24 November 2013

3 Killer Ways To Open Up Your Next Presentation

Having attended quite a few presentations over the past years, I can say today that speakers do not pay attention to how they open their speech. Most people treat their opening as any other moment of their presentation. However, we know that people decide whether or not your ideas are worth listening to based on how you start your speech. Think of how many times you looked for inspiring videos on the internet and made a decision as to whether to continue watching a particular video in the very first minute, or even seconds. Isn’t that true? We decide whether people are worth listening to mainly based on how they start.

So my question for you is, what are the most effective ways to open a speech or a presentation? How can you make sure that your audience do not switch channel? On a quest to know the answer to that question, I started studying and following the world’s best speakers to understand how they go about opening a speech. What I found out is that the answer is not unique. There are many ways to start a speech or a presentation in a powerful way. The one you choose depends on many factors, such as the topic, the audience, the circumstances and the way you feel more comfortable with.

I think the three most powerful ways to open a speech are the following:
  • Tell a story
  • Ask a provoking question
  • Reveal a shocking statistic
Below you find three great TED talks in which the speaker either started by telling a story, or by asking a provoking question, or by revealing a shocking statistic. For the purpose of this article, you can focus on the very first minute of each presentation. However, I suggest you to watch the complete videos since the speakers share important topics in an enjoyable way.    

(1) Tell a story

In this talk, Andrew Stantonfilmmaker and writer of Toy Storyshares what he knows about storytelling. And guess what, he starts by telling a funny story which then leads him to introduce his topic. You do not have to tell a funny story, you can tell a personal story or an emotional one. If you start by telling a story, you bring down the wall between you and your audience by making a honest connection with them. 


(2) Ask a provoking question

Simon Sinekauthor of the book Start With Whyshares his Golden Circle theory explaining how to become effective leaders and inspire change. His key message is that “people don’t buy what you do but why you do it.” How does it start? How does he make the audience care about his ideas? He asks a few provoking questions: “How do you explain when things don’t go as we assume? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?”. The answer to those questions is his core theme.   

(3) Reveal a shocking statistic

Since I live in England, I know who Jamie Oliver is. He is celebrity over here. And I also had the pleasure to eat in one of his restaurants. But I did not know he was so passionate about how food can save peoples’ lives. The purpose of his talk is to make Americans aware of how bad eating habits are killing them and their children and how we can all transform the way we feed ourselves. How does he go about making his audience care? He reveals a shocking statistic. “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat. My name’s Jamie Oliver. I’m 34 years old.” Before even introducing himself, he shared a shocking statistic. As TEDx organizer Jeremey Donovan wrote in his book How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations, one way to start a presentation is by sharing something unexpected that gets people disrupted.

Next time you give a speech or make a presentation, do not underestimate the way you start. Remember, people decide whether your ideas are worth spreading in the very first minute of your talk. Make sure your audience does not switch channel. 

IMAGE: Evan Forester via Flickr

17 November 2013

5 Top Tips to Design Technical Presentations

When I share my ideas on presentation design, many people tell me “Yes, you’re right! However, when it comes to making a technical presentation, your approach doesn’t work”. By “your approach” they mean designing simple and highly visual slides.
I believe this is not correct. As a general rule, any presentation should be as simple and as visual as possible, especially technical presentations. This is because when you make a technical presentation you run the risk of boring the audience even more than usual. Technical presentations usually include loads of data and details. Therefore, if you do not design them with the audience in mind, (1) people will get bored (2) they will not understand what you are talking about.

When I was at university I attended a course called Country Analysis. Part of the evaluation was based on studying a country’s economy and presenting the results to other students. It was a technical presentation indeed. Nonetheless, we tried to design our presentation with our audience in mind and below you see the result. I know many of the slides will not tell you much. However, slides are not meant to be self-explanatory. Slides need you! You are the presentation and your slides are only there to amplify your message.

5 tips on how to make any presentation visually captivating        

The following tips can be applied to any kind of presentation. There is no reason why a technical presentation shouldn’t be pleasing to our eyes.

(1) Make data simple
This point is particularly relevant to technical presentations. Make sure your charts and tables only include the essential elements. If something does not add value to your message, leave it out. This strategy will help you achieve the most important of all objectives: letting your audience understand and remember what you are saying.
Also, instead of using generic titles, why not write a short statement summarising your key point? (More on data visualisation here).

The usual grid behind the data you find in may graphs have been removed. The slide background does not disappear behind the graphs. Only the essential elements are shown helping the audience focus on what is important.

(2) Combine images and text
One of the most powerful techniques in visual design and communication is bringing images and text together. When people see something written, they will have troubles remembering it. If you add a picture though, the probability of your audience remembering your point will increase exponentially. However, make sure you choose high-quality images. Instead of searching for them on Google Images (as most people do) why don’t you use your own photos or higher-quality sources like Flickr, for example? 
As a side note, notice how text is sometimes placed at an angle. This creates a more dynamic feeling.

