Week 85: Better Presentations

Some thoughts about the tools we use to give better presentations and talks.

Goodbye Powerpoint

So, we all hate Powerpoint presentations, right? Nevertheless, it’s the de-facto standard in our industry for communicating ideas, proposals and basically everything else we want someone to agree on. It’s the most often required deliverable from clients for the kind of work we do. Sure, everyone is trying to come up with some fancy add-ons to make a difference. A video here, some print-outs or posters there. But most of the time, the presentation deck remains the key component of any kind of presentation.1

It’s interesting that we all still stick to a concept that goes back to a time when overhead-projectors were considered fancy. That’s where Powerpoint got all its metaphors from.
Time to rethink the whole concept, I’d say. We’re constantly running into problems with presentation decks. Things tend to change last minute. The client or the audience brings up a new issue during the talk and makes your deck instantly outdated. There’s no spontaneity, no room to adapt. This is not how we want to work with our clients. We don’t like to “present” something where we talk them through a deck and they have to listen. We’d rather discuss our approach and adapt it on the fly to whatever feedback, questions and ideas come up. This is why we’re moving more and more away from pure presentation decks2.

Our new formula

diagram

We actually didn’t set out on purpose to change the way we do presentations. It kind of happened by accident. As you know, we’re big fans of Magic Paper as a tool for brainstormings and thinking through ideas and concepts. So instead of turning a concept we’ve developed on Magic Paper into a deck, we’ve started to bring Magic Paper to the client and redo our thought process for them in a bit more refined and cleaned up version. So far, most clients really like that approach.

First, the disconnect that happens with every transition to the next slide, when we lose the audience for a second while they scan the new one, doesn’t happen anymore. We can draw or write the stuff the second we’re saying it, which helps the audience to remain focussed.
Questions and feedback can be added instantly and become a recorded part of the whole discussion right away, which is very helpful for the post-processing of the meeting results. It also communicates to the client that nothing is fixed and that they should feel free to add.
As we leave each sheet of Magic Paper hanging on the wall, the client and we get a great view at the whole picture and can easily refer to earlier points.
Another big point is that we can’t use slides to navigate through a meeting. All we have are empty sheets of Magic Paper and maybe a scribble in a notebook. We actually have to know our content pretty well so that we don’t forget something. That way, our client knows that we’re really involved in what we talk about and know our stuff without external aid.

After our first experiences, we’re now starting to use Magic Paper as the center of talks and presentations and use decks only where we need a clean picture of something like screenshot etc. My talk on Location-based Services was the first full presentation I gave with that approach and it worked out beautifully. As you can see, I used scribbles to explain the basic concepts and slides to show screenshots of apps and websites. I gave the talk three times and the flip chart always looked a bit different for each talk as the questions and feedback always varied a bit.

So this is how we try to do client presentations and talks now, with a good combination of Magic Paper and presentation decks, using each tool for what it does best. This is a big departure from the usual dog and pony shows that agencies like to give to clients. As we’re constantly moving more and more into business consulting work, we’re also looking for better ways to collaborate with our clients. This is one expression of that change.

Is the iPad the perfect presenter tool?

Nevertheless, we’re already looking for the next iteration of this presentation style. I was really impressed when I saw DJ Spooky present in Belgrade a few weeks back. He used an iPad mirrored to the projector and constantly moved back and forth between his dj app, the browser and a huge collection of photos and slides he had in his picture folder on the iPad. He was constantly improvising and reacting to questions from the audience. He didn’t care about a picture-perfect presentation but wanted to communicate his points in the best ways possible.

This got me thinking about the iPad as a great improvisation tool for presenters. So I’ve bought a VGA adapter and a Bamboo Stylus and will start experimenting with this approach. The stylus in combination with Paper is basically the Magic Paper replacement. Slides will go into the pictures folder. I can easily access further material like studies and examples via Evernote and the browser. Now I’m curious to see how audiences will perceive it. Will it make my talks more interesting or will they get lost in too many formats on screen? I’m going to find out and adapt accordingly.

What else

We’ve wrapped up all the events throughout the last weeks and are back at the office in full project and new biz mode. Now is the time to get in all those nice summer projects. So if you would like us to work on something for you like for example an evaluation of your latest digital activities, a research project on innovation in your market, an inspiring event for your employees, clients or partners or a workshop to future-proof your next steps while you’re lying at the beach, get in contact.

