An experiment with sharing processes

June 14th, 2009

I’m often asked for notes about the processes that I use, so I’m experimenting with using slideshows to describe processes. My first attempt is with one of my favourite activities called Pass the Zap! This might be a step before making some animated videos.

I’d really be interested in your feedback. Thanks.

This week’s cool links

June 13th, 2009
  • This simple idea is so effective, and creative – love it! Thanks to Patti for the link.

  • Les Posen is a fan of Keynote and audience-centred slideshows (as am I, and that’s where the similarities end!). I aspire to his level of understanding and competence with Keynote. This is is an interesting post about his recent meeting with the Keynote developers. Here’s a few bits to whet you appetite:

…my take on presentations was both complementary to Garr [Reynolds] and Nancy [Duart], but also came from a different place, away from designper se, and more from human learning and the brain sciences.

I showed how contemporary media are employing some of the graphical designs I too employ in my slide construction, and why.

What’s at the heart of Presentation 2.0? Think for a moment where we are now with Web 2.0. There is a direct line between service and product provider, and consumer, such that consumers or end users can blog, or tweet, or facebook about providers and influence the decisions of other potential consumers. We get valid information about product reliability for instance from bloggers and commenters on blogs, as much as we do from mainstream media reviewers. Think about the reviews you read on Amazon which includes “official” editorial contributions and reviews by purchasers, perhaps much more like us, and thus to be considered more reliable than biased writers.

Put these the concepts together, as I did to the KN team, and you come up with two properties in short supply currently (or more than ever before): Authenticity (who do you trust) andAttention (who should I attend to, given competing sources of information and competition for my time?).

I wanted the Keynote team to understand that when I construct my slides these two ideas stay in my mind, and they are more to do with my audience than they are with me. I need to establish my Authority and Authenticity for my audience to keep engaged, and I need to know how the brain works, so that despite my endeavours to increase the former two A’s, I embrace the challenges to the other A, Attention, which can wander due to how our brains function.

I spoke of these concepts early in my presentation, because it helps explain why I choose to perform certain slide constructions, and how I contemplate the intended impact on particular audiences.  Now I don’t know how any individuals in the KN team responded to my audience-centric approach, but I do know on occasions in responding to their questions, I had to work a little to get my point across, given the team is very much about the end user experience. But in my case the end user is myaudience, and Keynote merely a tool to achieve a particular series of effects upon my audience.

  • And if I had the means, maybe I should introduce Graeme Pearman to Les Posen. Graeme Pearman is one of Australia’s most eminent scientists with an international reputation in climate science. I heard him speak once. There was no doubt about the veracity of his science, the urgency of his message and power of his evidence. Pity about the powerpoint preso though! There’s an article in todays’ Melbourne Age newspaper by Jo Chandler (yep, I still read newspapers) that explore’s Dr Pearman’s excursion into behavioural science to try and understand our inaction on the climate change message. Here’s a taster:

[Pearman] had a revelation. He had  been suffering under the delusion that as knowledge of the physical world improves, ratoionalt-based information would lead to rational responses to such threats as climate change.

What behavioural scientists tell us is that rationality is circumstantially based. So what is rational to me is not rational to the next person because they come from a different circumstance. They also tell us that when we are confronted by a threat such as climate change, people experience many alternative emotions, and employ different coping mechanisms. The anxious might deny; the sad might avoid; the hopeless become resigned; the frustrated, cynical; the depressed, skeptical; the angry, just fed up.

Lessons from the field

June 10th, 2009

After eight days of facilitation training in Indonesia, what did I learn?

Before I answer that, a bit of context. I was working for an international aid organisation. Some 55 people took part in the first three days, then 30 of them disappeared to take part in an emergency simulation. The remaining people stayed to learn more facilitation and prepare to debrief the simulation – which also included local staff, bringing the numbers on the day up to 100+. The final day brought the original 55 back together for a review.

It was, at times, challenging, tiring, exhilerating, fun and ultimately satisfying.

Slideshows and interaction can work!

