Archive for the ‘Presentations’ Category

Powerpoint Karaoke

February 13, 2017

microphone-closeup-by-paulRecently we held a Powerpoint Karaoke event at work to bookend our workshops on creating better presentations.  The purpose was to have fun but at the same time make clear the difference between great and awful slides.

So, what exactly is Powerpoint Karaoke?  It is an event where volunteer presenters come up to the front of the room and narrate slides that they’ve never seen before.  The slides change automatically and the presenter must improvise with every new slide.  The slides may or may not be related.  For the audience it’s usually a laugh-inducing event.  For the presenters, it can be a chance to show off their improv and presenting skills with welcome humor.

How did we do it and how can you do it?  Here is the way it worked:   First, we sent out a flyer advertising the event with a link to more info and a signup form.


Since we only had one hour or less for the event I decided to have only 10 performer/presenter slots.  Each volunteer presenter would get 9 slides that would show for 20 seconds each.  The total running time of 3 minutes seemed reasonable for possible embarrassment or boredom.  I preselected slides with an intentional mix of good and bad examples.  This assortment added flavor and at the same time demonstrated the power of a well-designed slide.

Because I needed to control the breaks between presenters, I advanced the slides manually with a stopwatch app to measure the seconds.  You could do this with automation, but if so, then I would recommend a blank slide or two between presenters.

After the last presenter/improviser was done I brought out my iPad and opened a free app called Decibel 10th and we metered the applause for each presenter, going down the list and recording the number achieved.  The top applause winner chose one of the items I brought-a gift card, the book Slideology by Nancy Duarte, and a copy of Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  Second and third place winners chose from the remaining prizes.

This was so much fun that we are definitely doing it again in late Spring.  The next time we are also going to hold it in our public lunch space to draw a larger audience who might just stumble upon the event as well.  There is talk about doing this after-hours at a bar/restaurant to enable presenters full freedom in their speech.  I’ve seen this done at other places…just do a search on Youtube on Powerpoint Karaoke and you’ll see what I mean.

Finally, I want to note that this is also a great way to learn more about the talents of members of your team.  Let me know if you try it with your group.  I’d love to know how it went.

2016 ATD Conference Top 5 Sessions

September 16, 2016

yjyxkn7iThrough the fortune of geography and the opportunity to work as a volunteer, I was able to attend the ATD Conference in Denver this past summer.  Usually I like to share my top takeaways, but because of the enormity of this conference I had to go the level of top 5 sessions, not just top 5 ideas.  Here they are, in non-ranked order.

1. Storytelling is the Secret Sauce  Doug Stevenson, author of “Story Theater Method” echoed Chip and Dan Heath when he opened with this idea: facts fade, data gets dumped, but stories stick.  I was already a believer in the power of stories to teach and move people to action but Doug taught me some new things.  First, don’t tell a story just because someone told you stories are good.  It has to be the right story, at the right time, for the right audience.  Context is king.  Secondly, as a presenter, you should pay attention to your role as an actor/performer when you step in front of an audience. Just where you stand on a stage imparts meaning.

2. Effective Virtual Training/Webinars led by David Smith, from Virtual Gurus.  David recommends Adobe Connect as the best webinar tool and I found that reassuring, since I know the strength of that software and use it almost daily.  He gave me some ideas of elements to add to my webinars such as an intro video (to be played as people enter the virtual room) that shows attendees how to use the interactive tools.  Another recommendation was to avoid using yes/no true/false questions in polls, rather just have attendees respond using the agree/disagree buttons to save time.  He strongly advises for using a producer to handle tech issues, and only using the webcam at the very beginning of a webinar to establish presence, then turning it off to avoid distractions.

3. Awesome Powerpoint Tricks by Wendy Gates Corbett & Richard Goring from BrightCarbon. This demo went at breakneck speed leaving we in the audience dazzled, yet yearning for slower paced step by step instructions.  The main concept is to create visual sequences in Powerpoint that look like detailed animations focused on clearly communicating the most important messages.  I could see how most of us could develop creative animations, given the time.

4. Using Social Media and Online Learning Communities by Daniel Jones.  Daniel gave me some new ideas such as using social media before, during and after a course. This aligns well with the concept of ongoing learning that doesn’t just start and stop within course deadlines.  He touched on ingredients to create a successful online community: finding people who want to share, have something of value that makes them want to come back to the community area, and have a community manager who keeps the discussions on point, keeping it positive, and asking questions to spark discussions.  Daniel also gave me a new idea for webinars-seeking out resident subject matter experts to share their knowledge, instead of waiting for people to approach me to host webinars, I approach them first.

