Archive for May, 2010

Presenting “Presenting” (Or “My Excuse for Posting My Prezi Demo”)

A shot from the edit mode of my first PreziHave you ever seen a nightclub comedian delay his act by taking an extra minute to adjust the focus and screen width of his projector?

How about the President apologizing during the State of the Union for the clicker on his presentation going backwards, rather than advancing to the next screen?

Without exception (I hope!), the answer is “no” to these scenarios. And yet, workplaces are nearly unanimous users (nay, addicts of) the presentation deck.

Yes, visuals can be powerful, complementary elements to a narrative presentation. A picture can indeed be worth 1,000 words; but too often, we use the words instead of the pictures (e.g., endless lists of bullet-point items) or we use pictures that still require more than their share of words to explain.

The most recent, high-profile example of this latter failure was a military document that got wide circulation, including front-page visibility in the New York Times, with “exhibit 1″ of bad slide use being an incomprehensible illustration of “American strategy in Afghanistan.”

It’s easy to “blame” Microsoft for its nearly ubiquitous PowerPoint, but PowerPoint isn’t the enemy. The reality is that good presenting – including the presentation visuals, be they pictures, presentation decks, videos, or other media – is the result of training, preparation, and rehearsal.

An iconic example of this principle is Sir Winston Churchill, who was famous for having invested one hour of composition, rehearsal, preparation, and polishing time for every minute of delivery. Thus, he would spend at least 30 hours for a 30-minute speech. 

But, you don’t have to go back in time to see good examples that you can use as models. My good colleague Thom Singer, for example, is a terrific presenter, successfully having built a professional career in speaking and writing. But, Thom will be the first to tell you that he credits many years speaking in the Toastmaster’s organization, as well as hundreds of informal and small group talks, as essential foundations for his early training.

Once you have the presenting part licked, there’s certainly a role for a powerful, visual presentation as a companion to your core narrative content. But, avoid taking the visual piece for granted. Be just as strategic about what you leave out, as what you put in. Some outstanding sources for tips, tricks, and techniques on producing good visuals including the following:

Finally, I’m a big fan of using different tools and modalities, both to fit the audience appropriately and (honestly) to keep the presentations fresh for me, as well. So, a few thoughts for you on keeping some “spice in the life” of your preso:

First, you might try a new tool. For example, I’ve recently experimented with a tool called Prezi, which produces a much different result than most of us are used to that is, frankly, fun to watch. Prezi is a cloud-based tool with a free version that I found relatively easy to learn.

You can watch my first Prezi, which is a short narrative promoting the marketing strategy work that I do, to get a feel for the possibilities. (It’ll take you 30 seconds to advance through; be sure to go all the way to the end, so you don’t miss the big finish.)  If you decide to try Prezi out yourself, two quick little tips that I learned through my demo:

#1 – use high-resolution art, as it helps with the scale and display quality of the final product, and

#2 – keep in mind that the free version lacks a private option, so you have to pick a topic that you wouldn’t mind sharing with the general public.

Second, in addition to a new tool, you can also try a new style, such as Pecha Kucha. First introduced as a design motif, the presentation adaptation of Pecha Kucha calls for a narrowly defined approach that is heavy on high impact visuals and that facilitates easy-to-grasp, relatively quick explanation.

Third, if you’re using PowerPoint, then try experimenting with some new elements. Obviously, the more that the technique you use matches the style and tone of your presentation content, the better. One that I’ve seen emerging as quite popular recently, not surprisingly given the increasingly 3-D world in which we live, is the 3-D or cube transition. Both Microsoft and third parties offer cube and other 3-D slide transitions, which also come standard in Mac software.

Happy presenting!

Wisdom from a $1,000 Book

I’ve been reading a fascinating book lent to me by a long-time friend, Brad Richardson, entitled The Future of Money. It was written in 2001 by Bernard Lietaer, who the “About the Author” section describes as, among other things, a former senior central bank executive in Belgium who “was closely involved in the design and implementation of the ECU, the convergence mechanism which led to the European single currency.”

