Monday, January 25, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part III: Delivery

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part III of the workshop: Delivery.
Presenter: Dr. Monica Bulger

While it is important to develop the content and visual impact of your presentations, the delivery of that content is an equally important--and sometimes overlooked--factor. Let's begin our examination of presentation delivery by looking to a pro: Steve Jobs. Check out this excerpt from his presentation introducing the MacBook Air.

What did you notice?

He really told a convincing story. Your presentation is not a dump of everything you know--remember to focus on the "so what?" aspect. Find the story in your data. You don't have to share every single finding, just what's important and/or what supports the story.

He made eye contact with his audience, including them in the story. Try to connect with at least 2-3 people in your audience. It will make you feel better and will draw the audience in.

His presentation is simple, clean (both in terms of visual impact and delivery). Notice that none of his slides had "titles." Think of the table he used to compare laptop, it was very simple: no column headings, not a lot of text. In terms of his delivery, the development of this product took years; people toiled over it. It would be tempting to put all that background info and data out there, but he would probably lose the audience. He didn't put all that out there, the level of detail in his presentation was insanely minimal! Focus on clarity and accuracy rather than on including every technical detail.

He speaks slowly. Every word has emphasis and the talk doesn't feel rushed. Rushing or speaking quickly (think back to our audience awareness tips) could make your audience feel anxious or uninterested.

There was a clear progression to his presentation. He took the audience from point A to point B and built up support for his "cause" along the way. Think about where your audience is at the start of your presentation, and where you want to move them. How can you lead them through that progression?

He had a STAR moment: when he pulled that laptop out of the envelope, everyone gasped and clapped. That star moment is what the audience will remember. What is your star moment? It could be a prop, a story, a data chart, images or pictures . . . but you want to have something like that envelope. You may even want to organize your whole presentation around your star moment. [see Duarte's slide:ology for details about STAR moments --> Something The Audience Remembers.]

While it didn't seem that Steve ever got nervous, it is important to have a game plan for if you get nervous. Think of something you can do or wear that will make you comfortable and shift the nervousness. If you freeze up, try asking the audience a rhetorical question. That shifts the focus away from you; they'll be thinking about the answer instead of staring at you.

For an example of a Bren group project presentation with two different presentation styles, check out the Green Pieces project video.

For additional examples of strong presentation delivery, check out Ted Talks. The Ted Talk organizers give their presenters the following "Ted Commandments."

  • Rehearse, but act spontaneous. Being too rehearsed is boring
  • Provide revelations. Be interesting; say something the audience isn't expecting.
  • Show vulnerability. Prioritize connecting with your audience, rather than being perfect. You're not expected to know everything (especially during the Q&A portion).
  • Don't be tedious.
  • Change the world.
  • Don't use bullet points!

If you have any questions, please contact the Communications Center to make an appointment. We are happy to help you with all forms of communication, not just writing!

Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part II: Visual Design

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part II of the workshop: Visual Design.
Presenter: Aaron Sobel

The descriptions below follow Aaron's slides.

Generally, there aren't any specific "rules" for designing a good presentation. Every presentation is different and you just need to do what works. That being said, here are some "rules" to go by for basic slide design!

  • Don't use bullets
Bullets are boring! You're probably used to seeing them frequently in your classroom presentations but there are two reasons for that: (1) your professors are giving multiple presentations every day; they don't have time to craft great presentations for every class and bullets are easy, and (2) the slides are often available online as a reference and need to be easy to follow on their own. However, those limitations do not apply to your group project presentations. Remember that you are the presentation, not the slides.

There are ways to keep the notion of bullets, minus the bullets themselves (see Patagonia map slide). For example, in this slide, we highlight key ideas overlaid on a (visually interesting) map. Each idea appears in bold, then fades out as the next idea is introduced. Consequently, you have some visual interest, there's still white space on the slide, there's a progression through the slide, and the audience can tell where the focus is (all without bullets!)
  • Know your presentation constraints and equipment.
Even if things look perfect on your computer, there are a number of issues that can come up in a new venue: the screen aspect could be different, there could be a washed out display or your colors may appear differently. Be prepared for these issues and whenever possible, try out your presentation at the venue in advance.
  • Avoid cheesy clip art.
Visual interest is a good thing, but cheesy clip art . . . not so much. Use pictures and data visualizations, but eliminate (or at least minimize) that clip art.
  • Think about font choice.

Font choice can put meaning into a slide . . . whether you intend it to or not, so be careful. It's also important to standardize your font choice--you don't want a different font on every slide. Font size can also be an issue. Guy Kawasaki (slide guru) suggests "Find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That's your optimal font size." (While this might not always work out, it's at least a good place to start.)

