Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lessons on Better Presenting from San Diego

I had the good fortune to represent Harbinger at the Presentation Summit 2010 (formerly known as PPT Live) in San Diego from Oct 17-20. In its eighth year, the Summit brings together some of the world's best presentation designers and presenters in an exchange of ideas and best practices for four days of intense activity.

Image Credits http://www.betterppt.com/summit

Some of the presenters and speakers included Nancy Duarte, Rick Altman, Geetesh Bajaj, Ric Bretschneider, Nigel Holmes, Sandra Johnson, Glen Millar, Echo Swinford and Julie Terberg. They have several distinctions to their credit - from being a Microsoft MVP to being involved in designing presentations for Al Gore to directing graphics for Time magazine.

Here are some hidden gems that came from the interactions.

  1. Top 3 peeves of audience: (1) Presenter reads the slides (2) Slides contain full sentences (3) Some fonts are too small to read (This survey was repeated year after year with more-or-less same conclusions)
  2. Universal axiom #1 : If it moves, they have to look. At the same time, improper animation  is a leading cause of death by PowerPoint.
  3. Sometimes the best way to get your point across is to put up a blank slide and perform in front of your audience.
  4. Three rules for better visuals: (1) use primitive features (color, size, orientation, movement, shape, depth) to get attention (2) use grouping to show relationships (3) reduce the realism of your graphics
  5. Don't memorize - just know the transitions
  6. Your audience cares about how much you share - not how much you know
  7. Enough already! The biggest problem of slides is too much text
  8. Slides cannot double as handouts. Printing out slides to make a handout is a bad idea. Slides and handouts serve two completely different purposes. Slides should be visual. Handouts should be textual.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Enhancing the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint with Interactivity

If you went to a dinner party where all guests were to present their stories in PPT format - it might be informative but also a bore. The unfortunate price of simplification is over-simplification, and the additional tax paid out is in the form of pedantry - says Youngme Moon, the author of Different, a recent book on marketing.

Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University, presents a scholarly criticism of PowerPoint in two of his essays:  PowerPoint is Evil  (Wired, 11(9), 2003) and The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint  (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press. ISBN 0961392169).

According to Wikipedia, here are Tufte’s arguments against the overuse of PowerPoint: 
  1. It is used to guide and to reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience;
  2. It has unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of early computer displays;
  3. The outliner causes ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide;
  4. Enforcement of the audience's linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure);
  5. Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default
  6. Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. 
We believe that these limitations of PowerPoint are overcome by interactivity, as is evident when you consider interactivity tools such as Raptivity Presenter.  Let me explain how the combination of Raptivity Presenter and PowerPoint alleviates some of the concerns outlined above.
  1.  By its very nature, Raptivity Presenter’s  output objects are interactive. A presentation may be sent in email to a user, who can experience the interactive elements at their own pace – thus reassuring the audience, not just the presenter.
  2. With the use of Flash, the content displayed by Raptivity Presenter presumes high resolution and is rich.
  3.  There is no compulsion to arrange material hierarchically, because Raptivity Presenter provides a  variety of presentation alternatives (accordion panels, page flip books, rotating 3D cubes, panning cards, flash cards, magnifiers, tabs, etc.)
  4. Due to this, audience can progress non-linearly through the presentation material. Consider the selective displays or business visuals in Raptivity Presenter. They are perfect for drilling down by audience.
  5. The beauty of professionally designed interaction models is that you get ready-made graphics and text types – you simply change the content. 
  6. Language shapes the way you think. With Raptivity Presenter, the controlling metaphor is not the bullet list – instead you have story builders, selective displays, business visuals, brainteasers and such other rich interaction metaphors.
We agree with Prof Tufte that the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates and trivializes content. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year.  Majority of these slides do not do a good job of educating the audience. 

