TEDx Paris 2011 – An inside (re)view

January 19, 2011

Over a month ago, while we were preparing the speakers for last weekend’s fantastic TEDx Paris 2011, Prof Francine Leca asked us:

But why do you all do this, and for free?

As the conference drew to a close, and Prof Leca brought the audience to its 2000 feet, I wrote her a short message explaining simply:

You are the answer to your own question.

It was simply an amazing experience to be involved with so many remarkable people, speakers and organisers, who were all full of the TED spirit which is a thirst for knowledge, discovery, meaning and above all sharing. Francine Leca is an astounding lady whose charity has saved the lives of 1600 children whose hearts would not have let them live without an operation their families could not afford. She gives and keeps on giving. What could be more TED than that?

I also had the opportunity of working with many of the other speakers, some more than others, but even the little oratory tips clearly helped. One speaker stopped crossing his arms and another stopped clutching his head and umming, just in time for the big event. Judging by the many tweets, nobody found the presentations amateurish, and some even claimed that they were so polished as to be not very French. This shows how much the speakers worked at their delivery as well as their content, and some did make a huge effort.

Some did not want or need coaching. Etienne Klein speaks in public all the time, and passionately hates rehearsing, so there was no point forcing rehearsals on him – but he showed that he didn’t need any help. Catherine Vidal needed no help either, although she did take the time to rehearse with us to be sure she was hitting the right notes. Francine Leca improvised well around a defined framework, but a rehearsal would have eliminated one slight mix-up on the slides.

On the other hand, rehearsals and preparation certainly helped a number of talks. The first time I heard Etienne Parizot, I understood precisely nothing, but I gave him the idea of opening with 3D TV – something people can relate to – and suggested using a prop to explain his concept. He ended up using a different prop (a large cardboard box) which worked excellently, and while his talk was still quite hard to grasp because of the subject matter, the structure was clear and his enthusiasm transported the audience with him into his four-dimensional virtual reality.

Judging by all the comments and tweets, Etienne’s was among the more popular talks of the day, and that’s simply down to strong preparation using powerful storytelling techniques, and a very visible passion for his subject. If only more speakers showed that much passion.

Likewise, the bestselling novelist Bernard Werber was very interested in any ideas and tips to improve his talk, and it ended up being almost unrecognisable from the first draft. Most of the ideas were his, but he benefited from bouncing them off the team members and integrating our suggestions in some cases, and while like most people he didn’t enjoy rehearsing, he realised how much it was helping him to improve his talk. Again, a little more rehearsing might have helped, but overall he did a fine job especially considering he’s not a regular public speaker.

Bernard was another person I felt honoured to work with, and we ended up talking about writing and communicating. It turns out that his method for constructing novels is very similar to the Ideas on Stage method for creating presentations, and he gave me all sorts of writing advice. It is often said that you get out of something what you put into it. I put plenty into TEDx Paris this year, but boy did I get a lot out of it.

In terms of the slides I created for the speakers, my greatest satisfaction was with those for the renowned journalist and editor Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber. They were clear, simple and attractive, with relevant images, and it was easy for Jean-Louis to handle them and talk to them. We had worked them carefully to have only a small amount of text on each slide, just the key messages, and it was wonderful to see that all those key messages were tweeted and retweeted verbatim.

My overall impression of this edition of TEDx Paris was strongly positive. Of a huge number of tweets, very few were in any way negative, and while different people seemed to appreciate different talks, that’s fine – there was something for everyone, and a whole bunch of fantastic ideas and approaches to take away and share.

The music (from Irma and Djazia, as well as Jacques Dupriez) was excellent, the line-up of speakers was remarkable, and the organisation was top-class (note: I coached speakers and helped with slides, that’s all, so I’m crediting Michel, Sylvain, Xavier and their team and not myself). All in all, an extremely memorable event. TEDx Paris is now an event to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait for the 2012 edition.

We all left the theatre buzzing with ideas, full of energy and motivation, and determined to do something, anything, to share that energy and make the world a better place. That is what TED is all about. As Bernard Werber said at the end of his talk, “Everything good that will happen to our children will be conceived by somebody who’s alive today. Maybe one of you.” Now there’s a call to action…

Photo credits to Olivier Ezratty – his excellent gallery is here.

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.


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 #6 – Bent logic

August 20, 2010

As I was strolling around Paris this week, I came across the kind of film poster ad which annoys the hell out of me. It annoyed me so much that I thought I would capture it and share it with you. (I’m sure the film company won’t mind since it’s a little extra publicity, and while I haven’t seen the film, it might be quite good.)

Now, what’s wrong with this? OK, it may not be the best photo of Ludivine Sagnier who usually looks very attractive, but that wasn’t the problem. I can just about live with the mix of fonts and the fairly ugly yellow colour, since at least there’s a theme which is consistently followed. I also don’t mind that there’s no real attempt to sell the film – we have no idea what it’s about, whether it’s had a good review, or why we should go and see it, other than the two lead actresses and the director, none of whom is a big enough draw on their own. (French cinema is well enough subsidised that it doesn’t actually need to sell many tickets.)

