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All of the Above July 2, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Show and Tell.
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I don’t consider myself particularly religious, but I do try to do right by my Catholic upbringing. In that respect, whenever I go to hear mass, I look forward to getting some time to think and reflect upon what’s going on in my life.

Sometimes, however, I find it hard to do just that. I kneel down to pray and realize I don’t even know where to begin. In those instances, maybe out of frustration if not resignation, my default starting point is “All of the Above.”

Oddly enough, it helps. For me anyway. When it does, the momentary peace that comes over me makes me realize what a wonderful and powerful thing it is to have faith.

Perchance to Dream June 29, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Presentations, Ramblings.
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It’s amazing how our dreams seem boundless in our youth. When I was very young I must’ve had a different ambition every week, if not daily. Who didn’t? One moment I might be imagining I’d be an astronaut (with lasers, natch!) when I grew up; the next I’d fashion myself a business tycoon. Or just as quickly I might fancy myself a race car driver, if not believe wholeheartedly that I could be a rock star.

It’s not just the longshots I dreamed up, but the absolutely impossible, too. For instance, a part of me believed — believed! — that I’d be a superhero one day. Or heck, I even once thought I’d be a star agent in the FBI…nevermind I wasn’t even an American and didn’t even live in the States!

It’s not that I was a stupid kid; at least, not more so than others. I’m sure everyone had imaginations equally absurd and amusing when they were young. No: at the root of this was the fact that at that age, anyone is so innocent as to believe that anything is possible. In my case, I’d say that in my naïveté, everything was.

Then somewhere along the way, I lost that naïveté. We all do. We begin to see the world as it is and start to learn what it is we can do, oddly enough, by learning what we can’t. Slowly, we begin to dismiss: first the impossible, then the improbable, then at some point even the fanciful and fun. I know I did. In fact, lately it’s struck me that I haven’t been dreaming big about, well, anything.

Only this isn’t entirely true either. Call it missing the forest for the trees: getting so caught up in the day-to-day and the to-do tomorrow/next week/next month/next year that it becomes hard to see beyond one’s nose sometimes. Unless you look hard enough, that is. Which I did. And what I found was somewhat odd.

Secretly, I’ve been dreaming of making the presentation of my life.

Maybe that makes me a pretty stupid adult. But I can’t deny it. I think the seed was planted back in college, where every so often I’d have to prepare a speech (or two or three) and find it oddly satisfying. I could do this, I’d think each time, and might even be good at it. So there was hope. But really, I didn’t have much reason to think more about it.

Later, I’d move on to teaching and was bitten by the bug again. It’s about this time, though, that I moved on from thinking I had potential for writing/speaking to consider I might have talent for presentation. All because I started to use slideware in class. There was the satisfaction I’d get from pulling off some trick with a slideshow that no one could figure out. There was the fulfillment of seeing students’ faces light up when — eureka! — they did get the point I’d been trying to get across, just because of how I presented it. Even now, having left that world behind, the feeling chases me, as when I deliver a presentation and everyone takes it for granted that I’d been working on it for days, precisely because of the polish.

I guess that’s why I take it very personally when something goes wrong when I present, no matter how small. What if that presentation was the presentation? Did I just blow it? Sometimes, all you get is that one chance to make any impression, so when I do make the presentation of my life, I’d want it to be unabashedly awesome.

Like I said: I’m probably a pretty stupid adult for thinking all this. And I clearly think about presentations a little more than is probably healthy. But I feel that if I had to I could put together and deliver a presentation that would make your jaw drop and knock your socks off. You know, like a presentation fit for TED.

If I’m gonna dream, might as well go all out, yes?

Actually, what’s funny is that I wouldn’t even know what this presentation of my life would be about. But in broad strokes: I’d want it to be personal, inspiring (I like to think I was inspiring once) and made of the sort of stuff that would make people change their lives. I’d deliver it in front of an insanely large crowd, one that would hang on my every word because I’d prepared so well. I’d connect with them, holding them captivated, and when I’d finish there would be tears, laughter, and deafening applause.

And to think: I’m not an outgoing person. I even have stage fright!

But hey, a guy can dream.

Prezi June 26, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Odds and Ends, Presentations, Reviews, Technology.
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Any number of presentation software are commercially available today. Of course, Keynote (my preference) and Powerpoint are mainstays, as are cloud-based lookalikes such as Google Documents and Zoho.

And then there’s Prezi.

For all intents and purposes, Prezi is actually internet-based mind-mapping software that makes it easy to present relationships between concepts (interestingly, a presentation made using Prezi is also called a Prezi). Indeed, it seems particularly suited for conveying context, such as how minute details fit into the big picture, allowing one to zoom in and zoom out from disparate thoughts at a click of the mouse. After all, it is dubbed as the “zooming presentation editor.”

