Popcorn PPT

November 7th, 2013

Alieke van der Wijk and Henk van der Steen have been turning up to Applied Improv Conferences for as long as I can remember. They have individually and together been a great inspiration to me, as well as often challenging my thinking.

At this year’s conference they again delighted with Popcorn PPT. I loved it, and immediately stole it. I’ve now used it twice – once with a group of 16 people, and once with a group of 100+.

It’s simple, of course. All the best ideas are. Put together 50 slides about your topic (preferably pics – forget the wordy slides, the complicated graphs, the impossible-to-see detail, the bullets) then get the audience to choose the three or five you will talk about. As I said, simple. Awesome.

Avoids you deciding what’s important and what’s not (you do anyway by choosing the slides – it’s just that you have to let go of most of them). Helps avoid the ‘curse of knowledge’ and wanting to share everything you know about a topic. Avoids being too linear – especially when the topic is complex (and most topics are) and adds an extra element of interest to the audience, and keeps you, the presenter, ready to respond to whatever emerges. It also takes way less time than your usual presentation.

Someone quipped it would avoid all that time preparing for a presentation. Um, not so. You do need to be prepared to speak to whatever slide comes up. As improvisers keep reminding us, improvising is not the same as winging it. I found the process of selecting images and thinking about why it was important to my topic helped focus my mind, and my message.

I think it would be cool to experiment with a string of these – next time a client absolutely has to have presentations as part of an event. Each presenter has 50 slides, the audience gets to randomly choose 3 (on the spot – not in advance), then on to the next presentation.


Sharing information

March 21st, 2013

IMG_6574Increasingly, I’m being asked this question of face-to-face meetings: “How can we make sure people have received our information unless we do a presentation?”

It is a well-intentioned question. It is (usually) a genuinely curious question. Those asking it do indeed have important information that they have for others. Sometimes it is potentially life-saving information, so we’re not talking trivialities here.

It’s often easy to do a presentation. It’s timely: you can present to a lot of people at the same time. It’s expected: no-one is shocked that you would choose to do a presentation. You can make sure you don’t forget anything important. And you can often adapt an existing presentation, saving time to get on with other things. You often get feedback that reinforces how useful it was to receive all that information.

So why consider anything else?

It’s the danger that the message wasn’t received at all.

Especially if there’s multiple messages, lots of information and supporting information.

There really is no way to make absolutely sure that your message was received. Unless you submit people to a test afterwards, and even that may only be a memory test. Further testing would be needed to discover understanding. All you can do it give your information in a way that maximises the possibility that people receive and understand it.

How to do that?

Provide ways for people to engage with the information in some way.

Here’s why this is harder to do. It takes more time. It takes more effort. It takes some different thinking to come up with ideas for how to get people to engage more. It’s often unexpected.

I think it’s worth the effort and the risk.

Here’s some ways to share information (you can find descriptions here). What ways have you shared information with large groups?

35, Sociometric choices, Essence, Facts and Opinions, Full Circle, ORID, Rip It Up!, Speed Dating, Story Spine, Survival, Trifector, Visual Explorer, Wave Analysis, World Cafe Lite.



Wish I’d thought of that!

September 7th, 2012

Doesn’t really matter what it is, when I see something I really like, a great idea, a new use for something, I invariably wish I’d thought of that.

I do understand that most good ideas are crowd sourced, or group generated – Keith Sawyer did a great job in his book Group Genius in debunking the myth of the lone genius. Still, it’d be nice to think of something that no-one had ever thought of before. Maybe our tribal origins (that’s pre-internet, pre-technology for those who are wondering) means we are always inventing and re-inventing for our own context. I’ve always thought this might be a reason why learning from others’ experiences is a bit dodgy – our own experience is a much more reliable source of learning, hence we need to make the same mistakes as those who came before us.

My latest target for idea envy is Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate. The hard copy version is bad enough (for envy, that is) – taking one of my favourite adaptations of the Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and applying it to presentations, but the on-line version, the one I just downloaded onto my iPad is frigging awesome.

Until now I’ve been happy enough to live with a foot in both the analog and digital camps when it comes to books. This on-line book with it’s videos, and interviews, and ‘behind-the-scenes’ notes, capacity to highlight and take my own notes, and to apply what I’m learning as I go, has probably tipped me right into the digital camp.