No, the problem here is that the two lead actresses are the wrong way round. The actress on the left is Kristin Scott Thomas, and the one on the right is Ludivine Sagnier. I asked a colleague what he thought I hated about this ad, and he didn’t get it because he didn’t know either of the actresses. (In which case neither of them is going to be a good selling-point for the film anyway.) But for cinephiles like me who know the actresses, it just looks plain daft to see two actresses, each with the other’s name above her head.

Does nobody check this first? What do the actresses think of it? It may be fair to suggest that Sagnier’s name should be the first we see (reading of course from the left), since she’s slightly more of a box-office draw nowadays than Scott-Thomas, but in that case, surely the poster should have Sagnier on the left and not on the right?

In any case, it just looks plain wrong to me and doesn’t inspire much confidence in the quality of the film. I should stress that this is far from the first time this has happened. There have been examples in the past where an actor and actress have appeared with each other’s names on their heads, which would look silly even to people who don’t know either of them.

Right, so what has this got to do with presenting? It’s all about avoiding what I call bent logic. If you use slides which don’t appear logical, they won’t be clear to your audience, and they will pollute your message instead of enhancing it. Read the rest of this entry »

Handouts 101

July 27, 2010

Slides do not make good handouts.

I like good slides, and I like good handouts, just as I like crunchy apples and juicy strawberries. Yet just as I would never confuse an apple with a strawberry, I would also never confuse a slide with a handout.

The majority of presentations sadly use ‘slideuments’ (I believe this term was coined by Garr Reynolds) which aim to be both a visual aid (‘slide’) and a handout (‘document’). You know the kind – the presenter crams lots of detail and bullets on the slide so that somebody who didn’t attend the presentation could understand it afterwards. The slideset is provided in hard-copy or via email later. Of course, it makes for a terrible visual aid – in fact such a slideument actually hinders communication – and it’s not much use as a document either, because you can’t truly understand what someone means just by reading a short bullet-point or trying to draw conclusions from a table of data.

So if you have created a slideument, it’s a bad set of slides and it’s also a bad handout.

If on the other hand you know that people can’t read while listening, and you understand what makes a good set of visual aids (few words, meaningful images, etc.), you’ll quickly realise that just providing those slides as handouts won’t help much either. Sure, after a couple of days, the audience will be able to look at the slides and remember quite well what you were talking about while that slide was on the wall (far better than with a set of bullets), but who looks at handouts only a day or two after the event? You need something which stands on its own – and which can then also help people who missed the presentation.

What kind of handout?

So we’ve established that if you’re going to give handouts (and in many circumstances, I recommend that you do), a simple printout or soft-copy of your slides won’t be sufficient. What should you do?

My usual recommendation is to spend time in advance producing detailed notes on what you are going to talk about, and put them in the Notes pages of your Keynote or Powerpoint slides. This has a number of advantages:

  • You can then print your presentation with notes pages to PDF and share the PDF. You will simply have a set of A4/letter pages, each with a slide at the top and the notes underneath.
  • By including your slides with the notes, the reader who was there has a visual cue which will bring back the memory of the talk, the presenter and the feeling in the room at the time.
  • By going through your presentation in detail and working out what you will say, not just the highest-level details, you will be better able to anticipate how the presentation will flow, realise how you could improve the structure, and make those changes in advance.
  • Furthermore, you will be sure that you know your subject well, and having typed all the detailed notes, you will be far less likely to forget what you need to say next while on stage, and consequently less nervous and more natural.

There are times when the notes pages are too restrictive, and where you need to give out detailed tables or graphs for example (which you cannot put in these notes pages in the slideware apps). There is an alternative: export them to a word processor. In Powerpoint 2010, you can use the Create Handouts feature, which will create a Word document with one slide at the top of each page together with any notes you have already entered into Powerpoint. You can then use all the rich text features of Word to add additional tables, graphs etc.

It’s not quite so straightforward with Keynote, although I find the easiest way is to export the file as HTML and open it in Word, or to export the slides as images and then import them one by one into Word or Pages.

As an aside, there may be times during your presentation when you need to refer to detailed graphs, reports or tables. I recommend that you should not try to put these on your slide, or at least, not the full details. It is better to distribute one or two pages on paper and refer to them, and use the slides (if at all) only to illustrate the main points and conclusions. If you don’t need your slides, use a black slide until you need something else on the wall.

When should you provide your handouts?

There has been some debate about this recently on Olivia Mitchell’s blog (which by the way contains some more great tips on handouts). My own view is that if you can possibly get away with it, provide the handouts at the end of the presentation, or even a few days later. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, to be fair, here are some counter-arguments which people may give.