If you need some reading material at the beach: we’ve created a PDF of our social media strategy framework, so you can read it offline. We’ve also made a MOBI and a EPUB file available so your Kindle or other ebook readers won’t go empty.

I will be at the Dachis Social Business Summit in Berlin on Wednesday. If you’re there, too, let me know.


  1. Please, don’t mention the five minutes in which we all thought that Prezi would be the next big thing in presentations until we got very dizzy from the spins and twirls and realized that it gets pretty boring a minute later. 

  2. We’ve been able to almost solely work in Keynote instead of Powerpoint, which has eased the pain a bit. 

What we read this week (20 Jan)

In this week’s reads: Facebook wants to get into your car, Nike tracks your heartbeats, Apple’s iBook Author shakes the bookshelves, and William Gibson makes a not-unusual cameo appearance.

Quotes of the week

Metaphors are useful, as they enable the thin skein of connectivity between bodies of thought; yet they are also a leaky mechanism, potentially losing much richness from original concept to translation.

Dan Hill

Is serendipity just the playing out on the human level of the same emerging, patterned self-organization that drives evolution?

Simon G. Powell

Articles of the week

What we read this week (28 Oct)

What a reading list we have for you this weekend. Grab yourself a good cup of coffee, and dig in.

  • The Post-Functional Paradigm: Why all designs are compensations for telepathy and teleportation Our friend Mark Jensen (@marks), currently working as a design intern at Google, sums up his thesis on post-functional design as a paradigm. Fantastic work.
  • Emo Touch Screen Future Toby Barnes of Mudlark started a somewhat ironic tumblelog: Emo Touch Screen Future features (often somewhat failed or misguided) visions of how touch screens will revolutionize our day-to-day lives.
  • FT: Good news and bad news for news on the iPad The Pew Research Center found out that US tablet owners consume tons of news on their tablets but do it mostly in the browser and are not very willing to pay for it.
  • Playful: Flying cars & iPads We’ve heard only good things about Playful Conference by all accounts (we had tickets but couldn’t make it). Mary Hamilton has picked up the topic of future nostalgia and written this beautiful post around it. Similar to some stuff we’ve been thinking about recently. Here’s a good summary by our friend Kars from Hubbub here.
  • Pretty Cluetrain The Cluetrain Manifest in one page, for extra easy consumption.
  • Fast Company: Bill Nguyen, The Boy In The Bubble Fast Company portraits Bill Nguyen, the founder of Color, a photo sharing app for the iPhone that has become synonymous for over-eager venture capitalists throwing money at startups based on nothing but buzz words and hype.
  • BoingBoing: An interview with David Eagleman Some great thoughts about our perception of time, near-death-experience and deja vues with neuroscientist and author David Eagleman.
  • Cleantech: How big data will help manage a world of 7 billion people By this time next week, the world will have 7 billion people in it, according to the United Nations, and by 2050 there are supposed to be 9 billion people in the world. This rapid population growth will fundamentally change the way populations use resources like energy, water and food, and corporations, governments and NGOs will increasingly turn to analytics, software and big data tools to manage how to deliver these resources to the populations that need them.
  • Nieman Journalism Lab: Word clouds considered harmful “Every time I see a word cloud presented as insight, I die a little inside.” We agree. Data visualization is an art form, or a craft. Peeling away layers and layers of data sets to surface the story hidden inside, adding context, supporting insight. And then there’s word clouds, that show you nothing but how many times a word was mentioned. Excellent stuff.
  • Wieden+Kennedy: Why We’re Not Hiring Creative Technologists WK’s Igor Clark on Creative Technologists: “Clearly many non-technical factors are involved, but there is one simple and concrete thing we can do: stop hiring “creative technologists”. Hire coders. Reject compromise on this front, and resist pressure to give in to it. Only hire people to work at the crossover of creative and technology if they have strong, practical, current coding skills.”

