Presentation techniques

Using screencapture software to make next-level PowerPoint presentations

I normally record talks I give at conferences, using my phone in my jacket pocket. I have a strict 'no critiquing myself during the talk itself' rule, so the recording allows me to listen back afterwards and pick up on things that I'd want to do differently next time, or things that worked well etc.

In the past I've also put a video up on YouTube, using Camtasia to record me moving the slides along with the audio of my talk at the LIASA conference in Cape Town. I don't think this worked that well because there was simply too many long periods where nothing changed on the screen - in real life that was fine because the audience looks at the speaker, but in a video - a visual medium after all - it just feels a little inert and uninteresting.

So for a recent talk I decided to try and make a version of the slides that would work as a proper video. I spoke at the CILIP PPRG Conference in January (more on that in a previous post) about our UoYTips marketing campaign - York won a Bronze Marketing Award which I was picking up at the event. I delivered the slides and recorded the talk in the usual way, but then set about creating a new version of the slides that had much more going on visually. The actual slides are here, if you're interested, and here is how they evolved for the video I came up with:

Now I've done this, I'm wondering why I can't just do more visually exciting slides anyway? This doesn't have to be just for YouTube. I've always wanted to use video in presentations more, and it's surprisingly easy to do as it turns out.

The tools

To make the video above I used three bits of software. PowerPoint, obviously, for the slides. Audacity to edit and play the audio (this is free). And Screencastomatic for both the screen-capture videos within the slides, and the overall screen-capture of slides plus audio you can view above. Screencastomatic is a great tool, which I found much easier to use than Camtasia. It's quick and intuitive. It can be used for free, but in order to record videos of more than 15 minutes, and record PC audio, you need the pro subscription - this costs 12 quid year which is pretty great value, I reckon.

Here's what the Screencast-o-matic interface looks like:

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It's very easy to redraw the box around the exact part of the screen (or all the screen) that you want to record. You can pause and restart. You can also record PC audio as you go, or narrate into a mic. As you can see it gives you the option of recording from webcam at the same time if you wish, which happens in a smallish box at the top right of the screen.

It's really easy to use.

The techniques

In the video above there are a number of techniques (perhaps that's too grand a word!) employed to suit different types of information.

  • Actual video recorded on my phone. (This happens about 25 seconds in.) I recorded a video in the usual way, emailed it to myself, and went to Insert Video in PPT. You can make it full screen, or you can overlay the branding / visual identity from your PPT over the top. I think this is crucial to how easy this is to do - the video can effectively be the background of the slide, just like an image can. You then overlay it with text, shapes, images etc as normal.
  • Screencasting Google Earth. I really like this one, which happens here. How to have something dynamic on screen while I talk about the University of York? Type it into Google Earth then press record on the screencasting software, and return on Google Earth. It zooms all the way in and then, delightfully, spins round the building you've chosen for a bit. I'm going to use this in library induction sessions in the future, for sure.
  • Using gifs. There's a couple of examples of this, but here's the most interesting one. It starts off as a regular full-screen image, and then I used animation to first of all drop the text on top of the image at the appropriate time, and secondly to trigger the gif video beginning (having downloaded the gif from a gif site, and saved it as a video).
  • Regular PowerPoint animations and transitions. There's a few moments where things are added onto the screen one-by-one as I mention them, and there's this very long fade transition between two slides
  • Videos of websites instead of screengrabs of websites. There's an example here, and another example here. In the talk I just showed a screenshot of the thing I was talking about, but here it's a 15 second video of the site being used, which is much more interesting. I'm definitely going to reuse this technique.

The drawbacks

Really the only two drawbacks are that it takes time, and it takes space.

Of course, recording a clip on a website in use takes more time than just a screenshot, but it becomes surprisingly quick. Perhaps a minute to set-up, record and save / export 20 seconds' worth of screen-capture, so not too bad at all.

In terms of space - the videos are MP4 files and pleasingly small. Most brief captures were under 1 meg. The 22 second-long Google Earth zoom right at the start of the video was 12 meg. The overall final file - a 20 minute video capturing the whole thing, was 99MB. Video files are so huge, I think this is pretty reasonable.

So, I'd recommend giving this a try. And if you create a presentation with video and upload it anywhere (or you've already done this in the past) leave me a link in the comments...

