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.

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?

Conductors are managers

Helmut and I loved Itay Talgam‘s presentation of famous conductors and their styles, from the TED conference in Oxford. It’s actually not just a mirror of styles of management, it’s also a prism of culture, as control is organized in very different ways. So, which of the conductors appeals most to you: Carlos Kleiber, Ricardo Muti, Richard Strauss, Herbert v. Karajan, Carlos Kleiber (again), or Leonard Bernstein?

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Feeling a bit out of sorts with your job or looking for orientation? That’s a good time to do a questionnaire like MTBI, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. That’s a test HR managers and headhunters love to use. It’s based on C. G. Jung’s analysis of how we make decisions, with its opposite pairs:

  • thinking vs. feeling
  • sensing vs. intuition
  • judging vs. perceiving
  • introversion vs. extroversion

“The original developers of the personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. They began creating the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be ‘most comfortable and effective’.” (Wikipedia)

The MTBI  sorts you into one of 16 types, described on the Myers & Briggs Foundation site. You can take the test yourself at Human Metrics. If you’re learning English and do the MTBI you’ll find that the vocabulary is really great!

My type? I’m ENFJ, and the blurb says that means I tend to be

“Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.”

Yeah, right, ok, so in that case I guess I’m the born teacher. No position in the power-broker world of top management for me. Yeah. Grin and bear it!  😉

Scrutinizing Scrum

A few months ago I first heard about agile planning methods in software development from Christian (see this blog in April,  Nobody’s perfect) and now Helmut is busy reading up on Scrum. Scrum is a project management method which focusses completely on the customer and the quality of the product.  How? It progresses in very short cycles to develop a product and checks that progress against a grid called the product backlog, a description of the product and a to-do-list that is maintained by the product owner and communicated to the whole team on a daily basis. That may sound like a lot of work, but it cuts unnecessary ballast out of work processes and keeps the project on track.

“Scrum” is actually a term from the rugby playbook. After an infringement or a break in the game, the forward players huddle in several rowslocking heads and shoulders, working as a unit in a powerful collective effort to regain possession of the ball.

Continue reading Scrutinizing Scrum

Nobody’s perfect

I was walking through the TUM the other day when I saw a label above a nice architectural exhibit showing a building project, which read, “Der Zweck der Planung ist die Realisierung.” How very German that sentence is: three nouns and no real verb, like a stone temple of language. Nobody is doing anything in this sentence. Instead, it seems like there is one big purpose, one beautiful plan and one perfect realization. Oh, come on. That’s not how things work, is it? I, for one, would be in deep trouble if I had to get everything right in one step. Continue reading Nobody’s perfect