Thursday, June 21, 2012

We have moved house

All of my blogposts on Presenting and Public Speaking have found a new home on my personal website. They are there with all the other stuff I rant about - working life, careers, job-hunting, etc. - so if you just want the presenting stuff, it's here and if you want the whole kit and caboodle from the sink of bohemian depravity that is my mind, the main blog is here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Presenter remotes - the good the bad and the ugly

I am still amazed every time I see a speaker, who obviously delivers presentations on a regular basis, standing up without a remote in their hand. I've written about this before I'll do a post shortly on the reasons why you MUST HAVE one of these little gizmos; but for now let's look at the models that are out there and assess their overall value.

The two major players in this space are Kensington and Logitech and all of their remotes work with both Windows and Macs, without the need for any drivers or patches, and all of them operate fine with both PowerPoint (03, 07 and 10) and Keynote 09. I noticed that a couple of them didn't give the 'black screen' option under Keynote, but I'll address that in the individual items.

Let me preface my reviews by saying a few things:
  1. The 'feel' of a remote in your hand is a very personal thing. Some people like something big and chunky to grip firmly as they speak; others prefer something very light and slim to do the job. Likewise buttons - some people prefer a solid button with a strong 'click' feedback when you press it, others prefer a silent, subtle feel to their buttons. I'm going to express my thoughts on the basis of client feedback and personal preferences.
  2. Laser pointers are built in to the majority of these remotes. That is not necessarily a good thing. The vast majority of presenters who rely on a laser do so with an unbraced hand and the resultant dot on the screen is a wavy, jerky nuisance to the audience. At Fortify, we teach our clients to anticipate where you might want to point out something and then build a 'callout' into the presentation. Our recommendation is that if you must use the laser, use it sparingly (no more than 2-3 times in a 30 minute talk) and learn to brace your elbow against your ribs and hold your breath as you hit the magic button.
  3. The forward button on all the remotes I've tested is the equivalent of hitting 'Page Down' on your keyboard - which means that none of them will start an element (e.g. a video) on your slide that requires a 'click' to start. You will have to go back to the keyboard for that moment.
  4. I have not reviewed mouse-remote combo products - just remotes. If you are an academic or a creative who requires annotation on the move while you present, you'll need to look elsewhere.
  5. I'm making the assumption that if you read a blog like this one you are (a) really interested in presenting well and (b) probably present fairly often. You may already own a presenter remote, or have just stepped up to the level where such an item has become a real necessity. Here's what's on offer at the time of writing:

Logitech R-R0001 (list price varies, mine cost €90.00)
Get one while you still can - this is the best remote out there by a long mile. Lovely feel in the hand, intelligent button placement, great features.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen, F5 to start your preso (doesn't work on all computers or software versions). Power switch. Timer with LCD screen. Vibrating feedback on timer. Volume control. 
  • Pros: Nice feel and comfort for long use in either hands. Small enough that it doesn't interfere with gesturing or get noticed by audiences as you talk. The tapered shape feels a little odd at first, but again allows for variation in grip - I switch from gripping with my ring and pinkie to gripping with my thumb and forefinger as I fiddle and fidget quite a bit with my hands when I present. The addition of the timer was a very clever move by Logitech; you can set it to your presentation duration in 5-minute increments and it gives you visual and vibrating feedback of the time remaining. The volume control is simply the icing on the cake for this remote.
  • Cons: Not available from Logitech any more - try and Ebay. Other than that, none really. At a stretch, the forward-and-back rocker switch may have too 'clicky' an action for those who like their buttons subtle and silent.

Kensington Wireless Presenter (list price €39.99)
This is a small, but solid remote, with a nice soft action to the buttons. This version doesn't come with a built-in laser pointer. Kensington sell the same physical model with a laser and 1GB of memory built into the receiver for €70.  
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen, F5 (same caveat as above). No power switch, but the USB receiver seems to shut off the remote when it is in place, so it may provide that function. 
  • Pros: Light but a nice solid feel. Comfortable in both hands - as with any remote, you need to find your 'home' position for your hand so your thumb can rest comfortably on the advance button. Its shape means you can also choose to grip around the bulbous end or the skinnier 'waist' of the remote.
  • Cons: Short on features (see above), but a good workhorse remote for the money.

