 30, 2010


The last time I did a major presentation, I thought I was being clever. The slides themselves were sparse, with just the key information laid out. All of the fiddly data went into the notes, so that anyone with a copy of the file could recreate what I'd said, or even train someone else with it. Then I found out that nobody but me has ever heard of notes view.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:46 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Congratulations to user Zed for Godwinning this thread with the first mention of Tufte.
posted by joeclark at 9:54 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thank you, user joeclark.
posted by Zed at 9:55 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. Cool ideas.
posted by morganannie at 10:18 AM on September 30, 2010


Yeah, I am pretty stuck with my Boring Corporate Template for my training presentations (though it does employ a very pleasing shade of orange).

That doesn't mean I haven't sneaked pictures of otters and stuff into my PowerPoints.
posted by medeine at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


See also: the Lessig Method.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:44 AM on September 30, 2010


I'm afraid if I saw most of the things he's putting forward as good examples, my immediate reaction would: "Ah... attention-seeking jerk about to give me some marketing BS".

On one of his slides he has commented: "For this presentation I wanted to give a gossip magazine feel."

I rest my case.

Great if you are actually presenting gossip to people that like reading it. Maybe not so great if you are presenting something else.
posted by philipy at 10:54 AM on September 30, 2010


DO NOT DO THIS IN (professional, not public) SCIENCE TO MORE THAN 20% OF YOUR SLIDES.

Better advice for scientists. I use this with my groups all the time, and their presentations have 50% less suck, and actually are respected.

Yes it's very web 1.0, and yes, you can use killer graphics OCCASIONALLY, but if you get a hardon for typefaces and images, and forget to focus on what you are conveying, YOU ARE FUCKED.
posted by lalochezia at 11:28 AM on September 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


Presentations on how to give presentations for a conference on conferencing! This plant is a sick plant.
posted by eeeeeez at 11:29 AM on September 30, 2010


Presentations on how to give presentations for a conference on conferencing! This plant is a sick plant.

Yo dawg... [/xhibit]
posted by Scoo at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2010


The best advice I have ever read for preparing a scientific/technical presentation is in the documentation for the Beamer class. A significant amount of overlap with the ideas given in this one, a lot less cuteness.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:52 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I frequently present to library groups. One of the downsides to doing anything that looks too "shiny" [and I clicked through all these slides and I enjoyed the general points] is that people think you're trying to sell them something and you lose their attention or turn them off. I often think this is their loss anyhow, but you have to also think about your audience and how you'll be received, depending on what your goal is. Which is also the government downside and I'm never sure how to deal with it.

I'm giving a keynote talk for a one day conference at an Ivy League school coming up. When they asked about my technical requirements [and gave me theirs: please give us your PPT deck a few days in advance, we'll have a PC with PowerPoint there for you] and I told them thanks but I'd be bringing my own laptop and using Keynote. They emailed me back eight days later and basically said "No." Not, "Gee that's a little challenging" but no. No and please don't screw up our conference, we don't have time to learn to hook up a new sort of laptop. They said they did some research [librarians!] and found that Keynote could export to PPT so could I please export my Keynote talk and send it to them a few days in advance and give my talk using PowerPoint. Please.

And, because I don't have a boss who would fire me and I basically set my own rules I said, politely "No" that I wasn't going to do an earlier-than-I'd-like-it talk using a laptop I'd never seen before and software I didn't know how to use. I said I'd just make my talk up with HTML slides or not use any slides and I hoped that compromise was okay, sorry for the hassle, having already made the decision that if it was PowerPoint or nothing they could have their speaker's fee back. I made some snarky remarks on Twitter about doing a show with puppets which is great because I knew the people who asked me to speak don't use Twitter. But I felt on the one hand like I was being a snooty prima dona, and on the other hand like I was an important speaker asking for the bare minimum of accomodations at a venue that should be able to handle it [I am certain if I brought my Mac it would work and everything would be fine] and maybe I am just in the wrong profession.

