Don’t Be Afraid To Be Transparent

If you don’t know how to make an image transparent or recolor that image we must correct that today. Right now. This instance. 95% of all my images get some level of transparency treatment. Even the ones you don’t think have been touched.

If you don’t master converting images to be transparent you will end up with the dire alternative: the Nascar slide!

Nascar Slide of Logos

There are a number of ways to deal with this slide. Remove it completely. HURRAH. Or master some of tools and skills described in this blog.

  1. Wikipedia – If you need a logo start here. Almost all the logos for companies can be found in a transparent PNG format. Score!
  2. GIMP – This is a GNU Image Manipulation Program which is available on a number of Operating Systems.
  3. OS X Preview – For Mac users the fastest and easiest way most of the time is to use Apple’s Preview to convert images to transparent. Even though I have Photoshop I will use this unless it’s a complex image. I don’t know of something on the PC that is as easier as the Apple Preview. Comment below if you know of something.
  4. Photoshop – The premiere image editing software for many years. Don’t buy this unless you have patience and the desire to learn more in-depth image manipulation techniques. You will be quicker with the more simpler solutions.

This is not exhaustive, but it gives you a start. See what works for you. You really need to master the use of creating transparent backgrounds. The more advanced Powerpoint users will claim this feature already exists within PowerPoint. The features does exists but it doesn’t work. There I said it. It’s also easier to move images to another presentation application later on if they are transparent.

Apple’s Keynote also provides an Alpha function which is a lot better, but again if you want to move images you will have to do this all again. I’d also guess that applying the mask to the image realtime is more resource hungry than displaying the image already transparent. The less things to go wrong, the better in my book. Cause even though I have an Apple, things go wrong.

Finally, converting images to monochromatic images help bringing design consistency to where there is none. This can be done by editing the picture in Powerpoint and setting the brightness to 100% under the adjust color option.

Here’s an example of taking the Logo slide and bringing some consistency to the deck. Reducing the busyness and the noise. That being said you could make a case that removing a logo’s color can sometimes be like removing a part of their logo. So use common sense and make the right call for your purpose.

A new logo slide

Go ahead and start playing with these tools, you’ll be able to handle some nightmare overlaying issues going forward with a skip in your step. Good luck and help start a #KillingCorporateDecks revolution!

“Send Me Your Presentation!”

I despise those words. #DESPISE.

It took me a whole week to write more than that opening sentence. Despise captured my feelings and frustration towards the idea: that my value can be sent over e-mail. The implication that my presentation value can be captured in a PowerPoint deck irritates me no end. If that was the case, there would be no need to have me here in person. My communication would be pure and simply one directional. Spewing forth information about how wonderful our products are, and they are wonderful, believe me, or if not me, believe our advocates (customers).

My presentation is not my deck. I am the presentation. I present. The slide deck doesn’t present!

Stop and think for a moment. When did you last ask someone to reduce 80% of their presentation to a slide deck? It’s criminal in my mind. You think I am being too strong? Well bear with me. I’ll make my case.

Think about what you are really saying when you ask someone to send their presentation ahead of time for you to review? The statement is quite ludicrous. It’s patronizing. How do I send myself over e-mail? My presentation is not my deck. I am the presentation. I present. The slide deck doesn’t present! It’s a visual aid.

Slide Decks Are Visual Aids
I strive with my presentations and slide decks (yes they are not the same thing) to avoid beating you to death with boredom. I’m not delivering a white paper as my illustration. I am seeking to engage with you and share something I believe to be immensely important to you. If I don’t convey my message clearly I have done a massive disservice to you. I have failed you. I have wasted your time and reduced myself to being left out in the cold (see my “Are You The Best Leading Role, Supporting Role, An Extra or Left Out In the Cold?” post for more on this). This is something that I cannot afford to do.

The cost for you to not hear my message will be detrimental to your business, your story and your success. If I don’t believe that, I am in the wrong job. I need to quit. I  need to find a message and company I do believe in. The story has to be bigger than just me pedaling some software.

Hybrids Are Killing Us!
So how on earth can I dissolve all of the nuances that go into my presentation and send them in a PowerPoint file? Quite simply I cannot. So I don’t. I refuse (as much as I can). I get people annoyed because they all want and expect the slide decks. Really though, how useful are the slide decks you’ve requested? Do you give it one surface glance and then never look at it again? I know I’ve done that countless times. The only exception is when you are asked to give that same presentation (this crime will be the subject of a future post).

These bullet laden documents are worthless as handouts or leave behinds. They don’t convey the full story. They certainly destroy the story or leave it open to misinterpretation. Most presentations are lousy documents that I can’t read and understand in isolation. They are also equally lousy presentation material as visual aids. Somewhere along the line we went for a hybrid model and found ourselves in the sad mess we find today. It wasn’t always this way.

Before PowerPoint it wasn’t really possible to have so much text on our visual aids. We used white boards. It was concise. Relevant. To the point. Then we let technology get in the way of telling a good story. This hybrid of a handout and visual aid doesn’t deliver on either of its intended purposes. I maintain we need both. The visual aid and the handout.

It reminds me of the Windows 8 OS. Is it a tablet OS or a Laptop OS? It’s a miserable hybrid of the two. And from how the market is responding a lack luster attempt at hitting the nail on the head for either purposes.

So What’s The Alternative? Hard work 
This is where I expect a lot of opposition. Why? What I am about to suggest takes time and effort. It’s the right thing to do to stand apart, to bring value to your audience.

