Information Literacy

An Alternative to Seth Godin's 5 Rules to create amazing PowerPoint Presentations

 

Seth Godin is a very influential man, and his views on PowerPoint carry a lot of weight. He wrote a famous post a while back (1.5k Facebook shares, a gazillion tweets about it etc) on creating amazing presentations - you can read it here. I agree with lots of it completely, but I'm not totally on board with the five rules at the end.

My take on Seth's rules

My take on Seth's rules

No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken. To me this seems too arbitrary. Fewer words is without doubt better than more words when it comes to slides - they're presentation tools not written documents. But six? As the maximum ever? Unless that's based on research that shows seven or more words reduces the effectiveness of your PowerPoint, why limit yourself in such an extreme way? I'd say one or two sentences to ensure brevity but allow yourself a little flexibility in conveying meaning and nuance.

No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images. First of all there are plenty of cheesy professional stock photos! Authenticity is key. The trick is to find images which look like the camera has happened upon a real scene - lots of pro stock images show impossibly perfect people laughing flirtatiously over a blank iPad, I mean come on. I find Pixabay and Unsplash have enough for most presentations I make, plus someone introduced me to Pexels the other day which looks good, and they're all free - both of copyright and financial cost. The professional stock photo sites cost a fortune to use - why use them when so many great (legal) images can be found for free?

No dissolves, spins or other transitions. Yup. No argument here. If it's extraneous to your story, all you're doing is reducing the impact of your message.

Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running. I like the idea about using music etc but it really needs a certain type of high energy presentation performance to pull this off. It's not for everybody (I couldn't do it). It's hard to think of a rule around sound that is absolute; it all depends on your audience, and some of them way think the use of music is a little distracting, whatever your music taste... From what I understand about the Proustian effect it's a very personal thing; I'm not sure a presenter could expect to cause or induce it for a room full of people. 

Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there. I agree with this. But I wouldn't put it in my top 5...

Header pic is a CC-BY image by  Betsyweber  - clcik to view original on Flickr.

Header pic is a CC-BY image by Betsyweber - clcik to view original on Flickr.

 

My own top 5 rules for creating effective PowerPoint slides

So what would I put in my top 5 rules for creating amazing PowerPoint presentations? I can answer that question because the intro to my full-day Presentation Skills training is built around five golden rules, based on existing research into what makes for an effective presentations - and that's the aim here, to build something which works. 'Amazing' is no good on its own; you need people to remember your key messages, not just how great a presenter you were.

Here we go:

  1. Keep it simple. Slides don't need to be flash - get rid of anything that doesn't tell your specific story, and leave behind something which supports and reinforces what you're saying out loud, and prompts you as to what to say next.
  2. No more bullets. Bullet points ruin slides. They're fine for documents, but you're not making a document in PowerPoint. As well as being symptomatic of a general Death By PowerPoint malaise, they make people less likely to agree with, understand and remember your presentation. Oh and they like you less when you use them. That's enough of a reason to never use them, surely?
  3. Make one point per slide. Make your point, allow your audience to digest it, then move on together in sync with them. Several points on a slide inevitably result in your audience moving at a different pace to you, because they can only listen and read for a few short seconds. Why be in conflict with your presentation materials when you don't have to? Give each key message room to breathe.
  4. Big fresh fonts. Font size 24 is the absolute minimum you should ever use in slides. If you need more you're trying to fit too much on one slide. Either ditch some text or cascade it across two slides. Non-standard fonts (which is to say, fonts which don't appear in the Office Suite) can, if chosen carefully, increase the impact of your presentation. Typography is underrated.
  5. More images, less text. Too much text stops slides working. Relevant images help people learn. Make the most of your opportunity with each new PowerPoint you make!

Where to start when planning talk or teaching session

This seems obvious, right? And yet so often it doesn't happen.

Venn diagram showing 'what you know' in one circle and 'what matters to your audience' in the other. Where they overlap is where your talk should be.

Venn diagram showing 'what you know' in one circle and 'what matters to your audience' in the other. Where they overlap is where your talk should be.

There are two main ways in which, when we give talks or run teaching sessions and workshops, we don't adhere to this principle. Clearly no one ever strays entirely into the blue circle (giving a talk about a subject which matters to your audience, but which you no absolutely nothing about, is pretty much impossible) but we can easily spend too much time in the orange circle where it doesn't overlap, or just not make the most of the overlapping section of the diagram.

