Better visuals for college presentations

Today I wrote an open letter to my Masters of Public Management students on how to improve their visuals. It included these points:

Better visuals:

To improve your design, especially your use of space on slides, select a theme that suits your purposes. Consider a clean color scheme with good contrast to suit the light conditions at the university. (I used a black gradient with white letters.) Then create a slide master, which stores information about the template (theme, a set of layouts, color scheme, fonts, placeholders for positioning). That creates harmonious slide variations on one theme, all saved in one master. When you make a new presentation, you build your slide deck by selecting from among the possible layouts, changing from slide to slide, and positioning your content in the given placeholders.

Use the graphic tools provided in your MS Office programs. Create visuals (graphic organizers, flowcharts…) using the tools in Powerpoint and Word called SmartArt. If you can’t find a chart that works for your purpose, tailor organizers using Diagrams and Tables. Save your own visuals and use them in your Prezis.

Use clipart provided by your program, if necessary, but reduce your use of clipart in your academic work. Replace those generic illustrations with authentic evidence (visualized calculations, documentation, photographs) to back up your assertions effectively.

If you need evocative photos for emotional impact or reference, use license-free photographs and document your sources to use them. I like eltpics, a searchable creative commons collection curated by English teachers around the world. https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/tags/

Better use of text

I know that “Presentation Zen” author Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte advocate reducing text on slides. That works well for natural science presentations, which are best when you show just the evidence, and for marketing, which runs on emotions. However, in our international context, with so much potential for verbal misunderstanding, and in our academic tradition of analytical thinking, you do need some text! Include all relevant names, titles of works and conceptual keywords on your slide. Formulate your key thesis as a full sentence. Label your charts legibly, with 16 point lettering. Use the spaces suggested by your template to formulate a header for orientation, keep bullets points short (max. 6-7 lines x 6 words), or – better – label the containers you have created in your template to contrast or compare selected terms.

Present any quotes in full length and include the name of the author.

Your presentations are unique, and your teachers and peers respect and enjoy that variety. Use the ideas of Dan and Chip Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) to assess yourself:

Is what you present

simple – have you found the core of the idea?
unexpected – do you grab people’s attention?
concrete – can it be grasped and remembered?
credible – do you speak with authority on this subject, are your methods are sound?
emotional – do you share your sense of humanity with your audience?
stories – do you take your audience on an interesting journey?

Earth in Progress

Climate scientists on site, investigating lake sediments at Lake Hämelsee for clues of climate change. This is a product of the Earth in Progress project, a cooperation between various disciplines involved in responding effectively to climate events. I’ve had the privilege of providing English communication skills courses to some members of the project.
The film makers ask the scientists about their motivation, making their work a bit more more accessible to the general public.
INTIMATE: http://cost-es0907.geoenvi.org/
PROGRESS: http://www.earth-in-progress.de

The Exploratorium and the Science of Sailing

Before becoming an English skills trainer, I worked on exhibitions presenting cultural history. My teaching and translating work since has made me curious about science. This summer we visited the wonderful Exploratorium in San Fransisco and saw the interactive exhibit they set up for the America’s Cup. That has fired my imagination and whetted my appetite. I’d love to get back into the field of exhibitions.

Here Exploratorium co-director Paul Doherty explains an exhibit showing what makes a boat sail faster than the wind.

The GoldieBlox Rube Goldberg (Anti)-Princess Machine

I support GoldieBlox www.goldieblox.com, a toy startup dedicated to introducing girls to engineering through a combination of building toys and stories. That is, I bought 3 or 4 boxes of their first product from the USA on blind faith. The combination of hands-on building with hard and soft materials, abstract building materials and concrete characters,  and a storybook in relatively simple English, is really nice for 4-8 year-olds, whether or not they’ve been born into playing in English.  I do think the storybook is a bit dim, I’m afraid, but the concept and the toy itself is fine. So I have these boxes of the GoldieBlox Spinning Machine sitting around my flat, waiting for my favorite little girls to pick them up. GoldieBlox has produced a followup toy, as well.

The GoldieBlox venture is more idea than toy, at this point. CEO Debbie Sterling is using social media to create a community to empower girls.”In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys toys”. By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”

This advertisement was created by GoldieBlox to enter into a contest for broadcasting rights at the Superbowl. The Rube Goldberg machine employs mechanical components that come with the toy set, and just a few more doodads you might find around the house. Unfortunately, it was not built by the girls acting here, who are however power-users and testers of the toy. The ad is intended to inspire others.

PS: The video has gone viral. 2,796,595 hits in 2 days.

PPS: GoldieBlox is sueing the Beastie Boys. Oh, no.

Hans Rosling’s creative teaching technologies – realia, boxes, Lego

I’m thinking through how useful I find using small manipulable toys like cuisinaire rods and Lego to visualize information, to explain and teach things in a small classroom, for example in one-to-one training. Recently I’ve joined a group exploring the terrain of using Lego, and so I’m thinking back to how I have used these tools with various clients over the years.  Now I’ve stumbled upon a video of Hans Rosling using Lego, an opportunity to ponder quietly what the effect is on the learner.

Hans Rosling is unquestionably one of the best international presenters in the world, having captured the visual essence of development in his moving bubble charts (Gapmminder).But he’s also given  a mind-blowing presentation of progress using a washing machine. He has presented using Ikea boxes, and now, in a new video, he uses Lego. First, here are the three presentations with realia, boxes and Lego:

Washing machine:

Ikea boxes:

Lego:

I frankly really appreciate the use of real life realia, they evoke emotion the way a multifunctional building toy simply can’t. I use things or at least pictures of things quite a lot. Saying that one abstract box represents one thing and placing it next to an identical other box representing a different thing places additional cognitive load on the viewer. That can be good or bad, depending on whether the load is rewarded in some way. It helps if you add visual distinction to the box, the way Hans Rosling does with the realia he pulls out of his Ikea boxes, like some magician. That adds a lovely element of play and surprize.

Bare Lego on the other hand without playing clown or dress-up will divide the public. It can be charming to those with happy memories of the building toy, or with lots of practice building with their kids. That charm can be harnessed to focus attention. I think, however, that the blocks need to be very well connected visually to stories as they are told. I once saw Mark Powell use cuisinaire rods that way, and it got me down the road of storytelling with little blocks and rods. I’ve found that once those stories start to materialize and are understood, there is a creative spark that you can kindle and develop as you hand things over, step by step, to the students. And then I think the additional cognitive load is actually exactly what you need, because the learners are more engaged and working harder at the same time.

Beyond that, however, what these presentations show me at least is that it’s easy to visualize the big picture with simple tools, or to tell a simple story, but to see and remember the details, e.g. ratios between groups or development over time, and in fact figures of any kind, you really need graphics. Nothing replaces complex graphics for communicating complex data, and in turn relating that, when it is well done, to a big idea.

Presenting science to your peers

I gave a morning workshop yesterday on scientific presentations to students of Geoscience and updated my approach a little. It now includes the concept of creating storytelling cycles of tension and resolution (situation, complication, resolution, example), as explained by presentation guru Andrew Abela, whose book, Advanced Presentations by Design, I have just ordered. Also see his excellent Extreme Presentation Method website, which showcases his thought-provoking, well-structured approach.

The Love Competition

A wonderful experiment, set up as a competition: Six people subject themselves to a brainscan while they think of someone they love. As they concentrate fully, the dopamine, the serotonin and the oxytosin wash through their brain, showing up in the scan. This is not only a beautiful study on kinds of love, it’s also a stunning reaffirmation of the power of thought to steer feelings. The two winners are wonderful.

The Love Competition from Brent Hoff on Vimeo.

Helmut, for 20 years.

Thanks to Willow for the link