Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about tasty soundbites

The best presenters strike a balance between being thorough and being memorable. Unfortunately as people become experts in a topic, they often throw the memorable part out the window. Or worse, they think being more thorough will automatically make their presentations memorable.

Experts don't understand that being memorable plays a major role in the effectiveness of a presentation. Your presentation is never about you — it's about your audience, always. So if aren't thinking about how to make your talk more memorable, you might as well ignore your audience altogether.

Neil deGrasse Tyson gets it. He's an expert astrophysicist who is also one of the most well known scientists in the world (especially among non-scientists) because he is extremely memorable. At a recent event at the American Museum of Natural History, he ruminated on the art of speaking in memorable soundbites.

"And I thought to myself… even though they are interviewing me in my place, it's actually for them in their place, and in their place soundbites rule. … So I said, rather than have them soundbite me, why don't I hand them soundbites? They can't edit that."

This is similar to a presentation tip put forward by Carmine Gallo in his book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. He suggests creating Twitter-friendly headlines throughout your presentation — repeatable one-sentence summaries that capture your message. In other words, soundbites. So what does a great soundbite look like?

"[A few] words that are informative, make you smile, and are so tasty you might want to tell someone else — there is the anatomy of a soundbite. And don’t think that soundbites aren’t useful if they don’t contain a curriculum. A soundbite is useful because it triggers interest in someone, who then goes and puts in the effort to learn more. … Take the moment to stimulate interest, and upon doing that you have set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven because that soundbite was so tasty — why do you think we call them bites?"

If you are not already a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, you should be.

Source: Maria Popova on her excellent site Brain Pickings.

Music like you've never seen it.

When visualizations do their job, they enable you to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. These videos by Andy Fillebrown are fantastic visualizations because they bring the symmetry, complexity, and patterns of music to life in an elegant way.

In this form, music is not just beautiful to hear but is also beautiful to see. To me, it is even more beautiful that the human brain is capable of remembering and reciting such a complex set of data — and we simply call it "playing".

What are better than slides? JellyBeans

The backbone of your presentation is always your story. Your visuals exist to make your story more powerful, so it's important to choose them carefully.

Presentation visuals do not have to be limited to slides. In fact, it's often much more powerful to use props when they make sense.

This video from Ze Frank is a perfect example of the power of props as visuals. It is a moving and inspirational visualization of a human lifespan, told with 28,835 JellyBeans.

I guarantee you will remember this better than if he had used slides to tell the same story.

The next version of Apollo Ideas

Welcome to the new Apollo Ideas. We have been working hard over the past several weeks to overhaul and modernize our digital home. As we began the process, we identified a set of questions to guide us:

  • How could we make the navigation simpler, so visitors could get to the information they want more easily?
  • How could we improve our portfolio to more comprehensively represent our approach to slide design? (This was a big one.)
  • How could we unify the overall aesthetic to be more clear, simple, and expressive, while also being more flexible so we could add new functionality?

We are proud of our new design and we think it captures our personality better than ever. Here are a few of the new areas we've added:

  • A dynamic new portfolio. We've always received a lot of positive feedback on the Before & After examples in our portfolio, so we made it front-and-center in the new version. And in the new Sample Slides section all of the thumbnails are finally clickable. Just click or tap to expand each slide to its full resolution and see every detail.
  • An improved and integrated blog. The new Apollo Ideas Blog is simpler and integrated better with the rest of our site. Expect more long-form articles about presentation design and communication strategy coming soon. We are also going to start using the Apollo Ideas Twitter account to share interesting things we find about presentations, communication, and design.
  • New ways to contact us. Our new contact page includes links to our social network pages. We also included a way to sign up for our new Newsletter.
  • Job listings. We are really excited about this one. We're expanding our design team, so we now have our own place to post about new positions. Tell your designer friends who are interested in information design.

We hope you like the new Apollo Ideas. Be sure to check back in the future for useful new articles on the blog, and even new services coming down the road.

Design lesson from Fox News: Accurate charts matter

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This recent chart from Fox News is an example of how an inaccurately designed chart can be horribly misleading. Take a look at the relative position of the 8.6% for the month of November on the far right.

Charts should make trends in large sets of data more clear. Using them to mislead is wrong.

Source: FlowingData: Fox News still makes awesome charts

And also check out: FlowingData: Best pie chart ever

Slide design narcissism: Logo on every slide.

Stop putting your logo on every slide. Many companies think it's necessary to stamp a logo on every slide because it builds "brand image" and looks more professional. It doesn't. In fact, a logo on every slide hurts the effectiveness of your presentation. Here's why.

1. It's distracting. – Great slides support your message, they don't distract from it. Putting a big logo in the corner of every slide is wasting screen real estate with visual noise that doesn't enhance your message.

2. Your audience knows who you are. – I've had clients tell me they "need" to include their logo on every slide so the audience doesn't forget who they are. If you're speaking to a room full of people and they suddenly don't know who you are, you have a bigger problem on your hands...

3. It hurts your brand. – An ineffective, boring presentation that's elaborately branded is worse for your brand than an engaging, memorable presentation with no branding at all. People remember presenters who can move them with a great story. Don't let bad slides get in the way of that.

If you really want your logo in your presentation, keep it limited to the first and last slides. That way your audience can see what company you're from at the start and then are reminded of it again at the very end after you've wowed them with a memorable presentation.

