Monday, December 5, 2011

Size Does Matter

Watching a beautiful high definition NFL broadcast this weekend, a little contrast jumped out at me in one of the commercial breaks. A company that spent a LOT of money to advertise in a prime time Sunday afternoon pro football broadcast during the holiday shopping season, threw a big-time commercial on my picturesque widescreen in STANDARD DEFINITION in a 4:3 aspect ratio! I was surprised to see a cropped, low quality commercial during an HD football broadcast. It jumped out at me because it was SO different from everything else, and not in a good way.

Those of us enjoying HD broadcast television have come to be comfortable with commercials and programs recorded in HD, and in the proper 16:9 HD aspect ratio. It's just the way things are done now. When was the last time you saw a 4:3 TV at a retail store? Years ago. It's rare to see a commercial nowadays in old, low technology. Anything made in the last few years has no excuse to be in proper contemporary formats. Are they still answering their rotary phones, too?

For anyone who isn't familiar with aspect ratios or video formats, here's the simple Cliff Notes version. 4:3 aspect ratio, commonly called "four-by-three" derives from 35mm film used in silent era cinema, as well as 35mm still camera film. Simply put, it's the length and the width of the screen in a ratio. We know it more as the squareish shape of the old console CRT television tubes. When television was birthed, the format was adapted from the movies at the time—a simple transition so that movies potentially viewed on TVs would all look the same as the theater. Makes plenty of sense.

This is a standard 4:3 proportion screen:
High definition TVs and current day movies are produced in what is known as 16:9 (sixteen-by-nine) aspect ratio, sometimes known as widescreen to movie junkies.

This is a typical look of a 16:9 widescreen format:
This has been a transition for broadcast television as well as computers for years, and makes the old 4:3 format from the 40s a relic. If you continue to use this format for your presentations, it makes YOU look like a relic, too.

By default, unintelligent programs like Powerpoint and Keynote blindly default to a historically standard 4:3 aspect ratio, usually a 1024 pixels x 768 pixels framed canvas. These work great on your 10 year old CRT monitor but not so great on any new laptop or widescreen HD television, which are the norm now, and not the exception.

Building your new presentation into the default settings from the second you open a program already puts you into 1940s video technology. Is that where you want to be? Is that the first impression you want your audience to have of you?

So here's a tip. The first thing you should do when you are preparing your presentation slide deck is find out what the final technology will be. If it is an old school 4:3 projection screen or an iPad, keep the proportions set to the default 4:3, and let 'er rip. If you are showing on a laptop, HD TV or monitor or any contemporary projection hardware, make sure that you head into your page or canvas setup and select the 16:9 options. We prefer 1280 x 720 sizes when putting together 16:9 presentations as a good balance of file size and image quality.

If you are using 4:3 slide proportions and showing them on 16:9 screens, you are not only losing out on valuable slide space and real estate, but those black bars down the sides make you look like an amateur and unprepared. When you want to look polished and professional in every way, make sure the slides behind you are up to the task, as well.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chicago Ideas Week 2011: onto 2012

Brad Keywell is the visionary leader behind some amazing things. The guy is one of the founding partners of Groupon, he owns and operates Lightbank, a VC organization, he co-founded TEDxMidwest and is driving force behind Chicago Ideas Week. Just to name a few.

What's Chicago Ideas Week? Well, it's a series of amazing session by amazing presenters across a wide spectrum topics. In 2011, the week long event was held in 40+ venues and included people like President Bill Clinton, Dean Kamen, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Kevin Bacon, David Gregory, Ronnie Lott, and MANY more. Additionally, SquarePlanet was honored to partner with CIW as a Platinum Sponsor and presentation provider in 2011.

So, what do you care? Well, the lesson in today's blog comes directly from Brad Keywell.

Today we received a very complete and honest assessment of the week-long event. While likely written by a team of people, the 20+ page document goes into great detail about the good, the bad and the downright ugly...and it's signed by Brad himself. In essence, it's his report card on his event. This is powerful stuff!!

Nobody questions his's quite obvious. Additionally, most people understand that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, meaning not everything he touches will turn to gold.

But think about his report card idea for just a second longer. The concept of candidly and accurately reporting on your own performance is something most us wouldn't be willing to do. Sure, all of us know in our heart of hearts how we perform in certain situations, but Keywell made his assessment of his performance public. By choice!

The ugly truth is never easy. Kudos to the entire CIW team and Keywell for embracing the realities of a situation. The next time you present, try following his lead. Honestly critique your performance. Consider what you did well, what you did poorly and what you can do to improve before the next opportunity. Use a simple scoring system, pick a few essential categories to judge yourself and use the information to force improvement.

Thanks Brad, and by the way, we give you an A!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What I Learned From Steve Jobs

from Guy Kawasaki, cult of Apple evangelist and entrepreneur...

What I Learned From Steve Jobs

Many people have explained what one can learn from Steve Jobs. But few, if any, of these people have been inside the tent and experienced first hand what it was like to work with him. I don’t want any lessons to be lost or forgotten, so here is my list of the top twelve lessons that I learned from Steve Jobs.

Experts are clueless.
Experts—journalists, analysts, consultants, bankers, and gurus can’t “do” so they “advise.” They can tell you what is wrong with your product, but they cannot make a great one. They can tell you how to sell something, but they cannot sell it themselves. They can tell you how to create great teams, but they only manage a secretary. For example, the experts told us that the two biggest shortcomings of Macintosh in the mid 1980s was the lack of a daisy-wheel printer driver and Lotus 1-2-3; another advice gem from the experts was to buy Compaq. Hear what experts say, but don’t always listen to them.

Customers cannot tell you what they need.
“Apple market research” is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, “Better, faster, and cheaper”—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can only describe their desires in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all people said they wanted was better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machines. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.

Jump to the next curve.
Big wins happen when you go beyond better sameness. The best daisy-wheel printer companies were introducing new fonts in more sizes. Apple introduced the next curve: laser printing. Think of ice harvesters, ice factories, and refrigerator companies. Ice 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Are you still harvesting ice during the winter from a frozen pond?

The biggest challenges beget best work.
I lived in fear that Steve would tell me that I, or my work, was crap. In public. This fear was a big challenge. Competing with IBM and then Microsoft was a big challenge. Changing the world was a big challenge. I, and Apple employees before me and after me, did their best work because we had to do our best work to meet the big challenges.

Design counts.
Steve drove people nuts with his design demands—some shades of black weren’t black enough. Mere mortals think that black is black, and that a trash can is a trash can. Steve was such a perfectionist—a perfectionist Beyond: Thunderdome—and lo and behold he was right: some people care about design and many people at least sense it. Maybe not everyone, but the important ones.

