5 easy ways to create fabulous slides

Presentations, eh? We pretty much all have to do them now - and we certainly all have to watch them at some time or other. So let's all make nice ones, and collectively save ourselves from death by Powerpoint.

Creating decent slide-decks is actually very straightforward. The deck above details five methods, in order of easyness:

  • The simple colours method (easiest)
  • The one background, many colours method
  • The two-tone-texture method
  • The found-flickr method
  • The augmented white slide method (trickiest) .

On a closely related note, here's a quick reminder not to break the basic rules of presenting, which Slideshare featured on their homepage a while back:

Other guides (including Prezi presentation software) available here:

Good luck creating fabulous slides!

- thewikiman


What's the key to a good interview - beyond the usual truisms we all know already?

There are myriad sources of advice for interviewing well, available online. A lot of them say the same things - anyone who turns up late, doesn't dress to impress, isn't attentive and engaging, only asks questions about things like the pay, or mumbles, frankly is probably not going to be the type of person who even knows they need advice on interviewing well. So what are the things you need to think about when going for a decent job, up against good people are who aren't going to make obvious mistakes? I have a weird relationship with interviews - I always think they've gone well, but I never get the job. My first library job in customer services, I didn't get it but was put on a call-back list for next time they had a position. My second job, as a Project Assistant, I came second and I only got the job because the successful candidate pulled out. On the JISC project I just completed, I was encouraged to apply and was the only person they interviewed - so short of putting my feet up on the desk and listing 'a penchant for theft' among my weaknesses, I was pretty much guaranteed to get the job. In between all that, I had two unsuccessful interviews (at York University) and one application that didn't even GET an interview, and prior to even working in libraries I had two unsuccessful interviews for researchy roles (thank God I didn't get those) - and in all of these cases, I thought the interview went well, because I don't get nervous for that sort of thing and I work so hard on preparing that I remember to make all the points I want to make, and I make them.

I finally broke this cycle a couple of weeks ago, when I interviewed successfully for a maternity cover at York - it's in basically my ideal job for now, the role I've been aiming for since I knew I wanted to do this as a career. I'll be the Academic Liaison Librarian for Music (where I did my MA, and know all the academics really well) and for Film, Theatre and TV Studies - that's all one Department, with a fabulous new £24 million building, below:

Picture of a lovely new building, the TFTV Dept at York University

So anyway, I got to thinking - what did I do differently this time than before (one of the panel had even interviewed me previously when I'd not got a job, which was lower graded and far less competitive) and what advice did I take into the interview that I found really useful?

Here are some things I did differently:

  • I wore a tie. I've not worn a tie since school, as I don't like them much - I don't wear them for weddings or job interviews, normally. I really wanted this job, so I figured I'd sacrifice my tie-related-principles in this instance… Did it make a difference? Maybe it did, I like to think my experience and ideas clinched the post though…
  • I went in with a better idea of what was really important about the post. When I wrote the Essential Advice for New Professionals blog post a while back, one of the most interesting things that came from the Comments that people wrote on it was the idea that not all Essential Criteria are created equal. Yes, they are of course all essential and therefore very important - but some of them will constitute a huge part of the job and others only a little. So it's important to have lots to say about the most essential of the essential criteria. I spent a good deal of time thinking about this beforehand, and talking to people I knew within the organisation who might know useful things. (Big thanks to Tixylix who pointed out the importance of working out which criteria are more vital than others!)
  • I revisited the feedback I'd had from my previous unsuccessful interviews. We all know how important it is to get feedback - how often do you actually read it again after you first receive it? In particular, the last interview at York (in an academic liaison assistant role) had had a lot to do with Information Literacy involved with the post. When they asked me about info lit in the interview I said everything I wanted to say - when I didn't get the post I was really disappointed as I actually thought I was over-qualified for it. But when they gave me the (very constructive) feedback, I realised they were completely right, and that I hadn't done nearly as well as I thought I had. I'd talked about Info Lit, demonstrated an understanding of it, listed my experience - but I’d not said anything innovative, original, or ideas based. Much of the role was about devising Info Lit programmes, so of course they wanted someone with a little creativity - I'd not shown any. So this time, as the role I've just got is also heavily Info Lit based, I was ready to hit them with some actual IDEAS, not just a summary of what I've done. (By the same token, I did just give them a summary of what I'd done in other areas - there's no point in explaining how you're going to take over the world in an area for which you won't actually have any responsibility if you get the job.)
  • I had to do a presentation. Previous roles haven't been high up enough to require this, but I made the most of it. We only had 5 minutes, and we weren't allowed slides or anything - but we could use handouts. In that situation, there's so little opportunity to make much of an impression, you have to use what is available to you, so I made good handouts. I had six anonymised quotes from academics that I’d spoken to when researching the topic (actually five, plus one from Andy Priestner) that related to the points I was making, and one of those quotes was from one of the academics on the panel. I think this went down well (could have backfired of course…) as it showed I'd done my homework - and it was directly relevant, not just crow-barred in there. So I think making the most of whatever opportunities there are open to you is important.
  • I left them with a CV. In Higher Education, everything is application form based. York's system is all online, and there is a fairly strict character limit so you literally can only just fit in what you need to say - as a result, lots of stuff I’d done wasn't on there. So I asked if they'd be interested in a CV so they could see all the other things that weren't on the form.
  • I tried not to JUST answer the question so much. By which I mean, every question in an interview is designed to assess you against set criteria – I tried to work out which of these criteria a particular question was pertaining to, and address that, rather than just the specific question. In the public sector there are no real spontaneous questions and nothing is asked without a purpose – they have to do everything incredibly fairly and openly. So there’s a grid of criteria, with questions that relate to those criteria, and each question you get asked will result in the panel writing down the evidence that shows you meet that criteria. Each question is given a score, then the highest total score wins. It really does seem to be that explicit and that simple – so you have to be hitting those criteria. It’s a question of asking yourself, what do they ACTUALLY want from me with this one..?
  • I answered the questions like the panel hadn’t ever seen my application form. I have a suspicion that application forms just get you the interview, but are then forgotten about once the interviews happen (and you get the job almost entirely based on the interview). So when I was asked a question I answered it fully, at the risk of repeating what they’d already read, rather than risking them not remembering what was on the form. ...

