Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Less pies

The use of charts to visually display data is helpful in a presentation. Care is required to ensure that the correct message is transmitted. Pie charts are currently dominating presentation screens. Importantly they often (unintentionally) misrepresent data.

Consider the following charts of market share for the four divisions of a company. Quickly glance at the image and decide which division has the highest share?

Consider this second graph and decide between north and south which has the higher share of the market?

Even the 2D pie below makes it very difficult to differentiate at a quick glance between blue and red.

Now consider the simple, two dimensional bar chart below. All charts are made from the same data. 

The literature suggests the audience have three seconds to interpret data slides after which they will stop concentrating on the speaker to decipher the slide. Pie charts are fashionable not because they are effective but because they are aesthetically pleasing. 

Do not use such charts for more than than 3 items as this will break the 3 second rule. The "addition" of a 3rd dimension adds nothing but complication particularly when "perspective" is added. Simple bar charts are easiest to understand. Remember the 3 second rule, make data charts clear and save pies for eating.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Plan analogue

A major step forward in improving presentations is creative planning. The majority of presentations delivered are constructed within the presentation software; data is simply entered, re-organised and read out. The key to a successful presentation is in planning the message. The best way to plan is analogue, not digital.

The intrinsic pace of writing and drawing allows more space for freedom of thought than the flash of fingers over a keyboard. Some use a large whiteboard, an A3 sheet of paper, post it notes or a well loved moleskine notebook but the basic concept is that this time facilitates creativity and the physicality adds to this. Avoid the temptation to use electronic means to capture and organise ideas, they bring with them the desire to format and organise ideas or the greater temptation to save time and enter ideas directly into the presentation software.

Creativity comes to those prepared for it. Computers stifle that. Close down the laptop for improved presentations.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Speaking in public terrifies me. Help?

For many, the hardest thing about giving a presentation is just that, giving the presentation. The p cubed approach recognises that great delivery (p3) of the presentation is essential and as such it is important to deal with the issue of nerves.

Nervous tension is real and all good speakers will admit this. They may even suggest it helps them. For those less experienced it is important to learn not to reduce such tension but to manage it. This is not an exhaustive list but some simple tips that help. Please feel free to add others in the comments at the bottom. It of course varies for the nature of the presentation but there are different time periods to consider and everything helps.

Way Before

Confidence in having already well delivered your presentation numerous times is one of the best ways of reducing your fear. As you step into the spotlight you can have confidence that you have delivered before and that this should be no different. Practise more, it really helps.

Challenge your fear
Often our fear is of failure. Practise will hugely reduce that.  But think, have you ever, EVER wanted a speaker to fail? No. No audience does. They are on your side. Knowing that they do want you to do well, and not badly, should help. Focus on this, repeat it frequently to yourself until you believe THEY believe that. Eventually you will believe it for yourself.

Learn to centre yourself
Different things work for different people to get themselves centred or ready. For some it is distraction, others it is meditation, just something that allows you to calm a little. Find yours and go there, frequently.

Power posing
Your body language affects your confidence. Practise simply standing well; stand tall, shoulders back and head up. Just do it and you will feel better. Exercises of standing arms outstretched will also make you feel better. Get used to doing this way before the event. 

Dress well
Think sensibly about what you will be wearing and practise, wearing it. It all adds to your comfort on the day. Anti-perspirant does not work for this type of sweat so apply enough but dress accordingly and dress well. Looking good will make you feel good.

Plan B
For big presentations it is essential that you have planned and practised Plan B. If the slides fail and you have prepared for that you can pick up where you left off. If the microphone fails, can you project. If you stumble, you have practised that and can regain your position.  Knowing that have dealt with problems will again reduce your fears on the day.


Arrive early
This will allow you to get used to the venue and meet important people such as IT, the session chairman and the audience. Mingle, don't hide. Say hello to people.

Pick a good seat
Depending on the meeting you may be formally introduced on stage or as you walk to the stage. Find out before hand and then pick a seat that allows you easy access to the stage. Do not sit in the middle of a row.

Check one, two, one, two
Ensure you are comfortable with the acoustics whether that is a microphone or you projecting to the back of the room. The sound guys will check levels for you. Tell them what you want if you feel moving on stage is valuable to your presentation and they will give you a different microphone.

Check everything works
Your presentation running all the way through with your remote control under your command is the only acceptable and safe check. Get up on the stage and make sure that it happens and accept no-ones "word" for it. Again it will give you confidence. If possible, run through the whole thing in a break if you can.

Bring a friend
Have someone in the audience you can look to. Ideally a friend but if you've been invited this may be the organiser or a colleague or someone you met at the break or even one of the previous speakers. Ask them to sit beside you. This helps a lot.