You can’t go wrong with big graphics and big fonts.
Take a look at Steve’s slides. The font is sixty points. There’s usually one big screenshot or graphic. Look at other tech speaker’s slides—even the ones who have seen Steve in action. The font is eight points, and there are no graphics. So many people say that Steve was the world’s greatest product introduction guy—don’t you wonder why more people don’t copy his style?

Changing your mind is a sign of intelligence.
When Apple first shipped the iPhone there was no such thing as apps. Apps, Steve decreed, were a bad thing because you never know what they could be doing to your phone. Safari web apps were the way to go until six months later when Steve decided, or someone convinced Steve, that apps were the way to go—but of course. Duh! Apple came a long way in a short time from Safari web apps to “there’s an app for that.”

“Value” is different from “price.”
Woe unto you if you decide everything based on price. Even more woe unto you if you compete solely on price. Price is not all that matters—what is important, at least to some people, is value. And value takes into account training, support, and the intrinsic joy of using the best tool that’s made. It’s pretty safe to say that no one buys Apple products because of their low price.

A players hire A+ players.
Actually, Steve believed that A players hire A players—that is people who are as good as they are. I refined this slightly—my theory is that A players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players. If you start hiring B players, expect what Steve called “the bozo explosion” to happen in your organization.

Real CEOs demo.
Steve Jobs could demo a pod, pad, phone, and Mac two to three times a year with millions of people watching, why is it that many CEOs call upon their vice-president of engineering to do a product demo? Maybe it’s to show that there’s a team effort in play. Maybe. It’s more likely that the CEO doesn’t understand what his/her company is making well enough to explain it. How pathetic is that?

Real CEOs ship.
For all his perfectionism, Steve could ship. Maybe the product wasn’t perfect every time, but it was almost always great enough to go. The lesson is that Steve wasn’t tinkering for the sake of tinkering—he had a goal: shipping and achieving worldwide domination of existing markets or creation of new markets. Apple is an engineering-centric company, not a research-centric one. Which would you rather be: Apple or Xerox PARC?

Marketing boils down to providing unique value.
Think of a 2 x 2 matrix. The vertical axis measures how your product differs from the competition. The horizontal axis measures the value of your product. Bottom right: valuable but not unique—you’ll have to compete on price. Top left: unique but not valuable—you’ll own a market that doesn’t exist. Bottom left: not unique and not value—you’re a bozo. Top right: unique and valuable—this is where you make margin, money, and history. For example, the iPod was unique and valuable because it was the only way to legally, inexpensively, and easily download music from the six biggest record labels.

Bonus: Some things need to be believed to be seen. When you are jumping curves, defying/ignoring the experts, facing off against big challenges, obsessing about design, and focusing on unique value, you will need to convince people to believe in what you are doing in order to see your efforts come to fruition. People needed to believe in Macintosh to see it become real. Ditto for iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Not everyone will believe—that’s okay. But the starting point of changing the world is changing a few minds. This is the greatest lesson of all that I learned from Steve.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fundamentally Flawed

On November 7th, 1940, the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge (or "Galloping Gertie" to it's own construction workers) in Puget Sound, Washington, whipped about violently just prior to its collapse due to heavy winds. The condition known as aeroelastic flutter caused the bridge to snap apart like a Lego model. Falling into the Puget Sound only 4 months after it was opened, it is now studied widely by engineering and architecture students as a fundamentally flawed design.

It was destined to fall apart before it was ever completed.

We have a strong belief that the typical business and educational presentation is also fundamentally flawed, right from the opening default page of your favorite presentation program.

The problem with 99% of presentations is that the basic blueprint is completely wrong. In fact, in most cases, the blueprint doesn't even exist. Therein lies the beginning of the presentation aeroelastic flutter. Your presentation is destined to collapse—not because of a bad design or blueprint, but because of NO plans at all.

We have grown accustomed to following blindly a default of Arial typefaces, white backgrounds, bullet points, cheesy pre-built templates and pie charts and graphs that cannot be easily disseminated. Why? Because there has never been a good formula on how to build these structures, and we have all historically been left to our own devices to figure it out on the fly—usually under duress.

The fact is, most of us have never been trained as a speech writer or developer, nor have we probably been formally taught how to give a business speech, and very few people are skilled and experienced graphic designers. In all honesty, there are even fewer resources that you can find that are capable of helping you accomplish your goals of being at the top of your game. And here's the rub... to do a fantastic piece of communication, you need to be acutely aware of ALL of these facets of presentation development.

We call them the "presentation BLT," or the THREE Ds:
  • Development
  • Design
  • Delivery
It's absolutely imperative that you focus on all three aspects of your presentation to hit the proverbial home run. Drop the ball in any one of those three sectors of the job, and you'll lose the game. Ok, enough with the sports metaphors and cliches...

Here's the great thing, though. When you start with the development of your presentation, you construct the blueprints of a really solid, memorable and effective communication tool. It's not a complicated process when you do it in the right order, and make sure you cover all the bases (sorry).

So how do you develop a complete and impactful presentation before you sit down in front of PowerPoint and start dumping in content? Well, we have a proven formula for building a fail-proof structure. Before you even touch a computer, you MUST ask yourself THREE simple—but not easy—questions.

But I'll save that for a future blog.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to be Miserable as a Designer

Or, what not to do, underline all that currently apply.

1. Constantly compare yourself to other designers/artists.
2. Talk to your family about what you do and expect them to support you.
3. Base the success of your entire career on one project/client.
4. Stick to what you know.
5. Undervalue your expertise/experience/talent/abilities.
6. Let money dictate what you do.
7. Bow to societal pressures.
8. Only do work that your peers/family/friends would love.
9. Do whatever the client/customer/investor asks.
10. Set unachievable/overwhelming goals to be accomplished by unrealistic dates.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Charts, Graphs, Nuts & Bolts

Every piece of data tells a story. You just have to figure out how to tell that story.

We are constantly pushing simplicity, brevity, restraint and using slides as supporting imagery, not as the main focus of your topic. One of the most often asked questions from clients and SquarePlanet Workshop
participants is, "I have a lot of data, charts and graphs--what am I supposed to do with this?"

I love fielding this question, because it shows how embedded we are with Microsoft defaults, and how burdened business and education culture has become with the "Insert Text Here" doctrine. Just because PowerPoint can, doesn't mean you should. Remember that.

We are huge proponents of not using a slide presentation as a vessel for data, details and information that needs to be consumed and digested. Nancy Duarte cheekily calls these data-riddled visual boat anchors, "Slideuments." We call them distracting and ugly. Whatever you call them, they aren't necessary.

The fact is, if your audience is looking at your data on a slide, they are not listening to you. Did you catch that the first time? They are NOT LISTENING TO YOU if they are trying to understand and disseminate information on a slide. So how should you show a chart or graph of important information?


Seriously, don't use charts or graphs if you don't absolutely have to.