  • Consider contrast.
Contrast can either enhance the read-ability of your slides, or detract from it. Dark text on a light background (and vice versa) is good. Colors that are really close together on the color wheel (like green/yellow) are hard to read on top of each other, so definitely avoid that. Also avoid simultaneous contrast: when colors that are opposing to each other (see slide) are placed right on top of each other.
  • Avoid pixilation of images
You can actually tell Google Image to find images above a certain size threshold. Generally, if it looks good on your computer screen, it will probably look OK on your presentation. On a related note, if you have images that contain text, the text doesn't always look so great, so be careful of it.
  • Create "white space"
You don't want to cram your slides full of information. The audience's attention should be focused on YOU, not on the slides. A general rule of thumb is that they should be able to absorb your slide in 3-5 seconds. If it takes longer than that, the info on your slide is probably too dense.
  • Blank slides are OK.
As soon as you switch slides, the audience won't be looking at you, they'll be reading the slide. So if you're talking for awhile and you don't want your audience distracted, put up a blank screen. It gives the audience a "break" too.
  • Draw the viewer's attention

You don't have to weight everything on your slide evenly. If you have a key point or image, figure out a way to draw attention to it. You can use color, fadeouts, bold text, etc.

  • Split complex ideas across slides (and go through them faster)

You don't want to overload your audience, so if you have a complex idea, split it up into bite-size pieces. (This tip also ties in with creating white space.) Some of you may have heard the guide that you should have one slide for every two minutes, but that should be the exception, not the rule.

  • Images are absorbed easier than text

When your audience can absorb a slide quickly, it keeps the focus on you, where it belongs. You are the one giving the info, the slides are behind you supplement your info.

  • Use your own photos (of YOU & your group!)

Using your own photos makes it interesting and creates a personnel connection with your audience. You can also use your own photos online or in your poster (Just remember to keep them professional and give proper credit.)

  • Opacity
You can adjust the opacity in most slide applications, so you can dim out images to emphasize text, or vice versa.

And the final rule is . . .

  • Break these rules!
If we all followed these rules, we end up with similar looking presentations, which is boring.

Remember that YOU are what makes the presentation.

Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Responding to Fellowship Prompts Workshop January 2010

On Wednesday, January 26th, the Communications Center staff presented a "Responding to Fellowship Prompts" workshop specific to the Switzer Environmental Fellowship. A critical component of the Switzer application is a 2-3 page essay to provide the reviewers "insights into the personal motivations of the applicant as well as how his/her academic experience will be applied to environmental improvement." The essay is the opportunity to really show the reviewers who you are, what you are about, and why you deserve this fellowship (much more so than your resume, transcripts, and other application materials). The slides from the workshop are embedded below and a handout is available here.

The Switzer Foundation's requirements for a complete essay are rather numerous. There are 5 interrelated key topics that must be addressed explicitly, 6 qualifications that must be demonstrated in the essay but not necessarily addressed explicitly, and 6 additional qualifications that should be highlighted if they apply to you. The key to this essay is to cover all of the necessary criteria without being repetitive, long-winded, or incoherent. To avoid these pitfalls, we recommend the following strategy for mapping your response:
  • Copy the 5 key topics into your essay document
  • Brainstorm your experiences and qualifications for each topic
  • Use Switzer's "must demonstrate" and "highlight if applicable" qualifications as a checklist to make sure your brainstormed ideas hit on all the criteria
  • Organize your outline according to some theme (chronological order, type of experience, etc.)
Remember that your goal is to tell a natural story that will be compelling to the application reviewers and each vignette should have a purpose in demonstrating a qualification. Good luck applicants!
--Sara Solis

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part I: Audience Awareness

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part I of the workshop: Audience Awareness.
Presenter: Dr. Monica Bulger

When preparing for presentations, you need to think about your audience. Who are they? What is their background? What are their interests? One aspect of your presentation is to convince your audience of your big idea or main points, and in order to do that effectively, you need to have some idea of who they are.

Analyze your audience needs (adapted from slide:ology):
  • What are they like?
  • Why are they here?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • How can you solve their problems?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • How can you best reach them?
  • How are you going to connect?

You should also consider YOUR role in information delivery:

  • What unique expertise and experience do you contribute?
  • What are you desired outcomes?
  • How can you connect with your audience?

Learn to empathize with your audience to both meet their needs and accomplish your desired outcomes. For example, imagine that Sarah Palin is presenting to an audience of Mafia dons. At first glance, it may seem that they don't have much in common, but she could probably relate to them on firearms, strong family ties and political influence!

The main point is that audiences are very different (for example, the audience for your group project defense will be different from that of your public presentation). If you think about celebrity personas, such as Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, or Jon Stewart, they are all very flexible; they have an interesting enough persona to address different audience needs.

Consider your various group project audiences. We asked participants in our workshop to describe the audience for your public presentations in one word and received the following responses: receptive, supportive, sophisticated, varied (in knowledge & background).

So if the audience has a diverse knowledge level, who do you target? You may think you should aim for the "average" level, but since this is a school presentation, we recommend targeting just a few degrees down from the most knowledgeable person in the room.

Your family and friends will love you no matter what, and honestly, might not pay that much attention to the details--they don't necessarily have a burning interest in the topic; their interest is you. The next "knowledge tier" is your fellow students. The one above that is professors and community members who are interested in what you have to say and who will ask questions: that's who you want to target. The goal is to target the highest tier of your audience, when possible, without losing the rest of them.