On top of this, I prepared answers for around 20 questions – there was only 1 question in the interview where I had to truly think on my feet. For what it’s worth, I had examples ready for:

1.  Prioritising workload

2.  Prioritising resources

3.  Knowledge of resources

4.  Working under pressure

5.  Managing a budget

6.  Creative problem solving

7.  Handling a difficult situation

8.  Delivering bad news

9.  Effective written communication

10.Effective oral communication

11.Information Literacy pedagogy

12.Recording and analysing user feedback

13.Working well in a team

14.Something outside of work that might help me in the role

15.Short-term plans

16.Medium-term plans

17.Questions to ask the panel

18.Why I wanted the job

19.Why I’d be good at it

20.Strengths and weaknesses

A lot of these came up, either directly or indirectly, so I was pleased I put the work in. Incidentally, back in the day when I had exams (A-levels and that sort of thing) a lot of people said things along the lines of "no point in revising on the day - if you don't remember it by then, you never will." I find this to be utterly misleading - personally I found reading my crib sheet right up until the 5 minutes before I went and announced myself was really valuable.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. What would you recommend people know about interviewing, that goes above and beyond all the usual stuff you can easily read online?

-    thewikiman

New to Twitter? Here's what you do

[If you're not already on Twitter, just give up and join. It's really worth it, and it's really NOT like it is often reported to be in the mainstream media. There's a big myth that twitter is just people saying 'this is what I had for lunch today' - it's not like that at all. Celebrities understandably get the bulk of the coverage when Twitter gets into the news - you have to understand that someone like Stephen Fry (or whoever) is followed by literally 1.8 million people; he can't possibly interact with all of them, so his twitter stream reads more like a monologue than a dialogue. But you (almost certainly) won't have that many followers, meaning you'll be able to use Twitter for the purpose for which it is intended: conversation. It's full of useful links, it can lead to all sorts of opportunities, it breaks the ice at conferences, and it adds colour to professional relationships.] A twitter bird holding a 'follow me' sign

Here 10 top tips I wish I'd known about Twitter from the start.

