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.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Walk a mile in another man's shoes.

Empathy. Something that most people seriously lack when creating business or academic presentations. But it's one of the most important things you can remember when you are developing a presentation for yourself. Walk a mile in another man's shoes, really. Or rather, never give a presentation that you wouldn't want to sit through yourself.

In the case of presentations, this issue has numerous outlets.

First of all, you absolutely need to identify your audience and understand their frame of reference before you write your speech. Are they techies capable of understanding your technical jargon, or are you trying to teach or educate your audience? Both options require very different techniques for delivery. Spew the techno-jargon on your unacquainted audience, and you will soon see the light—as audience members begin to surf the web on their iPhones. You have to speak to your audience—not condescending, but in a way that will keep their attention, while also getting the message to them.

Bombarding the target with dimmed lights, 12-point copy-filled slides, and boring content will surely not let your message be heard. Most people will give you 15 minutes of their attention before they tend to lose interest, but they will easily be able to tell right off the start of your presentation if even those 15 minutes are warranted. If you are not compelling, your message will be lost.

Put yourself in the eye of the audience. You know if your presentation is worth sitting through or not. If it is not in your mind, imagine what your audience will feel.