For many years I refused to even entertain the idea of including a slideshow (aka powerpoint presentation) in any facilitation. Then I discovered Keynote (the Mac equivalent of powerpoint) and Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame. And my friend Geoff Brown and I started experimenting with slideshows. And we created a training program called Insanely Great Slideshow Presentations. So it was only natural that I would make a slideshow to 1) ease people into the training 2) demonstrate an alternative to crappy powerpoint and bullet points 3) ensure I had a plan for the first day at least 4) prove to myself that I could integrate a slideshow, and interaction. If you’d like to see it I’ve loaded it here on slideshare.

Doing beats all other approaches

Telling is telling, demonstrating provides a frame, participating gives perspective and doing it yourself is really the only way to actually learn. Having an opportunity to prepare and practice using different facilitation techniques builds confidence to actually facilitate.

Having a real facilitation experience to work towards focuses attention and provides multiple learning opportunities, as well as a sense of achievement

The post-simulation debrief provided a real facilitation experience for the trainees. The day was designed in advance and incorporated a number of facilitation techniques, including some that were not planned for! The shift from one venue to another provided an excellent opportunity for the trainees to experience the decision-making associated with staging an event in a less-than-ideal venue.

Improv rules!

Sure, I know I sound like a broken record, but that’s because improv has become fundamental to how I facilitate. And I also believe an understanding of improv principles provides a fast-track to better facilitation. This was proven during this event. I’d introduced my six favourite improv principles for facilitators: Be Present, Accept Offers, Let Go, Make Mistakes, Be Average, and Do Something. I think they provided permission to ‘have a go’ – to see every opportunity as a learning opportunity rather than pressure to perform. During the simulation debrief with 100+ people in a room suitable for probably half that many, facilitated solely by people who had learnt many of their facilitation skills only days before and with a frenetic pace I saw many examples of improvised facilitation in action. I only had to ask once and someone would step up to help, to facilitate a process they’d only seen and participated in once before. They knew it was okay to make mistakes, to accept offers, to be average and present to what was happening, to do something if they got stuck and to let go of expectations.

There’s always an alternative

Okay, so I’d planned to incorporate juggling as an activity. Alas, no juggling balls. Could we buy balloons, and rice? We’ll make our own. The activity was a hit. I’m sure no-one knew it wasn’t planned (although they will now!)

Themes emerge

After a few days a theme of ‘catching the ball’ emerged, fueled by juggling balls, group juggling, improv games and outdoor activities with the physical resilience guys. The ball became a recurring theme – albeit unplanned, and unexpected, but a theme nonetheless.

Even the most basic facilitation skills can make a difference

Not everyone is going to become an ace facilitator. Not everyone wants to. But everyone can incorporate some understanding of facilitation, and the power of interaction, into events they design or lead. And this can make a big difference. Or just a little difference. That’s okay.

Stamina helps!

Don’t skip breakfast. I did one morning. And paid the price later in the morning when I simply ran out of energy. I was unfocused, weary, had trouble making decisions and felt flat. This level of facilitation requires stamina. And that requires fuel. And fitness. I need to be fitter to do more of this work.

Schedule long breaks

We scheduled 1.5 hours each day for lunch, a day off and another free half-day. Learning facilitation is intensive work. Having time and space to relax helps people to integrate and consolidate their learning. There’s a tendency to cram as much as possible into the time available. This is a case where less is definitely more. Once people are tuned into facilitation there’s plenty they can learn along the way. If we scare them off on their first encounter there’s little chance they will pursue further learning.

I’m sure there’s more lessons that will emerge as I continue to debrief this experience. This’ll do for starters.

Resources for Facilitators

February 2nd, 2009

Facilitators like me have traditionally drawn on processes, activities, and often the wisdom and experiences of other facilitators for inspiration when designing workshops. Today I had a completely different experience. I promised I’d develop a slide show for a group as a thought starter for a discussion. I identified the key messages, developed a rough story board and started to search for information and pics I could include. Having little luck with google searches I put up a Twitter request…




… and within three minutes I had this response





So off I went to YouTube and did a search with the key word ‘exponential’. This is what I found within a few seconds.








I watched this 5 minute video made by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Bronman, and it’s perfect. I have saved myself hours of work in creating an original slideshow when there was one already made that fit the bill. Brilliant.

BTW, I made these copies of Twitter and YouTube using Skitch (hat tip to Brenda Moon for introducing me to Skitch).

Oh, and here’s the video if you’re interested in watching it.