We however believe that instead of doing away with PowerPoint, it is better to add interactivity to it – so that we reap the benefits of both ubiquity and interactivity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Wilderness Downtown - An Interactive Film Built in HTML5

Watch this interactive film using your Google Chrome browser. It features Arcade Fire's song "We used to wait", and plays in your hometown! Shows the capabilities of HTML5, Google Streetview and more. Worth a watch.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scratch and Google App Inventor

Yesterday my friend's daughter proudly showed off her new game, built entirely using Scratch, a 'codeless' programming language invented by MIT engineers. When I asked her to show me how she built the program, she showed the drag-and-drop interface of Scratch, where you simply create graphic objects on screen and drag code fragments from a library to a panel where they kind of fit together, get copied, and so forth. Not so completely codeless after all, but great for beginners.

The invitation-only Google App Inventor, by all accounts, resembles Scratch in many ways. Creating Apps for Dummies has long been a holy grail for tool designers. Google, in its grandiose fashion, promises to transform the app building landscape with Google App Inventor. The idea is to provide a non-programming, visual app building environment that would open up an ecosystem of do-it-yourself software developers. What a contrast from Apple's complex programming language and tedious app publishing process! However, if app inventor is anything like Scratch, I would contend that the 'app building for all' messaging could be over-hyped.  It is programming in a new guise.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blog Links for Webmasters

Here's a way to find some posts I have written over the last year that website owners will find interesting. This Peeler Ad below announces the titles of posts. Peel down the top banner to discover the next post. When you find something interesting, just click through to that post! Happy reading.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Enhancing Your Web Presence with SiteJazzer

A compelling web site is the lifeblood of any internet business. Even small brick-and-mortar businesses and organizations increasingly depend on their web presence to build traction with customers and stakeholders. Online stores conduct sales transactions. Publishers and bloggers try to make their sites interesting to bring traffic which can be monetized.  Agencies and consultants help all these entities get the most out of their investments.No matter what type of web site you are responsible for, our research in interactivity has convinced us that people are spending more and more time online and we’d better provide tools that will fight boredom.

That is why we built Raptivity, now a huge success in elearning, where students love games and simulations. Then came YawnBuster – for making classroom learning fun. Then came Raptivity Presenter, a tool that make presentations fun and engaging. It was about time we did something for webmasters, site owners, site designers and bloggers who want to engage users better. That is when we thought of TeemingPod and now we are proud to introduce SiteJazzer. This stuff is badly needed.


The SiteJazzer vision is to get people to interact more with websites and blogs than ever before. Get people to stay longer, engage better and return sooner to web sites. Turn web sites into places where stuff gets done through meaningful interaction. Turn web visits into experiences that are enjoyable and valuable.

We’re seeing traction from many corners of the market. Design and marketing agencies, small and medium businesses, publishers, corporate departments, individuals – they’re all excited and some of them are fanatic proponents of interactivity. I can see it from the way their web sites are changing. With SiteJazzer, I am excited about several new things that are on the drawing board. When I look at those, I’m convinced what we have here is just the beginning.

Use SiteJazzer to get people to love your site. It’s simple. Pick any interaction. Make quick changes. We build the Flash. You drop it into your site. You might think of SiteJazzer interactions as professionally designed Flash widgets – but there’s more. SiteJazzer interactions are highly customizable. They are quick and easy to adapt to your site. You can use them creatively in many ways.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Keep Users on a Web Site

A recently published article on Knowtebook argues that it is impossible to show all information of interest to users at one go - so searching is inevitable. However, users tend to leave a web page if they don't see what they are looking for - immediately.

How are some of the most interactive websites combating this challenge? The article, titled Why and How to Keep Users on a Web Site,  includes great examples from some of the coolest sites. iPad, Wrangler and Bebopjeans, to name a few. Worth a look. I love the way these sites give you cool activities to do, while revealing more and more information. It's as though you were exploring their collection.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Apple's Patent Pipeline Shows What to Expect

With iPhone 4 and iPad selling like crazy, you might think Apple's laptop research may be taking a back seat. Think again. Here are some of the patent filings related to Mac, the ultimate Apple experience:
  • Solar powered computers
  • Touch-screen desktops
  • Built-in projector which lets you display video on a wall
  • Seamless laptop with invisible buttons, keyboards and trackpad
  • Screen camera that detects your presence and powers up the computer as soon as you approach it
As Apple surpasses Microsoft in market capitalization - a significant milestone - it is good to see its focus on innovative R & D which will make great user experiences.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Augmented Reality: Who's Got the Business Model?