  • Put in a bio. You need a bio, don't leave it blank or just put in a town or your job title. Twitter works because it facilitates conversation - to converse with people generally you need to follow each other. What happens when someone new follows you is you get an email - so and so is now following you on twitter, here's some more information about them. Most people will click on this and read about this new follower, and perhaps check a few recent tweets before deciding whether to follow or not - it's a tough crowd, generally, because popular tweeters get so many followers that you have to stand out for them to take an interest in you; no one wants information overload. If you don't say who you are or give people anything to go on in your bio, chances are they won't follow you back, thus reducing the chances of the two of you conversing, thus reducing the value you're getting out of using Twitter. I don't believe in amassing followers for the sake of it, but of the 40 or so people who I follow but don't follow me back, four or five of them I wish would do so (I'm looking at you, Helene Blowers...). If that figure was really high, Twitter wouldn't be working so well for me. For an example of a good bio, check out Buffy Hamilton's twitter profile - fantastic! No wonder she has that many followers.
  • Use a headshot of yourself. Twitter is a more personal medium than a blog - I started off using the wikiman logo, but changed it because people want to contextualise what you're saying with a picture of your actual face. Even if you're shy, try and go with some kind of picture of yourself if you can...
  • Cannibalise the follow lists of people you like. So for example, if you are an Information Professional, you'll probably know of a few people on Twitter than you can start following right away. But also look at the people they follow and start following the most interesting looking of them, and then do the same again, and so on, till you've got a decent sized group of interesting people. (If you're an information professional, feel free to cannibalise mine - everyone I follow is awesome...)
  • Don't just follow the Queen Bee, follow the workers too. Many, many tweets are @ replies. This means they begin with @[Insert Person's Twitter name here] and are consequently only seen by people following both the tweeter and the person they are tweeting at. So you could miss fantastic conversations if you're only following one of the parties - they simply won't appear in your twitter stream. (64% of my tweets are @replies, according to TweetStats, meaning that the vast majority of my output is only seen by some of my followers.) Therefore, if you really like someone on Twitter, follow the people they interact with too, so you increase your chances of serendipitous interesting conversation overhearing. :)
  • Give of yourself, from the start. If Twitter ends up working for you, you'll end up being yourself. You'll end up sharing more than just work stuff, probably, and being closer to your true personality than you might imagine - more unguarded. You have to make up your own mind if you're happy to be unguarded online, and how unguarded you are going to be. But the point is, don't be shy and don't try and hide your personality - people want personality, they'll forgive quirks if they get more character from you (and therefore more value), and as I say if you're here for the long haul it'll happen eventually anyway. Just be yourself from the start.
  • Tweet links to your stuff. / Tweet links to other people's stuff. Twitter provides a large percentage of hits on this blog. If you blog with wordpress, use a plug-in like Twitoaster to auto-tweet links to your blog posts, and draw the twitter conversation into the comments section of your blog. But don't, whatever you do, just use Twitter to self-promote. People will suss you out and switch off pretty quickly. People will be interested in what you have to say if you tweet links to a broad range of useful, pertinent stuff.
  • ReTweet. Don't assume everyone else will have seen what you've seen. If something's really worth reading, ReTweet it so that your followers can all read it - they may not follow the person who originally said it, or they may not have been online when it was said. Plug people in to the good content. What you want to achieve overall is a blend of useful information, thoughts, links, character and responses to other tweets. Don't be afraid to jump into conversations, either - certain people I follwed for ages without them reciprocating, but as soon as I @ replied to one of their tweets they started following me too because I demonstrated some value to them; we've since gone on to chat all the time.
  • Don't ever criticise your employer. Twitter is personal  - but don't forget that unless you lock down your account, anyone can read it. There's nothing to be gained from venting your frustration at your institution via this medium - just resist the temptation! You never know who may end up reading it. Or who may end up not seeking you out to give you an opportunity later. Generally speaking, unless you are going to tweet anonymously, discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to criticism of all kinds - by all means give an opinion, but always run this test before you tweet something harsh about an individual: would I say this to their face?
  • Investigate clients . I must admit, I've found Twitter's homepage adequate for my needs. But many people use clients, that access Twitter but present the information in a better or different way - try Brizzly, or Tweetdeck (and you can sync those with Twitter on your phone, too).
  • Prune. Don't just follow everyone. Followers are not an end in themselves - don't just automatically follow everyone back because they've followed you. If you are to use Twitter at all it needs to WORK for you - you need to follow a manageable amount of people, or at the very least use lists to sort the essentials from the occasionally interestings. About once a month, go through the list of people you follow, and if any of them are no longer giving you value, unfollow them. It may seem brutal, but you really don't want to end up viewing Twitter as a chore because there's so much irrelevant stuff in your stream.

For more info on the nuts and bolts of it, check out Twitter's official guide.

Happy tweeting!

- thewikiman

UPDATE: since writing this, I've come across a lot of people ReTweeting a link as part of a reply to a person. So for example I might tweet "Check out this presentation [URL here]" and someone else wants to ReTweet it but does so like this: "@theREALwikiman really useful presentation [URL here]". If you reply to someone then the only people who can read the tweet are people who follow you AND the person you are replying to - in other words, no one new will see the Tweet. So - don't do that. Does that make sense?

That's the explanation; the rule is, if you want to draw people's attention to something, make sure there is something - literally ANY character except @ - before you include the name of the person who originally tweeted. So in the example above, the tweet should read "really useful presentation via @theREALwikiman [URL here]." That way, everyone who follows you will get the message. Got it? Good!


If you found this post useful, check out previous guides to: