A Little Steampunk for the Holidays

http://steampunkrevue.blogspot.com/2011/12/macys-steampunk-christmas-window.html

Macy’s isn’t the only one who can spread a little steampunk holiday cheer.  After becoming a fan of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, I knew I wanted to create a steampunk themed template for PowerPoint 2010. The opportunity (and challenge) of animating a bunch of Victorian-era whirly gigs was just too much to resist. And if Macy’s can share a steampunk theme for the holiday, so can I.

I’ve created a sample presentation using the template (shown below.)  Click on the image and then choose the menu option to Open in PowerPoint since the web apps cannot support video. You can download the template to use for yourself and create your own steampunk themed presentations. After the slide show opens, click File, Download a Copy.

Have a hankering to create your own steampunk animation to share for the holidays?  Download the template, add your layout and send me a link to the file. I’ll add it to the template and credit you on the layout.

SteamPunk

The Presentation Thespian

PowerPointNascar

I have a jacket that showcases badges and pins recognizing my expertise in PowerPoint. I always wear my “PowerPoint Nascar” jacket when attending events even if I don’t wear it when presenting. This jacket, combined with my techie clothes and trademark long ponytail, creates a brand that immediately identifies me as a PowerPoint technical expert.

Multiple studies have found that speakers who are perceived as credible, attractive and trustworthy are much more effective at persuading an audience and having them retain their message.

This provides presenters with an easy opportunity to capitalize on these findings.  By simply recognizing the theatrics of presentations and dressing the part, presenters can gain instant initial credibility.

I taken this idea and made a fully interactive tutorial. Through this tutorial you’ll learn how to use theatrical concepts to increase your appearance as a credible and trustworthy presenter. Click the icon in the lower right of the tutorial below to run it in full screen mode. Once the presentation starts, I recommend you click the SkyDrive link to Start Slide Show or you can start it directly from this link: The Theatrics of Presentations.

The PowerPoint Magic Trick & How the Brain Works

crystalballA few months ago I posted a blog article about why presenters should care about the psychology of the senses.  In that article I explained why mouse-overs can be used to fool an audience into thinking they’re seeing one slide when they’re really seeing two slides with a small difference.  I also posted a PowerPoint presentation which demonstrated the mouse-over technique.  Included in that presentation was the PowerPoint card trick which I said I would explain later.  I didn’t want to explain the trick until after I had posted the Gestalt of Slides because that tutorial covers a lot of the reasons why the card trick works.

If you haven’t seen the card trick, I’ve recreated it below.  Click the icon in the lower right of the presentation to run it in full screen mode. Or you can start it directly from this link: The PowerPoint Card Trick.  Don’t read below the embedded presentation until after you’ve watched the trick or you’ll spoil it for yourself.

Pretty amazing, yes?  Of course the trick doesn’t work for everyone, but it will fool most of us because of the way our brains are wired to process visual information.  A magician would tell you the trick works because of misdirection.  Typically, that means someone would be distracting your focus of attention so they could do something else, but that’s not really the case in the PowerPoint Card Trick.  I can instruct you to focus on a single card, but that’s the extent of the misdirection.

In this case the trick works mostly because of the Gestalt Principles of Perception.  If you went through my Gestalt of Slides tutorial you learned that we view our world holistically and our brains are predisposed to perceive patterns.  Once our brains perceive a pattern we tend to not pay attention to the details.  So in the case of the cards we perceive the red/black/red/black pattern and fail to pay attention to the rest of the details of the cards (except the one we focus on.)  This makes it appear as if I used PowerPoint to make your card disappear when, in fact, all the cards changed.

Interestingly enough, scientists are now realizing that magicians have a lot to offer in helping us figure our how our brains work.  I recently watched a NOVA special and to paraphrase one of the neuropsychologists, “We know how the brain processes visual information, but we don’t know what it pays attention to.”  In the special they use magicians to help them determine just that.  As a presenter this is very valuable information for you to know.  Imagine how much more effective you can be if, like a magician, you can direct (or distract) your audience’s attention to be exactly where you want it.