Brad first mentioned The Future of Money to me probably four or five years ago at lunch when we were trading our usual local market business intel, along with other more esoteric subjects catching our fancy. We’re both avid readers and share similar tastes in systems-related subjects, so I made a mental note of the book title for a future read.

Years passed and then, at a recent happy hour, he brought up some ideas from the book in conversation again, so I asked him where I could get it. He suggested that he lend me his copy because, coincidentally, Brad had just been looking it up on Amazon.com recently, perhaps to see if the author had published something new, and that the book’s sales price was $500!

I accepted the loaner offer and picked up the book shortly thereafter, at which point Brad said he had just checked the price and it had gone up to $,1000 for a paperback copy!! See for yourself…

Now, being an undergraduate Economics major, I was fully prepared as I cracked open the black-covered book to begin slogging through macroeconomic, formulaic, arcana from the get-go. After all, I’d delivered my senior orals exam presentation on the global economic upside of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

So, I can personally attest to the authentic intent of a witticism like former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s, when he said “If you have understood me, then I must not have made myself clear.”

But, pleasant surprise, The Future of Money has turned out to be one of the most readable, straightforward explanations of money and its past, present, and future that one could ever hope to encounter. What I especially love about the book is that – from the very beginning – it sets the tone about its intention to demystify the subject for a layperson.

Here is a perfect example, excerpted from the Preface:

Fish do not comprehend the nature of the water in which they live. Similarly, people have trouble understanding the nature of money. We allocate a great portion of our physical, emotional, and mental energy to getting, keeping, and spending money – but how many of us really know what money is or where it comes from?

While I’m not finished with it, the key concept of the book is clear: that money is a major force for human, social transformation. Having entered the digital age we now occupy, author Lietaer argues that there is every reason (and opportunity!) to form new micro money systems, using complementary currencies (as opposed to alternative ones) alongside the conventional currencies, validating the potential of a model he refers to as “sustainable abundance.”

The essence of sustainable abundance can best be captured by understanding that it is a compensating response to today’s prevailing system. And what is today’s prevailing system? Lietaer describes it this way, in his best central banker language possible:

Our prevailing system is an unconscious product of the modern Industrial Age world view, and it remains the most powerful and persistent designer and enforcer of the values and dominant emotions of that age. For instance, all our national currencies make it easier to interact economically with our fellow citizens than with “foreigners,” and therefore encourages national consciousness.

Similarly, these currencies were designed to foster competition among their users, rather than cooperation. Money is also the hidden engine of the perpetual growth treadmill that has become the hallmark of industrial societies. Finally, the current system encourages individual accumulation, and ruthlessly punishes those who don’t follow that injunction.

Like I said, it’s a fascinating read. And, no doubt, I expect several of the book’s assertions and proposals to be further explored in Tapscott’s & Williams’ book MacroWikinomics when it comes out later this year.

In the meantime, if you are curious about the subject, you can either buy a personal copy of the book (trust me, you’ll be the only person on your block with a copy!) or browse some of the position papers Prof. Lietaer has made available on his website.

The Digital Identity Crisis Is Here

It is old news by now that, even as it approaches half a billion registered users, Facebook also infamously accounts for one of the most searched phrases in recent weeks, i.e., “how do I delete my Facebook profile?” among other variations.

It seems that as the Net Generation has entered the workforce and begun its process of professional acculturation, the desire to be a little more circumspect about one’s personal data has increased. I’ve been predicting this would happen for quite some time.

However, as I and many other observers with a bit of “gray hair” have written, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle. A good summary article in the NY Times entitled “How Privacy Vanishes Online” discussed how the minutiae of personal data that we provide online – our birthdays, our school and work histories, etc. – are pieces that can be assembled to supplement programs specifically written to guess more important personal identifiers, like social security numbers.

This sea of data minutiae is likely to increase, with more and more being captured that we know and that others know about us, as shown in the diagram from a research paper about “Pervasive Personal Identity” by nGenera.

At the same time, more is becoming known about us that we are either unaware exists in the hands of others or of which we are completely unaware about ourselves – in other words, totally new findings about our unique digital selves, as represented in the bottom-right “unknown” quadrant of the diagram.