So, they emailed back and for some reason NOW it was okay if I wanted to bring my Mac but please show up at least 30 minutes early and bla bla bla. And I'll probably just write a talk that doesn't use slides because for me that's the really challenging aspect at this point. It's easy to make people laugh at a LOLCAT or go "awww" at a grandma sending her first email. And what I really want is for people to listen to and consider my ideas, not be impressed with my font choices.
posted by jessamyn at 1:07 PM on September 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


speaking of Font choices I think I'm finally sick of Market Deco.
posted by The Whelk at 2:22 PM on September 30, 2010


Or Neutraface. It's just ...everywhere.
posted by The Whelk at 2:38 PM on September 30, 2010


jessamyn - I'm not familiar with Keynote, but what was the problem with just exporting to PowerPoint? No time to fix any mistakes made converting the file?
posted by maryr at 2:45 PM on September 30, 2010


maryr,

I won't presume to speak for jessamyn, but it's a big hassle to use a program that's different from what you're used to.
posted by lukemeister at 3:08 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


That presentation blows.
posted by sfts2 at 3:18 PM on September 30, 2010


what was the problem with just exporting to PowerPoint? No time to fix any mistakes made converting the file?

I don't use PowerPoint and I don't want to learn to use it just because the people putting on the program say that it's the only software they're personally familiar with. I'm not sure my images, my fonts, my transitions and whatever embedded media that I have will transfer effectively [don't have PowerPoint at home] and giving a first thing in the morning talk to a bunch of academic folks with hardware and software that I've never used before (what version of PowerPoint? what operating system is their laptop running?) is outside of my comfort range. My personal feeling is that assuming everyone can and will use PowerPoint is not really a solution, and if you're going to be hardass about it, you should tell people when you invite them to speak that this is the drill, not two weeks before their talk. When I give my talks I'll export them to PPT and have them available for download for people who want them viewable for later on their own machines (also as PDFs), but I don't know how well they transfer. Again I know this is a little fussy but I feel like there's a teachable moment in letting people know that there are other operating systems and slideware out there and that people you might want to hear speak

However this is the library profession where people still deal with not knowing if there's going to be internet access at the venue often [as if this is unknowable or unfixable] and so we're encouraged to give talks using lots of screenshots and not live demos of the software we're talking about and telling people how to use. I'm super lucky in that I can take/leave this sort of thing if it turns into a mess, a lot of people really feel that its their job to not make waves and to just hump through whatever hoops the organizers set for them and I think it does a lot of people a disservice in discouraging alternative methods of getting ideas across.
posted by jessamyn at 3:27 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some concepts just can't be expressed using a couple of words and a teddy bear pic.

I have a presentation that I gave a while back that I felt was lackluster, but I was giving it to people who specialized in what I did at a conference so it went over allright. I had to give it again for a group presentation at work where not everyone had really thought about what it was that I did in my little corner of the lab so I revised it pretty thoroughly.

In the revised version I probably averaged ten words per slide, but used colored ribbion diagrams, arrows, little pictures of bunnies and Davinci's Vitruvian Man to create a symbolic language where, by slide 20, I could depict things that would take five minutes to explain in words using a cute little rebus. I also went after the one slide per minute rule with murder in my heart. People seemed to really like it.

Of course all I was doing was explaining discrepancies between heterogenous solutions in a polyclonal antibody binding ELISA.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:29 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: "In the revised version I probably averaged ten words per slide, but used colored ribbion diagrams, arrows, little pictures of bunnies and Davinci's Vitruvian Man to create a symbolic language where, by slide 20, I could depict things that would take five minutes to explain in words using a cute little rebus. I also went after the one slide per minute rule with murder in my heart. People seemed to really like it.

Of course all I was doing was explaining discrepancies between heterogenous solutions in a polyclonal antibody binding ELISA
"

Whoa, that's interesting and intriguing. Any chance you could be convinced to share the presentation with us?
posted by barnacles at 3:39 PM on September 30, 2010


what was the problem with just exporting to PowerPoint? No time to fix any mistakes made converting the file?

I give a shitton of presentations and it's a real issue. I spend anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour per slide, since I'm usually paid and I try to construct thoughtful presentations that are relevant to my audience. It's much easier to built compelling presentations in Keynote or, really, anything but Powerpoint.

I've given presentations where the auto-conversion happened behind the scenes and my text vanished altogether, or the graphics ended up in the wrong stacking order, or the random font changes meant my text suddenly ran off the right margin. It's embarrassing -- it looks like I didn't care, when I care deeply about not wasting people's time and distracting them with poorly-constructed slides.