The biggest revelation of the study was how very much we pay attention to movement.  Basically if it moves, our eyes are going to follow it.  So if you have an item that you particularly want your audience to focus on then move it, move it, move it.  With PowerPoint animations this is so easily accomplished there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.  Even if you choose not to use the animations, simply moving the cursor, a pointer or even your arm can have the same effect.  Even moving your eyes will work because studies have shown we will automatically turn and look to see what the other person is looking at.  We track the movement of each other’s eyes.

Why do we do this?  It’s not too hard to imagine how helpful these traits were to primitive humans when they needed to see a predator in the bush and even today to avoid that oncoming car.

A word of caution, as far as our senses are concerned everything has a very fast extinction rate.  This means we’ll quickly quit paying attention to something that repeats.  Generally speaking, as far as our brains are concerned, if something is repetitive it’s probably not a danger and therefore not worth paying attention to.  So if you use too much movement, you’ll quickly lose your audience.

This is just one small thing covered by the special I watched so I happily post the link for your own viewing.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

NOVA – How Does the Brain Work?

1 Picture – 1,000 Words, 1 Photo Mosaic – Priceless

van_gogh_n_500

I’ve always loved collages and mosaics.  There’s so many aspects to appreciate.  From a distance you see the entire picture, but close up there’s all these wonderful details.

Previously I blogged about the Gestalt Principles of Perception and it’s these very principles that allow us to see these pictures, created with small tiles, holistically.  They are illusions become art.

I first saw a photography mosaic on a popular decorating show and was immediately captivated.  How wonderful to take a collection of images and create your memories as art.  After watching the show I knew I just had to find the software that would allow me to create my own mosaics.

Whoever said you can’t get something for nothing never encountered Andrea.  This wonderfully quirky person has created a tiny, well-behaved app that easily lets you create your own photo mosaics.  The application is, appropriately enough, called Andrea Mosaic. A version is available for virtually every operating system and professional versions are also available for a very small fee of $35.  You can even capture images from video and use them to create your mosaics. 

There has been some criticism because the interface isn’t elegant and the grammar is atrocious but who the hell cares? Anyone who figures out the algorithms to create these lovely little works of art and gives it away for free deserves a little leeway.  Andrea does accept donations and if you use his software I encourage you to contribute at least a small donation.

If you need more professional features consider Mosaic Creator for $99. In addition to photo mosaics you can create tile mosaics, video mosaics, text mosaics and ASCII art.

So the next time you’re looking for a creative gift, a unique banner or sign for an event or an interesting element to add to a presentation, consider a mosaic.  It’s sure to engage your audience’s attention and stimulate their minds.

Scratch and Sniff PowerPoint?

imageNow that’s an interesting idea, isn’t it?  It’s pretty easy to imagine a time in the future when a presenter can, with a click, allow their audience to smell, as well as see and hear, their presentation.  Even Microsoft associated its products with the sense of smell in their recent blog post.

Well, it turns out there’s a method already available for presenters to engage their audience’s noses and it’s a lot easier to do than you might think.

Let me start by saying I love audio books.  It affords me the opportunity to listen to books as I drive back and forth to work (~2 hours daily) and learn wonderful things during otherwise lost time.  I was recently listening to Lawrence Rosenblum’s excellent book “See what I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses” and learned the most fascinating things about our sense of smell.  It turns out we smell a whole lot more than we consciously realize.  And it’s not too hard to use this knowledge to enhance our audience’s experience of our presentations through their sense of smell.

According to Rosenblum, research has shown that subliminal smells (smells we don’t consciously notice) can influence how we feel about a person, place or item associated with that smell.  For example, a room infused with the positive scent of lemons at an undetectable level will seem more likable than that same room infused with the scent of body odor (again at an undetectable level.)  Even though the smells are undetectable to our conscious minds, our nose knows the difference.  Interestingly, if the smells are detectable the effect is completely negated, most likely because we’re aware and therefore conscious of our responses.