NB: I very deliberately use the phrase 'what matters to your audience' above - rather than 'what interests them', because I'm not advocating taking a superficial approach and only telling your community about cool stuff they already care about. We can tell them things they don't know they need to know! Sometimes they wouldn't choose to hear it in advance, but they thank us afterwards. So it's very much what matters to them, whether they realise it before the session or not.

There's no excuse for telling an audience things which don't matter at all - unless it's a small part of your presentation, to serve a particular purpose.

Telling people everything we know

I don't wish to generalise but a lot of times Librarians give out too much information, particularly early on in a relationship between the institution and the user. Induction or Welcome talks often contain vast swathes of detail, or a talk at a conference will include ALL the info about a particular project - and often this can actually get in the way of the message. After a while the audience gets overwhelmed and starts to filter, or just switch off. We can only retain so much new information at one time.

So when crafting a talk or presentation, the starting point should not be 'What do I know about this subject?' but specifically what do the audience want to know about this subject, that I can tell them?

Missing out on the over-lap

There's a second, more subtle, factor here. The over-lap of what matters to your audience and what you know about can also include things which aren't part of your core message. In other words, you can establish your credibility with your audience by telling them things which matter to them, and THEN telling about the library's relevance to them - they're more inclined to take you seriously if you aren't just advocating for your own service or value. I use this a lot in infolit teaching - I'll tell the students about internet privacy, different search engines, how to use social media in an academic context etc, as well as telling them about what the library does and how to use databases effectively. Because it's in the overlap of the diagram above - I know about this stuff, and it matters to my audience. What's really interesting is when I started doing this *rather than just talking about the library) the feedback, both the scores and the qualitative feedback, went up hugely; they really liked the sessions. But when they're asked to rate the most useful part of the session, the vast majority mention the bits about the library!

As long as it doesn't conflict with our ethics and values, libraries can provide both services and expertise based on what our users need - it doesn't have to be a 'library' function in the traditional sense.

So: create presentations and teaching from the audience's point of view first, working back to what you know about what matters to them, rather than the other way around. It's only a small shift but it makes a huge difference.

A new and unlikely source of free stock photos!

 

There's a movie out called Unfinished Business. It stars Vince Vaughn. And as part of the publicity for it, the filmmakers have teamed up with Getty (who run iStock Photo) to make some stock photography freely available for editorial (i.e. non-commercial) use. This is a really nice idea!

It's a good bit of marketing (although as I say in my workshops, the vast majority of marketing doesn't work directly; I'm just as unlikely to go see the film as I was before...) and the photos themselves are great. I can imagine them being quite effective in information literacy sessions...

My favourite one is this:

If you want to get hold of these, you need to do so quickly - it's a limited time promotion. The first 4 pictures are available direct from Getty here; apparently the next 8 will be released in two weekly batches soon, via this page. Or you can look at all of them here on Adweek.

These are great because they capture the utter ludicrousness of most stock photography, and then amp it up further by having people look in the wrong direction. In the original of the one above (which was done in photoshop) the guy is looking at the camera - that at least makes a kind of sense - but in the Vaughn version he looks like he has no idea he's in a photoshoot.

Similarly in this one...

... the fact he's looking away just reminds you how barmy the whole conceit is, with the other actors looking at a (presumably blank) screen and grinning out how damn productive they all are, as the camera just happens upon this real-life office moment.

So can someone weave these into a library related presentation or teaching session? I'm going to try to for my Film & TV students, but I'd love to see examples from others too - leave me a link in a comment.

Top Tip: Create your PPT for the web, THEN strip it down for live presenting

 

In my Presentation Skills training I spend a lot of time offering different ways of presenting information and ideas visually, so you can lose a lot of the words from your PowerPoint slides. After all, it is a presentation, not a document. It's not designed to be read - or at least it shouldn't be, else you'll leave your audience wondering if your presence as a presenter is even really neccessary...

Then later we discuss the importance of uploading your presentations to Slideshare to amplify their impact and reach a wider audience. So inevitably the most common question which gets asked after that is: "But how will this make sense to people who weren't in the room to hear me talk?"

It's a tricky question because in most cases, a presentation simply can't be fit for both purposes. Good live slides won't make sense without the presenter, and good web slides won't have been an effective communication tool in a face-to-face presentation.

