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Sometimes The Best DEMO Has No Slides

If you have never heard of DEMO, it’s about time we change that right now. DEMO is all about new tech solving big problems. A select group of innovative companies are invited to showcase their solutions to a large audience of press, analysts, investors, CIOs and entrepreneurs.

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About DEMO 
Produced by the IDG Enterprise events group, the worldwide DEMO conferences focus on emerging technologies and new product innovations, which are hand selected from across the spectrum of the technology marketplace. The DEMO conferences have earned their reputation for consistently identifying cutting-edge technologies and helping entrepreneurs secure venture funding and establish critical business. For more information on the DEMO conferences, visit http://www.demo.com/.

I think DEMO has some interesting characteristics:

  • Presentations are 4 minutes or less. No exceptions.
  • No slides are allowed.
  • Live software demos only.
  • Presentations are followed by an additional 4 minutes of Q&A by an esteemed panel of Judges.

What I love about DEMO is that companies are given the main keynote stage to share their exciting products. 40 companies have the limelight for 8 minutes and share some truly exciting and creative innovations.

4 Minutes or Less
Normally I have at least 30 minutes to share Incorta with most demos being 60-90 minutes in length. This was going to be a whole new challenge. The amount of effort involved in making an impression in 4 minutes is completely different than 60 minutes. I think President Wilson Woodrow summed it up best.

Wilson Woodrow Quote

If you are to speak for 4 minutes I think you need 2 months to prepare!

The Challenge
What to focus on? You cannot show everything and often you might have many facets that make your product stand out from the competition. How do you decide on which piece to focus on? This was something that was pretty difficult for us at Incorta.

The Dry Run
The day before our scheduled DEMO time slot we had a dry run with Erick Schonfeld on stage at the San Jose Convention Center. Our focus in that demo was the ease of bringing data into Incorta and how we negate all the complex star schemas, ETL and traditional data warehouse work that cripples most Business Intelligence projects. After candid feedback from Erick, we decided we should change our demo. We changed direction entirely and created a new script. We decided to focus on our mobility and flexibility for Business Users to be able to take control of their analytics. How Incorta Enable users to quickly make changes to their dashboards to  answer pressing questions that traditionally take months to solve.

Re-writing your demo at 1 AM in the morning before your DEMO presentation is not the ideal, but sometimes you have to make these kind of changes.

If we had a deck could we have made such a sweeping change? Would we have been nimble enough to change direction? I would argue we would have not felt we could throw our DEMO slides in the trash and start from scratch with less than 12 hours before we walk on stage.

In this case no slides is perfect!

Incorta at DEMO

When was the last time you changed direction at the last minute after investing weeks into your original idea? How did that turn out?

Turning Fear Into Fuel: Courage & Vulnerability

When I was 11 years old I had to stand up and present in front of 700+ school children in what we in the UK call “Assembly.” The room was made up of children from 11 to 18 years old along with teachers. It was intimidating to say the least and I was terrified. To make matters worse I had to present my own content, not read from a book. I had to share my own thoughts.

Four students were given the topic: “Your Hero.” We all had to take turns sharing about what we admired in our heroes. I cannot remember what I wrote down at all for the presentation apart from I spoke about tennis legend: Ivan Lendl. Ivan never won Wimbledon but he was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. There is not much else I can say apart from that.

The speech was terrible. I read my pre-written text word for word. My head was buried into my chest to avoid looking out at the sea of faces. It was nerve wracking. Once I was done I had to remain on stage standing next to the third student sharing about their hero. It was then I looked up and surveyed the room. I was no longer the primary focus of attention. Then it hit me. The absurdity of it all. I was up here doing something I certainly didn’t want to do and looking out I could quickly see that no one was interested in listening to our speeches. Maybe it was built up nerves that just overwhelmed me, but the thought of how crazy this all was made me burst out laughing uncontrollably. It was terrible. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Piano recital exams
Even though there was only one person in the room. It was fear that I felt. Pure, unfiltered fear. Sweaty palms. Racing heart and lots of mistakes.

Number 1 Fear
You might relate to some of these fears. Fear of performing in public can be debilitating. Public speaking is the number 1 fear for most people.