The centre of attention

June 28th, 2011

I’m reading a book about humour, and one of the questions its authors are exploring is the biological imperative for humour and laughter. Apart from the obvious mating game where women are attracted to men with a sense of humour (unless of course they are attracted to women with a sense of humour, but I digress) – there are apparently some complicated neurological reasons why we are pretty much addicted to humour and find pleasure in laughter. I know! Who would have thought? Seriously, when I work out what they are saying (which probably means finishing reading the book) I’ll try and synthesize their argument. This has an important purpose for me – I’m looking for more than anecdotal evidence to support my claim that the most serious issues and problems can be explored playfully. More on that later.

This got me thinking about the one-to-many approach that seems to dominate our meetings and conferences. Is there also a biological imperative for being the centre of attention? On the remote chance that there’s a scientist qualified to comment reading this, feel free to let me know. My guess is there’s some advantage in belonging, and in being seen to belong, in conforming to the norms of a particular group to ensure you get appropriate shelter, food, protection and even a mate. Difference is usually a sign of potential danger. So maybe we conform even when we know there’s alternative ways, simply not to stand out. Which doesn’t help very much in the whole centre of attention, one-to-many question.

So here’s another piece of the puzzle. Many of us would rather poke our eye out with a fork than stand in front of an audience and speak. And yet others of us get a buzz out of being the centre of attention. Whether we like it or not, it appears to be the norm – the one (or some-)-to-many situation: key note speakers, panels, and performers – stand up comics, bands, dancers, plays. What is consistent in all these situations is the passive audience, with the occasional opportunity to engage with those in the limelight. This is different to engaging with the content of course. It’s possible to be in an audience and deeply, emotionally engaged with the topic, the presenter, the performance. It’s also possible to be deeply bored and disengaged.

Why do we put up with bad meetings? Bad performances quickly get the message – they get better or get out of work. Critics and audiences make sure of that. So we’re happy to go to a performance on the weekend and give a standing ovation to an outstanding performance, and tell all our friends to avoid a particular play or band if we think they’re no good. Then we front up to work on Monday and sit through dreadful meetings, attend conferences where we hang out for the breaks (because that’s why it’s worth sitting through all those patchy presentations – so as we can catch up with the people we really want to talk to over a coffee). Seems like a lost opportunity to me.

At Gathering11 – a conference that wasn’t prepared to follow the rules (the only sort of conference I’m willingly likely to attend these days) there were two people in particular who influenced my thinking. Before I explain, check out this drawing. It illustrates different participation models: one-to-many; multi-hub (common in facilitated workshops and quite accurately depicts many community groups where they operate autonomously and are formally or informally connected, usually through individuals) and the distributed model where strong and weak links connect individuals and power, in particular, is distributed rather than resting with any few individuals. The model was first used by the Rand Corporation in the 1960s to describe radio networks. I have blatantly co-opted the model to describe different styles of facilitation. My aim is to work towards using more and more distributed approaches.

Using distributed approaches in meetings and conferences, trying new stuff and causing a bit of disruption is risky. Not everyone is going to like it. So what Adrian Segar said about this based on one of Seth Godin’s blog posts about Steve Jobs and an Apple product launch, really resonated:

Seth Godin on Steve Jobs: 2. Don’t try to please everyone. There are countless people who don’t want one, haven’t heard of one or actively hate it. So what? (Please don’t gloss over this one just because it’s short. In fact, it’s the biggest challenge on this list).

Adrian Segar: Designing events so that they will appeal to the least adventurous attendee guarantees the same-old snooze-fest. Event planners need to aim higher and use innovative formats, even at the risk of jolting people who didn’t expect to be jolted.

Yeah, jolting people who don’t want to be jolted.

Which brings me back to the two ideas that really resonated at Gathering11 in relation to this. John Hagel, author of The Power of Pull, talked about being on the edge and the power of pulling (attracting) people towards you by doing what you believe in and being who you are, rather than pushing against the existing models and ways of doing stuff that you’d like to change or influence. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that chipping away at the core is hard work, and rarely has much impact. It’s easier, and more effective to attract people away from the core towards new ideas and approaches. He said the most interesting stuff is happening on the edges. It’s fair to say that most of the people at Gathering11 were edge people, some doing extraordinary work, most, I’d guess, dissatisfied with the status quo.

