Exclusive Interview: Present.me

May 12, 2011

Last year, I wrote (here) about how wrong I felt it was that SlideShare call their annual contest a “presentation” contest, when in fact it only features slide-decks. I believe semantics are important, and fixing the wrong equation of ‘slides = presentation’ is the first step to curing the communication problems of many companies and individuals.

I was therefore very interested to see that there is a new presentation-sharing site – and I can call this one a presentation-sharing site because it shows slides together with the video of the presenter. You no longer have to choose whether to upload your video to YouTube or your slides to SlideShare. This does both. It’s called present.me.

To find out more, I interviewed two of the founders, Spencer Lambert and Richard Garnett, both of whom are presentation experts, and who were just as unhappy as I was about the absence of a good site for sharing video and slides together. (Only they decided to do something about it.) Now to be clear, I am not involved with present.me and I did not even know these guys a week ago, so I am not trying to sell it. But based on this interview, I do think it is quite promising.

The video of the interview is below (Spencer is on the left, Richard is on the right, and I’m not there at all in case you were wondering), and I’ve also included a transcript for those of you who may find it easier to read than to watch the video. In any case, I recommend you take a look at the site, experiment with it (basic accounts are free), and think how you might use it in your business. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Transcript: philpresents.com interview with present.me

9 May 2011

Phil Waknell: I’m delighted to have with me Spencer Lambert and Richard Garnett from a new company called Present.me which aims to be an alternative to the other slide or presentation-sharing applications, but I’ll let them say a few words about it. Spencer and/or Richard, can you give me an elevator pitch, just 20-30 seconds: what is Present.me?

Richard Garnett: Present.me is an opportunity for presenters to tell their story in slide form and also through their faces and their voices. I was an actor, I help people to present properly and I know it’s not just about the slides, it’s about how they present the slides, how they connect personally with the audience. And it’s an opportunity, through the cloud, for somebody to present their slides and record themselves through their webcam presenting them, and then we join it up and they can publish it. If you like, it’s YouTube marries SlideShare.

PW: So why are YouTube and SlideShare on their own not good enough? What does Present.me bring that they don’t – or couldn’t?

Spencer Lambert: With SlideShare, it’s just your slides so that’s only a small part of the story – you don’t get to hear the presenter, see the presenter, and with YouTube you don’t get the full effect of the graphics.  A great presentation is a waltz between the presenter and their graphics, and when they are together they work very well.

RG: It’s like a great double-act, and it amazed us because we’re in the business with a lot of corporate clients, that there wasn’t something out there that was able to do it quickly, easily and simply.   And there are options, but they’re complicated – a lot of our clients aren’t techies and can’t do it; or you hire a production company, which is really expensive… so we wanted to build something that somebody could do just from their desktop or their laptop, easily and simply because that’s what great software does. We wanted to create something that even I could use!

PW: So that’s the acid test – if Richard can use it, anyone can use it!

SL: Yes, and he’s a hard man to please!

RG: I’m very stupid!

PW: So why are you the right people to be creating this? What made you decide that you are the team to create Present.me?

SL: I think it’s a culmination of all our experiences. We’ve all come from slightly different areas in a related backgrounds, Richard with his corporate training, me with the graphics side – I’ve been a presentation designer for a long time…

RG: He’s a PowerPoint genius!

SL: …and then there’s Mike who’s also been working in the presentation sphere as well, but he’s been doing a lot of online software, so as a culmination of all our experiences it seemed like the perfect project. And there’s Charlie who works with Richard as a presentation coach.

RG: And we’ve been incredibly lucky to find two fantastic coders who write in… what are those strange languages?

SL: They code in Flex and ColdFusion, those are the two main codes behind the site, and they are fantastic, great guys – they take what we say and turn it into reality, which is perfect.

PW: OK so it’s a great idea and a great team. Now what do you think are the key success factors, and what is it going to take for you to get a step ahead of people like SlideShare who could decide to switch on a video option overnight?

SL: I think the key to the whole thing is just to keep innovating. You can’t protect a lot of this stuff, there’s no IP around what we are doing – well there may be some but is it worth us investing the time, money and effort to protect it? I don’t think we can. So really what we need to do is to keep innovating, creating new ideas – we’ve got loads of ideas in the pipeline that we really want to bring out, and just keep bringing them out, one by one, and keeping ahead of everyone else.

RG: And I’m not a technologist, but I love my iPhone, because it’s so incredibly easy to use, and what we want to create is a site that is incredibly easy for people to use and which is constantly innovating, and I think for that, the challenge I give these guys is, let’s listen to the audience, let’s listen to people who are using it, let’s take their ideas, let’s feed them in, because you constantly have to stay ahead, and we’ll be led by the people who use the site. The ideas you’ve given us already Phil about the apps, for example, all of that is terrific feedback – our challenge is to build it and implement it, and quickly.