Logitech R400 (list price €39.99)
Longer and slimmer than the equivalent-priced Kensington, with a very different feel in the hand. I found that I could operate this remote most comfortably using my left hand, which I didn't like.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen (jumps your preso out of screenshow in Keynote - but you can fix this with a little fiddling in System Preferences), F5 (same problem in Keynote). Separate power switch. Battery level indicator. 
  • Pros: A nice feel in the hand - good heft and solidity. Very nice button feel.
  • Cons: I didn't like the feeling in its 'home' position in my right hand with extended use. I had to twist it, so it didn't really feel bedded-down in my hand. Also, a nit-pick - it's too long. Too much of the remote protruded from my hand during use. The 'screen' doesn't tell you anything beyond battery life, so there's no reason or need for this.

Kensington Presenter Pro (list price €69.99)
Big but light, with widely-spaced buttons. I have to say I do not like this remote - not on first sight and very much not after usage. It's not light, it's flimsy. The USB receiver feels like it's made of eggshells; the battery cover keeps popping open in my hand because it's so bendy and the catch is not strong enough, plus the buttons have a cheap-and-nasty feel to them too.
  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen, Power switch. 
  • Pros: It does what it says on the tin - it works. Redeeming features are that the range of the device is very impressive - handy if you habitually present in large arenas. Also the built-in laser is green. Facetiously, that makes you feel like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Practically, the green is lovely to look at and really, really hi-viz. 
  • Cons: Too big for my liking. Crappy feel from crappy components and it's light on features for the money. Premium price for a cheap-and-nasty product - categorically not worth your time or money. Oh! And did I forget to mention that you can upgrade it with 2GB of Micro-SD memory for just another €30? What a bargain! [To be fair, the €30 gets you an SD reader in the USB receiver and it comes with a 2GB chip, upgradeable to 32GB] 

Logitech R800 (list price €79.99)
Similar in shape to the R400, with added features, but also with the same problem in my hand - I felt more comfortable using it left-handed.

  • Buttons/Features: Forward, Back, Blank Screen (problems with Keynote, fixable with System Preferences), F5 (same Keynote problem), Power switch. The 800 also has an LCD screen with battery life, signal strength and timer. 
  • Pros: Very nicely made, with nice button feel. The timer operates in increments of 1 minute, rather than 5, so it's even more useful. It has the same vibrate alert as you come close to your end-time too. It also has a whiny-guy-from-Star-Wars-green laser which, kidding aside, is truly bright. [I actually got an "ooh!" from an audience of techies when I lit it up] Not an important feature for me, as I've said, but if you're going to have a steenking laser, it might as well be a pretty one.
  • Cons: Again, too physically long for my liking - there must be 2cm of remote sticking out of my hand. And again, the 'home' position doesn't feel quite right (more noticeable after long use) - it's not as bad as the 400, as you can slide your index finger further up it to support, but it wouldn't be my remote of choice. Also, Logitech dropped the volume control from this, their premium product, which is a real loss for me. 

For those die-hards who are interested, Mr Steven Jobs used to use the PerfectCue Mini - a steal at $630.00. I've experimented with various phones as remotes or back-ups over the years, including the iPhone, as I present nearly all the time using Keynote on a Mac; but I just find phones too big and restrictive. They capture your hand(s) and you find yourself looking down at them all the time. The iPad doesn't allow for very expressive presenting either, plus the output res is still too low to be of use outside of a small meeting room or classroom environment. [This may well be fixed with the release of the iPad 3 in the Spring]. 

Bottom line - 90% of what you want your remote to do is to simply advance your slides. Find the one that does that comfortably, consistently and within your price bracket. If you get more adventurous with your presentations as time goes on, you will inevitably find yourself shopping around for more features in your remote. Be clear about what you need and shop with that in mind. Personally, I can't wait for a purple laser pointer like Samuel L Jackson's lightsabre in Attack of the Clones ... 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I don't care how you make the sausages

I was reviewing a presentation for a client recently. He's a boutique consultant, with some very good ideas and the service that he and his partners have come up with centres on identifying savings and efficiencies for small-to-medium sized businesses, improving cash-flow in the short term and enabling those businesses to expand in the medium to long term. They have developed a strong methodology and have gained an invitation to present their ideas at ministerial level here in Ireland. So far so good.

Then I looked at the presentation.
  • 30% of the landscape was logos and bands of color.
  • Every slide was awash with full-sentence bullet points.
  • All the info was presented up front on each slide - the busiest of which had 43 elements on it.
  • And finally, the core of their presentation was a lengthy discussion of their methodology, the elements it was designed to address, and the three pillars on which it was built (represented by a triangle, four circles, and a continuous improvement arrow diagram)
"I don't care how you make the sausages," I said.
"You're jumping straight into a long-winded description of your processes and the thinking behind them. I don't care how you make the sausages."