5. Biology, Sociology of Learning and Leading, keynote address by Simon Sinek.  If you’d like to see him talk on this topic, check out his TED Talk here.  Simon showed how our biological chemicals-specifically endorphins, dopamines, seratonins and oxytocins-give us powerful motivators to act in certain ways.  We must be aware of these to recognize what drives us and other to action.  Another factor is the influence of others, especially leaders, on our ability to work well and persevere.  Simon believes that leadership is a choice and involves personal sacrifice.  By building trust people will follow you.  Many of these ideas seem self-evident, but he added some more that serve as a personal challenge to me:  Anyone can lead.  It’s a daily practice.  We can lead by exercising selflessness, even when no one sees you.  This sounds like a bold, strong ethical ethos that I’d like to strive toward.  In closing, he said, “I urge you to take care of each other.  If you take care of each other, I guarantee we will change the world.”  Let’s do it!

Thanks for reading.

Let me know what you think.


It’s Time to Disarm Powerpoint Presentations

September 14, 2015

Powerpoint-Mac-LogoIn my  purple state of Colorado it would probably be difficult to ban bullets, but can we all agree to take bullets away from Powerpoint presentations?  It’s the 21st century and way past time to disarm Powerpoint.

Where did I get this idea?  Several years ago I had the pleasure of attending a session at Educause by Heidi Trotta entitled “Lose the Bullets”  You can download her presentation here.  About the same time someone recommended the book “Presentation Zen” which was an inspiration to Heidi I’m sure.  Ever since that day I’ve been modelling their ideas in my own presentations and advocating for everyone to take up the cause to improve presentations.  But as many times as I tell folks about improving the designs of Powerpoint presentations it still amazes me how many people have never heard of Presentation Zen, and how many bad presentations I still encounter.  Recently I attended a session where the opening slide was filled with 175 words!  That’s not a misprint- one hundred seventy-five words!  I think folks get confused sometimes between creating a document and creating a presentation.  Rather than show you their first slide and embarrass anyone, I have attempted to recreate that slide with new text of my own.  Here it is, click on it to enlarge:


Please folks, spread the word about what good presentations should sound and look like-see the above resources by Heidi Trotta and Garr Reynolds.  Let’s hope that there are better days ahead, with less bullets.

6 Things, 20 Slides

March 12, 2015

flying handlebars purple effectIn the book Presentation Zen Garr Reynolds recommends finding a Pecha Kucha night to practice the skills learned from his book.  When I moved to Denver I punched in the search terms and found an organization called Ignite Denver.  They do a variation on Pecha Kucha-you are limited to presenting 20 slides but each only lasts for 15 seconds, giving the presenter only 5 minutes to convey a message.  (Pecha Kucha is 20 slides for 20 seconds each.)

After applying and being accepted by Ignite Denver I went to work on my presentation: 6 Things I Learned While Riding My Bike.  My idea was to share lessons learned and tie it to my new experiences after moving to Denver, giving it a local angle as well.  The number of lessons or stories went down from 8 to 6.  I figured that if I told 6 mini stories, then I could allot 3 slides to each.  The remaining 2 slides would be used for intro and outro.  Next, I outlined the presentation as a storyboard using 20 sticky notes.  I had to decide what 3 images would be used to tell each mini story.  Talk about economy…tell a story with only 3 images.

Well, I was up for the challenge.  To up the ante I decided to shoot new photos and use a minimum of text on the slides.  I treated the project as if I was shooting a film.  I made a shot list which included location and props needed.  Ah…the  props.  This  took some extra work, and at one point out of my comfort zone.  One of the props I needed were bullet casings.  Not being a gun owner, nor having many gun-toting friends I had to go to a local shooting range and ask them for some empty shells.  Fortunately they gave me some without any questioning, although they may have joked about me later after I left.  No matter. I got what I was after.  As time went by I was able to take all the photos, with the exception of 2.  One  had to be shot by my wife Nita, since it included me in the frame.  The other, of a large truck, I found on Flicker Creative Commons and gave it proper citation.

