Converting PDF to PowerPoint

Until now, I did not notice this feature in the latest Adobe Acrobat XI: converting PDF files to PowerPoint. I tried it on a PDF file that had the look and feel of a typical PowerPoint presentation (boxes with big text) and the results were surprisingly good. Here and there, a slide needed a small manual correction (semitransparents, etc.), but hey, it worked. As expected, data charts do not come out in vanilla Excel format.

Now, I guess that if you want to convert a file that does not have a typical PowerPoint look and feel, your results will be less good, but that is not the point, is it?

How would you use it? I think very few would use the tool to be able to present a PDF file in a PowerPoint environment. The CMD-L option in Acrobat gives a beautiful full screen view of your PDF slides. But the tool could be handy to strip out images quickly from a PDF file.

Adobe Acrobat XI is a premium product, the free Adobe Acrobat Reader will not pull off this trick.

Reference points

In my twenties I saw many examples around me that created presentation habits I had to unlearn. Professors at university putting a copy of a syllabus page on an overhead projector. Politicians waffling on TV. Senior student organisation leaders giving very poor speeches. Pompous Microsoft Word memos being printed out and distributed in every employee's mailbox. Boring dinner speeches that everyone sat through politely and quietly.

The world is changing and younger generations have videos of TED talks, Steve Jobs product launches, and other presentations to set new reference points. Still it is worth making sure that you are not following bad habits of other people around you, because this is the way you are supposed to give a presentation.

Boring can be good

Many entrepreneurs are great presenters who can energetically sell their idea/vision to a group of investors. That was meeting 1, and you are invited to meeting 2 with questions about the practicalities of your business, how you are going to approach the market, how are you going to charge for it, where are you going to invest the money you are raising in.

Coming back with a slide deck that sells the vision (again) will not score you any (additional) points. There is also no reason to invest in (a professional presentation designer who designs a) a spectacular-looking slide deck that shows your budget. Investors know you can sell, they want to know that you can run a business as well.

In fact, boring slides can be good in meeting #2. Here are the options, I have thought about it, and I pick option number 3. Nobody knows whether option 3 is the right one (things change quickly in a startup), but at least they see someone with a cool, calm head who makes sensible judgement calls. She can be boring when she has to be.

Hiding is not possible

Begin cryptic post...

A potential client discovered that what they are trying to offer in the market is really something that is needed, but nobody wants to admit that they need it. (If we admit we do this, our share price will go down by 20%) You cannot talk about this directly. As a result, the sales pitch diluted and dumbed down. The result: no sales pitch.

It is hard to hide a story, in order to tell a story. A possible solution: define the position of your company as something broader, and give 4 example applications of your technology. One of which is the one no one admits they need.

End of cryptic post...

P.S. The activities of this client are perfectly legal.

All the same

I have a number of clients in the IT security sector. My main challenge with them is to make them sound less similar to all other IT security companies in the world. IT security presentations or brochures usually follow this pattern:
  1. Scary, scary, scary reminder of awful security risks. The audience knows this already. The visual images are unpleasant to look at. 
  2. A relentless stream of marketing abbreviations and buzzwords that sound exactly the same as the ones the competition is using.
I try to keep a positive mood in the presentation without using images of hackers wearing a balaclava. The marketing buzzwords can be replaced by a deep dive of one particular aspect of your technology that takes a completely different approach to IT security than your competitors use.

Focus on the differences

A nice side by side comparison of the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus on the Cult of Mac. I see many of these tables in business presentations: columns with almost identical content. Why not focus on the differences instead and leave all the other clutter out?

Help the VC pitch for you

Startups invest a lot of energy in getting into the door of well-known VCs (step 0 of the process). Strangely enough, some of them drop the ball later on wasting that earlier effort.

After you have convinced a VC partner, she has to take the idea to her other partners, often in some internal meeting without the startup being present. When a startup presents to a VC, mistakes are often forgiven,  and gaps in data can always be filled with a follow up email. Usually the VC partner wants you to succeed.

Internal VC presentations are a bit more brutal. There is less time, people do not need to be polite to guests (people say what they think), and everyone expects the perfect pitch with all information available, there is no second chance. Missing facts often lead to a turn down.

Talking to some of my VC friends, they complain about how startups further on in the investment process are slow with providing information/answer simple questions that can save them in these internal VC grilling sessions. Startups take note of this easy win.

Harvesting the Board presentation

The last Board presentation is usually the only document in the company that more or less talks about everything what the organisation is about: strategy, financials, people, product pipeline. It is tempting to harvest the Board slide deck for sales and/or investor presentations. Here is why should not:
  • Board presentations talk about you, not about your (potential) customer, not very useful in sales meetings
  • Board presentations reveal your weaknesses, give a too transparent comparison to competitors.
  • Board presentations are all about trade offs and choices, not a clear articulation of a way forward
  • Board presentations have a boring agenda-like structure, not a captivating story
  • Board presentations are usually stitched together last minute with input from multiple people, not the most creative story writing process
  • Board presentations are designed for long meetings, not 20 minute pitches
  • Board presentations are usually Boaring...

PowerPoint on iPad

I have now stopped dragging along a laptop to client meetings. The thing is (relatively) heavy, requires a bag, and being the guy with the lap top in a meeting always put you in an inferior social position somehow. The PowerPoint for iPad app has improved a lot. You no longer have to go through the tedious process of downloading a file from Dropbox, remembering your 365 password, uploading the file to the 365 cloud drive, and downloading the file again. Still potential font rendering issues (even with standard fonts that might drop to the next line), still makes me use the combination of PDF files and iBooks. It renders nicely and the iBooks folder/collection solution is good enough to keep things organised. A lighting-to-ancient-VGA-projector convertor enables you to present on a big screen.

90 degrees

Nature prefers curves and round shapes. Steve Jobs likes rounded edges. White board sketches are curved and fluid. People prefer rounded shapes in architecture.

But: curved shapes are a pain to design. It is hard to fit text. It is hard to align them properly. They waste space (the Japanese invented the square water melon that makes better use of fridge space).

This is the reason that I “squarify” almost all diagrams and white board scribbles when designing presentation slides. Circles/ovals become squares/rectangles. Curved connecters become elbow connectors. Business presentations need to be efficient, and as a result they might not always be artistic master pieces.

Levels of understanding

As a presentation designer, you need to understand the substance of your slides better than what is reflected in your final work. Here are the levels of understanding:
  • Level 5: the expert, your boss, your client
  • Level 4: the level you need to get to as a designer
  • Level 3: what is reflected in your slides
  • Level 2: the audience right at the end of the presentation
  • Level 1: what the audience remembers in 3 weeks
  • Level 0: where the audience and you start out on
The key lesson for the presentation designers: you need to shoot beyond level 3, if you cannot stand above your substance, you cannot make the right design trade-offs. So ignore the strange looks you get when asking probing questions during the briefing.

In the Valley early October

I will be mentoring at a startup event in San Francisco early October. If you are interested to catch up, contact me. The Bay area is a big place, but maybe we find a time to be in the same place. My main presentation might be open to the public, more details to follow.

Image via WikiPedia