The case for courtroom presentations.


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

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

Military says bullets kill


The misuse of PowerPoint is bad. I've been saying it for years, but now the US Army says it too. Check out this recent article from the New York Times. Link

The US Army reports the misuse of PowerPoint has become a major problem. As the article describes it, PowerPoint is seen as a military tool that has spun out of control.

The spaghetti-like diagram above was taken from an actual military PowerPoint slide. It's designed to show the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan. (Definitely doesn't follow the Apollo Ideas mantra of clear simple expression.) As General McChrystal, head of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, describes it, "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."

According to McChrystal, complex diagrams aren't even the biggest problem — bullet points are. And they're the same problem with your company's presentations.

Bullet points are just rigid lists of facts. They do not convey meaning. They only barely convey information. What's worse, they are proven to lead to bad decision-making, poor judgement, and reduced creativity.

This isn't the first time the government has recognized the PowerPoint problem. Several years back NASA identified the misuse of PowerPoint as a contributing factor to the Columbia shuttle disaster. You can read more about that on Edward Tufte's blog here. It's fascinating and tragic.

PowerPoint is a bad reporting tool. When it's used properly, it can take a presentation from good to great, but bullet points and slick templates won't do it.

It's truly amazing how much bad PowerPoint costs organizations in lost opportunity and time. Can you think of another business tool that even comes close?

Thanks to the many friends and readers who sent in this article!

Ice Breakers: A better way to Q&A


When I was a kid there were a lot of commercials for a board game called "Thin Ice". The game was simple — one by one you piled marbles (penguins) onto a wet piece of stretched tissue paper (iceberg) until eventually the paper ripped and all the marbles fell through.

This game is exactly like the question and answer period after your presentations. When you ask for questions, nine times out of ten most people in your audience will just sit there, not saying anything, waiting for someone else to break the ice and ask the first question.

It's a fact of audience psychology. People are shy.

So why not break the ice yourself? Instead of ending your presentation with the usual "Q&A" slide, end with a slide that lists three to five example questions people might want to ask.

Example questions make your audience feel more comfortable. You're breaking the ice for them, so nobody has to worry about going first. And if you make the example questions simple, you eliminate the common audience fear of asking a "dumb question".

Pre-prepared questions also enable you to have pre-prepared answers ready, making your Q&A look more like a continuation of your main presentation, and making you look more like a rockstar.


Introducing our new look.


There comes a time when every company must grow up. Welcome to the new look of Apollo Ideas.

The new website is much more comprehensive — thoroughly explaining our services and the value we bring to organizations.

Be sure to check out our new portfolio. We've added example slides from more than twenty presentations we've worked on, as well as a dramatic before and after section.

We've also officially launched our Facebook and Twitter pages. You can follow us on either one for regular useful tips about presentation design and delivery.

We’re committed to growing as a company. The new is just one of many changes we’ve been making to enable us to take on larger projects and deliver even higher quality results to you, our clients.

Memory ships.


Pictures make presentations better. Here’s why.

A nautical metaphor.

Imagine a big wooden ship sailing into a stormy harbor. The waves crash as the sailors work to secure the ship against the dock. The more ropes the sailors can cast, the more securely the ship will weather the storm.

Think of the ideas in your presentation as ships docking in the stormy harbors of your audience’s minds. The more associations you can make with your ideas — the more ropes you can cast — the better they will be remembered.

The metaphor isn’t too far off from the actual biology of memory making. The more relationships you can associate with an idea, the more neural connections are formed and the more rooted it becomes in your memory. Most mnemonic devices play on this, getting you to associate additional objects or sounds with the thing you’re trying to remember.

Slides give you the opportunity to tap into parts of the brain words alone can’t reach — the picture parts.

Think of the visuals in your presentation as additional ropes to cast. It’s one thing to talk about your idea, it’s a better thing to show it.

Make a memory.

You can see this idea in action in the example slides below.

The slide on the left is a typical text-heavy presentation slide. It's the speaker's talking points in bulleted form. It contains everything the speaker is going to say, but doesn't do much to make it more memorable. You could easily take this slide out and the presentation would be no worse without it — in fact, it may even be marginally better.