The other huge influence for me was Heather Gold. It’s only on reflection that I can see that she epitomises what John Hagel is saying about using the Power of Pull – how small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion – with her approach to subverting (my word) the one-to-many model of presenting. Heather turns up at events, conferences and who knows where else, grabs the microphone, and instead of doing what is expected, but without being so different that it scares people, completely upends the one-to-many approach by actually doing it differently. She uses a techniques that she calls tummeling, or UnPresenting. Basically, it’s all about using the people in the room, surfacing what they know by having a conversations with them, weaving connections, reincorporation and seamlessly moving from a one-to-many approach to a distributed approach. It’s artful, it’s engaging, it requires guts and skill and having a 10-year career as a stand-up comic certainly helps. I’m really sorry I missed Heather’s workshop on tummeling. I’ve had a small crack at it and am itching to do more. I have a lot to learn.

In summary, I am still frustrated at the apparent acceptance of crap meetings and conferences, AND I’m going to continue exploring distrubuted ways of getting the most out of a group of people when they are in a room together. AND I’m going to remember the power of pull AND look for any opportunities I can to try tummelling. You’ve been warned.

A different way of working

May 24th, 2010

Here’s another cool RSA animation, this time by Dan Pink about his latest book, Drive. If you don’t have time to read the book you can at least watch this 10-minute video. It explores the paradox of rewards – that when we have enough money, more money is not a motivator. What does motivate us then is challenge, mastery and making a contribution. I really like the description of autonomy, and being self-directed, and giving stuff away. That, combined with collaborating, and connecting through social media, describe my current way of working. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

HT – Rob Paterson

Introverts Rock!

January 24th, 2010

I like this presentation on a number of levels.

I can relate to the content! The internet has been a boon for me. I think there’s a lot of advantages in being an introvert, but being thrust into a room full of strangers isn’t one of them! And let’s not talk about sweaty palms at the thought of face-to-face networking. (We’re not going to discuss my choice of work which keeps thrusting me into rooms full of strangers, okay?)

And I like the friendly, hand-drawn style. It’s a reminder that there are many ways to do Insanely Great slideshows (sorry about the blatant plug, but a girl’s gotta make a living!) And the suggestions are helpful and reflect my own experience.

From complex data to an understandable message

January 18th, 2010

Here’s a great example of explaining a complex concept simply. Hat tip to Nancy Duarte over at slide:ology where there’s more great examples of simplifying your message. I like this comment from Nancy:

“How would you explain your story to a friend who knows nothing about it? How would you get your grandmother to understand and be moved by your message? Before jumping into your next presentation, take a deep breath and remember that for an audience to comprehend your message, you’d have better luck by making it comprehensible.”

Help me with a pecha kucha presentation?

July 14th, 2009

Pecha kucha. 20 slides x 20 seconds each = 6 minutes 40 seconds. You can read all about it here.

I love this approach to presentations. I’ve yet to try it – but that’s about to change! I have to do a pechu kucha presentation on Thursday. That’s the day after tomorrow. I found out about two hours ago. That’s OK. I don’t mind a deadline. I like the challenge.

I have to present to a group of fellow consultants who I’m likely to work with in the future. They don’t know me and I don’t know them. We’ll all be using pecha kucha to share our interests and expertise.

I like this comment about a pecha kucha presentation from Felix Jung.  It should be ‘passion, not portfolio’. Nice.

And here’s where I’d like your help. Let’s make it a collaborative project. I’ll post the final product here.

From what you know about me and my work, what would you include in a 20 slide x 20 second per slide presentation?

I’m off to start work. Fun. Fun. Fun.

Insanely Great Slideshows – the story so far

June 26th, 2009

Since the age of 16 I wanted to be an agricultural journalist.

OK, that was after I decided that the prospect of becoming an astro-photographer was probably unlikely. I can still remember at about the age of oh, maybe 10 or 11, standing in the kitchen with my mum. She had on a green and white apron and there was lots of flour. She was baking. There were some of her friends there. Or maybe only one, I can’t quite remember. What I DO remember was an adult asking me that age-old question: “What do you want to be when you grow up, dear?” When I answered, quite seriously, “I’d really love to be an astro-photographer” there were guffaws of laughter. I couldn’t work out what they were laughing at, and I’m pretty sure my mum was horrified. She’d made it quite clear I could do anything I wanted. I’ve included this picture of the Iris nebula, 1300 light years away in the constellation Cepheus, because my mum’s name was Iris.Iris Nebula

As it turns out, becoming an agricultural journalist was no walk in the park either. I decided to learn agriculture first, then work out how to do the journalism bit. While I was fortunate to have worked out what I wanted to do at an early age, the obstacles seemed endless.