PW: At the moment you’ve been basing your technology as far as I’m aware on a Flash front-end, which makes it more difficult with iOS and Apple’s well-known dislike of having Flash on its devices, so do you have plans to get around that?

SL: Yes, we do. Our first step is to build an HTML5 player – that’s an easy win for us. The back-end technology supports us to be able to put an HTML5 front-end on, so we can very quickly do that, and then we’re looking at building apps – cross-platform apps if we can. So something that we can get onto all those devices, because that’s where a lot of it is ultimately going to be consumed – I don’t know what the statistics say at the moment but it’s probably 30% of all internet traffic is consumed on mobile devices, that’s only going to grow, we’ve got to be there, it’s the consumer end is where it’s all at really.

PW: So I’m a consumer – what would I use Present.me for, apart from uploading a presentation that I’ve done for people to see later on? Are there some other uses that you’re already thinking of?

RG: So education – we’re already finding that teachers are using it as a platform for kids to load up presentations. I’ll give you a simple one – my daughter is 14, and we went on a trip; in the past I’d take a camcorder and take hours of footage and never have the time to edit it – or I’d take photos and do a slideshow but it wouldn’t capture her voice. Now what present.me allows you to do is to upload pictures of a trip, and then I got my daughter to talk about the trip and how fantastic it was. So I’ve got the photos, I’ve got her as she is at 14, the way she sounds, the way she looks, joined together – that’s just a tiny little application. And incidentally she’s talking about a trip to Bilbao, so somewhere like TripAdvisor where you have comments about hotels and holidays, you want some photos but you also want somebody live. And then we were thinking about PDF files, to talk about documents…

SL: Yes, one of the problems that our clients always tell us is they might have to share a document but there’s usually one part of the document they want to focus in on, and no matter how you write it, you never quite get the meaning across. So imagine you could upload a document, zoom into a part of the PDF, and highlight a bit of it and talk around it, have a discussion, and tell them exactly what you are trying to get over.

RG: We have a coach, a mentor from KPMG who happens to be a client of mine, and he works on M&A (Merger & Acquisition) when companies are bought and sold, and there are lawyers fees, huge fees, just swapping documents to and fro – you’d be much better doing that live with loading up a PDF, and we’re about 5-6 weeks away from having a live solution. So that’s a tiny application and I’m sure business will come up with loads more. So we were thinking today – in future, instead of a CV, why couldn’t you have a 3-minute “this is me”, and companies would have a much clearer idea of whether somebody had impact by their ability to put together a presentation. There are folks we’re talking to at the moment who’ve got algorithms that can measure your charisma through a webcam. There’s a scientist at MIT who’s got an algorithm which can measure that and we’re looking to adapt his technology so you could do that through your webcam. So wouldn’t it be great for us presentation skills guys, when somebody presents into a webcam, we could give them a percentage of how dull or interesting they are in terms of their performance? It’s just a tiny thing that’s in the pipeline, but it’s doable: the technology is there, it just isn’t being used yet.

PW: Effectively the sky is the limit and it sounds like you have lots of great ideas on how this could be used. I heard you mention live meetings there, so in fact your competitors are not just SlideShare but also people like WebEx.

SL: Absolutely, and I think it’s going to create a fair bit of noise once we can add live in – people are already paying for that, so when we go to approach them, as a business case, they’ve already got budget allocated for live, so adding recording as well, it’s a no-brainer almost.

RG: What I find fascinating is that the non-corporate world has discovered video on the web via YouTube and it’s growing hugely. Business doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Business still lives in a world of documents, and words, and emails, and I think there are massive applications for video on the web. I’ll give you a tiny example: one of my clients pitches 1000 times a year for many millions of pounds worth of work. They have no record at all of those pitches. They’ve got no record of the good ones or the bad ones – they might just have a couple of slides. But wouldn’t it be great to capture some of those fantastic pitches?

PW: Lots of opportunities there. So down to the basics: I can upload PowerPoint and Keynote files? Anything else?

SL: At the moment it’s just PowerPoint. We are building the ability to upload PDFs. At the moment there is no server-side way of uploading Keynote files – Apple appear to have restricted that unfortunately, they’re probably keeping that for themselves I would imagine, so if you’ve got a Keynote file, at the moment you’d have to save it as a PowerPoint file which isn’t ideal; in the future, in the next few weeks, you can save it as a PDF and that can just go straight in. Then probably further down the line we’ll have the ability to upload Word documents and maybe spreadsheets too.