The slide on the right is the exact same content, but it uses a picture instead of words to relate the message. The speakers talking points have not changed, they're just now being spoken instead of read. The audience has an extra trigger at their disposal, a visual cue, to make the content easier to remember.

Which slide resonates more with you?

It can feel risky to not include all of your content on a slide, to go with a visual instead, but your presentation is made stronger because of it. At the end of the day isn't that the point?

Visual Ropes.png

TED Talk: Are we in control of our decisions?

Check out this great TED talk from Dan Ariely about human decision making. I personally love this kind of research. Though it can be a little disconcerting, it's fascinating to learn about the brain and how we're not always in as much control of our perception as we think.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist and the author of Predictably Irrational. From a presentation design standpoint, his talk is a perfect example of how a data-driven speech can be made captivating when combined with the magic ingredients — 1) good storytelling, and 2) visual slides.

Dan is one of these rare academics who bridges the gap between academia and the general public. His research is cutting edge in the scientific community, and he is able to share it (both writing and speaking) in a way that engages just about everyone.

I've had a chance to hear Dan speak in person several times and can say his presentations are always crowd pleasers. Enjoy!

Dan Ariely TED Talk

This is what's happening.

Sprint's new ad campaign, What's Happening, is making some serious waves. The ads are brilliant examples of effective marketing and great presentation design.

Sprint spent a lot of money building a new 4G network and had to figure out how to show it off. They could have taken the traditional approach and created a campaign that explains the network's new features (e.g. "you can transfer so many megabytes per second on our new network!"), but in reality people don't care much about features — they care about benefits.

My favorite example of selling benefits instead of features was when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPod in 2001. He didn't describe the iPod as a "4GB music player"; it was "a thousand songs in your pocket". Big difference.

Sprint clearly understands the power of selling benefits because instead of focusing on what their network can do, their campaign demonstrates what people can do on their network, and on an incredible scale.

The ads are slick examples of how proper pacing, dynamic visuals, and the right amount of humor can make a fact and data driven presentation extremely compelling to watch. You'll definitely find inspiration in these videos for new, creative ways to present your data in future presentations.

Check out one of the ads below.

Breaking up is great to do.

Overloading a slide with too much information is an all too common presentation design faux pas.

Bullet point after bullet point — one for each idea you want to express — clutters the slide and forces your audience to spend more time reading than listening.

People often try to reduce the clutter with animations, building one bullet point on the screen at a time, but by the last build it’s still a bloated mess.

Instead, break up your content and put each point on its own slide. It’ll give your messages some room to breathe, making it less likely for you to overload your audience with too much information. Your story will be easier to follow.

Splitting up your content helps you the designer see which points can be enhanced with an evocative visual. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand bullets — so why not use one?

Great slides help you tell your story. Bad slides distract your audience, or worse, force them to work harder to understand you. Avoid bloated slides. Break them up.

Split Up Your Slides.png

Typical PowerPoint bad for brains


It’s not rocket science.

It turns out there’s a scientific explanation for why we don’t remember much from a bad PowerPoint presentation.

Scientists studying "cognitive load theory" at the University of New South Wales in Australia have published a report that has shaken up the way the world looks at presentations and learning.

Their research suggests the human brain is good at reading, good at listening, but not very good at doing both simultaneously.

Presenting someone with the same information verbally and visually (e.g. reading from a bad PowerPoint slide) makes absorbing the information much more difficult. Our brains can only take in and remember so much at once.

Professor Sweller, a researcher in the study, said, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form.”

He has a good point. Public speakers have been putting audiences to sleep with PowerPoint for years, but that doesn’t mean we should ditch the application all together. After all, it isn’t fair to blame the tool for the craftsman's mistakes.

Don't make 'em choose.

Apollo readlisten.png

Effective presentations never make life harder on an audience.