Avoiding public speaking is not a solution. It hurts those who need to hear your message. It hurts your career. The only solution is be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s facing your fear. Whenever you face your fears you rob them of the irrational power they have over you.

Fear is simply misinformation disguised as reality. Step number one is to say yes I’m scared but I will be courageous and face my fear.

If you had to have 100 meetings with 1 or 2 people you probably would be okay, albeit very tired. If you had 1 meeting with 100-200 people you probably would be panicking. Fear enters. Why? Fundamentally what is the difference? How can you change this fear to actually become something that excites you and motivates you to be even more engaging with your audience?

The Journey
That 11 year old boy become a man who actually loves more people in the audience. The larger the audience the better. That 11 year old would not have believed you. It wasn’t possible. It isn’t possible. Are you believing the same lie I did for so long?

So what happened? Being comfortable in who I am and what I can do. I let go of the fear of being perceived a certain way and just be me, the real me, along with my mistakes, stammering and screw ups. How do you let go of that mask? You practice, you push yourself a little more each time. For me it was done a lot through performing guitar in public. I couldn’t avoid my mistakes. I had to embrace them.

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So I implore you to put down that theatre mask, the podium you hide behind and make yourself vulnerable. People will love you for it. Face your audience and let them see you. I mean really see you.

For those of you on this road, you never really leave it, but it certainly has a point when you can embrace that energy and not let it paralyze you. Where are you on this journey?

Put Your Co-workers and Boss in Their Place

Presentations have to be focused on the audience and not self-serving. No surprises there right? You wouldn’t expect anything else from me? Quite frankly that doesn’t go far enough! I am a firm believer that you should place your audience above  your co-workers, boss or anyone from your company. This might sound like common sense but reality can be a lot tougher than throwing out pithy sentiments.

Are you prepared to stand up for what is right for your customer, audience, or future advocate?

How about before you even begin creating your presentation? Great presentations start before the presentation is crafted. Understanding the true purpose is crucial to any meaningful presentation for your audience.

I recently faced the challenge of “the rubber hitting the road” on this very issue.  I was asked to present material that co-workers requested which I believed was self-serving and not in the best interests of my customer. I was challenged to follow my own convictions, beliefs, and opinions on what was truly valuable to the people that really count: the audience. Thankfully, I am no longer afraid to speak up even if it offends people in order to do the right thing. I personally don’t care who you are. I won’t go against my convictions and fail to stand up for the customers best interest even in the software selection sales process.

People have approached me recently to let me know how much they appreciate my openness and boldness in standing up against the craziness of boring and mind numbing corporate decks. Sure I’ve reached a point where I’d rather be unemployed than sell out. That being said, don’t think for a second that I don’t have a killer presentation in my back pocket that would serve as the first blog post if I was “let go.” 😉

I view myself as a guide for buyers inside of the software selection process. I want potential customers to make well informed decisions. I  have no interest in exploiting an opportunity to sell. I want to hold up my head with pride in 2-3 years when I walk back into that same company. The most valuable commodity I have is my credibility. I don’t plan on devaluing that currency.

Next time you create a presentation, make sure it’s truly for the primary audience. Don’t try to impress your co-workers, boss or anyone else. Knock the socks off the audience with a presentation that gives them everything they want and more.

EXCITE them,
SURPRISE them,
STAND UP for them.

They will thank you! Any company worth its salt will appreciate that quality in you. If they don’t, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t be afraid, move on to a new opportunity where Leaders Eat Last. They will provide you with a safe place to take risks, delight your customers, excite your audience, and hold your future advocates above that of any political corporate game.

Now raise your glasses and toast to creating some truly breathtaking presentations in 2014. Let’s turn the tide this year and make progress towards #KillingCorporateDecks.

Happy New Year

“Send Me Your Presentation!”

I despise those words. #DESPISE.

It took me a whole week to write more than that opening sentence. Despise captured my feelings and frustration towards the idea: that my value can be sent over e-mail. The implication that my presentation value can be captured in a PowerPoint deck irritates me no end. If that was the case, there would be no need to have me here in person. My communication would be pure and simply one directional. Spewing forth information about how wonderful our products are, and they are wonderful, believe me, or if not me, believe our advocates (customers).

