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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

July 2008

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end.)

In this issue: Reviews of Two Knockout PowerPoint Presentations

I picked up a link from Dave Paradi's wonderful monthly newsletter on PowerPoint Tips (to get your own subscription, visit Dave's site, www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com) to an article posted on www.law.com, called "Peaks and Valleys of PowerPoint Presentation."

As you can imagine, the lawyers responding to the question, "What's the worst mistake you've ever seen (or made) in a PowerPoint presentation?" pretty much came up with the standard complaints: reading the slides, too much animation, not rehearsing with the equipment beforehand, etc. (Yes, it turns out even lawyers do not like to sit through boring presentations. Who knew?)

But then many of the responders also provided links to what they considered really GREAT presentations, two of which I'm going to review here.

A question I am frequently asked is, "How is it possible to make a terribly technical presentation less of a just terrible presentation?" You know, one of those presentations on things like polices and procedures, or rules and regulations, or statutes, or building codes, or insurance application forms. How does one take a topic like "Digital Identity Development" and avoid the use of brain-numbing, text-ridden slides, full of "necessary and important" but coma-inducing data?

Well, just check out what Dick Hardt does with this very topic, which he presented as the keynote address for the 2005 O'Reilly Open Source Convention. Dick's audience for this address consists mainly of alpha geeks, but that does not compel him to design an ugly presentation that only a hacker's mother could love. Instead, he delivers the most amazing, fast-paced PowerPoint presentation I have ever seen. His address lasts 15 minutes and 3 seconds. (I suspect he was told to speak for 15 minutes; he was nearly perfect.) He must have clicked on several HUNDRED slides in that amount of time. (They go by so fast, I couldn't count them all.) It's sort of a "streaming script" technique, and it works. It's engaging, it's funny, and (the real shocker) most of it is understandable even to a PhD in English (yours truly) who barely passed "Math for the Liberal Arts Student" in college.

One of the attorneys in the law.com article describes this presentation thusly: "Fast-paced, relevant, minimal text, great graphics, well-rehearsed and thoroughly entertaining. I built a similar presentation based on his style and had a blast delivering it."

I'm going to try this technique myself. Let me know what you think about it. Would you try it?

The second presenter I found mentioned in the law.com article is Larry Lessig, a university professor. A university LAW professor. What are the chances he would be an interesting, dynamic, persuasive speaker? (I had visions of Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase, torturing his first-year law students with thousands of indecipherable PowerPoint slides.) Turns out Lessig is a most amazing presenter and his TED.com presentation on "How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law" (a little over 19 minutes) is both entertaining and enlightening.

Professor Lessig opens his talk with a promise to tell three stories and then present his "argument" for his case. (He IS a lawyer, after all.) The stories involve John Philip Sousa, two chicken farmers and Lord Blackstone, and the BMI vs. ASCAP flap. He illustrates these stories with pictures (close ups of chickens, for example) and the most minimal of text, streaming in a way very similar to Dick Hardt's technique. (I also found it oddly charming that most of the text—just simple words like "<argument>" or "creativity", all centered on the slides—is in an antiquated typeface, as though the slides had been produced with an actual typewriter.)

Professor Lessig brilliantly combines the "professor," "entertainer," and "preacher" styles in this most engaging (and laugh-out-loud) presentation, proving once again that merely having an advanced degree (or just a lot of learning) does not automatically condemn a presenter to the Hell of Boring Presentations.

If you want to become a better presenter, you can learn much by watching better presenters. And you don't even have to leave your computer. Anyone reading this know of an online video presentation with an excellent presenter? Please share!


That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.

Ellen Dowling, President

(505) 307-1700