(Above, Bren students brainstorm about their audience needs.)

When we asked our students to describe your GP defense audience, one student said "time." Yes, your professors are busy and pressed for time, but they want to be there for you, so think about what you can do to make it worth their while. Also keep in mind that the professors are there to ask questions that will help you improve your reports--they're not there to work against you!

If you know who your defense respondents are going to be, talk to people being advised by them, find out what they like. Better yet, find their Ph.D. students and ask them to come to a practice presentation and play the role of their mentors.

In addition to thinking about your audience needs, you should also consider YOUR role in delivering information to that audience. Spend five minutes thinking about what you have to bring to a presentation--it will help you be confident. As a start, you probably know your topic backwards and forwards!

  • Who am I?
  • How can I relate to my audience?
  • What is my desired result?

Another important point to consider: do you understand your topic yet? because if you don't understand it, your audience certainly won't. Be sure to find your message. Steve Jobs often refers to what he calls the "napkin test:" can you write down and explain your big idea in the pace of a cocktail napkin?

If you're not sure what your big idea is, ask yourself what do you want the audience to know before they leave the room? Then, make sure you foreground that one idea in your presentation. In your GP reports, there are going to be a LOT of ideas, but you can't get them all into your presentation: remember that you only have 15-20 minutes to get your big idea across.

The final point we'd like you to consider in terms of relating to your audience is presentation vs. story: talking at someone vs. talking to them. Consider your presentation a dialogue (which it actually will be during the Q&A portion). Use the formal presentation part to prepare your audience for the dialogue/Q&A: connect with your audience, use eye contact, empathize with them.

Stories can also allow for or enhance audience understanding; don't just do a "data dump." Think of your presentation as a story. What are the elements of a good story? Conflict, Structure, Resolution. Think back to your "big idea," how do you tell it as a story? What are the main elements you want to communicate?

After you think you've mastered "audience awareness," ask another group (preferably one that knows nothing about your topic) to come and view a practice presentation. Get some feedback from them as your new audience!

Additional Resources

And check back soon for our other Mindful Presenting posts. Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

Monday, January 4, 2010

Communications Tip: Develop Your Brand

Start the New Year with a resolution to develop your brand. What element will remain consistent whether you are a student, an intern, or environmental professional? You. Develop a brand that transcends your current position. You've already created your resume and cover letter, so what do you do next? Show what you know and develop your expertise. Here's a few tips to get you started:

1. Create a blog: The Communications Center uses Blogger, but there are several services available. You can create a blog in less than five minutes. Blogs offer an opportunity to show what you know. You are in a field that is a hot media topic, so take advantage of the attention to respond to current events. Show how your unique knowledge and experience inform your understanding of policy issues, climate change, and corporate practices. Use the blog as an opportunity to respond to articles you read, presentations you attend, or other blogs. Establish an online presence by blogging weekly or semi-monthly to associate your name with environmental issues when prospective employers Google your name.

2. Stay current: Use time you would usually spend on Facebook to stay current on issues in the environmental field. Undoubtedly, this practice will give you a competitive advantage. Select your favorite publications and sign up for their updates. For example, the New York Times will send e-mails whenever specific keywords are mentioned in an article (e.g., climate & change). Also, sign up for Google Alerts to receive daily notices of your keywords newly appearing on websites and blogs (hint: this strategy serves as a great way to stay abreast of issues involving a particular company/organization, too).

Ask professors and supervisors what they read and add these readings to your list.

Tracy Barba, VP of Marketing at Duarte Design compiled the following list of interesting environmental blogs for our ESM 437 students. Use this list as a springboard to familiarize yourself with blogs in your field:

Barba also recommends checking out green sections in the following publications:
Business Week
New York Times
Financial Times

3. Use your LinkedIn status to highlight accomplishments: Sure, LinkedIn is about making connections, but used wisely, it can be your best public relations forum. 2nd Year MESM students should have something like "completing Master's Thesis in watershed research" as their current status. Ph.D. students should use their status updates to highlight conference attendance and progress on current work. First-year MESM students can use their status to announce that they are seeking a summer internship or gaining experience in field work or GIS. Update your LinkedIn status about once per month or once per quarter.
While we're talking about social networks, be aware that prospective employers may review your Facebook or MySpace accounts. Be savvy about your privacy settings, but also be aware that there's still a chance that someone you friend may be a future co-worker. Start using your social networking profiles judiciously. Instead of posting pics of weekend revelry, post links to interesting articles. Establish yourself as a professional and remember that the Internet has a long memory -- use it to your advantage.

--Monica Bulger

Communications Tip: Resource for Grammar Aficionados

For excellent holiday reading, we recommend checking out the New York Times'
grammar blog:
The blog offers elegantly written treatises on important topics like when to use
"only" and how to write memorable leads.

Happy holidays from the Bren Communications Center!