So why would we want to add smell to our presentations?  It’s long been thought that smells are better for recalling memories.  This is known as the Proustian Hypothesis because of Proust’s book “Remembrance of Things Past.”  But the truth is sight and sound help us recall memories just as much as smell.  However, smell memories are shown to be be more vivid and emotional.  Smell memories are more evocative, providing your audience a higher degree that the memory makes them feel they are back experiencing the event.  The research supporting this is covered in Rachael Hertz’s book “Scent of Desire.”

Smell Report - download full report in pdf formatAnd how can we use this knowledge for presenting?  It’s quite easy with a simple bottle of air freshener.  Approximately 15 – 20 minutes before your presentation, simply lightly spray the room with air freshener that has a positive scent.  It’s imperative that the scent has time to dissipate to undetectable levels before your presentation or your efforts will be wasted.  For maximum benefit, choose a positive scent such as lemons, lavender, vanilla, etc. that your audience is likely to experience as positive and also be exposed to later.  It’s also more effective to use scents tied to the color theme of your presentation, for example cherries to red, lemons to yellow, etc.  For ideas, refer to The Smell Report shown at left.

It’s worth noting there was quite a bit of controversy about the use of this phenomenon in the 90s when hotels and retail chains began hiring smell consultants for their businesses.  But the truth is, decorating to please the sense of smell is no different from decorating to please the sense of sight.  It heightens the positive response of patrons but not to a level that they would take actions they otherwise wouldn’t.  I tell you this so you won’t feel like you’re unfairly manipulating your audience with the sense of smell. Just as you want to have a beautifully designed presentation, there’s no reason not to have your presentation smell good too.

Give an Itch, Scratch a Back

facebookcartoons

Why do some messages resonate (per Nancy Duarte) and some messages fall flat? This is what I wondered as I watched a recent movement on Facebook go viral. The concept was simple, you changed your profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and then copied and pasted a statement in your status requesting all your friends do the same. The statement said this movement was to raise awareness of child abuse. And the response was phenomenal.

After two months of research on the psychology of motivation and persuasion I have the answer to my questions. Basically, there were three reasons why the cartoon profile pictures campaign worked:

  1. It was challenging, but not too challenging
  2. There was social pressure to participate
  3. It was for a good cause

While there’s no challenge to changing your profile picture, the challenge lay in finding a picture of a childhood cartoon that satisfactorily reflected your personality to your peers.

Peer pressure is fairly self-explanatory and in this instance self-perpetuating. The more friends who participated, the greater the pressure became to comply. One of my friends freely admitted the only reason she (finally) changed her profile picture was because she was succumbing to the social pressure. She also noted that she couldn’t see how changing her profile picture to a cartoon actually did anything to prevent child abuse.

Which brings me to the third point. A little research shows the raise awareness for child abuse comment was not part of the original campaign. And the original campaign had only moderate success. It wasn’t until this statement was added that the campaign went viral. We not only wanted the fun of portraying ourselves as cartoons and playing with our peers, we also needed to feel good about doing it. Happily enough, it did work to raise awareness of child abuse as the many news stories and articles on the campaign attest.

Its also worth noting that its unlikely this approach will work again. Persuasive tactics have a very rapid extinction rate. You’ve probably already seen similar status requests on Facebook with little to no success. Basically they’re viewed as a pale knock off of the original and the more they’re used, the less effective they become. A great example of this is the T-mobile vs. AT&T commercials that will never have the same success as the original Apple vs. PC commercials.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you so I’ve taken this research, selected the theories that I felt were most useful to presenters and made a fully interactive tutorial. Through this tutorial you’ll learn what moves us and how to make your message more persuasive. Click the icon in the lower right of the tutorial below to run it in full screen mode. Once the presentation starts, I recommend you click the SkyDrive link to Start Slide Show or you can start it directly from this link: Give an Itch, Scratch a Back.