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Slides and theater sets. Showtunes optional.

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Broadway set designers have a difficult job. They need to design theater sets that cleverly balance two functions: 1) physically providing the details (entrances and props) the actors need to tell their story, while 2) also powerfully conveying the emotional atmosphere for each scene of the show.

Sound familiar? Metaphor alert: Your presentation slides have to balance the same functions.

A great way to break free from the doldrums of traditional PowerPoint is to think of your slides not as slides, but as theater sets to be your backdrop as you deliver your speech. They're there to make you look good and support you with the details you need to tell your story.

Fortunately you don't need a Master of Fine Arts degree to design great slides.

Your last slide: It's not over until...

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I recently saw the CEO of a well known children's entertainment company speak and it reminded me of a crucial presentation tip: Your last slide is not the end of your presentation.

This executive's delivery was top notch with warm storytelling and great visuals. He came across as a likable guy and left his audience impressed. Unfortunately, that positive picture completely changed during the Q&A.

It wasn't an official Q&A with microphones in the aisles — just an informal meet-and-greet at the bottom of the hour. I'll assume he was in a rush to leave because his tone was alienating and brash to the people who came up to ask a question. This ruined the whole impression of his presentation for everyone who stuck around.

Your last slide is not the end of your presentation. How you present yourself before and after your slideshow matters just as much. You can rehearse your slide delivery over and over to be warm and likable, but if you come across as a jerk once the slides finish, you will still be seen as a jerk.

I love data visualization.

My friend and fellow blogger Harrison Brookie recently sent me this great TED talk by David McCandless. For those of us who love data visualization, it's a real treat. 

My favorite line in the talk is:

"There's something almost magical about visual information. It's effortless. It literally pours in. If you're navigating a dense information jungle, coming across a beautiful visualization is a relief. It's like coming across a clearing in the jungle."

Source: TED Blog

Thoughts on iPad presentations

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iPad is a presentation game changer. Since its launch four months ago, Apple has sold roughly four million units and they're only just now rolling out to international markets. iPad is a solid success and the harbinger of a major computing paradigm shift. It inspires us to imagine new ways to approach presentation design and rethink the role a presentation can play in business communications.

It's all about interaction.

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iPad is the killer tool for the one-to-one presentation. It can connect to a projector like a laptop, but it really excels as an interactive device. iPad transforms a normally passive activity into an engaging experience. The multitouch screen means your audience can hold your slides in their hands. They can flick and tap their way through your content. They can interact directly with your ideas.

In this new paradigm, a presentation can be approached as an interface rather than a slideshow. Buttons can replace bullet points. The slide order can change for each audience member like a "choose your own adventure" story.

There's no "best way" to create an iPad presentation, but there are several new ideas forming as the technology is explored. Here are a few types of presentations iPad can make better.

• Improved sales meetings - Instead of sitting across a table with your laptop, let your client hold your slides as you deliver your pitch.

• Dynamic product catalogs - Instead of bland spreadsheets listing products, offer your client an interactive digital catalog. Clients can touch their way into each product category and interact with each product through rich media and vivid descriptions.

• Seamless kiosk presentations - Instead of a computer with a keyboard and mouse, let your guests touch their way through an interactive presentation. Think about how slick a row of mounted iPads would look in your trade show booth.

• Gorgeous design portfolios - Instead of flipping through cumbersome Photoshop and InDesign files on a laptop, let your client flick through a dynamic, interactive portfolio. They can even see live mockups of your site.

• Quick app prototypes - Instead of static wireframes, create an functional prototype of your app, all in only a few minutes. There's a great video tutorial for this here.

What other ideas for iPad presentations are out there? Please share some of your ideas in the comments.

Other iPad presentation resources & tips

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"If you want to understand what makes the iPad special, you cannot look at what it has, but what it doesn’t have. The iPad is so thin and light, it becomes the display, and the display becomes the application. No input devices. The device vanishes and turns into the application you are using. The technology is transparent." - CC

An Empty Canvas - A beautifully written article from the folks at Cultured Code. The source of the quote above.

Web design for the ipad - Tips for designing websites optimized for iPad. Good ideas for presentation design too.

Tips for an iPad compatible Keynote - Tips for using Keynote on iPad

iPad App Prototyping - How to make an app prototype using Keynote on iPad.

Keynote for iPad - The Keynote app for iPad

The case for courtroom presentations.

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Not everyone is happy about the use of presentations in the legal industry.

There are some who think presentations force lawyers to dumb down their content for the jury. I'd argue it's not the tool that's responsible, but rather the person using it. The power of any presentation is all in how it’s used, and great visual storytelling has the potential to give lawyers a significant competitive edge. You could even say their future depends on it.

Texas lawyer David Bissinger makes a compelling case for multimedia in the courtroom in this recent article from Law.com.

A compelling case exists that using multimedia increases juror competence. At least three reasons should prompt trial lawyers to use, and trial judges to embrace, multimedia devices. First, scientific and other high-level learning depends upon visualization; the best advocates, like the best teachers, teach by using visual aids. Second, multimedia argument advances the ancient art of advocacy through storytelling. Third, the forces of technological innovation will put lawyers who fail to embrace these methods out of business.

Check it out: Article Link