An Amazingly Easy Way To Pull Media Out Of PowerPoint And Keynote

April 24, 2012

It’s now two years since Ideas on Stage was born, and in that time I’ve learned a remarkable amount about presenting and communicating, much of it from my amazing business partner Pierre Morsa.

Although I don’t usually talk much about applications, here is a small but potentially useful tip which Pierre just shared on his extremely popular (French) blog, and which I felt deserved to be shared with an English-speaking audience.

Here it is: PowerPoint and Keynote files (.PPTX and .KEY) are essentially just ZIP archives with a different file extension.

So if you want to find an easy way to pull photos, videos and sounds out of a PowerPoint or Keynote file, follow this simple tip:

  1. Make a copy of your original file (this way, you don’t risk harming your original).
  2. On your copy, replace the .PPTX or .KEY extension with .ZIP instead (do this in Windows Explorer or Finder – on a Mac you may need to open the Get Info window and then change the extension in there).
  3. Then you can open the ZIP archive and you will find all the images, movies etc. which were embedded in the slide deck.

As Pierre stated, it’s a very simple tip, but it could be a real time-saver – and it’s certainly a little trick that might impress your colleagues…


5 Reasons Why Black Is The New White

March 23, 2012

Earlier this week, I was with a group of senior executives at a multinational corporation, looking at some slides I had produced for them. The HR VP had never worked with Ideas on Stage before, so our 2.0 visual style was entirely new to him.

The slides were entirely compatible with this company’s corporate identity, except that the slide background was black instead of their usual white.

The HR VP’s reaction was very positive: “I’d never thought of using a black background before. It looks so much better.”

Indeed it does. Very much better. Apple uses dark backgrounds (dark does not need to mean pure black) and that’s as good an argument as any. Here are five other reasons why you should stop using white backgrounds, and use a dark background wherever possible.

1. Don’t fatigue your audience

I often surprise my trainees when, after a hundred or more slides with a black background, I then start talking about the use of colour, and show them a mostly empty slide with a white background. Their reaction is always the same – the sudden burst of white light physically disturbs them, causes them to reel away, narrow their eyes, and not enjoy the experience at all. I make them think about why they reacted in this way. And then ask them why they would do this to their audiences all the time.

Whether you are projecting onto a screen or using a large LCD screen, a white background produces an awfully bright light, and although if the background is always white your audience will not need to recoil in self-defence, what will happen is that all that light will tire their eyes and make them unnecessarily fatigued. If you want to tire your audience, by all means bombard them with lots of white light. That’s not the aim of most presentations – but sadly it is the result.

A black background with white text will be far easier on their eyes, and help you to keep them fully awake. This is especially important in dark settings such as a theatre where the audience is mostly in the dark. There, a white background is simply criminal. But even in a well-lit room, white on black works just as well as black on white in terms of contrast – and much better in terms of the audience’s comfort.

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2. Keep them focused on you

We use slides to illustrate our messages – they are not the message themselves. We want people to be able to ‘get’ the slide in 3-5 seconds, and return their focus to the presenter, instead of spending the whole time looking at the wall.

Unfortunately, our eyes are naturally attracted to sources of light. So the more light you put on the screen, the more people will be drawn to look at it even if they already ‘got’ the slide. I sometimes test audiences with a slide with just one word on it, and I find people still looking back at it long after they had first read and understood it. That is worse when the background is white.

Give them less light on the screen, and they will be able to focus more on you and what you are saying.

3. Smile – you’re on camera

If you are being filmed, or if there are photographers capturing your moment on stage, then do the cameramen a favour – make sure the slides are no lighter than you are. Otherwise they will have a tough time with the contrast, because a white background on the slide is a lot – a LOT – brighter than you are, even if you have a spotlight on you.

If you want good-quality photographs and videos of your big presentation, don’t use a white background. Black is far better.

4. Slides without borders

You might want to have a slide which simply features a photo in portrait format (i.e. it is rectangular, but while it fills the screen vertically, there is a big gap on the left and the right). If you use a white background, then what people will see on the wall/screen is a photo with two big bright bars on each side, and their eyes will be drawn to the white bars instead of the photo. If you use a black background, they will just see a photo in the middle of the screen.