The setting for the Ignite Denver presentations are different from any other presentations I had ever given.  First of all, they are in front of a large live audience who are drinking large cups of beer.  Secondly, presenters are expected to memorize their speeches.  No notes allowed.  Fortunately for me, my years as a performing musician helped me deal somewhat with any stage fright and I am blessed with a good memory.  To thwart any potential memory lapses, I used the slides to be my prompts/reminders as to what I should be talking about at that precise moment in time.

Now any good storyteller/presenter needs to bring emotion and engagement.  The stories themselves would help a bit with this, but I made sure that I included drama and humor into the script and my vocal inflection.  What more could I do for engagement? Ironically, one day while riding my bike to work I came up with an audience participation segment.  I would encourage them to make motorcycle sounds.  Since I figured their inhibitions would be lowered from the beers, I thought I could pull this off.  What did the end product look and sound like?  Take a look here at the recording and let me know what you think.   (NOTE: the recording has a few buffered glitches in it, but you should get the idea. And there was a technology bonus to mention. The event was streamed live, so some of my friends on the East Coast were able to attend virtually.  This may have helped me too. Knowing that I had friends in the audience-in person and virtual.)

Edcamp Denver

March 14, 2014

edcamp coloradoLast month I attended my first “unconference” which was called Edcamp Denver.  Initially I was a little skeptical since I was giving up a good part of my Saturday to attend a conference where I had little to no idea of what the sessions would cover.  The fact that it was held at a “Creative Academy” and the likelihood that some of my fellow DPS staff would be there gave me some level of comfort and hopefulness though.

For those of you who have never attended an Edcamp or an unconference I will describe some of my experience. When I arrived on this snowy morning we gathered in the cafeteria and enjoyed free coffee and pastries.  Have I mentioned yet that this Edcamp was totally free?  Yes, a free conference with breakfast and lunch provided thanks to sponsors.  Soon the mapping of the unconference began.  On a large sheet of paper participants wrote topics in which they were willing to lead discussions and perhaps make a brief presentation. There was no keynote presentation, just some brief introductions.

edcamp signup sheet

Since I had just been part of a digital storytelling workshop I volunteered to lead a session on that topic.  Why not dive into the pool, right? After starting my session though I learned quickly that the aim is to encourage discussion and collaboration over traditional conference presentations.  So rather than take up all the time with me sharing information I asked other attendees to share their experiences and resources.  Fortunately at DPS we have our core values highlighted at many meetings and one of them is collaboration.

One of the nice things about this unconference was how technology was applied all along the way.  All the session listings were transcribed into a google doc so we could all refer to it for choosing topics and room locations.  In addition to the online schedule each session was given a google doc to document everything that was shared in the session.  You can see these docs here. (Be sure to scroll down the list and realized that some folks took notes diligently while others were left blank.)  After lunch we reconvened as a full group in the auditorium for a demo slam.  Participants shared (in 5 minutes or less) an app that they found useful for education.  For more info on what an Edcamp is, check out this link.

Of course, given my featuring this event on my blog you can be sure that I’ll be attending more Edcamps and other unconferences in the future.  But I also have the idea to incorporate unconferencing into part of a future conference I’m planning so that half the day will be traditional and the other half on free-ranging topics ala the unconference.  What’s really amazing is that some DPS schools have now adopted the unconference model for their professional development meetings so that teachers can tailor the workshop(s) to meet their specific needs.

Free Images from Flickr Creative Commons

March 1, 2013
IMG_0289 by Paul Iwancio, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Paul Iwancio 

For quite a while I’ve been recommending to colleagues the vast collection of free images at Flickr Creative Commons to use in presentations and web pages.  There have been two developments.  First, over the last year I’ve decided to give back.  It’s well past time for me to contribute to the Creative Commons, and so you will see more and more of my images on Flickr with Creative Commons licensing.  The second development just happened today when a trusted resource person showed me the wonders of  If you’ve ever used Flickr Creative Commons images, then you know that the act of attribution is a little clunky, and can be inconsistent.  Now there is a free service at imagecodr to provide simple and clear attribution when you use an image.  The process goes like this:

1.Go to Flickr Creative Commons and find an image you want to use, copy the URL

2. Open up a new tab or window and go to

3. Paste the URL there and it will give you html code

4. Paste this code into your webpage, post, document, etc. and you’ll get something like the image shown here on my post today.

This is a phenomenal tool that will make life easier for users and a great link back for creators.  Go forth and attribute!