Immediately before

Run through your introduction.
You know what you have to say and once you have begun, your practise will remind you of good results. Run through you opening remarks.

Control your breathing
Most people breathe too fast. Concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose, lift your chest and head and hold it. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth and pause. Then slowly breathe in again. It's about being slow and controlled. Focus on your breathing. 

Applaud the previous speaker
It's a simple thing but that physical activity will momentarily distract you. See how well they have done and how the audience values it, they will also value you. You have practised for this moment. Walk confidently to the stage.

Before you begin

Stand up tall and smile
That simple action will relax you and the audience. In the pause, find your friend and look into their eyes.

Breathe in and smile.


Speak more slowly
Thenaturaltendencyistoruneveythingtogetherwhenyouarenervous. Clearly  this  is  very  difficult  to understand.  Simply  putting  an  extra  space  between  words  will  allow  you  to  relax  a  little. Slower than you think is perfect.

Look directly at people
One tendency of nervous speakers is to scan the audience but actually about 1m above them. Although you feel this is "engaging" what you are actually doing feels like searching for attacks. Stop and look someone right in the eyes as you speak. Hold their gaze and then a little more and move on. The human contact will calm you. Now speak to someone else. It becomes more of a conversation and this is easier on your nerves.

It's hard to be nervous when you smile and your smile will encourage others to smile at you, not necessarily immediately but it reduces tension. Even if you don't feel like smiling the physical act of it (think photograph) will relax you.

Do not apologise
Some people use apologies as a way to calm themselves. Don't. Psychologically it is very bad for you as it is self criticism and actually reduces your confidence. Mistakes happen and mostly the audience don't actually see them. The harshest critic is you. Do not listen to anything that critical you says. Words out of place or slides jumping are not important. Pauses that to you feel like a decade are imperceptible to the audience. Do not criticise yourself internally or to the audience.

I'm losing it.
If you really feel you are losing everything, if you are shaking so much that you can't carry on then just take a second. A drink of water often helps and gives you space. If you can, blank the slide. Look for your friend and get eye contact. Breathe in and out and remember, the audience is on your side, they WANT you to carry on. Smile. And back to it. Even gaps like that the audience really don't notice. Don't rush, just get back to your practise sessions. Spot your friend and carry on.

Finish well
You know the denouement of your talk. Make sure you build appropriately to it and deliver it with strength and pace. Don't rush it. And smile.

Those are some general tips, why not add some more in the comments section below. Every little helps.

Friday, 3 April 2015

How to "do" a short teaching session

One of the challenges of any talk is the wide experience of the audience. The same is true in writing this blog. I recently was privileged to be interviewed by @ccpractitioner for a blog post on presentation for beginners at http://www.criticalcarepractitioner.co.uk/  It struck me that my thoughts do not necessarily make it easy for people starting out on their presentation journey. This is my mistake and I will rectify this.

The commonest, First Presentation for most people is a "teaching session." We are approached by a senior and asked to "give a few words next week on x (insert topic of fear)". There then follows a difficult week of balancing work, social life (!) and frantic preparation for the 10 minutes of dread. There is no time to pay attention to some erudite fool writing a blog espousing text free presentations based on a captivating story illustrated with beautiful images and a crafted theme practised numerous times before the big day. So, some thoughts on this. Have a read through and follow the links to more expanded ideas on some of the steps. Share it widely.

Firstly go and read something on X. Seriously, unless you really are an expert, you do need to do some reading! The commonest mistake is to have your slideware programme turned on and enter data as you go. Turn it off, just read. Then get a pencil and paper and think for a while. This really will benefit you. 

I know you're stressed and think there isn't time for this. Trust me? The numbers in brackets represent the amount of time this will take and includes three full run throughs. The total is 72 minutes. IF you follow this plan, you will have an awesome presentation. If you just dump text into powerpoint, that'll probably take you 20 minutes. I think you find your reward is greater than those few minutes.

Write out on a piece of paper. (Turn.Off.The.Laptop.Now)

1. What exactly is required by "a few words on X".  (2)

The simplistic view is everything that can be known, ever on x. And nothing!  Actually the main purpose if for you to construct a presentation and gain experience talking, the knowledge is more of a side issue. Start with the needs of the audience. Who are they? Why are they in that room with you next week? What do the audience need to know about this subject that can be transferred effectively in such a period of time? Already the spread of knowledge on the matter becomes apparent. It may be there are seniors there who have even written text books on the subject and people with a lot less knowledge than you currently. "Covering" a topic is therefore impossible.