If you want to say that a country's economy is mainly based on tourism, you don't need to show loads of data and text. Just show a beautiful image with one statement. It will then be up to you to inform the audience about the facts. 
(3) Choose one typeface   
When it comes to typefaces, the two mistakes I see most frequently are (1) the use of non-professional fonts (2) the use of too many fonts. Choose one typeface only and stick to it throughout your presentation. Two could be okay too, as long as you have a reason for that. In the presentation above I used Gill Sans, a professional yet young typeface which also fit together with the blackboard background. Gill Sans, like other typefaces, is nice because it comes with a whole type family. This means that you can choose among different weights of the same typeface and that allows you to stress certain words or sentences while keeping a sense of unity. 

In this slide I used three different weights of the same typeface (bold, normal and light). The aim is to use hierarchy to guide the viewer's eyes. The big statement will be noticed first, then you will look at the data and finally you will notice the source.
(4) Use colour wisely  
The thoughtful use of colour is essential in any good design and has implications to the effectiveness of your message too. Colour can be used to highlight certain points, such as the key word of a sentence, or the key bar of a chart. Notice, for example, how I used colour to highlight the subject country of our studythe Bahamasin the bar charts. As soon as you show those slides, peoples’ eyes will first point at that particular bar. It’s a matter of contrast. People are naturally attracted by contrast (in colour, in size, in shape, etc.).

(5) Achieve unity
Finally, what you should be aiming at is to achieve unity. The whole presentation should be greater than the sum of the individual slides. There are many ways to accomplish that and some of them have been pointed out in this article. Using the same typeface, visualising data in a certain way, designing slides in a consistent manner, using colour wisely are all elements which convey a sense of unity. You may think of them as small details, but it all adds up.

Your audience will not consciously understand the design principles behind your slides, but they will understand that there is something different in your presentation. Those design principles will help you convey a sense of unity and harmony, which is the best gift you can give to your audience.   

10 November 2013

5 Simple Ways to Design Slides Like Billboards

Have you ever thought about how your slides would look like if they were designed to be billboards? If you think about it, good billboard design is like good slide design. If you pay attention to the design of billboards, you will realise that many of themat least the ones that are well designedshare common elements:
  • They are highly visual
  • The type is big
  • They have a lot of empty space
Why do you think billboards share those characteristics? The answer is straight-forward: billboards have to get noticed, be understood quickly and be remembered. Billboard designers know that people should be able to understand the message they want to convey within a few seconds, especially if they are driving.
In her book Slide:ology, Nancy Duarte says that "Presentations are [...] more closely related to billboards than other media... Ask yourself whether your message can be processed effectively within three seconds. The audience should be able to quickly ascertain the meaning before turning their attention back to the presenter."
Obviously the audience does not have the same time limitation of a driver, yet adhering to this guideline will limit yourself from cluttering your slides with unnecessary elements. Your job as a presenter is to make it easy for your audience to understand what you are talking about.
Since I live in London I am surrounded by billboards. I am not saying that all of them are well designed, but many of them are. I like to pay attention to the design of billboards because they are a source of great inspiration to me and I suggest you to do the same.
Among the many billboards I am surrounded by, McDonald’s stand out. I think McDonald’s is one of the brands which get it right. Below are some examples (some of them are snaps I myself took recently).

Notice how visual the design is. There is a lot of empty space and text can be easily read from a distance.

5 Lessons we can apply to Presentation Design

(1) Make it visual
Look at how McDonald’s use visuals to convey a message. A burger is used instead of the number 0, a fry with some ketchup gives the idea of “loading”. Remember the Picture Superiority Effect: concepts are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures rather than as words. 

(2) Make type big
Text in too many slides is impossible to read. Do like McDonald's, make type big! Guy Kawasaki has a funny take on this. He says that to choose the right dimension for your typeface, you should take the eldest person in the audience and divide his age by two. But don't follow his rule if you are presenting to a secondary school class. I don't fancy following strict rules, but in general I would suggest you to use at least 30 points. 

(3) Rule of Thirds
McDonald’s don't follow the Rule of Thirds strictly. However, if you start looking at how they design their billboards, you feel they pay attention to it. So should you with your slides. Don’t necessarily follow the Rule of Thirds rigidly, but be aware of it and use it when it makes sense.

(4) Empty space
This is my favourite design concept. Look at the billboard with the fry. One element, one word, that’s it. Empty space is a fundamental principle of good design. It is the empty space that makes the positive elements of your design stand out.

