Professional Communication and Presentation Class Mini Discussion


This week, four amazing artists presented their Mini Discussion presentation.  Here was the prompt: Garr Reynolds says an ineffective slide is a slideument and Nancy Duarte says we should be creating “digital scenery” instead.  Explain the difference between an ineffective slide and an effective one based on these two slide design experts.  Use one outside source, and create an activity to help the class internalize your lesson.

As they were presenting, my students animated their speech using the whiteboard and a few markers.  After they finished, I asked them if I could take their pictures next to the pictures they’re drawn on the board.


Gerson (left) and Tuan (right) showed us the RIGHT way to design a slide relying on images, a little bit of relevant text, and strong principles of design.


Brian (left) and Roberto (right) explain what a slidument is and dissect an example of a “wall of text,” bad slide.

I am always so impressed when my students blend what they’re learning and studying (art and design) with what we learn in class.

What great things have your students been working on lately?

Inc. Interview With Nancy Duarte


Imagine my surprise when I saw a new interview with Nancy Duarte on Inc. In “Great Speakers Are Like Yoda, Not Luke Skywalker,” Kimberly Weisul interviews the Duarte Design CEO and presentation expert.  Although much of Duarte’s advice can be found in her book, Resonate, I loved the short piece because of its focus on the role of the speaker as mentor rather than hero.

Duarte on The #1 Presentation Mistake…

After working on hundreds of thousands of presentations, Duarte says the biggest problem she sees in the land of public speaking and presentation is a lack of empathy.  What I like about Resonate and about Duarte’s approach is that she talks about audience analysis in such a fresh way.  If you read traditional public speaking textbooks, you’ll see the standard, boring chapters on audience demographics, attitude, and environment that typically elicit a “duh!” response.  Duarte talks about audience analysis from a real life perspective.  For example, in her interview with Weisul, Duarte says, “When you have an opportunity to present, you tend to start to process information from your own perspective.  Usually, it’s all about the information you want to give instead of being about the information the audience wants to receive.  You need to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about what the audience wants to receive.  You need to really think through who you’re talking to, and how to make a deep connection with them.  Then you need to create content that supports that” (Source).  Yes, we should consider the audience’s age and gender and culture.  More importantly, we should be thinking about what all audiences need and want: to share an experience, to be entertained, to learn something new, to feel moved, to be inspired… The standard textbook audience analysis isn’t going to get you there, but Duarte’s advice in Resonate definitely will.



Duarte on Being A Yoda, Not A Luke Skywalker

In her book and in her TED Talk, Duarte mentions that a great presenter’s role is that of Yoda (a mentor) as opposed to Luke Skywalker (a hero).  She explains what she means in her Inc. Interview.  Duarte says, “In movies and myths, there’s also often the mentor, who comes alongside the hero to help them get unstuck or give them a magical tool. That’s Yoda. When you’re presenting, that’s you. If you look at it that way, suddenly you’re more humble” (Source).  As a public speaking and presentation teacher, easing into a Yoda role is effortless for me because it is my goal to teach students, to come alongside them and to give them new, powerful communication and presentation tools.  However, I have to remember to adopt this mindset when I am presenting in other areas such as at work to fellow faculty or at a Junior League meeting.

Understanding the role of the presenter is important, but understanding the relationship between audience and presenter is even more essential.  Duarte explains, “The presenter’s success is completely dependent on the audience adopting the idea. The presenter is not the protagonist. You need to take that and respect that. The audience has the power to take your idea and spread it far and wide. Or it can die” (Source).  Once we realize that the success of our presentation hinges on our audience, we can remedy presentation mistake #1…  We can spend more time focusing on our audience so that they will love and enjoy our message and, ultimately, adopt our idea.

Read more from Nancy Duarte on Duarte Blog, on LinkedIn, and on the Harvard Business Review.

3 Reasons To Ditch Your PowerPoint Slides


PowerPoint and Keynote slides are often so terrible that ditching them completely would go a long way in helping presenters connect with audiences.  I was taking a lazy Sunday nap and read an article on NPR called “Physicists, Generals, and CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint.”  The article makes three fascinating points on why we should get rid of those slides completely:

PowerPoint gets in the way of discussion

A team of physicists banned PowerPoint and forced presenters to use a whiteboard instead.  In their experience, people who used PowerPoint slides were tethered to those slides, and when it came time for group discussion, presenters couldn’t move beyond their slides (Source).  After watching thousands of presentations, I’ve come to the realization that unless presenters learn how to properly use Keynote or PowerPoint, they should ditch the slideshow completely.  In my class, students present team “Mini Discussions” with the goal of informing us about a particular topic and engaging us in a class activity.  I’ve banned slides for this presentation, and I’ve found that we can have a more natural, human conversation in class on each Mini Discussion topic.