I hope you enjoy learning about what moves us as much as I did.

Here Be Dragons

green_dragonMy daughter tells me that to have a successful blog I need to make frequent entries.  From that perspective, I must seem an abject failure.  My intent has always been, if possible, to include a tutorial with my posts and the type of tutorials I’m writing take time and effort to create.

I’ve been working on a tutorial about the psychology of motivation and persuasion but, because of the amount of research and information, it’s taking me a bit longer to complete than I’d originally anticipated. 

I don’t want to much too much time to pass between posts so, as a precursor for the tutorial on motivation, I invite you to watch this film titled “Here Be Dragons.”

This film is from exactly the opposite perspective, but having watched it, you’ll immediately recognize the theories covered in my upcoming tutorial.  Plus it’s just really cool and interesting.

 

 

We Eat With Our Eyes First

CookbookMaster Chef’s are fond of saying, “We eat with our eyes first”, but did you know there’s research to back it up?  A study in the late 1970’s showed that, when we find food more appealing, not only do we enjoy it more we also absorb more nutrients from it.  Subsequent studies have validated this finding. As the holidays approach I thought you might enjoy knowing that tidbit.

On the downside, when we like what we see, we’re also prone to eat more.  So if you’re calorie conscious this season consider closing your eyes when you eat.

“But what does this have to do with presentations?” you might ask. Because human beings are holistic entities, it stands to reason that if our bodies absorb more nutrition from foods we find appealing, then our minds are likely to absorb more information from presentations that we find appealing as well.

The Presentation Cookbook is one of the most popular articles on my PPTMagic.com website and I thought the holiday season was a perfect opportunity to bring it up to date and convert it to my new tutorial format.  I’ve packed it full of ideas and research that cover all aspects of presenting to an audience.

Click the icon in the lower right of the tutorial below to run it in full screen mode.  Once the presentation starts, I recommend you click the SkyDrive link to Start Slide Show or you can start it directly from this link: The Presentation Cookbook.

I hope you find the cookbook useful in creating your own gourmet presentation, or if you’re on the hook for a dinner party this season it’ll probably help with that too.

Bon Appetite!

The Gestalt of Slides

Pragnanz

I recently had the wonderful experience of sharing the Gestalt Principles of Visual Perception with my 4 year old grandson.  This might seem a pretty heady topic for a 4 year old, but we were discussing how shapes can be combined to create a picture of a house.  This is the very heart of the Gestalt Principles of Perception.

The knowledge of these principles can be a very valuable tool for designing not only slides but any form of visual communications, including photographs.

I’ve been working on a post about this topic for a while but, with the inspiration of my experience with my grandson, I decided to make a fully interactive tutorial.  Click the icon in the lower right of the tutorial below to run it in full screen mode.

I hope you enjoy learning from the tutorial as much as I had creating it and, once completed, I wish you the best as you go forward and practice the art of Pragnanz.

Why Should Presenters Care About the Psychology of the Senses?

MouseoverMagicShowThe simple answer is that presentations are intrinsically a sensory experience, primarily seeing and hearing.  And a clever presenter can also incorporate the other senses as well.

But do you really need to understand how the brain processes the information the eye sees or the ear hears?  After all, you don’t need to understand how a computer processes the information from a keyboard to use it effectively.  While this may be true, you do have to have some understanding of how the keyboard works otherwise you’d end of with a mess of letters that made no sense.

The same is true of understanding how our senses work.  You don’t really need to know that the neural circuitry of the retina transforms a fluctuating pattern of light into a pattern of neural activity in retinal ganglion cells, which is then transmitted along the optic nerve to the brain [1].  But it’s extremely helpful to know that we don’t “see” images that move very fast or very slow. 