My presentation is not my deck. I am the presentation. I present. The slide deck doesn’t present!

Stop and think for a moment. When did you last ask someone to reduce 80% of their presentation to a slide deck? It’s criminal in my mind. You think I am being too strong? Well bear with me. I’ll make my case.

Think about what you are really saying when you ask someone to send their presentation ahead of time for you to review? The statement is quite ludicrous. It’s patronizing. How do I send myself over e-mail? My presentation is not my deck. I am the presentation. I present. The slide deck doesn’t present! It’s a visual aid.

Slide Decks Are Visual Aids
I strive with my presentations and slide decks (yes they are not the same thing) to avoid beating you to death with boredom. I’m not delivering a white paper as my illustration. I am seeking to engage with you and share something I believe to be immensely important to you. If I don’t convey my message clearly I have done a massive disservice to you. I have failed you. I have wasted your time and reduced myself to being left out in the cold (see my “Are You The Best Leading Role, Supporting Role, An Extra or Left Out In the Cold?” post for more on this). This is something that I cannot afford to do.

The cost for you to not hear my message will be detrimental to your business, your story and your success. If I don’t believe that, I am in the wrong job. I need to quit. I  need to find a message and company I do believe in. The story has to be bigger than just me pedaling some software.

Hybrids Are Killing Us!
So how on earth can I dissolve all of the nuances that go into my presentation and send them in a PowerPoint file? Quite simply I cannot. So I don’t. I refuse (as much as I can). I get people annoyed because they all want and expect the slide decks. Really though, how useful are the slide decks you’ve requested? Do you give it one surface glance and then never look at it again? I know I’ve done that countless times. The only exception is when you are asked to give that same presentation (this crime will be the subject of a future post).

These bullet laden documents are worthless as handouts or leave behinds. They don’t convey the full story. They certainly destroy the story or leave it open to misinterpretation. Most presentations are lousy documents that I can’t read and understand in isolation. They are also equally lousy presentation material as visual aids. Somewhere along the line we went for a hybrid model and found ourselves in the sad mess we find today. It wasn’t always this way.

Before PowerPoint it wasn’t really possible to have so much text on our visual aids. We used white boards. It was concise. Relevant. To the point. Then we let technology get in the way of telling a good story. This hybrid of a handout and visual aid doesn’t deliver on either of its intended purposes. I maintain we need both. The visual aid and the handout.

It reminds me of the Windows 8 OS. Is it a tablet OS or a Laptop OS? It’s a miserable hybrid of the two. And from how the market is responding a lack luster attempt at hitting the nail on the head for either purposes.

So What’s The Alternative? Hard work 
This is where I expect a lot of opposition. Why? What I am about to suggest takes time and effort. It’s the right thing to do to stand apart, to bring value to your audience.

Two documents. Yes, two documents. Your slide deck and a handout / leave behind. Trust me this will make a difference and ensure as much as possible your  message gets across to those who were not present (or wish to review ahead of time). Of course if you can afford a film crew and make a quality video and post-production for embedding slide content I would go for that approach. Even that is not ideal. The presentation handout if requested is always appreciated by the audience.

Do not merge the handout and the slide to be one. That’s a mistake. Resist it at all costs. They need to be two distinct deliverables. To have your talk track on screen is a mistake. To send out a visual aid slide deck with no talk track is a mistake. Embed your slides into your handout and then have full written sentences that explain the message which the slide illustrates. It’s hard work. It pays off.

Hand Out

Know Your Nouns!

If you’re not using The Noun Project, I beg you to remedy that in your next presentation. It is single handedly the most useful tool for creating deck content.

Here’s eight reasons why The Noun Project rocks:

  1. Most likely, you think you are not very good at drawing and probably even worse when using a computer.
  2. The images are very simplistic, reducing the Signal to Noise Ratio (more about this in a later post).
  3. There’s a huge repository of icon images that can really help bring a consistent look and feel to your presentations.
  4. They are vector images. Meaning they can scale up to the size of a 3 story banner hanging on the Mascone Conference Center in San Francisco for the 1st #KillingCorporateDecks convention!
  5. You can choose the color for the image. This feature is no longer available with the latest update from The Noun Project as the PNG Project Plugin is no longer available. The good news you can have PNG files now direct from The Noun Project.
  6. You only have to purchase the images once you’re happy with them in your deck.
  7. It’s cheap! A lot of images are free, require an acknowledgement or can be used with no restrictions for only $1.99.
  8. The UI is gorgeous and inspires.