Every pie chart, bar graph or hunk of data tells a story--you just need to tell it in a way that an audience can grasp in a few short moments, like a highway billboard. Yes, think of slides as billboards you motor past at 65mph, and only get a few seconds to read. If the type is too small, there are too many words on a slide, or a chart or graph needs to be analyzed to be understood, you lost a reader. 6 seconds at the most is all you need to tell that story, like those billboards.

Here's a simple example. The original chart is not even all that complex, but graphs by nature are not simple to digest in the first place. This one tells a simple story, but you need to dig into it to find the meat of it.

The story this graph is telling the reader is that every year, the amount of data stored on the internet roughly doubles--that's really it. So why burden the viewer with unnecessary information, work and effort, and more importantly, why would you want the audience focused on a slide and NOT YOU?

The simple graphic solution is to just visually show that data storage has doubled every year since 2006...

Same information, same story, same message in a completely easy to understand visual that supports what you say. It isn't complicated, and it shouldn't be. Remember, your slides are there to support your spoken word, not to stand alone as a document. If your whole presentation is data, then send out an e-mail with a spreadsheet or text file attached, and don't waste anyone else's time.

If you truly have information that needs to be in the hands of your audience, then literally put it in their hands. By that I mean, put it on paper in a nicely formatted (and on brand--corporate letterhead works nicely) printed piece and hand it to your audience AFTER your presentation is over. Let the audience know that you have this for them, and you that you won't shower them in details and data right now, but if they want to, they can look through the nuts & bolt facts and figures on their own time. They will appreciate this gesture and they will keep their focus on you, instead of reading some document that isn't as important as your message.

Remember, presentations are about your audience, not about YOU. Make their lives easier and they will reward you with their attention. Once you have their minds, their hearts will follow.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spinning Plates Takes Focus

The most popular tourist attraction in Chicago, in the entire Midwest for that matter, is Navy Pier. Sure, it’s mostly a painful experience for us local types, but when you drive east from Iowa, what’s more fun than Ferris Wheels, cinnamon roasted almonds, fake pirate fights and IMAX movies? And can someone tell me WHY Navy Pier has fake pirate fights? This makes no sense whatsoever.

Anyway, seems like every summer Navy Pier plays host to Cirque Shanghai, a family friendly show that is half circus, half “I didn’t make the Chinese Olympic Gymnastics Team.” Well, for the first time, my wife and I took in this tourist-trap of a show, and damn if we didn’t enjoy it.

Flashy costumes, glittery sets, loud music, guys driving motorcycles inside a ball of death, impressive acrobatics and balance tricks. I mean, whats not to like, right?

Seriously, we really enjoyed the show.

Not surprisingly, I found myself looking at the performance on a multitude of levels, and I soon realized a lesson could be derived from the the girls spinning plates.

Undoubtedly spinning plates on long sticks while doing gymnastics is difficult. At my age, I actually have trouble bending over to put socks on in the morning, so I can promise you my knowledge of such things is purely anecdotal. Anyway, these performers made an extremely difficult task look easy.

In fact, they made it look really easy. Like it was a normal, natural thing that anybody could do. Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book “Outliers” describes expertise coming after 10,000 hours of practice. Well, as the girls were all of 13 years old, I’m gonna say it’s more than just sheer practice hours at work here.

Studying their faces during the performance, what I saw was focus. Laser-like focus on the task at hand.

Before you ever get up to present, you’re probably knee-deep in all sorts of other tasks, commitments, responsibilities and diversions. Whether it’s little Johnny’s tee-ball game, a series of emails from the accounting department or hurricanes scheduled to wipe out most of the eastern seaboard, stuff happens!

To ensure success, you better do a whole lot of the right things and eliminate a whole lot of the wrong things. One thing is for sure--when the times comes and your name is called to present your ideas and knowledge, you better have FOCUS.

• Focus on being a likeable human, not a robotic, lifeless machine.
• Focus on restraint--you can’t say it all.
• Focus on telling appropriate stories that prove your point, not piles of redundant data.

And above all, focus on the audience first, not yourself. Remember, it’s not what you say that matters--it’s what they hear.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Keep it Simple!

It's widely accepted that Chicago has craptastic weather nine months out of the year. Fortunately for those of us who live here, right now we're enjoying the other three! Last night, as the weather was simply delightful, my wife and I embarked upon a classic summer outing.

We took a simple and fast Metra ride to Ravinia Festival to enjoy an outdoor concert under the stars. First, a quick trip to Whole Foods to buy some food, nice bottle of vino, pack a blanket and bug spray, all is good.

As the concert begins, which was actually a piano performance of Barto's "Liszt", a man with a simple sign walked through the crowd with a message intended for the entire audience.

His message was; SHHHHHHHHH. Below is a video clip I grabbed of the guy with my iPhone, you'll see what I mean, not a ton of complexity on display here.

What was really impressive was the power of this simple act. Children and adults alike got quiet in his presence. Everyone followed the suggested action and gave the performer the deserved attention.

We've all seen seen complex charts, wordy slides or printed materials, sales people that ramble and never actually answer questions or product demonstrations that leave us scratching our heads.

All of these things are too complex. Too hard to pay attention to. Sometimes, just too hard to follow. At SquarePlanet we believe strongly in removing complexity and distilling things down to the most essential.

Follow the lead of the man carrying a simple sign with a simple message.
No, not SHHHHHH. Well, maybe for some of you.

Instead, just remember to keep it simple!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vary Your Pace

About two miles east of the SquarePlanet worldwide megaplex is a stunning national home improvement store called Menards. I'm guessing it's about 50,000 sq feet of pristine merchandise that's well stocked and well priced.

In the middle of the store, occupying a rather large footprint, you'll encounter two mechanical people-mover ramps. You know the people movers at airports right? The bouncy, rubberized, moving walkways that have the same handrails as escalators? EXACTLY! Okay, just like that, but these are ramps that go up to and down from the second level.

So, last week I'm at Menards, and as I watch people standing perfectly stationary on moving ramps, I'm struck by how consistent their speed is. You see, those who chose to simply stand on the ramp were moving at the exact same speed throughout the duration of their journey to the second level. Yet those who chose to walk, even just a step or two, seemed vibrant, youthful--dare I say, alive!

The contrast between the pace of the ramp travelers reminded me of the musings you'll hear at one of our monthly Presentation Workshops. Contrast is the key to great communication. The idea is that contrast breaks up the norm, alerts the audience that something big is going on and everyone should pay attention.

Contrast in communications comes out in all kinds of forms, everything from word choice to the substance in the stories being told to the physical space of a presenter to the PACE with which a person speaks.

If you talk in a monotone, never-changing, no up, no down, flat as a pancake style voice, you have no variance in your pace. However, if you talk in bursts, use staccato, vary your intensity, speed and volume, you now have contrast in your pace. And people will notice. More importantly, they will listen.

So remember, to really be heard, vary your pace. To really be hurt, walk the wrong way on a people mover.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Free Stock Photos

There are a lot of places that we use and suggest acquiring stock photographs and imagery for presentations. One of them is your own digital camera or scanner. You are your own greatest source for images that YOU want to use, that YOU own. Don't be afraid to take your own photos and use them in your presentation. It adds a lot of authenticity to the production, and really brings a lot of connection to your audience.

Another great source for free stock photos is StockArch. There is a good selection of really nice photography to use as you please. We also use iStock for low-cost photo and video clip options, and a few others found on the web, too. Don't be fooled into thinking that you need to use high-cost stock photos from Getty or other stock photo houses (are there any left that Getty didn't buy up?). There are plenty of other options that won't cost you much at all.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Always Prepare

Though many on our coasts don't believe it, Chicago is booming with start-up technology companies, venture capital and a strong pioneering spirit. For the next seven days, you can see all of these things first hand at TechWeek, a conference that brings it all together.

At the invitation of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, SquarePlanet was asked to moderate a panel discussion on the idea that regardless of the underlying technology, relationships are really the key to success. We jumped at the chance and were very excited as the panelists themselves couldn't have been better.

The panel included Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media Studios, Ted Novak from Clique Studios, Chris Mickens from Educo Web Design and finally Jon Schickendanz from Imaginary Landscape. Together, we were to tackle the product vs. people debate.

At SqP, we actually practice what we preach, so about a week before the event we all got on a conference call, and even the day of, for well over an hour, we sat together and discussed the topic. Additionally, I spent at least 3 more hours preparing opening and closing remarks, developing individual bio's on each person and a multitude of questions with potential follow-up questions.

You see, we had ONE shot to get this right. All of our chips were on the table, this was an "all in" bet, whether we liked it or not. That's simply the nature of presenting, no second chances. No do-overs.

All of that preparation paid off, as the audience thoroughly enjoyed the 60 minutes we spent together. Further, the CEO and founder of midVentures Geoff Domoracki wrote "I overheard, when your panel ended- from the leaving attendees- that that was the best session they had been to. Your session received a lot of positive feedback and we thank you for helping put it together!"

This is high praise...midVentures started TechWeek, and they are the single biggest contributor of time, talent and money to the whole event! When Geoff speaks, people listen.

So, this is NOT a blog entry to boast. It's a blog entry to remind you to ALWAYS prepare. Our ratio of preparation time to actual on-stage time was about 5-1. Five hours to effectively communicate for one hour. That's not a hard and fast rule, that's just specific to this event. But, the takeaway is clear, to ensure your "all in" bet comes up a winner; prepare, prepare, prepare.

Thanks to Linda Dao at the Chamber, the awesome panelists and all those who came out to see us. CHEERS!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Follow the Frog

Summer in Chicago is truly magnificent. Maybe it's because our weather is so often miserable, maybe it's because I'm getting old and sentimental, regardless, a gorgeous day is a welcome gift. Yesterday we took advantage of a perfect day and for those unfamiliar with Chicago, our beaches and lakefront parks are truly world-class.

A hidden gem along the lakefront is the Caldwell Lily Pool. This exceptional respite, smack dab in the middle of everything moving and grooving, is simply delightful.

Check it out:

As one might expect in a lily pool, take a look into the water and you're likely to see a frog or two. For any botanists out there, don't crucify for getting this wrong—sure, it might be a toad, but to a city boy like me, they're all frogs. I continue...

Let me set the scene: dragonflies are buzzing just over the water, lotus flowers are blooming on the lily pads, birds sing and frogs are bobbing motionless in the water, mouths just creeping into the daytime air. Then, without warning, and with incredible speed and ferocity, the frog leaps into the sky, body fully exposed—above the water, snagging an unsuspecting dragonfly out of thin air, flopping into then under the water to enjoy it's lunch. Amazing.

This is exactly what I witnessed yesterday at the Lilly Pool. Beyond being totally cool, unless of course you're the dragonfly, it served a great lesson. You see, the frog took a risk, leaped from the safety and comfort of it's spot under the water and snagged a prize from thin air.

Presentations are exactly the same. If you're not willing to take a few chances, leap into the unknown, you're never going to make a splash. Don't you want your presentation to be memorable? Don't you want people to notice you and what you did? Don't you want to enjoy the prize for your efforts?

The next time you're preparing a presentation, remember the lily pool and the frog. You can choose to remain hidden, silent and forgettable. On the other hand, you can leap and make a splash everyone remembers. At SquarePlanet, we say "Follow the Frog".

Cliff Clavin Sidebar Moment: Did you know Dragonflies EAT bees and mosquitoes? I love these things! Find more fun facts at

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Prepare by working BACKWARD.

SquarePlanet is just a few months old, but in a very short time we've done a pretty decent job in getting our name, services and philosophy out into the marketplace. One of the "partnerships" we've established is with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

You can check them out here:

Anyway, one of the great many things the Chamber does is a 60-minute intro meeting of their internal staff with new member organizations. As one would guess, it's a great way to quickly meet new members, see if any synergies exist and begin to help all parties find value in the relationship. Yesterday was our big shot, our chance to wow the Chamber of how awesome we really are and gain tons of new, important work.

As we did out customary prep work, both Doug and I realized we needed to add just a little something extra. See, we actually do what we say! We prepared, well in advance of the presentation. We truly thought through what message do we want to communicate and what do we need to do to fulfill that. We worked BACKWARD. Identify the intention, then do what you need to do to ensure it actually happens.

One of our core strengths is re-freakin-diciulous design. Oh yeah, that's clearly ALL me...that Doug guy has NOTHIN on me. (Right now the lie detector machine is going into overdrive and the dude running it is telling the cop, "yeah, he's tooootally full of crap").

Well, we wanted to really show off this core competence in a memorable, but simple way. So, using some high-definition footage, embedded in Keynote, we made our visuals leap off the screen and dazzle the audience. We'd like to throw a shout-out to the Scott Roberts, aka "Fish" at Edit Creations ( for his mad-skillz and lighting fast help.
Again, we worked BACKWARD. Identify your intention first, then fill in the necessary detail to make it happen.

Now, I can't speak for the Chamber people, but let's just say the meeting went very well and our relationship is off to a great start. Amazing things can happen when you think it through, and then take the time to execute your desires the right way.

Finally, you can wave back at Fish in the picture above OR come visit us and the Edit Creations Team anytime. THANKS!!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Picture Superiority? Well....

The internet is full of all kinds of delicious gems. Everything from your's of the world all the way to of truly impressive, useful stuff that makes life easier and better.