Quite simply, if you use a black background (and here I do mean a purely black background, not a gradient like Apple uses most of the time), there will be little or no ‘edge’ to the projected image. People will see your nice clear graph in the middle of the wall, and it will blend into the wall rather than being clearly part of a projected white rectangle. It looks so much better. Try it.

5. Stand out from the crowd

99% of slide presentations suck. Probably 95% of these presentations use slides with white backgrounds. It’s not because of the background that the presentation sucks, or at least that’s not the only reason. But it is a simple fact that the vast majority of slides are horrible, and the vast majority of those horrible slides have white backgrounds.

So when you start up your slides, and the audience sees they are white, they will immediately (and perhaps subconsciously) recall all their previous painful experiences with horrible white slides, and they will expect the worst. They’ll probably assume you will assault them with Comic Sans and cheesy stick-man clip art at any time. And clearly you don’t want to start your presentation by making them expect the worst – your introduction needs to make them want to listen!

If however you start projecting slides with a black background, you immediately set yourself apart from all those previous negative experiences. This is not like every other presentation. It can’t be any worse. It might in fact be better.

And if you care enough about your audience and your communication to use a black background, then you’ll probably make an effort with your story, your slides and your delivery as well, so it almost certainly will be better.

But hold on a minute…

You might be thinking that you have to use a white background because you have to print your slides, and you don’t want to use huge amounts of toner. Indeed my old friends at HP would probably love it if you decided to print out mostly-black slides. But I have two responses to this.

1. You should never, ever, need to print your slides. Why would you do that? Slides are not handouts (if you don’t agree, read this) so you shouldn’t print them to give to your audience. Besides, in this environmentally-conscious age, you should be avoiding unnecessary paper use whenever possible. Your slides are intended to be projected on a big screen or via a webinar – and perhaps to accompany your electronic hand-outs which you distribute (ideally) after your presentation.

Of course, if you are producing a document in PowerPoint – which you may want to print – then by all means use a white background and by all means print it. Just don’t confuse that with the kind of slides you would use for a live presentation.

2. Pure Black & White. If you really, really do need to print your slides for some reason (and every rule has an exception), then you can use the Pure Black & White printing mode in PowerPoint, and it will automatically change the colours for you so that your printout is clear but you use a minimum of toner or ink. (NB: PowerPoint 2010 had an issue with this printing mode, and if you suffer from it, there is a hotfix available here.)

So there you have it. Black is the new white when it comes to slide backgrounds. And this is one change your audience will truly thank you for.


Take The Drive-By Test

January 4, 2011

Driving through Belgium last year, I was struck by some large road safety advertisements along the motorways. Usually they are clear and simple, but these were horrific. No, they didn’t show photos of grisly accidents. They were simply like bad presentation slides, with far too much text, and a variety of overly small font sizes.

Perhaps they placed them strategically in the places where there would be the most traffic congestion, because it was impossible to understand every word while driving past at 120km/h – at least not without staring constantly at them instead of at the road, and thus increasing the risk of an accident, which I am sure was not their intention.

These just had too much text, and too much small text, with visual pollution by the logo in the bottom-left, and they were not helped by using photos of seven top Belgian managers, most of whom were not recognised by my Belgian friends, who – instead of thinking about the road safety message – were first trying to work out who the people were, and then trying to fathom why they were appearing in a road safety ad. Frankly I’ve never seen a more useless ad campaign, and I can’t believe anyone would sanction something so dangerously distracting in the name of road safety.

But it did make me realise an important lesson for slide design.

A good slide is like a good road sign or roadside advertisement – it should be clear, simple, high-impact, quick to understand, and easy to remember.

A great example of this was Trevor Beattie‘s original Wonderbra advertisement many years ago. It featured a model (Eva Herzigova) looking down at her Wonderbra-clad chest with the two-word caption: “Hello boys.” It was snappy, quick to understand (even with its neat play-on-words), and extremely memorable. It may have caused some accidents among excitable male drivers, but it was extremely effective with its female target market.

(Yes, even this had some tiny text at the bottom stating available sizes. Nobody noticed it then either.)