In this sense it is a welcome break from the presentation-as-slide-deck paradigm, taking us back to “thinking on paper” where individuals are free to explore diagrams in any order or, if so required, in the order a presenter intends. Prezi allows that: one can approach preparing a Prezi like writing on a clean bond paper or a whiteboard for users to wade through as they see fit, or prompt it to go through points on that sheet in a pre-arranged fashion. Regardless of which approach one chooses, using Prezi requires a somewhat different planning and design sensibility as one would employ using slideware, which I learned by struggling to make a Prezi of my own (see link below).

Offhand, I can see how Prezi can be used as a tool for organizing discussion in a classroom or business setting. Based on some sample Prezis available on the site, I can also appreciate how it can be used to put together some stunning presentations. But there are limitations. While the service is free to use and try — especially for students and educators! — unless one invests in a premium account you will be limited to creating your Prezis online (thus, an internet connection is required) and downloading viewable (non-editable) versions for your computer (both PC and Mac are supported). These offline-viewable Prezis are very good, but I’ve experienced two problems with them thus far. One is that there are instances where graphics don’t display properly in the downloaded version, a problem that may have something to do with my internet connection speed (to load my Prezi online and thereafter download it) as well as the size and format of the images I used. In their place were “circles” where they were supposed to be, clearly not having been downloaded.

The second problem is the viewing consistency of the online Prezi and its offline version. For the one Prezi I’ve prepared so far, regardless of the fact that it presents precisely as I want it to on my browser, the downloaded version has more often than not showed much more than I desired it to for given frames. To me this is crucial, as I intended for some concepts and imageries to be captured and displayed in a precise manner. My guess is that the culprit is a difference in screen/projector resolution, though I honestly haven’t had much time as yet to experiment and find out more. Fortunately, this is only a problem for those in desperate need of such precision, if not those too steeped in slideware to think a little bit differently.

Prezi is free to sign up for and use. I’d recommend it. Just for posterity, here’s the Prezi I put together for the launch of WIWAG Business Weeks under Bato Balani Foundation. I’ll have more to say about that (maybe) in a another post. Note that this isn’t the most effective use of Prezi, but good enough for me to sample what it can do:

[Link: BBFI by the Numbers on Prezi]

Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs June 23, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Presentations, Reviews.
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The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any AudienceA title like The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs simply demands skepticism, especially if it’s not written by the Grand Poo-bah of all things Apple himself. I know that was my gut reaction when I first learned of the book (via Slideshare of all places), thinking that it was little more than a deliberate attempt to score some extra mileage by author Carmine Gallo.

Despite this, two things prompted me to give the book a chance. First, there were these slides:

View this presentation on Carmine Gallo’s Slideshare page.

Second, I chanced upon a favorable review of the book by Duarte Design (available on their Facebook page, but not on their blog for some reason).

So I did give the book a chance, in the end coming to the realization that my impressions of the book — both before and after coming across the above material — were right all along.

Admittedly, there’s a fair amount of helpful tricks and tips about to be found throughout the book, mostly about presentation delivery. Looking at it critically, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is really a compendium of observations about the many things Steve Jobs has done so well in year after year of memorable Apple keynotes (and then some). Granted, the book isn’t all about presentation delivery (it touches upon design and preparation, too), but compared to books like Presentation Zen Design and slide:ology, I would say Gallo’s book is more useful for those looking to pick up techniques to improve on delivery.

Notwithstanding this, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs has two significant flaws that keep me from rating it among other great books about presentations. First, Gallo has a tendency to give more weight to the trappings of a great presentation and not its substance. The praise lavished on Jobs for plainspeak — using terms like “Zippy” or “Awesome” in his presentations, for instance — or his penchant for organizing his thoughts in groups of three come across as shallow and uncritical as the book progresses. With respect to the former, the more Gallo made the point, the more I came to realize how empty such words really are. (Aside: does calling an iPad “magical” really mean anything?) Meanwhile, where the latter is concerned, the book would have more depth if it at least took the time to discuss how triplets are standard fare as a rhetorical device. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking, but it’s things like these that give credence to the perception that The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is just trying to cash in on the hype surrounding Jobs.

The more substantial flaw of the book, however, is this: it is a book about Steve Jobs’ presentations that has hardly any visuals of those presentations themselves. This makes for an unusual reading experience. Yes, there are some token pictures of Steve Jobs in action (none of which are particularly useful), and Gallo does try to make do with presenting tables that summarize Jobs’ words with accompanying commentary, but these measures are largely ineffective. Granted, Gallo refers the reader to search for these presentations on Slideshare or YouTube, but by and large the book itself has much less impact than the slides above on which the book is based — precisely because the visuals make all the difference.