There are basically three answers to this (that I give, anyhow):

  1. You make a different version that goes online
  2. You upload the accompanying notes or audio
  3. You accept that the online audience will have a different experience, and that's not the end of the world

There are times when I do all three of these, sometimes all for the same presentation (bear with me...). Let's look at each of them in turn.

Making different slides for live versus web

My main advice here is twofold: first of all make two versions of the presentation - one for the face to face presentation, and one to sit on the web afterwards - and second of all, do the web version first!

It is a lot easier to start off by putting in all the detail on the slides so that the presentation makes sense on its own without you talking over the top. It helps you shape your ideas, work out exactly what story you're telling with the presentation, and can be a useful aid to learning your talk (learning your talk is actually something I wouldn't recommend, but there isn't time to get into that here).

Once that's done, save a copy to upload to Slideshare or whatever, and then save a new version which you edit to strip out all the detail. The function of slides in a conference or training situation is to enrich and reinforce what you have to say out loud, help the audience understand and engage with your message, and last - but NOT least - to prompt you as to what you need to say. Not to duplicate it. The ideal slide (in my opinion) has perhaps one sentence on it, which crystalises the key message of that part of the presentation AND acts as a jumping off point to remind you of everything you have to say on the topic. So you take your detailed web PPT, and you strip them back to one or two sentences per slide (or go entirely word-free).

The key thing here is it's a lot easier to make detailed web slides and strip them down for live presenting, than the other way around. Making your live slides and then adding all the detail in afterwards takes ages. It really adds to your prep time and so isn't practical in most situations. Doing the detail first doesn't really add that much time on at all because it's part of the process that helps you create the narrative in the first place.

Incidentally, I don't use this option all the time - because it does take some more time. If the presentation is important however, it's worth it.

Providing further content to help explain slides

If you want to leave your slides beautifully simple but consequently ambiguous, you can provide some supplementary materials to help them make sense. For example:

  • If you've made notes you could upload them to Scribd, and then link to them from your presentation (and embed the Scribd document and the Slideshare presentation on the same web-page)
  • If your PowerPoint presentation has speaker notes (in that little box below the main slide in edit view) they will be added to Slideshare below your slides. The trouble with this is you need to upload specifically a PPT file to Slideshare, it doesn't work with PDFs - and if you're using non-standard fonts, which can be really beneficial, you need to use PDFs. So potentially useful, but not ideal
  • If you literally have a script of the whole talk, just provide that alongside the slides. If you don't use a script, and again I wouldn't recommend doing so, the only way to achieve this is to record the talk and then play it into some kind of dictation software to provide you with a transcript after the event...
  • You could add audio. Slideshare discontinued their webcast functionality (being able to add audio to PPTs once uploaded) last year, so really your best option for this is YouTube. In the past I've recorded my own talks using my iPhone in my jacket pocket, then used Camtasia to add that audio to slides - as in this example from South Africa - but that's a laborious process, takes ages, and honestly I'm rarely happy enough with any of my talks to want people to be able to hear and analyse them outside the in-the-moment conference environment... I would recommend recording your talks though, just for your own use - it's amazing how much you learn about what worked and what didn't
  • (If you do go down the YouTube route, don't forget to add the YouTube video to your slides on Slideshare too. Slideshare has so much reach, you don't want to just put stuff on YouTube.)
  • You could use Storify to collect the tweets from people in the room during your presentation and link to / embed that with your presentation - this is my preferred method as I don't use notes and don't like the audio options listed above. Even if you're not on Twitter I'd recommend at least considering this option
  • And finally, my super-advanced-mega-slideshare-hack: Slideshare displays whatever text you have on each slide, in the transcript below. (That's completely seperate from the notes field thing discussedearlier - every slideshare presentation has an accompanying transcript.) So you could add a full explanation of each slide, to each slide, but then make it invisible on the slide itself! (Either by writing in white on a white background, or covering it with an image, or using font-size 0.5.) So the transcript has all the info, but the slides do not. Good eh? [High-fives the internet]

Or, of course, just not worrying about it at all. Which brings us to the other way forward.

Just having the same version for both

Sometimes a presentation is too low stakes to worry about all this stuff. Sure it's not ideal that the slides don't make so much sense online, but what's most important is that they worked for the audience in the room.