Two documents. Yes, two documents. Your slide deck and a handout / leave behind. Trust me this will make a difference and ensure as much as possible your  message gets across to those who were not present (or wish to review ahead of time). Of course if you can afford a film crew and make a quality video and post-production for embedding slide content I would go for that approach. Even that is not ideal. The presentation handout if requested is always appreciated by the audience.

Do not merge the handout and the slide to be one. That’s a mistake. Resist it at all costs. They need to be two distinct deliverables. To have your talk track on screen is a mistake. To send out a visual aid slide deck with no talk track is a mistake. Embed your slides into your handout and then have full written sentences that explain the message which the slide illustrates. It’s hard work. It pays off.

Hand Out

Know Your Nouns!

If you’re not using The Noun Project, I beg you to remedy that in your next presentation. It is single handedly the most useful tool for creating deck content.

Here’s eight reasons why The Noun Project rocks:

  1. Most likely, you think you are not very good at drawing and probably even worse when using a computer.
  2. The images are very simplistic, reducing the Signal to Noise Ratio (more about this in a later post).
  3. There’s a huge repository of icon images that can really help bring a consistent look and feel to your presentations.
  4. They are vector images. Meaning they can scale up to the size of a 3 story banner hanging on the Mascone Conference Center in San Francisco for the 1st #KillingCorporateDecks convention!
  5. You can choose the color for the image. This feature is no longer available with the latest update from The Noun Project as the PNG Project Plugin is no longer available. The good news you can have PNG files now direct from The Noun Project.
  6. You only have to purchase the images once you’re happy with them in your deck.
  7. It’s cheap! A lot of images are free, require an acknowledgement or can be used with no restrictions for only $1.99.
  8. The UI is gorgeous and inspires.

If you still need convincing, here’s an example of a slide I built using a few icon images found on It took about 25 minutes to build the slide. @dscofield uses this as her slide now. After all it was her mantra of “Experiment, Learn, Apply and Iterate.”

Total cost $5.97. #Priceless

Some additional tips when using The Noun Project:

  1. Use The PNG Project browser plugin which provides PNG files instead of SVG. No longer required. The Noun Project allows you to download PNG files directly.
  2. Be legal with your images. Give credit where credit is due. Pay $ when $ is due.
  3. Put links to the original images in your speaker notes. You’ll thank yourself later, trust me.
  4. Experiment using the different image color options.
  5. Favorite images that you like or use, it will be easier to find them later. This feature will be coming back soon!

Go ahead and start experimenting, learning, applying and iterating with your new found repository of icons.

#KillingCorporateDecks in Action

A couple of weeks ago I spent two days sharing Oracle’s E-Business Suite Extensions for Endeca (EEE) with some of our Oracle Partners (#e3Partner). As a side note, count how many Macs you see in this picture. Very close to 50/50! When I first used my Mac I would be the only one. Times are changing!

e3partner Training

During the course of the training session, I provided guidance on how to explain the benefit and value of the Endeca solution. My goal was to help our partners become better evangelists and advocates for the transforming power of EEE. My slide deck utilized the techniques I cover in this blog along with a few more that will be featured in upcoming posts. Stay tuned as some you will not want to miss.

Conversing with your data

I received quite a few many compliments from members of the audience after seeing my #KillingCorporateDecks approach, validating that this approach really makes a difference to the most important person in the presentation: the audience.

Can I have the slides?!! That presentation was really awesome. Refreshing. Loved it! 

I am invariably asked “What tools are you using?” Partly because most people cannot believe I am using PowerPoint. Using a Mac plays to their impression that Apple computers are made for cool artsy material. PCs are associated with bullets. It doesn’t have to be that way, but certainly I prefer to work on my Mac. #RantAvoidance.

Probably one of the favorite compliments was:

After seeing 4 hours of heavy dense decks, it was a much needed break to have visually lighter approach. 

Don’t confuse visually light with light on content. Most people when they present don’t speak to a lot of what’s on their slides. They have more information than they can share. This confuses the message but gives the presenter a sense of security. “Look at the level of detail I have. I really most know my stuff. I’m an expert.” Don’t kid yourself! I think Albert Einstein summed it up best.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. 

Are You The Best Leading Role, Supporting Role, An Extra or Left Out In the Cold?

The presentation is not about you. The audience should be the focus of the presentation, unless you are some egotistical maniac.

It’s really their story – you need to figure out how you fit in as a member of the cast. You are not the leading role; you’re purely a potential supporting role. The sooner you come to terms with that the more successful you will be in connecting with your customer. Yes, yes,  you’re special. Of course you are a snowflake. One of a kind. Very special. You know cause your mom told you right? Well I’m sorry to burst that bubble.

U2, The Black Keys & The Civil Wars

Realize that approaching your audience to talk all about yourself is obnoxious. It quite frankly doesn’t work. Let’s face it. No one is coming to listen to you because you are U2, The Black Keys or The Civil Wars. They come to listen to you because you have something that might benefit their story. Simply put, your story is of no interest to them. Get over yourself. Face the truth and change. The only other option is to be irrelevant and left behind.

When you present to an audience, your audience is actually assessing whether you are a key supporting role, an extra or just getting in the way of a good story. This is an audition. The future advocate (old term prospect) wants to see if you play a role in their story. They are not interested in being an extra in your story. They don’t care how amazing your product, your slides, your jokes are. Start with your customer. Start with understanding them. Know their story, how else can you show how you fit into their story.

So now while you are coming to terms with the cold reality that you’re not that important, go and listen to one of my favorite bands of all time. The Civil Wars. #ToughLove.