If you still need convincing, here’s an example of a slide I built using a few icon images found on www.thenounproject.com. It took about 25 minutes to build the slide. @dscofield uses this as her slide now. After all it was her mantra of “Experiment, Learn, Apply and Iterate.”

Total cost $5.97. #Priceless

Some additional tips when using The Noun Project:

  1. Use The PNG Project browser plugin which provides PNG files instead of SVG. No longer required. The Noun Project allows you to download PNG files directly.
  2. Be legal with your images. Give credit where credit is due. Pay $ when $ is due.
  3. Put links to the original images in your speaker notes. You’ll thank yourself later, trust me.
  4. Experiment using the different image color options.
  5. Favorite images that you like or use, it will be easier to find them later. This feature will be coming back soon!

Go ahead and start experimenting, learning, applying and iterating with your new found repository of icons.

#KillingCorporateDecks in Action

A couple of weeks ago I spent two days sharing Oracle’s E-Business Suite Extensions for Endeca (EEE) with some of our Oracle Partners (#e3Partner). As a side note, count how many Macs you see in this picture. Very close to 50/50! When I first used my Mac I would be the only one. Times are changing!

e3partner Training

During the course of the training session, I provided guidance on how to explain the benefit and value of the Endeca solution. My goal was to help our partners become better evangelists and advocates for the transforming power of EEE. My slide deck utilized the techniques I cover in this blog along with a few more that will be featured in upcoming posts. Stay tuned as some you will not want to miss.

Conversing with your data

I received quite a few many compliments from members of the audience after seeing my #KillingCorporateDecks approach, validating that this approach really makes a difference to the most important person in the presentation: the audience.

Can I have the slides?!! That presentation was really awesome. Refreshing. Loved it! 

I am invariably asked “What tools are you using?” Partly because most people cannot believe I am using PowerPoint. Using a Mac plays to their impression that Apple computers are made for cool artsy material. PCs are associated with bullets. It doesn’t have to be that way, but certainly I prefer to work on my Mac. #RantAvoidance.

Probably one of the favorite compliments was:

After seeing 4 hours of heavy dense decks, it was a much needed break to have visually lighter approach. 

Don’t confuse visually light with light on content. Most people when they present don’t speak to a lot of what’s on their slides. They have more information than they can share. This confuses the message but gives the presenter a sense of security. “Look at the level of detail I have. I really most know my stuff. I’m an expert.” Don’t kid yourself! I think Albert Einstein summed it up best.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. 

Are You The Best Leading Role, Supporting Role, An Extra or Left Out In the Cold?

The presentation is not about you. The audience should be the focus of the presentation, unless you are some egotistical maniac.

It’s really their story – you need to figure out how you fit in as a member of the cast. You are not the leading role; you’re purely a potential supporting role. The sooner you come to terms with that the more successful you will be in connecting with your customer. Yes, yes,  you’re special. Of course you are a snowflake. One of a kind. Very special. You know cause your mom told you right? Well I’m sorry to burst that bubble.

U2, The Black Keys & The Civil Wars

Realize that approaching your audience to talk all about yourself is obnoxious. It quite frankly doesn’t work. Let’s face it. No one is coming to listen to you because you are U2, The Black Keys or The Civil Wars. They come to listen to you because you have something that might benefit their story. Simply put, your story is of no interest to them. Get over yourself. Face the truth and change. The only other option is to be irrelevant and left behind.

When you present to an audience, your audience is actually assessing whether you are a key supporting role, an extra or just getting in the way of a good story. This is an audition. The future advocate (old term prospect) wants to see if you play a role in their story. They are not interested in being an extra in your story. They don’t care how amazing your product, your slides, your jokes are. Start with your customer. Start with understanding them. Know their story, how else can you show how you fit into their story.

So now while you are coming to terms with the cold reality that you’re not that important, go and listen to one of my favorite bands of all time. The Civil Wars. #ToughLove.