I've learned my lesson so I now always check what will happen to my presentation files and do manual conversion to PPT myself if I have to, but that's like an another hour or more of work that everyone would prefer I didn't have to build into my speaking fees.
posted by nev at 7:19 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour per slide,

I can spend more than an hour per slide, but I'm not paid, and it's conceptual art.
posted by ovvl at 7:57 PM on September 30, 2010


I don't get the attitude that the only reason to make a slidedeck like the one in the FPP is if you're trying to do some kind of marketing bullshit. I've been to a couple of conferences and technical workshops, and if you've got a technical concept to present, I'd much prefer to listen to you talk and use the slides to emphasise key points. The alternative seems to be a zillion slides of bullet points which sends me to sleep.

For example, I saw a presentation on the new WCAG 2 standards (web accessibility). There are 4 principles, 12 guidelines, and a gazillion bits of technical advice, success criteria and suggestions for implementation. The presenter is an expert, really knows his stuff, and he announced at the beginning that he didn't believe in those fancy presentations. I learned next to nothing from his dull listing of the success criteria, which I could have looked up for myself anyway.

The thing is, his blog has some great posts explaining *why* this stuff is so necessary, and how the philosophical differences between version 1 and version 2 were caused by specific changes in technology, leading to a new paradigm which isn't perfect but is an improvement on the old one. Why the hell didn't he tell us this in his presentaton, instead of listing info which could be found for free on the internet?

Meanwhile, other presenters are explaining techniques and methods in an engaging way, with slides similar to the ones in the FPP. They get bigger audiences and more people quote them as leaders in the field.

If you want people to understand what you're talking about, actually talk to them. Slides are for reminding people of key concepts, notes are for details and evidence.
posted by harriet vane at 11:24 PM on September 30, 2010


so i was going to steal your presentation for the next pecha kucha, but somebody threw in an extra 52 slides. i'd get carpal tunnel if i delivered all of those slides! how about this, either you take out the unnecessary slides by noon today and apologize for wasting my precious time or i am not going to steal your presentation. i am so tired of people like you that do all of the work for free not living up to my high standards. some people just want to give, give, give with no concern for ungrateful people like me that only take without a kind word or even a thought of giving you any credit.

seriously, i can always get abraham to make a powerpoint for me. it would be just as good.
posted by the aloha at 12:45 AM on October 1, 2010


I try to follow the 10, 20, 30 rule. 10 slides max, 20 point text, 30 minutes presentation including time for questions. If I can't do it within those restrictions then its got to be either a chat with scribbles on the back of an envelope or a full-blown document with a CC list.
posted by Molesome at 2:56 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd love to barnacles, but I'm afraid my corporate masters would turn themselves inside out (what PuppyCat said) because there might be some kind of trade secret or something in there. My slide deck is mostly simple, known immunology. But if you carefully read between the lines you might infer that it is a competitive advantage that, when you go talk to the FDA, it's kind of a good idea to know what you're doing and have your ducks in a row.

The bigger problem is that without me talking over them, my slides are kind of meaningless (which I believe JesseDee mentions in his slide deck). I'll can probably throw a few of my graphics up on my Flickr and explain what I was trying to explain the above board message and the symbolic language I was quietly building as I went along.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:05 AM on October 1, 2010


The keys to giving a good talk without boring people to death are simple and have little to do with more sexier design to knock peoples' socks off. They are: 1) Know your audience, and 2) know what you want them to take away from your talk. Once you have those things figured out, the approach you take depends entirely on that context. If I am a computer scientist and want to convey a technical result to an audience, I will follow Simon Peyton Jones' advice. If I am a marketing douchebag who wants to convince an audience how awesome and cool I am and that I know how to make 98 3/4 % of my audience into superstars, I will follow this guy's advice. (Even though he expects his audience to remember eight different things at the end of his talk and the emphasis on design over content is completely, utterly wrong and he has obviously never given a talk before using a unknown projector, or he never would have given the idiotic color scheme advice. Trust me people, you never, ever know how a projector will render your carefully-chosen snowflake colors -- I have seen far too many talks rendered unviewable by a wonky projector with different notions of color than the presenter's computer monitor.)
posted by alopez at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I strongly recommined the advice given in this lecture. And this one.

In the second one, he reads the Gettysburg address and then presents part of the Gettysburg Address slide deck to show off the contrast. Then, just to show what can be done, he presents Churhill's speech to the House of Commons in May 13th 1940. (Hint: It doesn't suck.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:11 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the Gettysberg Address Powerpoint it looks like he shows a statistics graph about four-score and seven, which seems to read as 47, As in Ronin. I think he is doing this on purpose, implying the meaningless of quoted statistics.
posted by ovvl at 6:24 PM on October 3, 2010


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