So based on this realisation, I tell my students that when they are designing slides, they should give each of them the drive-by test. Imagine you are driving down a fast road (motorway, freeway, autobahn, etc.) at the maximum speed limit, and you see your slide on a large sign by the side of the road. In the time it takes you to whizz past, did you see it and understand it? If so, good. If not, it needs more work.

Why is this an important comparison?

When driving fast, you need to understand road signs while concentrating on your driving. The sign must never distract you so much that you are no longer focusing on the challenge of driving safely. Likewise, when watching a presentation, you should be focusing on the presenter, what she is saying and how she is saying it, and not reading her slides – because as regular readers will already know, you can’t read and listen simultaneously. So as a presenter, you should ensure your slides are simple and clear enough to help get your message across, without reducing the audience’s attention to what you are saying.

If your slide is simple and clear enough to be understood by someone driving past at top speed, it’s good enough to be on the wall behind you.

To finish, and to cement the road sign = slide analogy in your mind, here’s a hilarious video about designing a road sign. How many slides are designed this way? Too many… This is a great example of why simplicity and clarity for your audience must be your utmost priorities when designing slides.


One Slide To Rule Them All

November 10, 2010

Stories are a great way to communicate messages, and analogies are a key part of this. Here’s an analogy using story, all about how using great slides as visual aids is more powerful than using slideuments.

Before I start, I should make a short disclaimer. Garr Reynolds is a Star Wars fan and has used this analogy many times on his Presentation Zen blog (and he does a mean Yoda impression too), and Nancy Duarte used Star Wars Episode 4 to exemplify the art of storyline in her brilliant book Resonate. To those who would suggest I’m just copying them, I would state that imitation is the finest form of flattery, and besides this is a very different exercise. Plus I’m not much of a Star Wars fan to be honest.

However I have been a Tolkien fanatic since a tender age, so I’ll use The Lord Of The Rings to explain my message. If you don’t know the book or films, this might not mean a lot, but it might be fun anyway. Here is my story and it is called:

The Shadow had returned to Boredor, and it was working tirelessly to spread its malevolent influence across the whole land of Middle-Management. The Dark Lord, Microsauron, had unleashed a deadly new weapon to torture, bore and demoralise the free people of the world and bring them unwittingly under his power. It had many names, but since it was powerful and many torture implements are pointy, they mostly called it PowerPointy.

One by one, presenters everywhere began to use Microsauron’s technology and bored each other to death. “Who needs Orcs?” laughed Microsauron, “these dumb idiots are killing each other with my bullets! Soon the whole world will be under my Shadow!”

However, far away, a Jobbit called Stevo discovered something shiny and unique, and he decided to call it the iRing. It became known that this iRing used to belong to Microsauron and contained much of his source code, and Stevo was asked to bring it to Rivendell to decide what to do with it.

The Council of Elrond brought together representatives from all the great nations, and Elrond’s message was that the only way to defeat Microsauron was to take the iRing to RedMount Doom and throw it back into the fire whence it came. He convened the Fellowship of the iRing to undertake this dangerous but vital quest.

The warrior Borismir argued against this, stating that it would be better to use Microsauron’s power against Boredor.

Unfortunately, his slideument was not very convincing, so it was agreed to proceed with the quest.

However, Elrond had himself come under the Shadow’s influence, and he made the fatal mistake of using a slideument to explain the Fellowship’s mission.

Sadly but inevitably the Fellowship didn’t understand the whole message, although they thought they’d read it properly, and they didn’t realise that “Watch out for Googlum” meant that it would be a good idea to stay away from him. Instead, they welcomed his offer to guide them, and Googlum led them to their doom in the Great River Androin, where the iRing was lost, never to be seen again.

Only Stevo the Jobbit and the wizard Garrdalf escaped, and they fled to the woods of Lorien, where they were found by elves and taken to their leader Nancydriel who lived in the highest tree, with its majestic mountain view.

Nancydriel had long studied slideology, and she showed them that in fact Borismir had been right about using Microsauron’s powerful technology to defeat his Shadow – it just had to be used in the right way. Then she shared with them the secret of the One Slide To Rule Them All – the most powerful slide ever conceived, so powerful that it could break the trance-like spell of the slideuments, and vanquish the Shadow of boredom for ever.