So, how do we navigate this sea of identity, where it feels like we are less the captains of our own cruise liner and more the passenger on an itty-bitty skiff with no one at the oars? Fortunately, there’s a lot going on and, for those that want to get just a bit more educated about the subject, here are some resources for you to check out.

In terms of framing the “big think” aspects of the identity discussion, some excellent recent writing samples – all of which will lead you to other writers providing thought leadership – include the following:

Actually, Cameron’s list is augmented by members of the Identity Commons community. This community is the best center of gravity that I’ve run across for the combination of technical, educational, and legal proposals and solutions involving (digital) identity.

For example, the Identity Venn diagram is perhaps the best single representation of both the technology state-of-the-art and aspirational target of user-centric identity management. Of the three major circles in the diagram, two (SAML and OpenID) are slowly, but surely getting increased adoption.

It is the third piece – information cards, or i-cards – is the linchpin that is yet to really obtain a sufficient level of early adoption.  But, I believe the era of i-cards is coming. And open source projects like Higgins, are helping to strengthen the knowledge and code base for i-card technology so that (hopefully) they will be here sooner than later.

In the meantime, there are some simple steps that we can all practice to be more involved in managing our identities, just like the parental wisdom your mom or dad might have tried to impart with you when you were a kid about managing your money. These include:

  • Employ your own “listening” to know the unknown – anyone can set up a Google or Yahoo alert, which sends you an e-mail any time your name is used on the internet. Do it.
  • Actively manage your critical records and passwords – yes, it can be a hassle, but you need to manage your identity, just like you manage your career. So, simple regular housekeeping – like keeping your profile current and changing your key passwords from time to time – is a necessity.
  • Teach your loved ones about the value of personal information – while media attention about the changes to Facebook privacy controls is helping to educate younger generations about the permanence of data, they need to be reminded that “there is no delete key” for the internet

The truth is, your digital identity and your analog life are irrevocably connected; so if you don’t manage your identify, someone else will, by creating or perpetuating information about “who you are” that is outdated or incorrect. As the new turn on the old saying “You are what you eat” goes: “you are what you tweet.”

Why I Returned My iPad

I returned my new iPad last week without ever taking it out of the box. I ordered it in mid-March and, rather than get a wi-fi-only model on Day 1, elected to wait for the 3G model that was expected to come in “late April” according to Apple.

During the month, as I waited for my 3G, I started to see copies of the wi-fi model that my friends had purchased. Even though I knew what the iPad’s dimensions were and I’m a prior Kindle and netbook owner, the iPads I tried were still punier than I expected.

As I waited, I also started to think harder about how I would actually incorporate the iPad into my work processes. The fact that I knew it was coming without key features – lacking Flash access, no built-in camera, and no multi-tasking capability – was starting to weigh heavily on my mind. I mean, even my iPhone has a camera!

So, by the time the 3G came in the mail the last weekend in April, Friday, April 30, as promised, I was starting to regret my decision. It was delivered straight to my house by FedEx while I was away during the day, so when I got home I figured my tinge of regret would disappear once I opened the box and burst the shrink wrap.

But, instead, I hesitated popping the shrink wrap. I was a little tired after a long day, so I figured I’d open it up fresh the next morning, when I had the full Saturday to devote to it. Looking over the day’s mail that night, though, I noticed the latest AT&T bill, which includes the two iPhones we already own (mine and my son’s). “Oh yeah,” I was reminded, “this is going to add yet another data plan to our household.” On top of our broadband AT&T U-verse account and AT&T wifi account, the latter which at least I maintain at no charge through my Starbucks account.

Saturday morning came and went, rolling into Saturday afternoon and, even though the iPad was sitting on the kitchen table, it remained unopened. “Hey Andrew,” I offered to my 17-year old, “if you want to, you can open the iPad and hook it up to see how it works.” He didn’t; he was too busy apparently practicing his latest skateboard tricks.