Here at SquarePlanet we extol the virtues of words over pictures. We believe that not only is a picture worth a thousand words, it's actually easier for the audience to remember. We love pictures, we love them, collect them and honor them.

Well, combining our love of the internet and the desire of all clients to use more pictures, you can just about imagine some of the search results we get!!! Legal side bar here, not only do we NOT, we also do not condone the inappropriate use of copyright-protected material...don't steal someones intellectual property, got it buddy? Ok, good. Let's continue.

ANYWAY, back to search results. So, for an upcoming presentation we're giving, I type in the term "ugly". After a series of fruitless clicks I end up at

If you've ever been to this site you....know. You 'get it'. You 'feel it'. For those of you who haven't been there, RUN, don't walk, CLICK OVER NOW!!!

Seriously...RIGHT NOW!

This site gets my vote for best useless site of all time. I'm still trying to breathe, my drink of water really did come out my nose, my side hurts from laughing so hard and YES, they are actual, real, user-submitted photos.

Why do I post this here? Because if you, like us at SquarePlanet, believe in the Picture Superiority Effect, be sure to pick photos that should never ever, no matter what, ever be on Pick appropriate images that help communicate your message. Don't choose photos just for the sake of a cool shot or funny picture. Be sure that what you're trying to say is truly represented in the image you display.

Make sense? Good. If not, email Doug, he'll gladly fill you in on all the details.

Now, I'm off to my parents basement to burn all the old picture boxes ensuring I never magically appear on that site. CHEERS!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How much is too much?

I'm working at the Gaylord Palms hotel in sunny Florida, just a stones throw from what's supposedly the happiest place on Earth. Yeah, I'm not totally down with that.

Anyway, we're producing a number of elements at this large conference, about 4000 attendees, and one of the featured speaker sessions really caught my eye. The first thing was the presenters title. Below is his actual title, taken directly from the program, named changed to protect his identity and my butt:

President and CEO
XYZ Corporation

Let me say this again...that's the actual listed title for this guy!!! How many designations does one man really need? So, from the very beginning, I'm think John Doe doesn't understand the idea of restraint. Little did I know.

I go to his session, probably 350 people in the room, and I sit in the absolute front row as it's empty even though 10-15 people are standing against the back wall, yep... it's not my first rodeo. Anyway, the good doctor puts up his first slide and I immediately laugh out loud! He gives me a look, I smile back at him, point at his slide, shake my head side to side and give him the 'whatever dude' gesture.

Here's what I counted on his very first slide:
  • 181 individual words
  • 5 bullet point indicators that were actually smiley faces
  • 2 3D arrows in royal blue
  • 2 pieces of ridiculous, generic 'office' clip art
  • 2 3D boxes in fire engine red
  • 1 horizontal line in lime green
  • 1 logo


The lesson here is hopefully obvious... for the sake of all some restraint people. As they say, less is more.

Immediately after counting up all the crap-tacular stuff on his slide, I got up and left. Even with all those fancy designations he forgot that his presentation really isn't about him; it's actually about the audience.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Love Hate

We love presentations. We hate presentations. We love smart clients. We hate adversarial clients. We love the creative process. We hate PowerPoint templates. We love finding new ways of looking at old things. We hate seeing old ideas that can't be let go in favor of something better. We love making creativity an integral component of great communication tools. We hate to see presentations ignored as superfluous tasks. We love companies with a clear vision. We hate companies brainwashed with the clichés of bad business habits. We love it when the written and spoke word extends a visual idea. We hate it when bad design obscures the clarity of a written or spoken word. We love blending development, design and delivery into one cohesive concept. We hate incomplete effort and ignoring any of the three Ds. We love new technology that can help anyone express an idea. We hate technology that makes people think they can do things they are not capable of doing. We love speakers who can engage an audience and inspire thought. We hate listening to someone reading off of their own slides. We love presentations. We hate presentations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Video Tips & Tricks #1: Excuses

The first video of many to come, deals with making excuses in your presentations, and what you need to avoid.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'm really glad to be with you tonight.

Last night I was in Kansas City working with a very large, very respected, very well known firm of accountants. One of the presenters in rehearsal confidently strode to the lectern, looked right into the belly of the beast (that would be the room full of 400 empty chairs) and dryly cracked, "I'm really excited to be with you tonight".

According to Dr. David Song, a plastic surgeon and Associate Professor at the University of Chicago Hospitals, who was interviewed for a Straight Dope article, it takes 12 muscles to smile. Clearly our presenter last night lacks all 12 of those facial muscles as her look didn't match her words.

It's real simple people...mean what you say. If you're actually pleased to be presenting, SHOW IT. If you're not really all that jazzed to be there, DON'T LIE, simply avoid opening with a line that places you in an awkward spot. Why? Because we can tell your full of shit and authenticity truly matters.

Oh, and by the way, Guy Kawasaki in his bestselling book "Enchantment" encourages all of us to throw a few four-letter words in every now and then. Guy says it keeps the audience on their toes as long as it's not mean spirited or used too frequently.

I guess by now you've figured out that he and I agree. THANKS

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pace matters. A lot.

Chicago has long been a great town for theatrical performances of all kinds. From improv to musicals to drama and the avant garde, the 2nd city ain't too shabby. With that in mind we were very excited to welcome the highly acclaimed, London-based, technical marvel that is "Peter Pan". This show uses the as-expected high-wire flying rigs, but it also features the first ever 360-degree, 3D video projection.

While we found most of this wizardry quite cool, the show itself was, well, just okay. At best! In fact, it was actually fairly awful. The acting was fine, the costumes cool, the staging remarkable. So, why was it just okay?

In a word—PACE.

We we bored to death. Some scenes were far too long to hold our interest, others simply too bogged down with details that we didn't get.

The pace may have been right for some people—I'm thinking of the dead in particular—but for those of us still very much alive, please, SPEED IT UP ALREADY!

This is a great lesson for anyone doing a presentation. Remember, it's not just what you say, it's how you say it. If your delivery pace is numbing, people will not receive the message. In fact, they'll be so preoccupied and focused on your pace (or lack thereof) they'll never hear a word.

So, take it from a kid who never grew up, PACE MATTERS. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How many people to make a 'presentation'?

At SquarePlanet you'll hear us say things like, "whether it's one person, one hundred or one thousand, a presentation is a presentation—don't blow the opportunity!"

Now only do we believe it, we actually live it.

Today we did an important presentation to ONE person.
There were no microphones.
No rows of neatly organized chairs.
No name badges.
No, it was just us and him—person to person.

Does that mean the stakes were any less? Does that mean we needed to be 'less' prepared?

Obviously the answer to both of those questions is a resounding NO. The person happened to be the CEO and founder of a very large, very successful healthcare company and the projects and dollars discussed were substantial. The lesson is very simple, whether you're presenting to an audience of one or one thousand, you only have one shot to nail it.