In the end, I found The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs to be the type of book that will appeal more to the Steve Jobs faithful and those enamored of the Cult of Mac than to the plain and simply presentation-minded. Again, while there are good points one can pick up by reading it (just look at those slides above!), in and of itself it could’ve been a much better book, especially in a space that demands nothing short of the exceptional.

Dan Pink, via Garr Reynolds June 20, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Odds and Ends, Presentations.
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The following slide deck caught my eye while perusing Garr Reynolds’ Slideshare page:


View more presentations from garr.

I’ve written before about my admiration for his work, and true to form this presentation is amazing. The aesthetic is obviously spot on, and makes the underlying messages on career advice that much more meaningful and relevant for anyone looking for a good motivational shot in the arm.

The presentation adapts material from Dan Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. So taken was I by the presentation that I decided to get my brother a copy of the book for his birthday. You can bet that I’ll borrow that book from him once he’s done, and make sure he sees this presentation, too.

CSR Presentation (BBFI) [Presentation Thursdays] June 17, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Presentations, The Daily Grind.
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Lately, I’ve had to do talks about corporate social responsibility (CSR) on behalf of the Bato Balani Foundation (BBFI). Here’s the presentation I put together for this purpose:


View this presentation on Slideshare.

The idea was to get the audience’s attention with a much more visual presentation, and talk about CSR using what BBFI does by way of example. Overall, I think it’s a better way for people to get to know the Foundation than, say, a straightforward corporate presentation, even if this meant I ended up reusing some photos for this slide deck.

Some notes:

  • Slides 2-7 make the case that perspectives on CSR have changed, using Milton Friedman’s (disputed) quote from Capitalism and Freedom as a jumping off point. In the interest of fair disclosure, I found the image of Friedman using Google image search (apparently, many versions have made the rounds on the internet). Obviously, the design on a couple of these slides have been repurposed from my dissertation proposal presentation.
  • Slides 10-13: BBFI was founded in 1991 and was named after Bato Balani for Science and Technology, the bestselling high school science magazine published by Diwa Learning Systems. Having said that, BBFI is actually the corporate foundation of a family of corporations, of which Diwa is part.
  • Slide 20: Collaterals for BBFI’s The Many Faces of the Teacher advocacy. I actually prepared a presentation for this that was never used. But that’s another story.
  • Slides 27-30: A tree planting project of Diwa, arising from the awareness that the company uses up a lot of paper as a publisher of printed material.
  • Slides 31-37: Following typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ketsana), our balikbayan box forwarding company AFreight got involved in the relief efforts of the Filipino community in Hong Kong and Singapore. In Hong Kong, AFreight shipped relief goods to the Philippines on behalf of the Bayanihan Trust at no cost. Meanwhile, in Singapore, AFreight was designated a center by the Philippine Ambassador, and also shipped donations to DSWD and ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya at no cost. In each case, I believe that this amounted to one container of relief goods.
  • Slides 39-43: Here’s a story about months after the typhoon. Realizing that for many of its client schools teachers still hadn’t received enough relief goods, Diwa and BBFI put together bags of rice and canned goods to be distributed to teachers. These were delivered using our distribution network, and in the end made it to the hands of 1,125 teachers from 61 schools (many of whom were so happy that they made it a point to pose for pictures with the bags!)
  • Slide 44: BBFI will celebrate its 20th year anniversary in 2011. My how time flies!

[About Presentation Thursdays: Every now and then, on a Thursday, I post a presentation from my archives and include some accompanying commentary not just about the content but also my thoughts on designing it. The presentations can also be viewed and downloaded from my Slideshare page]

Presentation Zen Design June 14, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Presentations, Reviews.
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Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your PresentationsGarr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery should be the standard against which presentation books are measured. One part presentation philosophy, one part aesthetic approach, and all parts downright cool, it makes its case so effortlessly as to make us wonder why we haven’t been making more captivating presentations before. However, with Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, Reynolds has done himself one better, and may have written the only presentation book you need ever read.

Presentation Zen Design is not so much a follow-up to the original but a more complete threshing out of the ideas that Reynolds touched on in Presentation Zen. In that regard, the first book — good as it is — seems but a teaser to this more holistic treatise on presentation. Indeed, Presentation Zen Design covers a comprehensive set of topics that should be of interest to presentation mavens of today, be it color selection and typography or white space and photography.

Obviously, Reynolds has exquisitely good visual taste and communications savvy. Looking through his sample slide designs (and redesigns) peppered throughout the book is by itself a treat and an education. But it also helps that he is in fact an educator himself, which shows in chapter by chapter that is instructive, illustrative and easy to read. In fact, it is amazing that Presentation Zen Design strikes one as less technical compared to, say, Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology, even in those areas where the two cover the same ground. And as if his own insight weren’t enough, Reynolds also solicits assistance from his equally talented and like minded peers — such as Scott Kelby, Guy Kawasaki, John McWade and (of course) Nancy Duarte to name but a few — to contribute some insights on different aspects of presentation design.