PW: It’s good that there is some solution for Keynote presentations because a lot of presentation designers do use Keynote nowadays, but you’ve got PowerPoint, that’s still the majority of the market so I can see why you’ve started there. Now a question about animations and transitions – can we assume this is like SlideShare and it’s effectively a static slide and then another static slide, or have you got animations in there?

SL: At the moment it is just static slides, and the free account will always be just static slides – that’s a kind of restriction along with a 15-minute time limit – but if you’ve got a paid account, you’ll keep your slide animations. At the moment that feature isn’t finished so we’ve got some issues to try to iron out there, but once that’s finished…

RG: How many weeks?

SL: It’s not far off – three weeks…

RG: Three weeks!  He said it!

PW: So that will be done by the end of May then…

SL: So essentially if you’ve got a paid account you’ve got your animations…

RG: And video, the ability to insert pieces of video…?

SL: I’m not saying yes or no to that at the moment, there are still some issues around that, but that’s definitely going to happen at some time in the future…

RG: Thankyou Phil, this is a really useful call!

SL: I’m not committing to that one right now in terms of a date!

PW: You just mentioned elements of a charging plan, so obviously you’ve got a free model for basic users who are going to have a restriction on the time they can upload videos and also I guess a maximum total per month?

SL: Yes, there’s a limit of 10 per month that you can upload as a free user.

PW: That’s already plenty for a lot of people, but then as a premium user, you don’t have those limits, and you don’t have adverts as well I guess?

SL: That’s right, no adverts, and you’ll have slide animations, and privacy – that’s another option you get as a paid user, so you can have your presentations hidden on the main site but still send a link out to people with a password or whatever.

PW: For companies, that is probably going to be very important, and that’s an area where I guess your competitors that we’ve already mentioned don’t have that kind of solution, apart from probably WebEx.

SL: Yes, one of two of them, but we’ve also got in the pipeline the business version, which would be a private space for multiple users, so if you’re a company, you’ll have your own subdomain, so http://yourcompany.present.me, your users would log into that, and you’d have your own private space where you could share presentations, so they would never actually appear on the main site unless you wanted them to.

PW: Well we’ve come to the end of the interview. Since we’re all presentation specialists here, we know that people will only remember one, two, maximum three things, so what are the one, two or three things you want people to remember from this interview?

RG: The fact that we are YouTube marrying SlideShare, and the children are fantastic, and please, my beg and my ask would be, if you’re in the presentation world, try it and please tell us what you think, and most importantly of all, tell us how it could be better because we’re a small start-up, we can build it, and wouldn’t it be great if we could build a solution that we all want and that we can use. We haven’t got all the answers, but your input would be fantastic.

PW: So it’s a presentation platform for presentation specialists, by presentation specialists. Thanks for your time today, and I look forward to seeing how present.me evolves.

Do Investors Like Slideuments?

February 18, 2011

Does ANYBODY like slideuments? Really? I’d be surprised.

Yet this was the question I found myself faced with today at Le Camping, the new start-up accelerator in Paris, where I was mentoring some of the bright young entrepreneurs who were preparing their investor pitch.

The trouble is, they had received conflicting advice. I had given them a primer on presentation skills (which you can review here), so they were preparing talks with simple visuals which are aimed at supporting an oral message. However, another mentor told them that investors always want a printed copy of their slides on which they can take notes, and the slides need to stand alone, i.e. include lots of text.

Faced with this apparent conflict, I was asked how to resolve it. Here are my thoughts on this.

Firstly, the other mentor is clearly right about a few things. Investors generally do like to have a handout on which they can take notes, so if you’ve prepared a nice slide with a black background and six words, and if you’ve printed full-page slides for your investors, they won’t have much room to write notes, but they will need plenty of notes to complement your simple slides. So clearly that’s not ideal.

The conclusion could be that you should use a white background for your slides, leave plenty of open space, and still print them full-page.

That’s not my conclusion.

I would make the point that slides are not handouts. Or at least, good slides are not good handouts. Yes, give the investors a document which gives them the overview of your pitch long after they have forgotten what you said, and allows them to take notes while you are pitching. Yes, make sure it follows the presentation closely. But no, what is on the wall does not have to be what’s on the piece of paper.

What if you want to include a short video in your pitch? Can you print that? No, of course not. You also can’t print a product demo. But if you prepare a suitable document for your investors to follow, then you can include some notes about the video and the demo.

So I would recommend producing some simple, clear and attractive visuals to support your pitch, and to help you to hook the investors and keep their attention; and separately to produce a document which you can print as a handout, with space for notes, which follows the same storyboard as your slides, and potentially includes the slides themselves.

Usually what I would do is to put notes in the notes pages (in Keynote or PowerPoint), and print the notes pages to a PDF. This way, on each page, there is the slide at the top, followed by the notes, and followed by white space (assuming you didn’t fill the page with notes). More details here.