Using word clouds to find the core

January 29th, 2009

I’ve thought of another use for wordle.

Geoff Brown and I have developed a training program called Insanely Great Slideshow Presentations. In this training we help people take all the information they want to present in a presentation and prune it to the core messages. For a lot of people this is very difficult. It’s a case of ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’. 

And while playing with wordle I wondered if it could be used to help highlight, at the very least, the key words – those ones that are repeated often (because wordle works by giving a larger font size to more often used words). So I took a paper I’d written about improv and spontaneity and tried it out. Here’s the result. It just may provide enough of a focus to kick-start the story-boarding process. Will keep experimenting – and if you try it out, please let me know if it’s helpful.







Rediscovering typography (and converted to slideshows)

December 13th, 2008

I’m rediscovering typography.

Way back in the 1970s, when I got my first job, fresh out of agricultural college, I fell into a job that would shape me, influence my choices and provide me with knowledge and skills useful even now. Who would have thought?

I had a pretty lowly job, but it was working in the agricultural industry and it was my first step to realising my dream of becoming a journalist.

Harry Pobjoy was an editor. The old-fashioned type, using a blue pencil. He didn’t write much – he was such a good editor he was in huge demand. Not only did he edit my writing, he also patiently explained what he changed and why. 

Rod Patterson had been editor-in-chief at one of Melbourne’s daily newspapers. He was sick of the grind and took a job where he could indulge his passion for cattle and chooks – writing about them at least. 

Eustace Rulach had also been an editor-in-chief, in Ceylon, before it became Sri Lanka. He left with nothing and came to Australia with his skills and enthusiasm.

Frank Moore was a Vietnam vet, from a farm and a graphic artist. An unusual combination. He taught me about grids and layout and design. He was creative and passionate and great fun to be around.

Owen Foulkes was an artist. He drew exquisite drawings.

So here I was: 20-something, and surrounded by this enormous talent. I soaked up their talent, learning by simply being a part of the team. 

I owe a lot to Harry, Rod, Eustace, Frank and Owen.

Fast forward to the present and I’ve come full circle. I’ve become a convert to powerpoint. Well that’s not exactly true. I MUCH prefer Keynote (but you’ll already know about my Apple bias). While a few years ago I would have said slideshows (whether created with ppt or keynote) had no place in facilitation, today I think differently. My eyes have been opened by Garr Reynolds and his fabulous Presentation Zen site; I’ve found enormous talent on Slideshare; Geoff Brown’s enthusiasm for slideshows is inspiring – to the point where I’ve had to re-assess my previous ambivalence, nay dismissiveness, of slideshows.

What’s changed? Well, I’ve experimented with making some slideshows of my own (you can see examples over there on the left). And it’s fun! And it’s allowing me to use all those things I learnt about communication when I was a journalist and to indulge my passion for great design and typography.

Don’t get me wrong – I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in any of these areas. I’ve always searched out great graphic designers to do what they do best. It’s always a joy to work with people who are talented, enthusiastic and creative. Great graphic designers have these qualities in spades.

Facilitation is also about communication – providing the vehicle for people to communicate their messages and engage with others. I’ve now come to understand that great slideshows can help deliver the rational aim (purpose) and the experiential aim (the mood or experience) in an effective way. (Caveat: bad slideshows have NO place in a facilitated workshops – they distract, divert attention and make my job all the harder as I try and re-engage the participants.)

Which brings me back to typography. Great typography can also communicate much. I was inspired to write about this because of this post by Garr Reynolds. And this video, The Girl Effect, epitomises what’s possible with kinetic type. It’s an excellent use of kinetic type; an excellent way to deliver a powerful message in under three minutes; and a message I fully subscribe to.



Insanely Great Slideshow Presentations

December 1st, 2008

My friend Geoff Brown and I see some great slideshow presentations and lots of ordinary ones. We probably see more than most because of our work facilitating with groups. Many workshops include a slideshow presentation.

We’ve decided to offer a one-day training course on how to make Insanely Great Slideshow Presentations. It’s actually insanely easy to do, too. So check out the slideshow and contact us for more information.