Espousing truly simple principles with which to approach presentations, Presentation Zen Design is perhaps the most complete book of its kind. While an argument can be made that those interested in presentation need look no further than what Reynolds has to offer here, an equally good case can be made that Presentation Zen Design would be a fitting capstone to anyone’s presentation education. Start with Presentation Zen. Move on to slide:ology. Pick any number of presentation books in between. Then graduate to Presentation Zen Design.

[Present]ation June 11, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Presentations.
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What makes a good presentation? I submit that anyone can improve the presentations they make by reflecting about what the word itself implies.

First, and most obviously, a presentation is about the message you want to get across: what you are presenting. It’s a simple enough idea, sure, but one that few really appreciate. Knowing what one has to present amounts to more than just knowing one’s material inside and out. It involves envisioning the best way to convey this to the audience, going through the painstaking process of adding, editing and removing elements so as to make it easy for anyone listening to appreciate the importance of what one has to say. Putting words or pictures on a slide does not a presentation make; but rather it’s the discipline of putting oneself in the audience’s shoes long beforehand and exerting the effort to make the presentation appealing to them that gives it a shot at being the least bit memorable.

Second, presentations are about being there: being present. Any opportunity to present is not simply a chance to make an impression; it is also a chance to make a connection and quite possibly make a difference in someone’s life. Admittedly, it’s easy to take this for granted, and thereby easy to screw up without even trying. Such as recycling a presentation without tailor-fitting it to the audience’s needs or just not being on top of one’s game while delivering a presentation. It can happen to the best of us, so we should always remind ourselves that we are the most important part of our presentation, and if only for that reason we must truly and completely be there.

Finally, each presentation should be a gift: a present. Consider: whenever we prepare a gift for someone, we aim to give the best that we can. We do so keeping in mind what the recipient would want or need. And we do so without giving much thought to what we might get in return. If more people approached presentation this way, taking care to give the best of themselves for the sake of their audience, it stands to reason that there’d less “death by PowerPoint” and more awesome presentations.

So have something to say. Be there. Make it your gift to your audience.

Then present, present, present.

slide:ology June 8, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Presentations, Reviews.
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slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great PresentationsThere’s a reason I put off reading Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology as long as I did: under deadline with several presentations in the pipeline, I was worried that reading it would cause me to rethink much of the work I had already done. But when I found myself with time before having to begin a new round of presentation preparation, I decided I’d better get started reading it lest it gather dust on my shelf.

Soon after starting with it I was mesmerized. Yes, slide:ology should be required reading for anyone that makes presentations for a living.

My only point of comparison in this regard is Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen, which I feel is one of the best books on presentations ever written. Certainly, slide:ology isn’t Presentation Zen, which is only to say that Nancy Duarte’s book has a different appeal (and perhaps purpose as well). To my mind, Presentation Zen conveyed mostly a philosophy about how to approach presentations, and what I got out of it was being exposed to an aesthetic that I wanted to emulate. In like manner, slide:ology challenges readers to develop a new presentation ideology; yet it does so by being a technical reference for how to make captivating presentations.

This is what makes the book a valuable resource, especially given the author’s pedigree. Speaking of which, slide:ology perhaps reads best as a manual for creating presentations of the corporate variety. Yes, the book demands that readers see presentations from a broader perspective, but at the same time it offers a surfeit of detail that is indispensable and useful. Everything from appropriate color selection, typography, and diagram design are covered and are applicable to presentations of all kinds. However, when Duarte begins to delve into the subtle use of complex animations and the necessity for common template design, it’s clear that the book will be most appreciated by business executives and aspiring entrepreneurs.

If slide:ology has any shortcoming, it is this: reading between the lines, it would seem that Duarte’s slideware of choice is Microsoft Powerpoint. This criticism is more than de rigueur ribbing by an Apple fanboy: having made the switch to Keynote myself several years back, I’ve come to realize that the choice presentation software also affects one’s approach to presentation design even if subtly. Indeed, while reading the book there were instances where I found myself thinking that my approach to designing a presentation in Keynote (or even Prezi!) would be rather different.

At 200-over pages, slide:ology is worthwhile reading for presentation mavens — and it’s a short 200-odd pages, considering. Nancy Duarte is right: it’s about time that people developed a new presentation ideology. This book will convince people of that proposition and help show the way.

When It All Comes Together June 5, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Presentations, Show and Tell.
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Just doing some visual thinking: what else is an amazing presentation other than when great content is coupled with sound design and solid delivery?

As for the other intersections, I humbly submit that:

CONTENT + DELIVERY = SPEECH

CONTENT + AESTHETIC = ART

AESTHETIC + DELIVERY = ADVERTISING

(I kid! But it does make a strange amount of sense.)