I’m not so good at science subjects. I struggled with chemistry, didn’t much like physics, quite enjoyed maths until I got a teacher who took all the joy out of it. I enjoyed english and geography and social science subjects. These days you can combine them. Then, way back in the dark ages of secondary education, it was maths/science or arts. Either or. Yes, but…

I wrote to every tertiary institute offering agriculture in Australia and New Zealand (this was way before computers and the internet) to find out the entrance requirements. Every single one of them said maths/science. So there was nothing for it, but to select maths/science, wave goodbye (metaphorically) to all my friends, my joy of learning and that wondrous sense of capability, and embrace subjects that I struggled with daily to understand. Of course, I still had english and a marvelous teacher who made everything else worthwhile.

Then there was the little matter of applying for agriculture courses. This was the early 1970s. Young women took up nursing or teaching or business, sometimes. Certainly not agriculture. Finally I found one that was accepting women, it was four hours drive away so it meant living away from home. I was in the first intake of women to be allowed to live on campus. That was after an Act of Parliament had to be changed. Did I mention there were a few obstacles?

Freisan Heifer on Road

So, agriculture finally sorted, I started on the pursuit of journalism. I landed on my feet with a job that provided me with journalism cadetship and working with some of the most talented people on the planet. This is where my love of words was nurtured, and where I discovered much more – typography, design, layout. And remember, I’d wanted to be a photographer once, so I already had a love of visual arts and images.

On to university for a degree in media studies where I discovered a subject called ‘Cinema Studies’. It involved watching movies, every Tuesday afternoon. Classic movies. And talking about them on Wednesday evening. How I loved that subject. I discovered subtext and storytelling and how movies reflect the world, cultures and events.

A few more jobs, branching away from, yet still connected to, my agricultural journalism roots. The ’80s & ’90s provided ample opportunity to be bold and creative, and in the mid 90s I started my own business, and completed a Masters in Agriculture & Rural Development. This was a real turning point. A self-directed adult learning masters with some fantastic professors who provided – and still do – amazing inspiration.

And so we fast forward to the present. I’m now a facilitator and a wannabe screenwriter. Along the way I’ve discovered improvised theatre, blogging and the Web 2.0 world. I’m fortunate to do work with fantastic people, sometimes in amazing places. My work has taken me all over Australia and to 13 other countries. Not a huge number in the grand scheme of things, but an extraordinary number for me who never expected such opportunities would emerge.

This week Geoff Brown and I delivered our Insanely Great Slideshow training. I’m loving this work, for a number of reasons. I get to deliver this with a friend, so much more fun than working alone. I get to indulge my love of typography, design, and photography (pity the love isn’t matched by talent, but it’s never stopped me in the past!) And there’s all the Web 2.0 connections – Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame, Nancy Duart of slide:ology fame who inspire; Slideshare to see what’s possible. It’s also about communicating, sharing messages, changing hearts and minds with story and emotion (much better than bullets!) And an opportunity to learn and build my own skills, to maybe inspire others.

And here’s my all-time favourite slideshow, using dynamic type.

The power of modelling behaviours

June 22nd, 2009

I’ve always understood the importance of modelling behaviours, although I’m not entirely sure where or how I learnt this. I do remember when I changed jobs, oh, 20 something years ago, and finding myself working with two amazingly talented people, Terry and Sarah (hi, guys, if you’re out there!). Terry was, and still is, a performer. Put him in front of a group and he would have them entranced within minutes, telling stories and captivating their imaginations in a way I’d never seen before. Sarah was a brilliant teacher – and also a performer. She gave the best talks I’d ever seen. I’m not sure how either of them learnt their skills, but I’m pretty sure I learnt a lot from them, simply by observing.

Fast-forward to now and I find myself in front of groups, yes, performing. I find it daunting and exhilarating in equal measure, and more often than not I enter a ‘zone’ where nothing else exists but what I am doing there and then. It’s a wonderful privilege and a great responsibility, so I try to model what I am teaching. Because let’s face it, more often than not, I am in a teaching mode – transferring knowledge and skills about facilitating.

So it is with great pleasure that I received these two pieces of feedback over the weekend regarding a slideshow that I had used as part of a facilitation event.

From a learning event in China: “Use of big pictures and key words (instead of sentences) was able to capture participants’ attention and focus more effectively.” And from another event in Zimbabwe: “It went really well…no bullets in my PPT!”

The feedback is indirect, but I think you’ll agree it reinforces the power of modelling how things can be. These people received no training from me about HOW to create better slideshows, all they saw was what I’d produced. If you want to see what they saw, here it is.