Week 49

A busy week of workshops and strategy work is behind us, so we move into a week all about the future of cities. Also, an overview of the events and projects we’re contributing to over the next few weeks: PICNIC, Social Media Week, People in Beta and Chefsache.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start into a week full of discussions on the future of cities: Right now I’m on my way to Frankfurt to visit the Audi Urban Future Summit which I was kindly invited to. The conference boasts quite a line-up of speakers including Carlo Ratti (MIT Senseable Cities Lab) and Chris Anderson (WIRED). Later this week Igor and I will be headed for Amsterdam to do a workshop with David Bausola (Weavrs). We’ll be prototyping concepts for mashups building on two huge bodies of data: human data (think Quantified Self) and city data (think Cognitive Cities). You can follow our progress on this QuantifiedCities tumblr, and we’ll be sure to follow up in next week’s weeknote.

What were we up to last week?

Johannes took part in a workshop about digital magazines at one of our clients. He provided some market overview and explored the continuous struggle of publishers to let go of their print heritage to embrace their customers’ new reading habits. Many publishers are still in that stage where they think about simply transferring their print content to new devices, but haven’t developed an understanding of how their customers actually use these devices. Fortunately, we can work with clients who are getting the hang of it.

I spent two days in Hamburg, both on client workshops and to meet up with a whole bunch of lovely people. It’s always great to be in Hamburg.

We also presented the social media strategy for a strong brand we all grew up with – internally for now, but maybe we can follow up on this more publicly soon.

Also, our friends Freunde von Freunden celebrated their international launch: Congratulations again!

In other news, we’re getting ready to move offices. Our office neighbors Gidsy need more space and so do we, so we’ll expand a little and set up our new HQ over the next few weeks. We were lucky: our address will stay the same.

So what’s up next?

At Social Media Week Berlin I’m looking forward to hosting a panel (Social Media Strategy and the Future). (Disclosure: I’m on the advisory board of SMW Berlin.)

On Saturday, Johannes will give a Pecha Kucha style talk at Chefsache Meets Berlin about how to cope with information overflow.

Betahaus invited us to be part of the People In Beta Festival (1 Oct 2011), which combines the best of maker, coworking and startup culture. We’re glad we can pitch in (among other things, Johannes will give a more in-depth presentation on information overflow, too). More on that soon.

Our travel schedules this week

Johannes will be embedded at a client most of the week. I’m in Frankfurt today. Igor and I will be at PICNIC in Amsterdam from Tuesday to Friday. (If you’re there, ping us!)

iPad Magazines

Which magazine on iPad will change the advertising and publishing world? I’ve bought them all, but I still don’t believe in the concept ‘iPad magazine’. As long as publishers consider iPad magazines to be digital versions of their print magazines with some added interactive features, it won’t work out.

I recently joined the Purple List, a network of experts set up by PSFK that answers questions and gives opinion on all kind of topics. A recent question was about iPad magazines:

Which magazine on iPad will change the advertising and publishing world?

Here’s my answer: I’ve bought them all: Wired, WiredUK, Project, PopSci+, Interview, Intelligent Life and all the German attempts. The magazine folder on my iPad is the largest of all my iPad-folders. But I still don’t believe in the concept ‘iPad magazine’. Magazines obviously come from the print world. They are pure print. The whole format, the presentation of content, the curation, the writing, everything is optimized for publishing on print.

The buzz about the iPad in the publishing industry reminds me of the buzz in the marketing world about Second Life a few years back. Everybody is excited because it seems they can now go back to what they know best and make a buck in the digital realm. The marketers were excited to do outdoor campaigns again in Second Life and the publishers are excited to to print publications but on digital devices.
Problem is, it has never worked out to approach a new format/screen/media/device with an old mindset. And that’s why I think that no ‘iPad magazine’ will change the publishing and advertising industry. As long as publishers consider iPad magazines to be digital versions of their print magazines with some added interactive features, it won’t work out. The iPad (and tablet devices in general) are a new entity in our everyday (digital) life and to create successful media for it, we have to put the user’s use of devices and media throughout his day in the center and create an ecosystem of services to go with that.

What I hope for is that some publishers will take a good look at their core content and competence and pair that with their insights into the user’s behavior to create completely new formats. If I had to bet money on a publisher, it would be Bonnier. I think their News+ concept is spot on (the two intro slides say it all).

Check out the other answers