Time will tell if our presentation today achieved the desired result—a signed contract. What we know already is that our attention in advance of the one-to-one presentation was necessary.

Additionally, throughout our meeting we strove for deep authenticity of who we are and what we believe. We shared examples of a highly personal nature. We told our message in a simple, easily understood way. And we left a lot for the next time—we showed real restraint.

You have got to walk the talk, folks! Not only is the right thing to do, it's the right technique to do. If your presentations aren't achieving the desired result, then Change Your Orbit. Thanks gang.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The State of Being Presented

One of the things we hear often is, "we don't do big keynote presentations—we don't need the kind of help you provide."

That couldn't be more wrong.

We ALL give presentations every day of our lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. Be it an introduction to a new business associate, a 15-minute sales call over coffee in a Starbucks, a designer showing (selling) their work to a client, or a 3,000 person audience at a corporate keynote event—we all present ourselves every day. You may be trying to communicate an idea to your marketing department in a conference room, or arguing one side of a topic in a symposium of your peers, you are most definitely giving a presentation.

Now, you may not be formally assembling a script, a deck of slides or practicing your message in a mirror, but each and every opportunity you have to meet someone new, convey a message, sell an idea or display a product, you are putting your ideas, your company, your product and your own self out there on display. And your audience is making subconscious and often conscious assumptions and decisions about you and your wares, be it good or bad.

Whether you know it or not, your posture, dress, gestures, appearance, eye contact, vocabulary, grammar, confidence, scent, handshake, and everything else that you take for granted is on display for people to judge you. A nervous tick might convey an unexpected message. An overly relaxed posture may exude arrogance or contempt. As a sales representative, a weak or overly strong handshake, or an overly strong cologne has just as much effect on your audience as the product you sell. What you DON'T say absolutely has an effect on your presentation to others.

All of these factors are components of corporate and business presentations, as well. How you stand in front of your audience or the eye contact you make (or don't make) are crucial components to connecting with an audience of 1 or 10,000.

presentation (prɛzənˈteɪʃən)
— n
  1. the act of presenting or state of being presented
  2. the manner of presenting, esp the organization of visual details to create an overall impression: the presentation of the project is excellent but the content poor
  3. the method of presenting: his presentation of the facts was muddled
  4. a verbal report presented with illustrative material, such as slides, graphs, etc: a presentation on the company results
  5. a. an offering or bestowal, as of a gift b. ( as modifier ): a presentation copy of a book
  6. a performance or representation, as of a play
  7. the formal introduction of a person, as into society or at court; debut

By any definition, a presentation is presenting something or someone to someone else. In every case, what you say and do absolutely matters to your success or failure.

Are you preparing to succeed or fail?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Being Comfortable is Hard

It's easy to look unprepared. Just don't put any effort into your presentation. Looking casual, relaxed, confident and comfortable is REALLY hard—it takes a lot of practice. A LOT.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book, "Outliers" that to become a superstar at anything, it takes 10,000 hours of work or practice. It might not always be true or accurate (I don't think the Doors practiced much at all before they were rock superstars), but the concept is an important one to grasp.

Practice doesn't make perfect—it just makes you better than everyone else.

We were talking to a prospective client recently about an upcoming conference where he is to stand in front of a room full of 300 individuals who came out to hear about his company. When asked if he was getting ready and how he was preparing for the presentation, he quipped, "I donno, I'm just gonna wing it." He didn't even know the exact date and location of the keynote.

We believe he's preparing to fail. A swift kick in the 'nads would prepare him for the pain of failure that he should expect next month.

Three-hundred people, giving up their free or business time to drive or fly to this event, and listen to this speaker—yet, he doesn't believe that it valuable enough for him to prepare and practice. Fail.

This week another client of ours gave his presentation to his corporation's constituents after weeks of writing, crafting, slide preparation, and most importantly PRACTICE. How did he do? He knocked it out of the park. He was relaxed, comfortable and the message flowed from his body. His audience was engaged and appreciative. He worked for these rewards. He worked hard. The first time we met with him to coach him through his speech, he was unprepared. But seeing how important it was that he should be prepared and know his material, he went back to work to make himself better, and he did it.

It would have been easy for this VP to brush it off and "wing it," but he would have crashed and burned in a fiery ball of goo. Very few of us have the ability to get up there and speak comfortably on any subject, let alone something we know. It just doesn't work that way. Steve Jobs looks casual and comfortable at new Apple product releases because he practices over and over and over again! Not because he's just a regular guy talking about a cool new product, but because he has rehearsed the material and he knows it inside and out. He works his ass off at it.

So remember that if we ask you how you are preparing for your upcoming presentation and you respond, "I'm just going to wing it," be prepared to be physically and emotionally abused—because we're just preparing you for how you feel after you are done failing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spending Good Money After Bad

In this industry, as many others, you come across jobs from time to time that are handed to you to repair or redo. It happens more often than you would imagine. A company seeks out a vendor to perform a service—in our case, creating a slide presentation—and the results fall fatally short of their goals or needs. They usually have spent a lot of money on this service—sometimes overpaid for the results, and it puts them in a bad position. They are then forced to make a very difficult decision. Do they leave it as-is and deal with the poor results or do they spend money again and have it re-done to a higher level?

When my wife and I bought our current house, we decided to have the entire house painted before we ever moved in. We figured it would be a one-shot job with no furniture in the house. What could go wrong?

The results were nauseatingly bad from a "professional" painting company, and to this day I still kick myself for making such a bad choice in picking the painters to hue our freshly-built home. The paint stains on the carpeting, railings, ceiling, doors and fixtures are constant reminders of dollars poorly spent.

Over the last few years, we have systematically re-finished most of the house properly, but it has been a long, slow, painful and costly process.

So as a company when a mistake is made with a high-profile project and the results are less than respectable, how should it be handled? Yes, costly mistakes can often be hard to recover from for any company. Diligent work from the beginning on who you are working with is always the best way to keep this from happening in the first place, but is it necessary to fix the mistake? In a word, yes.

Just because you spent $25k on a presentation or brochure, and it turned out poorly or actually makes your company look bad, that doesn't mean that you have to keep it. The reality is that something like that can do more damage to your brand and business than paying for the same thing twice, just to get it done the right way.

In a perfect world, you would never have to do anything a second time to get it done right, but none of us are perfect. Sometimes a bullet needs to be bit to get the proper results for your company.

And if you ever need your home painted, I can tell you who NOT to use.

Monday, February 28, 2011

What you DON'T say matters too

Last week I had the perverse pleasure of working in Scranton, PA. Sure, it's the home to the fiction Dunder Miflin Paper Company and the sometimes we wish-to-be fictional character "Lunch Bucket Joe" Joe Biden, but if you're stuck there like I was, it becomes all too real.

