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!

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.”

Create your personal Tag

I was at nGenera’s annual Fall All Member’s meeting this week in Memphis and ran across Microsoft’s Jerry Carlson at Day One’s closing reception. As we stood within inches of the biggest pile of Brie I’ve ever seen and a table full of crackers, Jerry showed me and my iPhone-loving colleagues a cool little app they have in the app store.

It’s called Microsoft Tag and here’s how it works. Step 1 involves going to the iPhone AppStore and searching for Microsoft Tag (a free app) and installing it on your phone. It only takes a few seconds, even in the middle of an historic downtown hotel in Memphis (The Peabody) where the walls are thick and the brie is thicker.

Step 2 involves taking a photo using the Microsoft Tag iPhone app – in this case, a photo of Jerry’s business card. As you can see in the pictures, Jerry carries a special version of his around with him that is laminated. Side 1 is the typical name, address, phone, etc., which is basically irrelevant for the purpose of this exercise. Side 2 is the photo tag, which is the important part.

What you do is aim your iPhone close enough to the photo image on the card to get a reasonable amount of light and clarity. Then you touch the photo button, just like on the iPhone native camera and, voila, the screen on your iPhone app indicates to you that the image was successfully captured by displaying a little green box around it.

If the image capture fails, a little red box appears around the image and you simply retake the shot. Since we were in a modestly dimmed reception hall, it was after hours, and the enormous container of brie was causing a shadow effect, it took the third try for to get the green box.

But, once you have the green box, Step 3 involves pressing the little button that appears at the bottom of the iPhone Tag app, which asks “Use.” The, next thing you know, up pops Jerry’s contact info in an iPhone contact record, ready to be merged into an existing contact record or be created as a new one in my database. Pretty cool.

After Jerry in rapid succession talked four of us in a row into loading the app, we all chatted for a few moments more about the practical implications of such a technology. Jerry said there is a lot of experimentation going on presently to see where this fits in the universe of other item identification options, which obviously range from barcodes to RFID to Bluetooth.

That led us to a further discussion about pervasive personal identity and the digital self, which I just posted about this week on nGenera’s Wikinomics blog. The topic with Jerry being what Microsoft is doing to help advance the ball on new models and technology for identity management. Jerry referenced us to Microsoft’s Geneva initiative, which was recently launched under the name Forefront and is, for all purposes, the next generation incarnation of Microsoft Passport, if you remember that.

We had a brie-f chat about some of the future scenarios of federated identity management models and then it was off to dinner on Beale Street, the Memphis mash of Chicago’s Rush Street and Austin’s 6th Street – neon and barbeque.

Adventures in Reality

Anyone who has followed any of my writing knows that I’m fascinated by the man-machine continuum and especially the fluidity of technology, as we use it in physical lives, virtual worlds, and augmented realities.

Not a day goes by where there isn’t something new that further informs and fills in the gaps of this physical-augmented-virtual continuum. I’ll pull one item of interest from each of these realities.

monolith-from-WiredFirst, physical reality. One of the things I totally dig about the ubiquity of microprocessors, especially in increasingly “smarter” mobile phones, is the ability to have them real-time “crunch” data that enriches your life – your problem-solving, your choice-making, and your other actions – when and where you need it.

A number of good examples were showcased at a Government 2.0 Expo/Summit earlier this fall that I’ve written about. One that I regularly cite, because we’ve all been affected by it, is a public safety mobile app. Called “Are You Safe?”, this app actually provides a visual gauge that mashes together localized crime data and your GPS-detected position, giving you a real-time indicator of crime.

While one could argue this being a “leading” or “trailing” indicator, nonetheless I’m fascinated by the concept. Just think of the other real-time indicators that one could receive by crunching data sets: climate change/environmental indicators, infectious disease monitors, etc.

Second, augmented reality. I read about a little DIY video off of Slashdot that caught my eye, featuring the provocative headline of building your own virtual reality goggles using an Android-enabled phone. Now, the video is cute, thought not something I would take the time to do, kind of in the spirit of the popular Nintendo Wii video that was the rage two Christmas seasons ago, when an engineer showed how you could reverse the motion tracker that comes with your Wii system to create immersive, 3D games.

But, what I found more intriguing (as usual) were the comments in the slashdot commentary. I especially found this one to be immensely intriguing: “What would actually involve a bit of innovation is if someone hooked up those glasses to, say, a pocket beagleboard or similar device capable of video output, and ported/hacked Google Street View to output stereo information…”  Think about that for a moment: you’ve just created a relatively low-cost device that enables a blind person to “see” the precise details of their surroundings, real time!  Now that is life altering augmented reality.