Sharing evaluation data

November 19th, 2008

Regular readers will know that I attended this year’s Applied Improv Network (AIN) conference in Chicago in October. Using SurveyMonkey we asked participants to respond to a feedback survey so as we could continue to improve on previous conferences. After all, that’s why you get feedback, isn’t it?

Today I spent the morning analysing the data. There’s some basic quantitative data, but it’s mostly qualitative – comments, reflections, likes and dislikes. I’ve put the analysis together in a slide show, which you can see here. I’d be interested in your comments as this is the first time I’ve presented evaluation results this way.

Chicago Improv Conference 2008 – Feedback     

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Another example of a good slide show

September 16th, 2008

A lot of people I work with are in agriculture and conservation. They’re working on complex issues and when they do a presentation like to include graphs, figures and lots of information. Here’s an example of how to do it well.

Sustainable Food Lab

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: food sustainability)

Why is the default position a crappy presentation? And why is it OK?

September 16th, 2008

I sit through a LOT of presentations. Not because I want to, usually because they are a part of a workshop I’m facilitating. The people giving these presentations have good things to say, interesting things. They are often passionate about their topic. So why is it OK to give a crappy presentation?

Since I discovered the great work of Garr Reynolds and bought his book Presentation Zen, I provide some guidelines for people doing a presentation in any of my workshops. I really do want them to do a great presentation. They usually are delivering information that is relevant and necessary for the rest of the workshop. 

Here’s what they say:

I ran out of time.

I thought you were joking. You really were serious when you said no bullet points and no more than six words on a slide?

I’ve given hundreds of presentations, some to really important people, and no-one has ever complained.


You do what you’re good at, and I’ll do what I’m good at. (OK, no-one has actually said this – yet – but I bet they think it.)

So here’s what happens. Let’s call the presenter Andy. Andy is an expert on his topic, no denying. He’s been working on his research and background information for months, if not years. He’s done LOTS of presentations. He’s been published in peer-reviewed journals. He’s well-regarded, and he’s likable, and he’s happy to talk about his topic.

So I send him some guidelines – then I have no idea what happens, or what he thinks.

Until the beginning of the workshop. Sheepishly, he apologises for his presentation. “I didn’t have time to do it the way you wanted. But I’ve cut out lots of slides. There’s only 25 now.”


And so everyone sits through yet another bullet-pointed slide show dense with words that Andy uses as his cues to talk about what’s already written on the screen.

Another lost opportunity to communicate.

I can understand why it’s hard for someone like Andy to change the way he does a slideshow. He’s put a lot of time and effort into creating the slides he already has, particularly the ones with diagrams and graphs. Story doesn’t mean much to him. He’s forgotten how to tell a story. And a lot of the advice about thinking in pictures and creating a story with a beginning, middle and end are not very helpful if you’re not attuned to story. And maybe he doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd by doing something diferrently.

What I don’t understand is why it’s OK? Why waste so much time and money? Why is it OK to politely sit in a (usually) darkened room while someone drones on? 

So here’s my advice to would-be presenters who want to try and communicate their message even better.

10 Steps to a Better Presentation (Forget story*, just improve the presentation at least)

Step 1: Prepare your presentation as you normally would. Use your ppt themes etc and make your slides.

Step 2: Print out your slides – four to a page – then cut them up and lay them on a table, or stick them on a wall, in order. Put a blank post-it note underneath each slide.

Step 3: Write the main message from each slide on the post-it note.

Step 4: Think of an image that would support the main message for each slide. If you can’t think of an image, go to google images and search for images around some key words. If you find something, great! If not, don’t worry.

Step 5: Look at the flow and move things around if you need to. Keep your original slide, the key message and any image ideas together

Step 6: Re-do your presentation. Make sure you select ‘Slide layout – BLANK’. Put your key message in the bottom right-hand corner of each slide (about 48 point text). Put an image on the slide, if you have one. Most importantly – use your original slide (the one with bullet points and a lot more information) in the ‘notes’ section. 

Step 7: Put all the information from your original slides into a word-document handout to give to people *after* your presentation.

Step 8: Get ideas from good presentation on the web, especially at Slideshare. Here’s one, winner of the 2008 competition.


View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: crisis design)

Step 9: Buy Presentation Zen and create a better slide show every time.

Step 10: There is no Step 10 – just do it!!! Please.

*I’ll talk about using story in my next post