Please consider these facts; it was 11 degrees, they have something like 4 feet of snow on the ground, it's actually quite close to Appalachia (scary), two of our bags never arrived. Safe to safe, I'm not a big fan of Scranton.

But Brian, your blog post title teased me into thinking you were going to say something important...what gives? Well, while in Scranton, I witnessed a classic example of body language and it's power in presentations.

The dining options in Scranton featured all of the usual suspects...c'mon, you know which ones. We deduced the least painful option to be of a scarlet-colored variety, especially between Monday and Wednesday. WORK WITH ME PEOPLE!!! I can hear the Stones song in my head right now, got it??? Very good. Let's continue.

Okay, we walk in and we are NOT greeted by a friendly, happy face. Instead it's our waitress, they had obviously let the hostess leave, as the place was empty. So now waistress-turned-hostess-yet-still-waitress is large and in charge. She's in no mood for another table, but the place is scheduled to be open for another TWO hours!!!!

We did not feel special, cared about or even welcomed. We didn't get a simple smile and we certainly didn't feel like our soon to be delivered dinner would be good, no matter how tasty it actually turned out to be.

The point of all this is, when you say things in a presentation like "It's great to be here" you better damn well mean it!!!!!! Be truthful with your emotions because your audience can pick up the truth, even if you try to hide it.

Remember, emotions are the key to connecting with people during a presentation. Sure, you all like to think it's great information. WRONG ANSWER...try again. It's EMOTION. Do you really think people remember bullet points or data-dumps? NO!!!! They remember how you made them FEEL.

So, the next time you're looking for dinner in Scranton, be sure to remember the Rolling Stones, hum a few bars of that tune, and you'll know where NOT to go.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Teaching as an art form

Something I have wanted to do since I was a Senior in college was to teach design at the highest level of public or private education. Essentially, to be able to teach people who were solely in front of me to learn from my experience. It started for me when I was a design lab administrator in college, and I found I was easily and comfortably able to teach other students things I knew. Even if it was in small doses, it was tremendously gratifying to me.

A couple of years later, I found myself in my day-to-day job as a Junior Designer at a prestigious Chicago-area design firm (pounding out 65+ hour work weeks with 2.5 hours of total commute), and I realized two things—one, I really hadn't learned nearly what I needed to survive in my industry while I was fighting through the Northern Illinois University Visual Communications program, and even more frustratingly, two, is that what I had learned, I didn't really feel as though I knew why I had learned it. So, the top design school in the Midwest didn't teach me enough, and what they did teach was vague and oblique to the point where I had no idea what the real practical application was. Great.

At that point, I realized that I wanted to go back someday for a Masters in Fine Art, to allow myself to teach college-level design, with real-world applications.

Fast forward 20-odd years, and I still have not returned to acquire my Masters degree, and as time goes one, lifestyle congeals, family is built and a career plods forward, and making the drastic move to return to school for another degree fades further from my reach.

When we started talking about the ideas and philosophies behind SquarePlanet, one of the keystones of the business plan was to be able to develop workshops around teaching what our careers had given us both in experience, and changing the way people think, work and behave with presentations. When we realized how important presentations are to anyone—business, educational or social, we started to focus on the fact that NONE of us are truly taught how to create or develop a presentation, let alone design slides or stand in front of your peers with in idea to promote.

Wait a minute—everyone knows (or thinks they do) how to use PowerPoint, craft messages, and stand up in front of people to talk, but no one was EVER really shown the right way to do this? Really? I think we might be on to something here. This is not intuitive stuff here, yet how many times have you seen people take this task feebly into their own hands, and throw away a massive opportunity?

This past Thursday was the very first SqP Presentation Boot Camp workshop. Boot Camp. Really? Well, yeah. The idea is that we ALL need to have what we know to be the presentation status quo needs to be stripped down to nothing, erased from our collective memories, and started again from scratch. A clean wipe board, if you will.

Our first 1-day school was not without hiccups and rough spots, but for the two of us to be able to get in front of a group of people who really wanted to be there to learn, it was not only an awakening for our class, but it was honestly one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career, and I can't wait to do it again.

With very few nerves or jitters, I was very comfortable in freely giving my experience and knowledge—even in such a small dose—to an eager audience. It was immeasurable joy for me, and it really was something that I enjoy doing. I know Brian enjoyed the day, too, and I really believe that our first students got something valuable from the day.

I'm looking forward to the March 17th school already, and I can't wait to get up in front of our workshop again.

Friday, February 4, 2011

All the right reasons

No matter what you do well, someone will hate it. No matter what you do poorly, someone will love it. Please yourself and reach your own personal goals and you will be a success at whatever you do.


It doesn't always work that way, but it should.

I have spent the last 18 years of my career trying to please clients, and for the most part, I have accomplished that task. The problem is, most clients aren't really comparing my work to anything other than the previous garbage they had before. Unfortunately, in most cases, the bar is set really low. My goal has always been to raise the level of professionalism for any client, and make them look and feel as polished as they can possibly be—even to their own ham-fisted undoing.

It's a frustrating high wire act of balancing what the client thinks they want and what the creative team knows to be the best solution. The old adage, "the client is always right," is almost always getting in the way, though. The problem with that is that if the client was right all the time, they wouldn't have needed my professional experience and they could have done their own work themselves. The reason they hired me in the first place is for my experience and ability to do something they could not. Thus, the client might know what they want, but the almost certainly do not know how to execute to a successful completion.

So you run the risk of clashing with a client over details that will make or break the project, or not even have any effect on the resultant product. And in the end, you must determine which battles to wage war over, to suit your own goals for any given project.

In the end, your goals should always be in the best interests of the client—to represent them in the best possible light, all while doing the best work you can given the time, budget and other constraints.

If you manage to make yourself proud of your own work in the process of making the client shine, then all the better.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:
  • religion
  • royalty
  • sex
  • mystery
The prize-winning essay read: "My God," said the Queen. "I'm pregnant. I wonder who did it?"

There is something to be said for not saying anything. Think about it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people."

-Steve Jobs

Monday, January 17, 2011

teh internets haz made u stupid.

My wife and I read a lot of books to our 2-year old daughter, as she brings us a constant supply of books asking us to, "reeeead." There is a growing stack of children's books in her room now that get my "stamp of stupidity," because of bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, slang speech and a general lack of discipline in something that is essentially teaching our kids how to read and speak.

I see it now a lot in the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers that should employ more experienced copy editors—or even someone who has actually graduated college to do the job. Professional web blogs are littered with terrible English. Some of the industry books written by presentation specialists could use another once-over, as well.

The lack of proper grammar in the written word is bordering on epidemic. It's fine in a text or on Facebook (though it still makes you look stupid), but when you are presenting anything to an audience, it is always in your best interest to make sure your Ts are crossed and your Is are dotted. Literally, and not figuratively.