What’s the alternative? Forget all the cognitive science and evidence, and bombard the investors with slide after slide of bullet points? No. Investors generally have the attention span of a goldfish, unless you have hooked them – in which case they will be all ears.

You have to hook them in the first 30 seconds, and keep them hooked. It’s tough. These guys see entrepreneurs all the time, and the vast majority of pitches are unsuccessful, so they are partly expecting you to fail, and will seize on any weakness like sharks smelling blood in a lagoon. And they all have smartphones with which you are competing for their attention.

So you have to hook them, and you have to stand out from the crowd to be memorable. As Seth Godin would say, you have to be a purple cow. If you’re not memorable, you won’t get funding. So while the other mentor tells entrepreneurs that they must all produce 10-slide slideuments with a white background and lots of text, I tell them to stand out from the crowd – while remembering to adapt their pitch to their audience.

But adapting to your audience doesn’t just mean feeding them the same stuff they always eat. That’s not necessarily what they like the most. If that were the case, the Japanese would hate Garr Reynolds’ slides, but in fact they love them. My cat has the same boring dried cat food every day, but give her a sniff of an empty yogurt pot and she’ll be all over you. Investors see boring standard cookie-cutter slideuments all the time. Does that mean they’d hate it if you pitched to them like Steve Jobs?

I don’t believe that at all. The entrepreneurs I’ve coached have all had great success with a proper visual presentation, which helped them to rise above the crowd of slideument-wielding wannabes. Try hooking investors with a hail of bullet points. Just try it. It’s like trying to hook a fish with a hula hoop. They’ll be bored before you know it – and investors have a much lower tolerance of mediocrity than most people.

Bore an investor, and your only chance of funding is if you’re so bad he pays you to stop.

Instead, be memorable, select your points carefully and give them the maximum impact with strong visuals, ensure you are answering the questions in the investors’ minds instead of just explaining what your product does (you’re pitching an investment opportunity, not a product), and give the investors a suitable handout which follows the same storyboard and leaves space for them to take notes. Far better to give them good slides and a good handout than a single deck which is good for nothing.

What do you think? Are you an investor? What kind of pitches do you best appreciate?

Style or Content?

May 27, 2010

This morning, I tweeted the question:

“Which is better: professional content delivered poorly, or poor content delivered professionally?”

Of course, in an ideal world, every presentation would be full of great material and would be delivered expertly. This is not an ideal world.

Therefore I asked this provocative question because very often people talk about focusing on content versus style, or vice-versa.

One answer was very clear: “Both suck”. I can identify with that. Thinking back to my last TEDx event, I know that there was a presentation which was full of important content, but I can’t remember any of it – all I remember was the awful delivery and the frankly sinful combination of Times New Roman and Comic Sans. Equally, there was another talk which was expertly given but didn’t actually say very much.

Neither of these talks was effective in that they didn’t deliver a lasting message. I’ll come back to them in a moment.

I also got some answers saying that good content delivered poorly would be preferable to poor content delivered well, if a choice had to be made. Interestingly, nobody suggested that it’s better to have poor content delivered professionally.

Therefore after my provocative question, here’s a provocative answer. I’d prefer the poor content delivered professionally. Why?

Let’s go back to those two TEDx talks. I cannot even remember the name of the lady who gave the good content poorly. If she were to speak again, I wouldn’t sign up to see her, still less pay to see her, even (or especially)  if I recalled her talk upon seeing her name again.

As for the guy who spoke very professionally about not very much, I can remember his name, and I probably would sign up to see him again, because at least he was entertaining and I enjoyed listening to him. I also learned a few speaking tips.

Ultimately it’s about how well you achieve the four aims of presentation. If you deliver poorly, then you might not be properly heard or understood, you may not be very well respected, and very likely your great messages won’t be remembered. Communication failed.

However,  if you deliver professionally, if your voice is heard and your audience is listening, if you are clearly understood, and if you are respected at least for your speaking ability, then you stand a better chance of being remembered, and getting your sub-standard message across – and furthermore, you are more likely to have future opportunities to deliver messages, which could be better crafted.

So for me, it’s either a great message which doesn’t get remembered, or a poor message which might get remembered and a speaker who might be respected to some degree. This is why style is at least as important as content, and perhaps more so, although you need at least some of each. Presentation skills do not only cover style – and this is why when I am training presenters with Ideas on Stage, I spend a whole day on the message before getting onto oratory and visuals.

Of course it would be better if everyone had great things to say and learned to deliver them like Steve Jobs. Like I said, this isn’t an ideal world. But a focus on true presentation skills, honing the message as well as its delivery, can give everyone a better chance of communicating effectively.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

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