Professor Sweller offers good advice when he recommends we speak to diagrams instead of bullet points, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Keep the text on your slides to a minimum, phrases that only take a few seconds to read. Instead of bullet points, use diagrams and images as the backdrop to your story. When you’re presenting a longer quote, don’t be afraid to stand silently while the audience reads the quote for themselves.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is this: Never force your audience to choose between listening to what you say or reading the text on your slides. You can’t expect them to do both, and you might not like what they choose.

Source 1 Article : Source 2 Article : Source 3 PDF

Innumeracy and Numbers That Matter

Innumeracy Cover 2.png

I recently read Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. The book explores the dangers of a mathematically illiterate public in an era when a solid understanding of numbers is essential to comprehend the major decisions being made in society and politics.

Though I felt his writing was a little too academic and borderline pompous at times, Paulos' Innumeracy is loaded with enough fascinating material to make it worth the read. I highly recommend it if you want to gain a better understanding of the probabilities and statistics you come across everyday reading a newspaper or browsing the internet.

Million Billion Trillion

Relating it to presentations, one topic the book explored was how poorly so many of us understand the magnitudes of big numbers like "million", "billion", or "trillion" — numbers that frequently get thrown around in presentations.

Do you think you've been alive a trillion seconds? Not even close. To illustrate the relative magnitudes of these big numbers, consider this excerpt from the book.

"For example, it takes only about eleven and a half days for a million seconds to tick away, whereas almost thirty-two years are required for a billion seconds to pass. What about trillions? Modern Homo sapiens is probably less than 10 trillion seconds old; and the subsequent complete disappearance of the Neanderthal version of early Homo sapiens occurred only a trillion or so seconds ago. Agriculture's been here for approximately 300 billion seconds (ten thousand years), writing for about 150 billion seconds, and rock music has been around for only about one billion seconds."

It's interesting stuff, especially when you then come across figures like the estimated $10 trillion US national debt, or the nearly 3 billion people worldwide living in poverty. Sometimes it's a little too easy to become desensitized to the true magnitude of these numbers.

The Shape of Your Presentation

What shape is your presentation? Flat? Round? Spiky? It’s an unusual question, but a very effective one for diagnosing the biggest problem affecting most presentations.

PowerPoint often guides us down a bad path from the very start. The built-in templates conform us to a very rigid structure — titles and bullet points on every slide. Essentially, they encourage us to create a series of isolated lists, which is an ineffective way to structure your presentation.

Hills and Heart Rates

Before PowerPoint existed, people thought of presentations as speeches, and we tend to approach speech writing differently from presentation design.

There aren't any visuals to rely on in a speech, so it’s up to our words to make the content interesting. For this reason, speechwriters focus on the narrative, or the overall structure of the speech.

Speeches are round, like hills. They’re usually in the story-plot structure, which consists of an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. If we abstractly charted a speech, it would look something like this.

Apollo Speech Shape A.png

Slide presentations look very different. The standard presentation format (template) encourages us to create an isolated series of lists (titles & bullets), and so we end up presenting our material as just that.

It goes something like this: After our title and intro slides, we toss up a slide with a single topic (e.g. “Competitive Landscape”). We say everything we can about the topic, then move on to the next slide with a new topic (e.g. “Market Size”), where we say everything we can about that. This repeats for about ten to twenty minutes until we come to a slide titled, “Conclusion”, where we abruptly stop talking and ask for questions.

Apollo Speech Shape B.png

Slide presentations are spiky, like the beeping heart-rate monitors you see in hospitals (EKGs). That spiky shape is the reason so many presentations are so boring to sit through.

Wired to remember

Humans love stories, and we're all natural storytellers. Every time we chat with friends we’re telling each other stories, and we're not usually reciting a series of isolated lists to one another.

Our minds are wired to take in and remember round information much better than spiky information. This is why you can remember the details of a famous speech or the plot of a good movie, much easier than you can remember the items on your last grocery list. Your brain processes round information better because round information is saturated with meaning, which is the key requirement for memory formation.

So when you’re working on your next presentation, remember to consider its shape. Bullet points aren’t the problem — the way we've grown accustomed to using them is.

Keep it round, avoid the spikes.