Dutch firm SPRX, the maker of Layar, the Augmented Reality platform, says it now has an ecosystem of over 3500 developer partners. These partners have signed up to develop 'layers' containing interesting location-specific data that objects could be tagged with. Examples of such data might be house prices, robbery incidents, accident prone spots etc. Essentially the developers sell apps for a small fee, and Layar leverages the network effect. The firm has also introduced Layar Stream, a sort of search engine that takes care of discovery problem based on contextual elements in the field of vision.

Then there is a host of other players: Metaio, Neogens, Oogmento, Total Immersion, Int13, Mobilizy and others. Soon you will have an ecosystem of platform vendors, app writers, service providers and content developers. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the Google of this space. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

HTML5: Telltale Sign of the Future of the Web

HTML5 sure has a lot going for it, given that Google, Microsoft and Apple agree to the direction it is taking. A short tour of the key features of HTML5 should be enough to convince ourselves that support for greater interactivity is getting entrenched in the browser.

Many features currently provided by large JavaScript libraries such as JQuery will be native to HTML5-enabled browsers, slimming down libraries considerably. Laborious validations will move into the browser. New HTML5 APIs allow drag-and-drop. Video is embedded easily without the need of JavaScript - although codec compatibilities are yet to be straightened out for all browsers.

There is some discussion about how HTML5 impacts the future of Flash. To me, the larger issue is how it impacts the future of the Web. The very prospect of better interactive support in browsers is a positive sign for the future of the Web. Interactive applications will be easier to build and deploy - and users will find the Web content more engaging.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Adobe Embraces Android, Renounces Apple

The platform war wages on. A recent article in ReadWriteWeb repeats Adobe's latest pronouncement: Adobe's "Packager for iPhone", which allows Flash files to play on iPhone, has hit the end of the road. The version being shipped with CS5 will be the last one, and no more development is planned.

In short, no future for Flash on iPhone, iTouch and iPad... or so it seems if you were to believe what Adobe's program manager has to say about Flash, CS5 and iPhone applications. Or, for that matter what Apple has been signaling for past several months.

The consequences will be interesting. Apple will continue to block Flash as long as it makes business sense. In the meantime, Adobe will make it easier for developers to play their Flash apps on Android, the Google mobile operating system. In parallel, Nokia, Microsoft, RIM and others will play their strategic moves in support of interactivity on their mobile devices.

What does this mean for interactive application developers? Clearly there is no question of writing off Flash yet - Android marketshare is growing, and Flash will thrive there. Next, Apple is clearly signaling that  developers can no longer use cross-platform compilers for building iPhone apps.

So, get ready for developing apps in a variety of languages: Objective C, C++, Javascript, HTML5 and Flash ActionScript - at least. And may be the list will start growing soon, depending on what moves the other players make.

The ReadWriteWeb article, titled Adobe Gives up on Apple, Welcomes Android can be found here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Trends in Site Maps

When was the last time you were excited about looking up a site map? Yes, I hear you - the answer is ten thousand years back or more. Site maps are boring, and we don't really expect much from them. In most cases, they are an apology for poorly designed site navigation. In many cases they are hopelessly out of date. I could go on. But here is something interesting. Poonam Agarwal's article titled Changing Design Trends for Site Maps does a great job of showcasing some of the trendiest site maps around. Worth a look.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adobe, Apple and the UX Platform Holy Grail

This is a guest post by Shivesh Vishwanathan.

As the search for the dominant mobile platform continues amongst players, including Apple and Adobe, it is helpful to bring out some analogies from the past. This stand-off has many similarities to the Microsoft/Win32 vs. Java dominance battle that was fought a decade ago. Apple is today's Microsoft with its proprietary OS and a strong iPhone developer community. Adobe is today's Java with its dreams of becoming a device-agnostic platform. "Singular experience, multiple devices", proclaims its Open Screen Project.