The senior wants to know that you have at least an idea what x is about. The junior wants to know what X is. The middle ground are all interested in different parts of X as some know it well, others have forgotten and most are just glad it is you talking and not them. SO, this is where you need to pitch your talk, somewhere in the middle; not attempting to cover everything because that is impossible but not minimising the opportunity for the juniors to gain a little knowledge. Here I suggest you ask yourself, "If I was in the audience what would I want from seven minutes on x?" (The astute will notice the change in time, we'll come back to that.)

2. What's the point of ME standing here? (2)

Clearly there will be a requirement to at least introduce the basics of the topic but the value for the audience is more often in your personal input on the matter. Reading a textbook is quicker and more efficient than listening to any speaker so as a speaker you must consider a different position on the matter. This will allow you to work with the topic but develop an idea or an opinion. This will force the audience to engage with your presentation, even if to disagree, and give you a purpose to your presence rather than simply a topic.

3. Define your key point. (5)

X is a topic wider than the east is from the west. If you have a single thought to work around you can discuss various aspects of X in relation to this. This highlights your knowledge, your reading and challenges thought on the matter. "My big problem with X is..." "A controversy in X is..." "The last time i saw a case of X i forgot..." "X is like cricket because..." "X makes no sense to me because..." All these are more engaging that "X." Chose an angle that engages, states a position, challenges, highlights conflict, contrasts or questions the simple and use this as a basis to construct an argument.

4. Write an elevator pitch around this. (5)

The elevator pitch is discussed here. Please read it. Effectively you must write three sentences that encompass your whole discussion  from your key point and should leave the audience saying, "Tell me more?" Go on, get writing! Three sentences, not more. Read it out loud, send it in a tweet. Make it better and then write it out, by hand, clearly on a sheet of paper to have by your side as you do the rest.

5. Consider the obstacles to your point (5)

What is it about your key point that people will NOT agree with? Define the main three obstacles and your progress around them. Your aim is to counter those arguments before they arise. This will give you a simple structure.

6. Write out by hand the steps in your journey (10)

It is not essential to script your journey. This actually hinders you.  By plotting the large steps it will allow you to see how the elevator pitch will be worked out. Personally I use A4 sheets of paper folded into 3 vertically and again horizontally. Write the steps, no more than 3 per point and no more than three points. With an introduction of your key point and summary you should have 11 steps.

7. Go back and do No.6 again (5)

You've got more than 11 steps. You do. That's too many. Trust me, it is too much and you won't cover it.  I know you think those other points are really important too. They are not. You need to cut it down. Firstly, if you have a ten minute slot you should only aim to fill seven minutes. Re-read you elevator pitch and get rid of about half of what you have written. You'll see the value in the end, less is more.

8. Write out by hand the steps in your journey and change the order. (5)

With your elevator pitch in your hand, consider the order of each step. IS that the best or would that be better coming after that and as a lead up to that? Get a fresh sheet and in the bottom of the boxes write 2 or 3 words that cover the step.

9. Consider illustration (5)

The temptation is to use text for each point of each step of the three points. This will lead to you reading it out, facing either the screen or your laptop. It will. The reality of this is covered here. If you absolutely, absolutely must, then go for a single word for each of the three points. The temptation is to make one word into three and then you have a sentence and before you know we are back to reading it out. Be brave, illustrate, don't annotate. Once you consider the plan as a whole you will see the relative redundancy of much of what you have planned and that a single image covers it much better. Try to understand that this is not your script and so images make better prompts and stop the audience (and you) reading.

10. Make a handout (x)

The temptation is to use the slides as your handout. Don't. The slideument is neither a thing of utility nor function. IF you want to give folks a ton of information, then tell them that it is in a handout. This deals with the "cover everything" approach. You can add text, pdfs, weblinks, videos etc as appropriate. Save a few trees and use any of the many cloud places such as Google Drive or Dropbox (contact me if you want a referral) and simply offer people a url to copy. This is a downloadable version: 


11. Practise. (7 x 3) (+5)

I fully recognise that time is short but running through your presentation three or four times will give you much more confidence and engagement than reading it out to the audience. They are after all not nursery school children. Practise and feel free to edit it, move things around and change. Importantly this does not mean, in your head reading it out to yourself. It mean standing up, at least at the other end of a table from your laptop and performing. It makes a huge difference. Then do it again, and time yourself. If you are not under seven minutes you have too much. Go back to No.7 There is never an excuse for over running. Brutal edits are required. Do it. Practise again this hugely improved presentation.