  • It’s better for people to have the slides so they can take their own notes. I disagree – unless your slides are slideuments and you don’t plan on giving handouts. If your handouts are good enough, most people won’t need to take many notes, if any, and if you tell them at the start that they will get detailed handouts at the end so they can put their pens (and laptops) down, the audience will relax and be able to enjoy your presentation without having to worry that they might miss something important. By all means provide paper so they can take notes if they want, of course. You could even provide sheets which simply include some of your key headings – if it’s clear from the start that you are going to cover three subjects, then you could provide a page with the three subjects to structure the notes.
  • It puts decision-making in the hands of the audience member. To not give them the handout before the presentation smacks of “I know better than you, what suits you”. This was one of Olivia’s arguments (see her blog post here). My own view is that if you ensure they have paper, potentially with a list of headings as in point 1 above, then you are giving them the choice to take notes or not.
  • I’ve tried and failed to find a suitable third argument. Perhaps you could help me?

Now, here are the reasons why it’s good to give your handouts after your presentation.

  • It makes a refreshing change. Students and businesspeople are extremely tired of receiving poorly-prepared presentations, where they know they will need to pay constant attention despite the boredom, and where they know their final recollection will depend on how good their notes are. They often wonder: “If this idiot can say all this to us, why can’t he just spend the time writing it down instead of expecting us to write it down and miss most of it?” If a presenter is just going to talk at the audience in radio-mode, then frankly the audience would be far better off with the full transcript than with their own scribbled notes, and they gain little or nothing from having seen some guy read it aloud. Why do companies and schools persist in thinking this is a good mode of communication? It beats me! Therefore if you tell the audience at the start that you will give them a full set of notes afterwards, so they can concentrate on you and your subject in a proper connected communication session, they will thank you, and they will actually learn more because they are truly listening, not just trying to transcribe.
  • Taking notes isn’t the same as understanding. I admit that I rarely take many notes, either in business or academic presentations. This is because I realised that when I did take notes feverishly, I was merely transcribing what was said: it was going in one ear, and down my arm onto the page, without actually making it into my short-term memory, let alone my long-term memory. So I ended up with a page of scribble, but no clue about what had actually been said. What’s the point in that?
  • To understand, you need to think. Confucius said: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” If you have 50 people in your audience, there are limited things you can have them actually do – although there are quite a few if you think hard enough. However, you need to take them beyond just hearing what you say. You need them to internalize your message, to think about it, to work out what it means to them and how it fits into their reality, and to accept it into their reality. (Search for ‘reality tunnel’ or ‘reticular activating filter’ to understand why – I won’t go into all the science here.) If they are feverishly taking notes, they are not truly thinking about what you are saying, and they will not internalize it. Remove the need for them to take notes, and they will listen more intently; give them a chance to think deeply about what you are saying, and they will truly get the message.
  • Keep the element of surprise. I like to build questions and small exercises into my presentations, to get the audience involved and thinking. If I were to distribute my handouts at the start, then either the participants would have the answers and debriefs in front of them, which would destroy the exercises, or the handouts would be missing a valuable part of the presentation. However, if I distribute the handouts afterwards, I can include all the answers, details and debriefs so they are useful reminders without spoiling anything. Furthermore, if people don’t know what’s coming next, there is always an element of surprise. I lost count of the times when as an audience member I received ‘slideument’ handouts at the start, and had read through them all within 5-10 minutes of the start and thereafter switched off completely. When you go to see a film at the cinema, do they give you a full run-down of the plot before the film begins? Of course not. There’s a reason for that.
  • Allow for changes. If my audience allows it (some business schools do not, sadly), I will aim to provide handouts not immediately afterwards, but a few days afterwards. This gives me a chance to modify the handouts to take account of what actually happened during the presentation, rather than what I intended to happen. I can therefore include answers to questions which were asked, more details on a subject which was of particular interest to that audience, and interesting links or book references which I hadn’t thought to include but which occurred to me while on the stage.

There are more reasons to give handouts a few days afterwards, and my experience fully supports the arguments expounded by Adam Lawrence on Olivia’s blog, which I reproduce here for your convenience with due thanks to both Adam and Olivia:

  • It doesn’t get lost in the pile of mostly useless paperwork from that conference day or whatever;
  • It serves to refresh the memory of the session just at the moment it would otherwise be forgotten (ie a few days later); and
  • As said, it reflects the true content, not the planned content.

To recap therefore:

  1. Slides don’t make good handouts. Use the Notes pages to provide detailed notes with your slides.
  2. Tell your audience you’ll give them detailed notes, so they can truly engage with you and your message.
  3. If you need to go through a detailed topic, by all means hand out one or two sheets of paper during your talk – it’s better for them to read a table or graph on paper than to try to work it out on a slide with tiny text or a lot of detail.
  4. Give your complete handouts afterwards – and if possible, a few days afterwards.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience about handouts in different situations. What has worked well (or not so well) for you?

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