Inspiration: Joan Halifax on Compassion


In this inspirational TEDWomen Talk, Joan Halifax discusses the importance of compassion.  Her experiences with the sick and dying throughout her life shape her views on empathy.  Her 40 years of work experience in healthcare and on death row help her articulate the qualities of compassion as well as its enemies.


In his book Westward Dharma, Professor Christopher Queen says of Halifax, “In a culture where death is an enemy to be ignored, denied, and hidden away, Joan physically touches the dying. She holds them, listens to them, comforts them, calms them, and eases their suffering by any means possible. She shares their thoughts and fears; she feels their last shuddering breaths, holding them in her arms” (Source).  What we could all learn from someone like this…


In The News: PowerPoint “Enhancers”


Up early and reading the news online, I came across a review/advertisement for VisualBee.  Touted as “a single click to a powerful presentation,” I was intrigued (Source).  After going to the website, I was immediately let down.  Then again, any company that claims to be able to turn your death-by-PowerPoint slides into something “powerful” in only one click has to be a gimmick.  Here’s why VisualBee, and other companies like it, just don’t work:

VisualBee will turn your boring presentation from death-by-PowerPoint to death-by-VisualBee.  Essentially, you are paying for new templates and stock photos.  The slide still contains bullet points filled with text, and we already know this doesn’t work (see here and here).


No matter how you dress it up, a template is a template.  The only way to create a strong presentation is to break free from the template mind-set.

Templates are boring because when we’ve seen one template, we’ve seen them all.  Templates are lazy.  When you open Keynote or PowerPoint, using a template, you can finish a visual presentation within minutes… and it shows to your audience!  We can tell you mindlessly just plugged all of your information into the slots provided.  For an audience, this isn’t compelling, and we’ve seen it all before.  A template is unremarkable and unoriginal.  This is why an audience’s eyes glaze over within the first 10 seconds of your presentation when you start with a template.  We’ve seen it all before, and we just don’t care.


You may as well leave your PowerPoint the way it is above.  You’re going to get the same reaction from your audience.  When they see slides and slides of bullet points filled with text, they will immediately get on their phones and start texting or playing Angry Birds.  Why listen to yet another boring presentation when they could do something more fun and engaging?  Your audience wants to invest in something worthy of their time and attention.  Give it to them!

Garr Reynolds says it best: “Your presentation is for the benefit of the audience. But boring an audience with bullet point after bullet point is of little benefit to them. Which brings us to the issue of text. The best slides may have no text at all. This may sound insane given the dependency of text slides today, but the best PowerPoint slides will be virtually meaningless with out the narration (that is you). Remember, the slides are meant to support the narration of the speaker, not make the speaker superfluous” (Source).

If you have a lot of important text to distribute to your audience, use a medium that is conducive to text: a document.  Pass out a handout.  A visual presentation should actually be visual.


VisualBee promises great images to stick into your template.  Images are a good thing, but making the image secondary is not.  Your image should be the primary focus.  If you want people to remember your speech, and if you want them to pay attention to your visual presentation, you’ll always remember the picture superiority effect.  This effect explains that people are visual.  What resonates with us?  High-quality images, pictures, and visual data (charts, graphs).  What bores us?  Slides and slides and slides of text.

For one assignment, my online students create a persuasive speech and record their voices over a visual presentation.  One month, out of 25 students, 17 people turned in a project with the exact same first slide: an image of two people shaking hands in front of a globe.  This is an example of a stock photo.  Stock photos are for the 2010s what clip art was for the 1980s.  Don’t ever use them for a presentation.  Again, stock photos (like stock templates) are formulaic and boring.

The bottom line?  I wouldn’t recommend VisualBee to anyone who wants to create engaging visual presentations.  If you want help with your next slideshow, email me!  I’ll give you my pointers FOR FREE, and you’ll have your audience invested in your next speech.  Also, for even more information, check out Garr Reynolds’ fantastic visual presentation tips here.