12. Preparation (2)

What you really don't need on your big moment is a disaster with hardware or software. Consider taking your laptop and connecting directly to the AV equipment. If you have a Mac, buy your own connector as there are so many you can be sure the right one won't be available. If there is nowhere to project then shut the laptop and go without. No, you WILL just read it. Using your own laptop as the screen is not acceptable or sensible. If there is AV make sure you have spare copies of your presentation saved on two USB sticks and in the cloud and remember Keynote is not the same as Powerpoint and each programme has different versions, not all of which are compatible. For bigger presentations I also save one as a pdf for extreme problems. Get to the place early so you can set up and test your setup. That will also allow you time to relax. Open the presentation and smile. You have invested in success by preparation and time. Stand up, take a deep breath and breathe out. Now, begin...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Herding chickens

The major drawback of text on screen is that the audience cannot help but read it. Mountain View Ca. They are hypnotised like a chicken. It is important in construction of p2 (the supportive media) to remember that one's audience, like chickens, are very easily distracted by shiny things and extraneous image noise. Wanderful Media. It is beneficial to your message to minimise such distractions and herd the chickens in the direction you desire. Those random words have already been read by people drawn to the image below. please check out the post on the hypnotised chicken.

Another way of describing this concept is of maximising signal to noise ratio. News broadcasts on television are an increasingly bad example of how so much information is displayed on the screen that it becomes impossible to process any of it; our eyes are constantly drawn from one (shiny) thing to another. What appears as a Smörgåsbord of delights becomes impossible to sample anything of value due to constant distraction.

There are many levels and nuances of noise in supportive media that might distract the audience. At the most basic level this might range from template backgrounds, poor font choice and bad colour schemes to brand icon/identity issues on every slide. Individual slides might be distracting by overcomplicating data slides, data extraneous to the single message, poor image composition or quality, overuse of text or the use of clip art. On higher levels still issues such as grammatical error, non complimentary fonts, poor colour projection and even slide transition itself can distract the audience from their concentration upon the intended message. Every distraction leads away from the message.In design, less is more.

The purpose of the media is support, not distraction. Ensure that everything on your slide directs solely towards your message.

Friday, 13 March 2015

What are you talking about?

Seriously, what are you talking about? If you can't explain in less than 3 sentences what your presentation is about, then you don't know. Sadly, many presentations are just a list of facts in no particular order and not getting to a particular point, just information. If you don't know what you are talking about, neither will your audience.

To determine the specific message, it is essential to understand the audience and their needs of you in that particular meeting at that particular time.Your role is never to "cover" a topic; textbooks cover a topic. Your purpose is interpretation, wisdom, insight, controversy, tips or suchlike but never simply to relay a pile of facts. Consideration of the audience needs prior to construction of your presentation will allow you more effectively to determine which of those stances is appropriate for that audience. It is never about the data but about its interpretation, turning a "what" into a "so what".

The best way to consider this is an elevator pitch. It allows you to construct a theme to which you (and the audience) return to again and again during the presentation and will be memorable after the talk. It stimulates discussion, even disagreement but at least interest. The audience know what you are talking about.

FAST scanning (Focused Abdominal Ultrasound in Trauma) in paediatric trauma is as effective as tossing a coin. Its sensitivity even in expert hands is less than 50%. Now, let's talk about its use...

Skerritt, C., Haque, S. and Makin, E. (2014) Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST)Scans Are Not Sufficiently Sensitive to Rule out Significant

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

You're in charge

When you present you are in charge so make sure they environment is how you'd like it to be.  Most speakers don't realise this and consequently presentations are not as good as they might be. The lighting, the position on stage, the temperature, the surroundings, the room, the volume, the screen, the time and even the audience may all be altered by the speaker to their advantage.

Consider yourself how, as part of the audience, there are factors in the environment that have limited the effectiveness of a presentation you have received. All of those factors are amenable to change and with appropriate timing alterations can be made. Clearly all this depends on the specifics of your presentation but try before you speak to be part of your own audience. 

Consider the environment. Can you see the speaker? What is the effect of the lighting set up? Are there windows or lights that alter your view? Is there unnecessary clutter in the room such as flipcharts, extraneous equipment, stray chairs, monitors? Is the set up of the room ideal, not just acceptable but ideal? How long have the audience been sat there? Would they value change in position or a quick comfort break? Make changes and make it better.

All of these issues noted above can be altered by a speaker simply by asking. It may take a little time to find the appropriate people to help but support staff (or just) can make dramatic changes often with minimal fuss given the time and request. The lighting can be improved, usually by turning it up, not down. Blinds can be drawn to block light from behind a speaker or the position of the speaker altered. Clutter can be removed, tables can be rotated or even the whole room altered, if you take the time. Did the previous 3 speakers over run? Then offer the audience 2 minutes just to chat or to stand up and sit down again. It needn't be cheesy but such positive interaction endears the speaker even before beginning.

Many speakers don't believe they have the "authority" but actually yours is the complete privilege and authority. Make the environment as good as you can for your audience; they will repay you heavily. Your presentation will be better received.