(5) Have a visual theme
When you think of McDonald’s, I am sure the colours that come up in your mind are red and white. Isn’t that true? This is because McDonald’s have a consistent visual theme. When you make a presentation, you need to make sure that the final result is greater than the sum of the individual slides. You need to convey a sense of unity. Unity can be achieved in many ways. You can use the same background colour, the same typeface, a certain colour appearing throughout the presentation, a particular element which repeats itself throughout the slides. However, you don't need to use a pre-defined template found in the software. McDonald’s is able to convey a visual theme without having a pre-defined template.

Design lessons are everywhere. You can improve your presentation design skills even on the street, as long as you pay attention to what surrounds you.  

IMAGE: Jennifer Snyder via Flickr

3 November 2013

The Three Secrets of Communication

A few days ago I have been lucky enough to discover a video of a lecture Carmine Gallo gave to some students at the Stanford University. Carmine Gallo is the communication coach for the world’s most admired brands and author of the best-selling book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. In this lecture he pointed out three secrets all inspiring messages share. Whether you are an entrepreneur, an employee, a student or even a professor, I do recommend you to watch this video, there is so much you can learn from it. However, for those who are too busy I summarised his ideas here.

According to Carmine Gallo, there is always a story to tell and everyone has the ability to tell a better story to inspire people. He says that a message is inspiring if it is:
  • Understandable
  • Memorable
  • Emotional
The good thing is there are specific techniques you can start using today to make your message understandable, memorable and emotional.


There are many techniques you can use to make your message understandable. The one Carmine Gallo shares with the Stanford students is: Creating Twitter-friendly headlines.
You all know that the longest tweet you can share is 140 characters. Creating Twitter-friendly headlines means that you should be able to explain what you do in 140 characters or less. If you cannot describe what you do in a sentence, think about it until you can.
Why should you create Twitter-friendly headlines? Because “the brain craves meaning before details”. The brain wants to see the big picture first. Therefore, before going into details you need to make it easy for people to understand what your purpose is. Many companies have created a mantraa one-sentence visiontelling the world what they do:
  • Nike: “Authentic athletic performance”
  • Target: “Democratize design”
  • Mary Kay: “Enriching women’s lives”
If you ask Larry Page and Sergey Brin what Google does, all they’ll tell you is “Google provides access to the world’s information in one click”. That’s it!
Ask yourself: “How can I explain my idea in 140 characters or less?” I asked myself this question and the answer I came up with is “Echo Presentations help people tell their stories trough a presentation that rock.”


After you have created your one-sentence vision, you need to make sure this is memorable. Again there is more than one way to make your message memorable, but I particularly like one technique Gallo explained. This is something he considers “one of the most powerful techniques in communication”: the Rule of Three. The Rule of Three means that in short-term memory we are only able to process about 3 pieces of information, not more. So next time you make a presentation, don't overload your audience with 10 points, just give them 3 reasons why they should care about your idea or your work.
It is interesting to see how the Rule of Three is embedded in our society, even if we do not pay attention to it. Carmine Gallo gives some examples:
  • Nike: “Just do it” 
  • Obama: “Yes we can”
  • The colours of most flags are three
  • The three musketeers
  • Many companies have three letters in their logos (DHL, IBM, SAP and many more)
This is the way our mind works. Our mind likes to see groups of three.


Making a message understandable and memorable is not enough. Great communicators make it emotional too. John MedinaProfessor of Bioengineering at the University of Washingtonsays that “the brain does not pay attention to boring things”.
Let’s say in a few days you have to give a presentation to your boss, customer or professor. I am sure you don't want to make a boring presentation. One way to avoid this is to make it emotional. How do you make a presentation emotional? Well, tell stories! Tell stories about your product, tell personal stories or stories about your customers. A case study is a story. When you tell stories you are making an emotional connection with people. Great communicators tell stories. And when you tell stories, think visually. Carmine Gallo explains what the Picture Superiority Effect is. When you deliver information verbally, people remember 10% of it. If you add a picture, people remember up to 65% of what you say.
To my astonishment he reveals a sad figure: the average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. This is way too much. People cannot read and listen to you at the same time. If you want people to listen to you, you need to include as fewer text as possible. Seth Godina great public speakersays that you should never use more than 6 words on a slide, no matter how difficult your concept is. Thinking visually takes work. It is hard to do but it is worth it.

Next time you'll make a presentation, make sure you articulate your idea in a way that's understandable, memorable and emotional. If you do that, you will win people over.

2 November 2013

My First Piece of Art

Today I am very excited to announce that I have created my first piece of art for someone else (please allow me to call it this way).
This is a presentation I made for an Italian company looking to enter the beer market. They had carried out a market research first and needed to present it internally.
This is the result!

I hope this work is only the first in a long series.