Stevo and Garrdalf then made their way to Minas Tirith, where the Shadow had already taken a firm hold, and no meeting was safe from the scourge of the slideument. Taking advantage of the bored stupor of the city’s residents, Microsauron had unleashed the full force of his mighty armies, who were already beginning to bombard the citadel with bombs, patches and overstocked Zunes.

There was no time to lose. Quickly, Garrdalf and Stevo found the biggest projector in the city, raised up a huge screen above the walls, set up a microphone, and Stevo took the stage. He began to deliver the presentation which Garrdalf had written, and which they had rehearsed meticulously as they rode over the plains of Rohan.

Both armies stopped and listened, and looked in wonder as Stevo told them stories (with lots of superlatives) and illustrated them with slides which mostly just had pictures – yes, pictures, and maybe only a few words or a number. The black clouds that had filled the skies began to recede to the East, back towards RedMount Doom whence they came. The spell of the slideument was being broken, and one by one, everyone watching realised that in fact Microsauron’s technology could be used to enhance communication, not just to impede it.

Then when the time was just right, Stevo clicked forward and unveiled the One Slide. The crowds gasped. Weapons fell to the floor, jaws dropped, and there was absolute silence, apart from the clear sound of Stevo’s voice which spoke clearly and directly to every individual present. Everybody paid attention. They could not do otherwise.

Slowly it dawned on Microsauron’s armies that their foes had found a way to harness the Dark Lord’s power, and vanquish the slideument for ever. As Stevo spoke clearly, simply and passionately, they realised they could not win, they panicked, and they fled.

One Slide To Rule Them All

In the end it was all remarkably simple. Stevo just had to show a completely black slide, and suddenly the audience would have nothing to look at but him, the presenter. That was the One Slide, the most powerful slide, the beauty of simplicity, one could say an anti-slide, the best way to defeat the slideuments.

Between them, Stevo the Jobbit and Garrdalf had beaten the Shadow, and shown the world of Middle-Management how real presentations should be done. No longer would the terror of Death By PowerPointy haunt meeting rooms across the land; no longer would people tremble at the words “I’ll come back to that on slide 87”; no longer would the word ‘presentation’ be synonymous with ‘mind-numbing boredom’.  And perhaps people would realise that in fact it wasn’t Microsauron who had inflicted all that pain on them, but their own dumb use of his perfectly good tools.

Epilogue

Meanwhile, Microsauron realised his plan to conquer the world through boredom had been foiled, but what most people didn’t know was that it was only his Plan B. Originally, his Plan A was to use his great presentation technology to convince everybody to join forces with him, and take over the world peacefully, but sadly it hadn’t worked because he hadn’t found the right way to use the tool. Luckily, neither had most other people, so Plan B happened almost by accident.

Now that he realised how to use his fantastic tool to communicate effectively, Microsauron decided to move back to Plan A, and began to plot a major presentation. If he couldn’t do boredom any more, perhaps disease would do the trick. Ah yes, malaria. Now that could make for a memorable presentation…

FOOTNOTE: Any perceived likenesses to individuals and companies will be strenuously denied. I can’t be held accountable for your vivid imaginations…


Presentation Pitfalls #7: Slide synch (or lack of)

September 1, 2010

“And the winner is…” called the presenter as he carefully opened the ceremonial envelope. The huge room was filled with silent yet eager anticipation.

He then paused, wondering why everyone was suddenly talking, laughing and groaning, then dutifully took the card from the envelope, and read out the winner’s name.

What could have gone wrong? Slide synch, that’s what.

While the speaker was fiddling with his envelope, someone else advanced the slides too quickly, and revealed the winner’s name to all but the speaker before the envelope had even been opened. Doh! Not only did this make the speaker look silly, it made everyone think less of the organization of the event, both for the Powerpoint slip-up and for even using ceremonial envelopes when the winners were already on the slides. Read the rest of this entry »


Three Easy Ways To Improve Your Next Presentation

August 24, 2010

There are many books you should read if you want to become a truly great presenter, and you may want to follow some courses with a presentation specialist so you can practise in a friendly environment with honest impartial feedback from peers and professionals.

However, if you have an important presentation coming up, you might not have time to do all these important things between now and then. Fear not, for all is not lost. Here are three simple ways you can improve your next presentation. Read the rest of this entry »


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