A short post on preparing short presentations (for short time-slots)

This is a good question, something I've answered a lot in workshops but never blogged about. So here's what I think is really important about prepping short talks with PowerPoint presentations:

  1. Create the number of slides you think you need, then get rid of a couple! The time just rushes past in short presentations, so when it comes to your PPT (or whatever else you're using) you almost always need less than you think. Five slides for a 15 minute presentation may often be enough.
  2. Simplicity is never more important. Simple slides are better anwyay (image-rich, a little text as possible, no bullets) but are especially vital when you only have a very short window in which to convey your information. The messages need to stick, so make them easy to understand and support them with relevant images.
  3. Signpost to more detailed information. Have a blog-post already published which goes into more detail than your 15 minutes will allow, and use a customised bit.ly URL to share the post in an easy-to-remember link at the end of your talk.
  4. Structure is still important. Audiences find structured presentations easier to remember and understand, even for very short talks. So try to have a beginning, a middle, and an end clearly signalled (both in what you're saying and in your slides)
  5. Consider doing a 20:20. A 20:20 (also known as Pecha Kucha) technique involves having 20 slides, each of which automatically moves on after 20 seconds. These are acually really fun to do (the trick is to keep talking rather than stopping to wait for the slides to catch up) and force a real discipline in terms of the economy of your delivery. A 20:20 takes just under 7 minutes and it's amazing how much you can cover in that time if you practice. (I know point 5 directly contradicts point 1, but the approach is SO different with Pecha Kucha it's a whole different ball-game...) 

(updated) Training up North! Presentation Skills workshop coming up

UPDATED 1st OCTOBER:

I now have confirmation of the location and details on the October 16th workshop. I've deleted all the stuff about the York workshops in the post below, as those dates are now past.


Oct 16: Presentation skills workshop, Liverpool

This is the full-day Making Your Message Stick workshop, which I've just revamped, for CILIPNW. It'll take place at the Library at the University of Liverpool. All the details, including how to book, are on the CILIP website - in essence we'll be covering how to make a very effective presentation indeed (which, as it happens, will also look really nice!).

There are also two free student places available, with a deadline of October 5th for application - if you're currently enrolled on a LIS course, click here to see how to apply.

Some feedback from the two most recent Presentation Skills workshops I've run, for CILIP NE and the Bodleian:

“Tips and tricks about perfect presentations - it was fantastic! Very informative, very attractive content of the course. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

”The trainer’s knowledge and approach to the presentation were outstanding. We received numerous references for further learning and finding resources, which is greatly appreciated.”

”It was excellent. It is a particularly difficult topic to present on, as the audience is looking to see excellent presentation skills in action. The trainer succeeded in demonstrating presentation skills as well as talking about them.”

”It was just perfect.”

”Ned is very engaging and was able to get across his enthusiasm and expereince of presenting at a high standard.”

”The trainer gave lots of useful tips and could draw on own experience in libraries to illustrate points; there as a good balence between written and spoken input and time to practice new ideas.”

”The course was really fantastic, I came away with lots of practical ideas and feeling enthusiastic about sharing them with my team.”

”The best training I have ever been on.”

“I found the day very useful - a very practical session with time for hands-on practice and a lot of good advice given. I have heard a lot of about Ned’s presentation expertise. He was great!”

”Really useful and informative. Good to have practical sessions as well as demos.”

”Ned was fantastic, and there was a great balance of practical exercises, and presentation of examples and tips.”
— Bodleian Libraries 2015, and CILIP NE 2015

You can see all of the upcoming workshops on my Upcoming Events page. Hope to see you at one of them!


#UXLibs 3 | The Art of the Keynote: Donna Lanclos and Paul-Jervis Heath

 

After yesterday's post about Matthew Reidsma's Keynote on Day 3 of the User Experience in Libraries Conference, here's an account of Donna and Paul's keynotes from Days 1 and 2 respectively.

Donna Lanclos | Once Upon a Time: a story about ethnography and possibility in libraries

Donna is completely passionate about what she does, it's infectious, and she's a very powerful communicator. There were times listening to this when I felt like I was hearing a better informed and more articulate version of my own interior monologue about certain things I get frustrated about... I agreed the heck out of it.

But it challenged me too, which is part of the art of the keynote. Contrast is what makes a presentation engaging. We like the feeling of hearing what we know and agree with, and are made uncomfortable by hearing things which challenge us or that we don't agree with. This push and pull is what moves a great presentation forward. Too much of one and not enough of the other diminishes the potential impact of a presentation. If Donna had just come out and said a bunch of stuff I already knew and agreed with, I would have enjoyed it a lot but it wouldn't have stayed with me. A keynote must, on some level, provoke (but not for provocation's sake).