Internet conversational communication has made us all stupid. It made us lazy. We have forgotten how important the written word is, and how your use of the English language says a lot about you (and potentially your company).

It isn't that much to ask that when you are putting something together for a presentation or anything that puts you out in a spotlight, that you let someone else look over your words. At least proofread your own work. Worst case scenario, let the obligatory spell check have a glance at your efforts to make sure that you are on point, and not looking like a fool.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Have a power failure.

Really. Go unplugged.

Since the Mac computer was unveiled in an Apple Computer commercial during the Super Bowl on January 24, 1984, designers and creative ilk have been attached at the hip with electronic devices that were supposed to make their lives easier. In reality, it turned processes that 25 years ago took days or weeks and made them tasks that now take minutes or even seconds. They also allowed clients to expect work or edits completed virtually immediately. The computer has also become a crutch. Designers, writers and artists now rarely sit in front of a sketchpad or a notebook and create without the aid of some plug-in or digital tool.

It's wrong, and it's a bad way to be creative.

We all are guilty of it. We need to bang out a brochure or a logo, or write some new copy for an ad, and we sit down in front of the computer, open our favorite Adobe or Office or iWork product and we start moving things around hoping they fit.

It's backwards, and that's not how we were taught to create new things or generate ideas and concepts.

With presentations, like anything else created, we should begin with ideas—from our heads—not a computer. Inspiration can be found in many places, but rarely is it offered by your computer. Computers lack creativity. Computers have no personality. Computers can't be emotional.

Computers are stupid.

So unplug.

The first step to creating something new should be with a notepad or a sketchpad. A pen, a pencil, a crayon. Post-it notes work. Napkins. The back of your hand. Anything organic that can be a canvas for ideas—good ones, bad ones, weird ones, and things that you don't even give a chance to work. Explore, sketch, brainstorm, create and develop ideas in your head and with your hands, not with a mouse or a keyboard.

Your rewards will be in the results.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Driver's Ed

You'd never think of letting someone out on the crowded highways without having them sit through Driver's Ed or at least taking a driver's school. The fact is, driving might be something that you could wing if you had to, but there are so many nuances that if left to your own devices, you are a hazard to yourself and everyone else.

Presentations are not any different—though not nearly as dangerous. Maybe.

No one taught you how to use PowerPoint or Keynote, yet you muddle through it to build your presentation. EVERYONE does it.

No one taught you how to develop the content for a presentation, yet we all have data dumped the kitchen sink into slide template after slide, filling it up until another bullet point will not fit.

No one taught you how to speak to an audience of one or one-thousand, but we all have done it with clammy hands and shaking knees. We have all been there.

So when given the need to present an idea, product or concept to any audience, we hand the keys of the family truckster to the admin with no driver's license and let them loose on rush hour traffic. Bad move.

Most of us aren't born speakers. Most of us aren't born designers. Most of us aren't born writers. We are taught our skills by someone who knows what they are doing. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks and Tom Brady—all have coaches who guide them on the proper ways to do things and to improve their craft.

Maybe it is time that we recognize that as a whole, our society has no idea how to give presentations.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fontography: Type on the Internet

I promised I would have something on this yesterday, and after a couple of hours wrestling with the US Postal Service's website, not only did I not want to look at a computer screen for a while, I also was looking for painkillers in the form of Kentucky sipping bourbon. Safe to say, I wasn't interested in posting font source links last night.

Since college, I have been a typography geek. All kinds, all styles, anywhere I can find new typography, I'm there looking for something interesting. So much so that while still in college at Northern Illinois University's Visual Communications program, I was developing a typeface of my own. Not a very normal thing for a college student to be producing in his spare time, but I'm not what you call normal, either.

Collecting "fonts" as they had become known at the cusp of the computer design age (a type 'font' is actually the term for the metal slugs that each size of a particular typeface for setting up a page of words in printing presses), had become an obsession for me. I loved anything with good typography on it. Still do, as a matter of fact, though today I take much more appreciation in things that were done long before computers ruled the communications world.

Anyway, the internet has changed typography for ever. You can acquire any number of thousands of typefaces with the click of a mouse for free, and the best ones out there for not very many bucks. Pay for them when you come across ones you like, because I can tell you first hand, typeface designers don't make a whole lot of money for the large amounts of labor they do.

Using custom typefaces in your presentations can add a massive degree of professionalism and style, without a lot of effort or stress. Please avoid ornate, decorative or script faces, though, as readability and legibility (I'll get into those more later) are of major importance in the success of your written words. Anything described as a "headline" or "display" face should not be used for any amount of copy more than a few large words. Avoid compressed, condensed and even italic in anything but the most minimal of needs. Leave those decisions to the people that do it for a living, and keep it as simple as possible.

In fact, only in certain situations would I use a serif face in place of a cleaner, easier to read sans serif face (which is what Arial is).

Clean, simple, easy to read. These are what you should look for in a new typeface—if you already don't have a corporate typographical standards manual to follow.

Having said that, there are more than a few places on the internet that I really love to go to find new typography. Here's a list of some of my sources for new ideas in type:

Free Typography:

Pay Typography:

Both Free and Pay:

Great Typography Resources:

These are only a few of the literally thousands of wonderful typography resources out there on the interwebs, but are some of my bookmarked favorites. I'm always looking for new sources of typography so if you know of new ones, please do pass them along.

Now, I do realize that this may be like giving a loaded gun to a toddler, but with a little restraint, a beautiful typeface can go a long way in really projecting the right style and image to your audience. Just don't over-do it with the type—keep it to one or two faces that work well together and you will be golden. It isn't easy—that's why there are professionals that do this sort of thing for a living. :)

Have fun, and keep it clean and simple.

Monday, January 3, 2011


One of the easiest ways to push your presentation to the next level is the proper use of typography. Your company has a brand, and probably a corporate typeface or two that the marketing department uses in your corporate collateral. They might even have the corporate typeface in both PC and Mac formats. Easily installed on your computer, using the corporate typefaces in your presentation is the best way to simply put you "on brand" without fear of offending your company's branding police.

You can find a very simple tutorial on installing new fonts on a PC using various Windows operating systems here. A similar tutorial on installing fonts on a Mac can also be found here.

In absence of a corporate type face, there are always alternatives to the lazy standard of Windows Arial, which is really a Microsoft-owned nearly identical rip-off of Helvetica. Using a clean, easy to read typeface is of utmost importance, but don't rely on the standard default font that PowerPoint force-feeds you. There is nothing memorable about a Windows operating system font on the wall.

Tomorrow, I'll provide a list of my favorite typography sources—free as well as pay-to-own. A simple type change can make a huge difference in the emotional connection of your audience to your visuals.