Writing in a box

Newspaper headline writers are masters in packing a lot of information in very few words, link bait bloggers write titles that people just have to click on.

In day-to-day business presentations, you might not have time, energy, budget to come up with an artistic visual master piece on every slide. The biggest difference to the quality of your slides might simply be your writing.
  1. Cut words that add no content: in order to, etc., avoid passive sentences (Harry was seated on by a bird), management cliche verbs (monetize/strategize/analyze/incentivize)
  2. Avoid long words (small/narrow boxes create uneven line breaks)
  3. Think carefully where you break a line, do it manually
  4. Work with labels, introduce a short catchy name for a more complex strategy, option early on in the presentation, so you do not have to repeat the enter-the-Indian-market-first sequence all the time. 
  5. Stay within the constraints, if you have 2 lines, do not make it 3.
  6. Emphasise the contrast between a series of boxes and cut text that is common to all of them: entry in China, launch in India, Japanese entry: becomes China, India, Japan
  7. If you have to, write exceptions or other details in a tiny footnote

Summer posting frequency

I will spending more time with my family over the coming weeks, so I might skip a post on some days. I hope you are all having relaxing summer.

Over edited

You write that paragraph, again, and again, and again. Share it with the team, incorporate the input, re-write, again, and again. In the end, you probably got a politically correct piece of prose, but at the same time you killed of the spontaneous, raw enthusiasm about why your company/idea is so great.

Maybe say the pitch out loud one more time and just write down what comes natural to you?

One chart, multiple levels

A good novel has multiple levels of depth, the basic story, below that the deeper themes.

In presentation design I often apply similar techniques. The top level message screams from the chart through the use of colours (target: the listener), but for the reader, there are ways to find richer information to back up the bold conclusions you draw.

One example could be a simple table of pros and cons. Big colour contrasts indicate "in favour" and "against" for each of the criteria, but small text inside the boxes that is not meant to be readable for a live audience gives the more detailed explanation.

For TED-like big budget presentations, you it is worth to take out the detail. But most business presentations are used in multiple settings, it is just more efficient to have one set of slides supporting both of them.

Meet me in Anchorage AK

I will be “presenting about presenting” in Anchorage, Alaska on August 14, at 17:30. The talk will be about how to pitch your ideas to investors. Details of the event can be found here on the page of AK Entrepreneurs Meetup community. Drop by if your are in the neighbourhood!

Human stories

I see that only a handful of my facebook friends follow Humans of New York: a photographer taking pictures of strangers in NYC, adding a little personal story. The way these stories are written is brilliant: an unexpected starter question, followed by a very short story, that usually ends in an unexpected twist or life lesson. Add them to your facebook feed if you have not already done so.

From social media war to dialogue

I live in a tense part of the world and have observed many discussions on social media where people trying to convince others they are right. I convince people for a living, so I am jotting down some thoughts below on how to engage in these discussions, and hopefully turn war-like exchanges into dialogues.

In order not to have this post hijacked by a political discussion, I am leaving my political viewpoints out here. Here we go in no particular order:
  1. Be polite, correct, calm, composed, rational. Nobody believes a screaming maniac.
  2. Listen, listen, listen and look for a very specific mistake, misconception that can be corrected. Generic statements that answer another point then the ones raised are not useful and ignored.
  3. Set your ambition level. You are unlikely to correct someone's fundamental beliefs in just 1 paragraph.
  4. Realise that your most important audience might not be the person you are interacting with, but rather the many more that glance over the comments, the secondary audience is bigger
  5. Make your point very personal, human, and show that there is a normal person on the other side of the line
  6. Nobody likes to see more detail of gory images or screaming graphics
  7. Be short and to the point, on social media, nobody reads long paragraphs. If your text is longer, add lots of paragraph breaks
  8. Be sure to engage/correct a big opinion leader with lots of followers/readers: polite, super short, very specific fact to correct a very specific mistake/misconception
  9. Use sources that are credible, close to the opposite site of you. Linking to a highly biassed patriotic web sites full of the wrong flags is not going to make people read them
  10. Highlight facts or details that are not widely known/used in the media
  11. Try not to start with me, me, me, but start with the opposing viewpoint and show why it is causing a problem. Understand the stereotype that the other side might have of you, and try to soften it (you can even refer to it directly).
If successful, you came across as a reasonable (maybe even nice) guy/girl who did not confirm a stereotype. And hopefully you started to turn a social media war into a social media dialogue.

It just does not look right

There is a component to visual design that cannot be learnt from studying books. On some presentations/slides I can spend a lot of time, because they simply do not look right, even if the content is pretty simple. And the worst thing, I cannot tell why.

After fiddling with a number of parameters, things can all of a sudden start to look acceptable:
  • Changing the balance in the colour scheme, often focusing on grey with just one strong accent colour, instead of using all the colours that are available in the corporate colour scheme.
  • Using lighter colour/shades in slide shapes
  • Making all images black and white
  • Endless repositioning of slide shapes to get the balance right
  • Reducing the font size (yes, you read it right), and/or rebalancing the number of words in one line
Why? I do not know, it somehow works...

In the stock photo business?

I would like to get in touch with business development people at stock photo web sites to talk about my upcoming presentation design web app, and maybe other ideas. Feel free to contact me at contact at ideatransplant dot com if you are interested.

Middle East friendships

Slate created a beautiful map showing the complexities of the friendships in the Middle East:

Go to the original here and click on each of the smileys for additional information. The message of this chart is clear: it is complicated. The same information can be displayed simpler by focusing on the just the green relationships. The following pattern emerges, highlighting among other things why it is so difficult to get Israel and Hamas to communicate.

Overwhelming images

Images are much better than words to amplify a message, but sometimes they can be too distracting. If people are staring in awe at this stunning photograph you found, they might just forget for a second about the message you are showing/talking about.

Image source

Twitter goes PPT

Twitter is keen to find ways to become more accessible to a broader audience, beyond the tech-savvy early adopters. The answer so far: images. Images grab the attention better than obscure hashtags and @ reply's, and - sneakily - provides a way around the 140 character limit on a Tweet.

The results, lots of poor visuals. This large headshot is an attention grabber, but I am not sure whether Twitter users will take the time to read through the dense bullet points.