One problem that Adobe will have to tackle is that in today's world, the user interface paradigm can only go so far in providing great user experiences. What today's devices and platforms enable is much more than UI. They provide Interactive User Experience or IUX. IUX combines three types of interactivity, Interface, Sensor and Location, which in turn exploit unique platform capabilities such as direction, touch, orientation, location, movement, proximity and others. As you can see, user interface is just one piece of the puzzle that is the next generation application.

Apple not providing Adobe with access to iPhone is a war for platform supremacy, no doubt. What is also true is that the singular experience that Adobe wants will force the company to go way beyond UI. If history is any judge, Adobe has its task cut out. Creating a write-once-run-anywhere platform is the holy grail of software, but if Adobe treats it like a panacea, it could be in trouble.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Flash on iPad and Android - Not Quite the Time to Cheer Yet?

According to news coming out of the Adobe camp, Flash seems to be catching up on emerging platforms. Using a new packager coming in Flash CS5, it seems application developers will be able to export packages to iPhone and iPad platforms. There are many factors at play here - the growing adoption of new Apple devices and emergence of  HTML5, to name a few. Key question is, will Flash developers find it easy to deploy their Flash apps over Apple Appstore? That's a big gatekeeper there. In the meantime, news is out that Flash 10.1 is almost ready to be released, with support for Android. That should cheer up Flash developers. The release date however is 'later this year' - so, it is not quite the time to uncork champagne bottles yet.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Listening Skills for Presenters: 7 Questions

Watch out - now I'm rambling.
  1. Good presenters are good listeners. Do you agree?
  2. People in the audience do not always talk back. However, they provide visual cues. There are nods and smiles. Or claps. Or yawns. Can you think of any more visual cues?
  3. Sometimes the presenter calls a show of hands, asks an open question or initiates a discussion. At other times, someone in the audience asks a question or makes a comment. In either case, interaction gets going. Does interaction always help a presentation along?
  4. You need to know your audience. Will the key takeaways from your presentation differ from one group to the next?
  5. You need to adapt to the audience, and they receive you well. Can you think of some techniques for adaptation you have used in the past?
  6. Sometimes you conduct a presentation online, and audience is remote. How do you listen to your audience in such cases?
  7. Sometimes you simply email a presentation to a group of people, or upload it to a web site. How do you listen to your audience in such cases?
I close this piece with these lines from poet Dylan Thomas: Someone’s boring me. I think it’s me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Interactivity vs Bandwidth

Would you rather have a web page that loads quickly - and offers minimal or no interactivity, or build a nice interactive experience - and hope that the site visitor will not lose patience as the page loads?

A recent article by Poonam on Hongkiat.com titled The Importance of Web Interactivity: Tips and Examples provides a case in point. The article itself is a remarkable compilation of some of the world's most interesting interactive web sites. Poonam' s radar sweeps from Starbuck's Find My Perfect Coffee quiz to Mercedes, Nokia and Harry Potter. She even talks about Monoface, a site where you can manipulate facial features to create funny faces with mouse clicks.

What's interesting is the numerous comments on this article - presumably from web designers. Several of them loved the ideas in her article, but are not sure they can take the leap of faith in the face of bandwidth constraints many users face.

It will be interesting to see how increasing bandwidths, better compression techniques and improvements in Flash and Silverlight resolve these concerns.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Six Steps to Building Effective Presentations

Harbinger Knowledge Products has recently published a white paper on interactive presentations. This white paper is a must-read for presenters who wish to exploit the power of interactivity. This post is a companion piece for its readers.

The white paper identifies six areas in a presentation that could leverage interactivity:

1. Create a first impression
2. Build instant rapport
3. Drive presentation through audience inputs
4. Simplify complex ideas and educate your audience
5. Make it easy to see your value proposition
6. Facilitate effective meeting closures

For each area, the paper suggests appropriate interactive elements presenters can use. To assess how good a job you are doing with this, here are some questions I suggest you pose yourself.

