Cloudy with a Chance of Inspiration

Cloud ComputingI love TEDTalks and I especially enjoyed a talk from the TEDGlobal 2013 event in June.  Quoting the site: “You don’t need to plan an exotic trip to find creative inspiration. Just look up, says Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society. As he shares charming photos of nature’s finest aerial architecture, Pretor-Pinney calls for us all to take a step off the digital treadmill, lie back and admire the beauty in the sky above.”  I highly encourage you to take a breath and enjoy Gavin’s talk for yourself.

As I was watching the video I was reminded of a presentation that I made for a friend a few years ago.  He was speaking on the topic of Cloud Computing at the Green Computing Conference. Using PowerPoint 2010, I created a presentation where his content tumbled and flew through the sky.  The result was a light and breezy presentation that was unique but professional.

I had the opportunity to show a presentation using this same technique at The Presentation Summit and I noticed admit the ooo’s and ah’s of the audience, it’s a format that makes people smile.

Inspired by Gavin’s talk on clouds, I decided to create and share a Cloudy PowerPoint template.  It’s a deceptively simple template but when used correctly really allows you to Wow! your audience.  The key is the fade background portion of the Dynamic Content Transitions available in PowerPoint 2010 and 2013.  By alternating the cloud background a subtle sense of movement is achieved without conscious awareness by the audience. Like the magician’s redirection trick discussed in a previous blog entry, the “front” portion of the Dynamic Content Transition provides the obvious dynamic movement of the content through the sky.  You can learn more about using PowerPoint’s transitions by viewing my tutorial, The Beauty of Transitions in PowerPoint.

The template is shown below, but alas Web Apps cannot display the Dynamic Content Transitions.  To view (and use) the template, you’ll need to click on the menu icon image (on the navigation bar below), download a copy and run the presentation using the full PowerPoint 2010 or 2013 application.  You can also download directly using this link.  Directions for using the template are included on the slides.

Enjoy the video, enjoy the template and enjoy watching the clouds.

Infographics – When Familiarity Doesn’t Breed Contempt

CaveArt Infographics are a hot topic these days, but the truth is infographics have been around for more than 30,000 years. From the first moment a person drew a picture with a stick in the dirt we’ve been using infographics.  Infographics are simply images used to tell a story.  Those images can be anything from drawings, symbols, photos, charts and even letters of a language.  They are all a means to visually communicate.

The key to effective infographics is familiarity to your audience.  Consider the petroglyphs found in caves.  Some images are easily interpreted, such as the story of a hunt showing stick figures with spears and images of animals.  Other images, like spirals and the outlines of hands, are less clear.  We can guess what the artist meant, but we can’t really know for sure. Additionally many of these images are drawn very close together or right on top of one another, increasing the difficulty in understanding the message.

The same concept applies to written languages, we must understand the symbol (or letter) and how each symbol is grouped with other symbols to understand the message.  Many of the ancient languages did not use spacing which makes it additionally challenging for experts to translate.

When used effectively, infographics are a very powerful medium for telling your story.  The right infographic can  transcend language barriers allowing your message to be universally understood by all who view it.  For happyexample, the image of a happy face is easily recognized globally across all races, cultures, genders and even ages.  The smallest child will recognize a happy face even when it’s nothing more than a circle with two dots for eyes and a curved line for the smile.

Familiarity is one of the Gestalt Principles of Perception and, unfortunately, one of the weakest principles.  As I’ve illustrated in my narrative, even if the audience is completely familiar with the images and symbols used, the message can become muddied when the principle of proximity is not used correctly.  By effectively applying the principles of perception to your infographics you can achieve pragnanz, the perfect clarity of your message.  If you aren’t familiar with the Gestalt Principles of Perception, I invite you to view my tutorial, The Gestalt of Slides.

I’ve recently written a series of articles for creating infographics using PowerPoint 2013.  Although these articles are specific to techniques in PowerPoint, the methodology is also applicable to other tools.

PowerPoint 2013 Visualizations: Infographics

These articles also introduce you to the Hierarchy of Knowledge and explain how using infographics can transform your data to wisdom.

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.

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!

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

Welcome to Visualology

Let me start by saying I’ve wanted to write a blog for a while because I love knowledge and I love sharing knowledge.  My problem has been what to blog about.  I knew I wanted it to be about presentations and PowerPoint (which I love.)  My problem was deciding which particular area of my expertise could I write about that would hold the interest of an audience and be the most useful.  Would it be assistive technology, collaboration, interactivity, educational games, information design, digital dashboards, project management, etc.?  My skills in this area are eclectic and usually very technical.  I was looking for that one special topic that could be uniquely mine.  So what was it to be?

I was reading Stephen Few’s books on data visualizations when I finally had my blog epiphany.  One small section covered the topic of the Gestalt Principles of Perception.  I immediately experienced an instance of déjà vu and felt like I’d hitched a ride on Mr. Peabody’s WABAC (way back) machine.

You see once upon a time in a land far away, I was a mental health therapist in the Navy.  In fact, if things had turned out differently I might have been a psychiatrist.  I loved doing therapy and it was especially gratifying to change someone’s life for the better.  And even better than that I met my husband who was also a therapist and I couldn’t have asked for a better soul mate.

But life has a way of throwing you curve balls and sometimes the best you can do is a base hit.

At the time I got out of the Navy work as a therapist was best described as thin and I would’ve had to go to school for 12 years to be able to do the same therapy I’d been doing for the previous 5 years.

So my husband and I made a deal; he’d continue to be a therapist (ultimately earning his Masters in Psychology) and I’d take a different path.  After falling in love with the Commodore 64 and naturally being attracted to the latest, coolest thing it didn’t take much to lure me to the dark side of computer geekdom where I’ve happily lived since.

So here I am, come full circle.  This blog is going to be about psychology.  Specifically, it’s about the psychology of visual perception and how that knowledge can be used to design better presentations and visual communications.  I intend to refresh what I already know and learn what I don’t know and share it here.

Even more, this blog will be my tribute to my husband of 30 years who passed away in 2009.  He would’ve loved this topic and he would’ve loved talking about it, challenging the concepts and expanding our minds and understanding.