Third, virtual reality. For this one, I actually want to draw attention to the work of Aric Sigman (http://www.aricsigman.com). Sigman, Baroness Susan Greenfield, and others have been documenting the consequences of a sustained, increased participation in highly immersive virtual worlds and commensurate decreased “physical” world participation. To quote from Sigman’s article “Well Connected” in the February issue of Biologist earlier this year:  “While the precise mechanisms underlying the association between social connection, morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated, it is clear that this is a growing public health issue for all industrialised countries.”

Hear, hear.  My recent personal reflection on how too many people emphasize the “media” part of “social media” and don’t appreciate enough the importance of the “social” – especially the physical, human contact aspect of social – is an affirming data point of one.  Now, let me hear from you!

Gov 2.0: Silicon Valley-style

Last week, I attended the inaugural Government 2.0 Expo and Summit by O’Reilly Media, co-produced by Techweb. It was a well-attended event and I learned a lot – much more than I could talk about in any one post. So, over the coming days, I’ll be highlighting a series of posts about the topics, people, and technologies that were featured at the event.

Before diving into any one area, though, I’ll share a few high-level impressions…

First, Tim O’Reilly, namesake of O’Reilly Media, has done a nice job of using his access to (and support of) administration principals as a way to build relationships with leaders in agencies and is an unabashed cheerleader of “government as a platform.”

Even though others – including my own company, New Paradigm / nGenera – have had active “Government 2.0” syndicated research programs and member events for a couple of years, O’Reilly has used his attribution for coining the phrase “web 2.0” as an opportunity to (re)claim “government 2.0” from a publishing and thought leadership perspective.

Second, not surprisingly, given the organizer’s tech-heavy center of gravity, the audience composition felt like it was evenly composed of one-part Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs and one-part DC-based large systems consultants/contractors, with a tiny dash of attendees from the “fly over” heartland of the US or international. 

And, as one might expect from those two main locations, the average age difference between the West and East coasters was about 8-10 years, by my anecdotal guess, with Easterners being the elders. Given this concentration of youth and valley tech:  

  • There was an obsessive over-representation of the visual, programmatic and evangelical, but a large-scale lip service under-representation of critical process change, methodology, cultural dynamics and impacts.  (More about that in a future post.)
  • In fact, the only ones that spoke intelligently about those issues were the government reps themselves, although it was clear they were relying heavily on existing, traditional SDLC frameworks, leadership approaches, etc. 
  • The one exception was Eric Ries of Kleiner whose “lean start-up” discussion was an insightful reference, but again, moreso from the perspective of the “developer of a product” and not “the implementation of an in-house enterprise solution” – see:  http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/
  • But to balance Eric’s keen-eyed observations were some almost comically evangelical presentations by a couple of the web 2.0 outfits, perhaps made more frenetic by a Demo-esque “rapid fire” format used several times to pack some quick examples into a series of 5-minute pitches by company founders. A memorable one in this vein was MeetUp.com in which the co-founder spoke so fervently about the miracles of human, social interaction you’d have thought they invented it.

Third, while the overall theme was “government as a platform,” the descriptive sub-heading to that theme might well be have been: “federal government as a provider and protector of public data, and private sector a developer and implementer of web 2.0 services at all levels, from hyper-local to national.” Because of this sub-heading, there was enormous focus placed on data.gov and advocacy of further release of all forms of data via the open gov initiative.

There were some truly amazing web services that were demonstrated in healthcare, public safety, intelligence and defense, and municipal services, including:

  • At the federal level, I was very impressed with the Apps for America winners:  Datamasher, ThisWeKnow and Govpulse. 
  • At the state level, I was surprised at the lack of applications targeted specifically for the needs of states or similarly large geographic regions, such as provinces.
  • And at the local level, I felt there was significant redundancy in some of the business implementations and objectives of several of the gov 2.0 services described, such as: http://www.neighborsforneighbors.org/, http://seeclickfix.com/, and http://fixmystreet.com.

To that end, I was pleased to see the work of TOPP and its objective to serve as kind of a gov-oriented sourceforge for services developed by different groups and jurisdictions, to promote a much higher degree of repeatability and improvement of best practices/strongest common code bases.

In summary:  a strong inaugural event that has good momentum going into 2010, during which the Expo and Summit will be split on the calendar as spring and fall events.  And, for everyone that was unable to attend, I encourage you to catch a large majority of the videos on BlipTV.