If you read the report from my previous post, Seeing, Hearing and Smelling the World,  you would know that we are attracted to nothing as much as change.  And that applies to all the senses.  We organize our world into patterns in order to easily filter out unnecessary information and quickly recognize when something changes.  In our primal minds, change represents both danger and opportunity.  These were the tools necessary in an eat or be eaten environment.  Even today these are still the tools that allow us to avoid car crashes or identify food that’s safe to eat.  Whether we want to admit it or not, from a sensory perspective, we all have attention deficit disorder (ADD.)  Anything that doesn’t change every 5 seconds is largely ignored.

I recently attended The Presentation Summit and overheard some patrons who had attended a session on presenting webinars.  They were complaining that the session presenter had said they needed to make a change every XX seconds.   They interpreted this as needing multiple slides for every minute of the presentation/webinar.  I think they missed the point.  Webinars are the ultimate ADD environment.  Your attendees will be checking their email, typing documents or working on a plethora of other activities while you are presenting and you’ll never know it.  You are competing for their attention.  If you do not provide rapid stimulation (change) in your presentation, you will lose your audience pretty quickly.  This doesn’t mean a different slide, the change can be as simple as raising the volume of your voice or a simple highlight on a slide.  You just need some small change that tells their senses “Pay Attention!  Something has changed.”   But beware of repetition which by definition is a sort of unchange.  While a repeating animation might hold our attention for longer than 5 seconds, we’ll quickly learn to ignore it.

By knowing and understanding these concepts you can take advantage of opportunities that most magicians have known about for centuries.  There is truth in the old adage, “the hand is quicker than the eye.”  It isn’t actually, but our brains don’t process everything the eye sees.

Most people have difficulty registering identifying details about an object that moves faster than 36 degrees per second. Since your visual field is around 180 degrees, anything that crosses in and out of your visual field in less than five seconds starts to blur. And because the cells in your eyes get tired of stimulation after more than two or three seconds, anything that doesn’t move significantly in that amount of time will be perceived as stationary. [2]

This is what allows us to make films.  They are simply a series of still images strung together and presented rapidly enough that our brains perceive motion.  You can use this knowledge to add interest as well as dynamic and subtle changes to your presentations.

In my quirky presentation called the Mouseover Magic Show, I used these concepts to do something that the software (Microsoft PowerPoint) is very limited in supporting.  If you download the presentation and run it, you can move your pointer over any mouse and they will appear to change.  In actuality, it’s jumping to a whole new slide, but because the background doesn’t change, we only recognize the change of the mouse.  We aren’t aware the entire slide has changed.  I’ve created this simple slideshow specifically to illustrate this technique for creating mouseovers.

If I’m the PowerPoint Magician, my friend Julie Terberg is the PowerPoint Illusionist.  She applies the concepts of visual motion in an elegant and sometimes surprising way that’s sure to hold an audience’s interest.

PowerPoint 2010 has some new transitions that are specifically designed to exploit this quirk in our visual sense.  They’re called Dynamic Content Transitions.  They provide movement of the content on the slide without moving the background.  You can achieve pretty spectacular effects using just the transitions.  I discussed these transitions on the Indezine Blog and posted a downloadable timeline template that uses these transitions. You must run the template in the desktop version of PowerPoint to see the transitions properly.

Every presentation should have an element of magic to it.  Every presentation should have its prestige (a mysterious quality of enchantment) moment.  Nancy Duarte calls this the STAR moment in her new book, Resonate.  It’s the moment where you’ve connected with the audience on such a primal, emotional or spiritual level that they feel compelled to pay your message forward again and again.  Understanding the psychology of the senses will help you create this moment.

Finally, if you downloaded and ran the Mouseover Magic Show you might have noticed the card trick.  The how and why that works is a discussion for another day.

[1]  Visual Perception: physiology, psychology, & ecology By Vicki Bruce, Patrick R. Green, Mark A. Georgeson

[2] How Fast Can the Eye See? | eHow.com