1. Create a first impression
  • Have I got my audience's attention?
  • Have I got them curious and interested?
  • Do they get a sense that together we are about to explore something interesting?

If you don't have a resounding 'yes' in answer to all these questions, it is time to re-assess your use of interactivity. Maybe what you have is too passive or too overbearing. For example, a video clip may gain attention, but render the audience passive. A witty quote may get a few people very interested but leave out others. A game right at the start may be interesting in itself but may not always build the right expectation.

2. Build instant rapport
  • Have I demonstrated that I care to know my audience?
  • Have I let them open up and talk to me?
  • Have I set the right expectations?
  • Do I have their trust?

Well chosen icebreakers help in building rapport. Polling or surveying the audience is one technique. Getting them to brainstorm ideas is another. The goal should be to build rapport and to create a foundation for the dialog to follow. You have to be careful in choosing your questions. Posing open-ended questions at this stage in presentation can be disastrous because you have not set the momentum and the discussions can go in all directions.

3. Drive presentation through audience inputs
  • Can my audience have a say in where we go next?
  • Is there a way for me to navigate the presentation accordingly?

Give too much information, and only a little will be received and retained. The level of detail required will vary based on the audience. Drill-downs and roll-overs provide the kind of interactivity that helps you calibrate the depth of information being presented.

4. Simplify complex ideas and educate your audience
  • Am I telling good stories?
  • Do I break down complex ideas into simpler ones, explaining them one at a time?

Display a whole slide full of text at once, and you instantly lose your audience. The preferred way is to unfold a story. Several interactive elements serve as excellent visual companions to storytelling. Dynamic flowcharts and other interactivites that build up visuals in a step-by-step fashion work great when you want to simplify complex ideas.

5. Make it easy to see your value proposition
  • Do I use appropriate business visuals?
  • Do the visuals permit interaction, drill-down etc?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, business visuals are pivotal to describing business ideas. Presenters often stress verbal communication too much, and ignore graphics in the process. Watch out for this bias.

6. Facilitate effective meeting closures
  • Does the audience get to take part in summarizing key ideas?
  • Are the takeaways listed in one place?
  • Is there a clear conclusion and action plan articulated?

In the end, it is about leaving an imprint in your audience's mind. The more interactively you summarize the ideas discussed, the better they will be retained. Well designed interactivities can mimic sticky notes that collect key takeaways from the audience. These are then are collated and posted in one place so it is easy to go back and refer to them. The white paper gives an example of such interactivity.

As you start using interactivity in your presentations, you are sure to see increased audience involvement. Feel free to add your own tips and questions to enrich this framework for interactive presentations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What the iPad Means for Interactive Application Developers

When it comes to interactivity, the idea of 'less is more' is proved yet again by iPad. It remains to be seen whether it lives up to its promise of delivering the best browsing experience ever. Yet, what impresses me is the elegance of its design - the largest touchscreen device ever designed by Apple is remarkably clutter free.

In one of my earlier posts, I laid out ten new trends in interactivity. It is remarkable to see how some of them are playing out with iPad and its native applications. Here are some illustrations drawn at random.

  1. The sea change in input mechanisms is evident in the increasing use of multi-touch and device orientation while keeping the keyboard as a soft popup.
  2. The way photo albums are presented and rendered indicates a paradigm shift away from interfaces to interactivity. You see a world map, click on a city to see clusters of pictures you took there. Hover your pointer on any cluster to get a sort of preview of what's in there, and finally pick one that you like and render it in an engaging origami-like presentation where pictures unfold in myriad ways.
  3. The breadth of platform support required of interactive applications keeps increasing. Now web pages should play on iPad optimally as well. If designing web pages for multiple viewing devices was a challenge already, now it gets even more interesting with iPad in the mix.

Every time there is a platform shift, application developers have an opportunity to exploit the new capabilities it offers. It will be interesting to see how app developers render richer applications for iPad - it is almost certain that they will be different from laptop browser apps and smartphone apps. There is a new unlearning and learning curve waiting here for app developers. They need to take advantage of the larger size and touch capabilities while reducing the dependence on keyboard.