My recommendation to him was to produce one slide. A case study of Company X. 
"We applied our methodology in Company X. They made savings of Y% over 6 months and grew by Z% over the next 12 months, hiring 5 new staff to accommodate all the extra business." [Irish ministers right now are very interested in projects that result in jobs growth]
"If the minister seems interested in this, then you produce one more slide. Case studies of Companies A, B and C."
Company A          Savings X%          Growth Y%          New Jobs: N
Company B          Savings X%          Growth Y%          New Jobs: N
Company C          Savings X%          Growth Y%          New Jobs: N
"Then you can tell him you accomplish all this with a simple sausage and ask if he wants to know how you make your sausages!"

Look at a recent presentation of yours. Chances are, there will be a flowchart or a process diagram in there. Like as not, it will have four apices with a continuous arrow feeding into each of the points. Or it may have three or five or even six apices.

Utterly generic.

I don't care if it's in 3D, I don't care if it was hand-rendered under a full moon by elvish princesses and cost you $5,000; if it's a process improvement diagram, it is UTTERLY GENERIC.

Not to you - you've sweated over every detail of it, you've questioned the utility and impact of every word in every part of every questionnaire you have designed. But to me - and hundreds of PowerPoint viewers like me - ya-awn! 

That means, two slides into your presentation, my eyes are glazing over. That means I am unconsciously thinking of you as nothing special or writing you off as yet another snake oil salesperson. That means you have not piqued my interest or held my attention from the get-go.

So don't tell me how you make your sausages. Instead, determine if I like sausages. Determine if I need or want sausages. Tell me how your sausages have improved other people's lives. Give me benefits, give me happy endings and smiling faces. Then, once I've expressed real interest in your sausages, I may start asking questions as to their constituents and manufacture.

There's an old quote, frequently misattributed to Otto von Bismarck, about the two thing you should never see being made - laws and sausages. I don't know who the true coiner of the phrase was, but it was a good one.

I don't care how you make your sausages.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Wright Brothers - Powerpoint

Nice little page on imagining how some events in history might have been talked about, planned, and presented if MS Office existed in days of yore. A bit of a step up from the Gettysburg Address PowerPoint here ...

RSS Readers may need to click through to the post.
Related Posts:
Cinderella PowerPoint
Suicide note PowerPoint from The Onion (pretty darn sick!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Technical presentation by an "Infosec Rockstar"

Mikko Hypponen presented at TED Global in Edinburgh last week. I've long been a fan of Mikko's due to an involvement in the Infosec space some years ago and follow him on Twitter. so when I saw him mention that he had locked his slides for TED:

I retweeted it with some amusement, wondering what he had in mind. Watch and enjoy - here is an amazingly technically-minded person talking to a bunch of ordinary folk, using props, pictures, live demos and just a little theatre to give a rich context to the problems we face now, and for the future, on the net.
Readers on RSS feeds will need to click through to the post - it's a TED thing, sorry.
A brilliantly conceived and executed talk that manages to simplify complex issues without patronising the audience. Watch and learn.

UPDATE: Mikko answered questions about his talk in an "ask me anything" session on Reddit.

Related Posts
How to smoothly move back and forth between apps when presenting and demoing
Doing something unexpected to snap your audience back to attention

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oh dear god! (A very special VC pitch)

Oh. My. God.
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I don't wish to be churlish here, but it's hard not to notice that practically ALL of Ms Sequoia's slides consist entirely of bullet points. So even that element of possible respect and concern for her audience was left by the wayside.

H/T: Luke

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Dotconf 2011 talk

I was invited to give a deepdive talk on presentation skills at Dotconf 2011 here in Dublin. The deepdive format is great - you give two 30 minute talks to two different audiences and based on the assumption that people know the basics of the topic - hence deepdiving.

I drilled in on a number of aspects of presenting and responded to questions that had been posted in advance on Twitter and Linkedin and by email. The two sessions ended up being slightly different in tone and focus, but I have summarised them with the 4 Point presentation below. I've annotated it so it makes sense, and I've left it run long so as not to clutter up the visuals. It takes about 6 minutes to click through.
4 Game-changers for Presentations

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Comments, addenda, questions and rotten eggs all appreciated.