Sunday likewise came and went, but still no movement on the iPad. By this point, the elephant in the room was pretty apparent – none of us could think why we would use this device. Sure, we were familiar with the hot new apps that several people had mentioned and/or shown us on the iPad.

In fact, I had complimented my niece Justine a few days earlier on the iMac/iPad bundle that she had just purchased for college – the desktop machine for her dorm and the iPad for portability and the ability to have all of her books (cheaper in digital form, as a bonus) wherever she went. With the bundle being about on par, cost-wise, with the cost of a Macbook pro laptop, I had to smile at the clever positioning – you’ve got to hand it to Apple on great sell-through strategy.

But for me, the compelling need just wasn’t there. Truthfully, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I were to purchase an iPad-style device, it would be an Android- or Chrome-powered machine, so that I could gain first-hand experience with the functional differences – people expect that kind of expert opinion from me.

So, come that Monday morning, I ran through the process of prepping the iPad package for a return. Apple has it mapped out pretty painlessly. The reason that I checked on the return merchandise authorization (RMA) form Apple provides? “Changed my mind,” I checked.

In fact, the only painful part of the RMA process was getting stuck with a $99 non-refundable charge (plus tax!) for the AppleCare maintenance option that I had selected when I pre-ordered the iPad. Apparently that’s too “hard” for Apple to reverse that part of a pre-order – meaning they’ve learned they can stick it to customers returning product without too many ramifications…the risk justifies the ill-gotten reward.

So, that’s the story of why I returned my iPad. In the end, I think intentionally or not, I wound up in the camp best expressed by Yale CompSci professor and author David Gelernter, who said “The iPad (though it’s beautifully designed and lots of fun) is transitional, like vinyl LPs (but likely to be much shorter lived).” 

PS:  Gelernter’s most recent essay for The Edge is recommended reading: “Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously.”

My day at the chicken farm

I spent last Friday with my brother-in-law – also named Steve – at his chicken farm, just outside of Moulton, Texas.

Steve bought the farm six years ago to “grow” eggs for Tyson, the second largest food production company in the Fortune 500 and one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef, and pork.

It was a terrific day, both weather-wise and just sharing the company of my brother-in-law. You can get a little glimpse of a day-in-the-life on the farm, in the photo essay I captured on my Flickr photostream.

As I drove out to Steve’s farm, about 90 minutes from central Austin, I was struck by a the thought of how, in such a small distance, it was both literally and figuratively a journey from one field of work to another entirely different field of work, with which I (and perhaps you, the reader) was somewhat familiar but yet so removed, that it was like traveling to a foreign land.

This, from a kid (me) who knows a thing or two about farming, having spent many a day in my younger years on my grandpa’s farm during summer vacation and, in later years when in college, spent a number of long weekends on the farm of my favorite professor, where we killed, feathered, dressed, and eventually ate both wild and domestic turkey.

But, I digress. Because, the other thought that I had as I drove to Steve’s farm was the TED video of Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame. If you’ve never seen the Dirty Jobs program on the Discovery channel, I encourage you to check it out sometime. But, even if you haven’t, you’ll enjoy Mike’s TED talk.

While it’s entertaining in its own right, as a pleasant example of good story-telling, the message in the talk that especially resonated with me is the following: innovation is wonderful, but without imitation, it’s nothing.

Yes, the genius of the invention that is Apple’s iPhone or Nintendo’s Wii is something marvelous to behold, but lacking the legions of laborers, factories, processes and task repetition required to produce the millions of circuit boards and packing boxes, we’d never be able to enjoy their ingenuity.

In this same way, at a more basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of human need, I enjoyed a day of simple, dusty, hot work and good conversation at my brother-in-law’s chicken farm, supervising the picking and packing of thousands of eggs that flow into the global food supply chain.

And my reward?  Let’s just say that the charcoal, t-bone steak dinner, washed down with ample servings of Shiner and Merlot, sitting in the cool breeze under a beautiful, clear Texas evening, wasn’t a bad way to wind down the week.

Forget the corporate paintball retreat; if you want an experience to knock you off your normal routine, I highly recommend a day at the chicken farm.


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