Another way of looking at it is to view it as simply a different experience for the two audiences, rather than neccessarily a compromise or a problem. Your slides aren't as easily understandable for the online audience, but the fact they get the kernel of an idea rather than the fully-formed notion can be really interesting in itself. Just as the one-sentence prompt was your jumping off point during the talk itself, it's the online audience's jumping off point for their own ideas and further learning. That's no bad thing. Barthes would approve, anyhow.

An example of combining all three

The slides I put the most effort into ever were those I created for a keynote at the BLA Conference last year. And I kind of did all three things listed above.

First of all I did a different version for the web. Not a massively different version - but I included more detail in quite a few places, skipped to the end of some pseudo-animated parts, and changed the way I displayed certain images to comply with the copyright licences. I also removed a section which contained at its climax with a category C swearword (or is A the strongest category? I never know how that works) because although I trusted the audience in the room to understand it and not be offended, I coudn't be sure The Internet would do the same...

So what you end up with is slides which first and foremost aided my communication to 60 people in a room in Leicester (the face to face audience must ALWAYS be the priority!), but which at least made sense and provided some sort of jumping off point for over a hundred thousand people online subsequently. The only upsetting thing for me is one of the two fonts I used doesn't seem to render properly on Slideshare no matter what I do, but never mind...

I also provided a Storify of the tweets from the talk in the associated blog-post. And I didn't fill in ALL the gaps, as I really do think slides are great for providing a taster of a topic, hopefully in a way which encourages people into looking into it more themselves, and forming their own conclusions.

Other peoples' perspectives

I don't want this post to just be my views and opinions, so I canvassed Twitter. Here's what they had to say - if you have anything to add, I've love to hear from you in a comment.


6 Useful Online Tools for Academics (and anyone else who teaches)

 

I teach a session on the PGCAP (Post-Graduate Certificate of Academic Practice) at York - a programme of teaching-related workshops and classes over the course of a year, which every new teaching academic has to attend.

Here's the presentation from this year's workshop, EdTech: Useful online tools for academics:

It covers Blogging and Twitter (specifically their possible use in teaching, which is a lot less straightforward than their use in research, or academic profile building), the excellent Padlet which people always seem glad to be introduced to, Prezi itself, Slideshare, and sources of copyright free or creative commons images.

In previous years I've done a session on Information Literacy in the Digital Age - but I find it increasingly difficult to keep delivering the same things year after year. If I don't rewrite stuff, the feedback scores start to go down as I get less interested; clearly my declining interest is communicated to the audience somehow, despite my best efforts to prevent this. So last year when I had to submit the brief for them to put in the PGCAP brochure, I decided I'd redo the session and make it about useful online tools, and about trying to help the academics more digitally literate (rather than talk about student digital literacy) - that seemed to be the thing people enjoyed most about the previous version of the session, even though it was only a small element.

This academic year I've several times completely redone a workshop or teaching session, and stressed myself out massively in doing so, but ultimately felt much better delivering the new session and got better feedback too. It really is worth it. But it takes a huge amount of time and on this occasion I'd forgotten I'd need to do it - and the session was on the 3rd day back after Christmas... So it was a nightmare, really! But, ultimately, worth the time it took.

This kind of primer session on online tools is, in my experience, welcomed by academics. When asked about the most useful aspects of the session a lot of the feedback mentioned this, e.g.

  • Opened my eyes to new technologies and avenues to share teaching content.
  • Use of blogs images, twitter…all.   I had heard of many of these but the info was helpful to know how to use them effectively.

  • Seeing what is available, evaluated by presenter – gave good insight

  • Very objective analysis of tools and possible use..

  • Examples of how the tools had been used for teaching and learning

So something as simple as flagging up tools some may not have heard of, and giving examples and (objective, rather than evangelical) analysis of how they're used so that even those who have heard of them get something out of it, is often enough to be genuinely useful.

This is less and less of the case, however. I was talking with someone from the eLearning Team (not part of the Library or IT) this week and we agreed that a couple of years ago, just introducing these technologies to a group of academics was enough - but now there's much more understanding of the tools that are out there. So we have to up our game, and move onto more in-depth discussion of how to use these tools, rather than just what they are. Increasingly (albeit not in the presentation above) I find myself wanting to present things by user need, rather than by platform.