One of the particular things I was aware of Donna doing and aware that I don't do enough (or basically at all) is allowing us the audience to connect up the dots for ourselves, so we were learning rather than just being told. The use of stories, analogies, and flat-out asking questions, helped us to provide our own answers, which is much more powerful and long-lasting than just hearing people say the answer off the bat.

She also used something I mention in presentation skills sessions but have never done myself - The Black Screen! The idea of this is it focuses the attention on the speaker by, in contrasts to the normal picture-heavy slides around it, being completely blank. It's a device which says, okay, let's have a serious conversation now, for which I want your full attention. One person didn't understand this and actually called out 'Can we have the slides back please!' and when Donna said 'what?' they changed it to 'Is there anything on the slides..?' Donna said 'no'. She then stopped the poor guy feeling too awkward by saying 'you talkin' to me?' in mock indignance / aggression, which made the moment pass less painfully and more humorously than it might have done...

There were a few really key themes that emerged for me.

  • Simply asking people what they think, and what they want, is a pretty unreliable process. This has always troubled me. We KNOW it doesn't work (people often don't know what they want, and they often simply take the path of least resistance through surveys and focus groups) yet we do it anyway and base decisions and even policies off the back of it. This method of gathering feedback is not enough on its own. We need find out what our users understand, rather than what they say they want. 
  • So ask open ended questions. As soon as you say 'what resources do you use when you're writing your essay?' you're limiting what you can learn from the interaction. It's like asking someone to take you to a destination and then putting them on rails which only go one way. Ask them 'what does it look like when you write an essay? Talk me through the whole thing'. Then you learn where the library fits in with a larger process or life-cycle. You learn what the true user experience is. You (in a totally non-creepy way!) follow the user home.
  • Ethnography is messy and uncertain. You need institutional support for that uncertainty. You need to try things out, try and provide a better experience but it's ITERATIVE. Don't wait for all the answers, just go for it. Fail. Then do it again, more effectively.
  • If we have to show people how to use the resources - in Donna's words, spend time telling people how to click a link on our websites - then we're doing it all wrong. The User Experience has failed. I am painfully aware of how much time I spend doing this, in one form or another. I once made a VIDEO about how to use the catalogue. Aaaargh.
  • Donna asked us to 'dispense with the idea that all important things in education are measurable'. I don't think, sadly, we can do this and still be as accountable for our impact as we need to be in this day and age. My hope is that if we ethnographise the heck out of everything, we will actually, possibly for the first time, truly understand the student experience, our role in it, and how to make it better. As a result of what we do about it, all the countable measures (like the NSS scores and the LibQual Surveys etc) will go up anyhow. At the moment I feel like I spend a lot of time trying very specifically to address certain issues which will mean the things we measure are more favourably assessed. That's all wrong. The tail is wagging the dog. The results of the stuff we count should make our superiors happy as a BY-PRODUCT of us truly understanding our users.
  • You need to know enough to ask good questions, but be happy to admit you don't know much more than that. It's really the opposite of 'We're thinking of introducing X, Y and Z. Which would you prefer?'

Here's a subjective Storify of the tweets from Donna's talk.

Donna asks a lot of us. I hope we can take what we learned from her and start to deliver.

Paul-Jervis Heath | Transforming insights into services

I really, really enjoyed Paul's talk because it took something which I was aware of but which was ambiguous to me, and broke it down into smaller concepts I could understand. We all know roughly what 'design' is, but what are the structures that facilitate its success? Paul told us, so now we know.

So here are the rules of design, as I took them from Paul's talk:

  • Brainstorming is but one method of generating ideas, and not a particularly good one at that. In fact, people working alone come with twice as many ideas as groups doing brainstorming!
  • Using a 'yes and' method to build on group ideas - making things better rather than shooting them down - is the way to work together. 20% more ideas are generated when people constructively critique and discuss ideas
  • You need both divergent and convergent thinking. It's a process of widening out the scope of ideas, then focusing in on where the common ground lies and developing something from there
  • Implement by making. There's no eureka moment, so don't sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Go out there and DO stuff
  • You can get fixated too early on one idea, and if you put all your energies into pursuing it, you might be missing out on better ideas that never get a chance to come to fruition
  • People's goals are key. Mostly they will stay the same, even if the tasks they need to complete to accomplish them change
  • Students have a triangle between spaces they habitually use. Anything outside that triangle feels inconvenient and far away, even if technically it isn't...
  • If you can't draw your idea, it's not worth having (I personally didn't buy in to this one, but the rest I found really useful)

For a bit more info, here's the Storify I made of the tweets from Paul's talk:


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.