PowerPoint is boring

Molecular biologist John Medina has released a series of Brain Rules books.  Medina tells us that the brain can’t pay attention to boring things.  According to his website, “What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly affect how an audience perceives a given presentation” (Source).

Author Alan Yu’s interview subjects agree.  John Paul Chou, a physics professor at Rutgers, believes that “the main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention.  With PowerPoint, he says, it’s ‘easier to let your mind go on autopilot and you start to lose focus more easily'” (Source).

I agree.  I’ve been in dozens of meetings, leadership trainings, and board retreats where as soon as the presenter flipped on the PowerPoint, everyone in the audience tuned out.  Since we’ve seen so many bad presentations with slides, our brains are comfortable shutting down as soon as we see the slideshow.  In many cases, the material was important and could have been interesting.

You can tell if your slideshow presentation went over well, and this lead us back to the first point of the NPR article.  If you give your presentation and no one has any questions, you sucked.  If you present your slides and no one has a single thing to offer, to contribute, to discuss, to ask, or to say when you’re finished, your presentation was bad.

PowerPoint is lazy

John Paul Chou of Rutgers “says the problem is simply that ‘we’re so used to giving PowerPoint [presentations] that we forget there are other means of communicating'” (Source).  Consider this: BusinessWeek estimates “350 PowerPoint presentations are given each second across the globe” (Source).  That’s an estimated 30 million PowerPoints every day.  How many of those 30 million presentations actually needed slides?  PowerPoint is the lazy way out, and its purpose is hazy.  Why did those presenters even use slides in the first place?  Could he or she have gone without the slide medium completely?  Could the presenter have done something different?

We also see people use PowerPoint as their speaking notes.  Instead of using the medium properly, a presenter will type all of his/her main points on the slide.  This is lazy.  World-renowned presentation experts Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds tell us that speaking notes belong to the presenter only, and PowerPoint slides should visually reinforce the content.  John Medina explains why: “Vision trumps all other senses.  We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.  Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time” (Source).

Take a look at Nancy Duarte’s “How To Create Better Visual Presentations”


Learn more about all things effective slide design here.  In the meantime, like NPR’s experts, Medina also suggests we ditch PowerPoint.  He says, “Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations” (Source).

What are additional reasons why presenters should ditch those PowerPoint slides?

Review: Pamela Slim’s Body of Work


When I first heard of Pamela Slim’s Body of Work in January, I knew I had to purchase a copy.  I didn’t know how the book would change my own perspective on work AND the lessons I teach my students.  After reading BOW in one sitting, I felt so inspired that my fellow superteacher Chiara Ojeda and I revamped our entire Professional Communication and Presentation course with a focus on students “finding the thread that ties their story together” (Source).  Learn more about our new class focus here.

Body of Work isn’t just for communication teachers and college students… Reading the front and back book cover reveals praise from Brene Brown, Susan Cain, Dan Pink, Nancy Duarte, and Seth Godin.  Like the people featured on her book cover, Pamela Slim is a communication professional and a thought leader.  Having read books by Pink, Duarte, and Godin in the past and having watched Brown and Cain’s TED Talks, the praise means something to me.  These quotes come from my mentors, the people I follow and study on a daily basis.  Words and phrases such as “warm and wise,” “savvy and practical,” “inspiring,” “heartfelt, practical, and actionable” are used to describe Slim and the book.  And, after reading Body of Work, I can affirm that the high praise by some of my favorite people is backed up by some strong content.


Body of Work will be a highly individualized book in that its goal is to help each reader uncover and tell his/her work story.  The text is divided into 9 chapters beginning with “Your Body of Work,” a chapter that starts with why and gives a definition for this term.  After we understand why and what, Slim uses examples as well as exercises (think workbook) in the next few chapters to guide readers through the process of defining and explaining your body of work.  I also like Slim’s approach of asking her audience questions in many places to help us really dive into the task of defining our roots, naming our ingredients, and choosing our work mode.  See the Table of Contents, and read an excerpt from the book here.

In her interview with Slim, Nancy Duarte uses words like “super informative,” “transparent” and “open” to describe her experience with Body of Work.  Slim explains her inspiration and idea for the book in the interview beginning at the 1:00 mark and the “new world of work” at 3:25.  The entire 11-minute interview gives deeper inside into the text, so check it out below:


Duarte mentions that Slim’s career has been about showing people their purpose and meaning in life, and this book did just that for me.  Here’s how…

First, I defined my roots.  I did exercises to understand my values and beliefs; the problems I want to solve; and the driving force for my actions and behaviors.  The book came at a perfect time in my life because last week, I had a meeting with a co-worker named David Morillo to discuss a leadership training he was developing.  He asked me (and will ask his audience) to go through an activity designed to isolate my most important core values.  Of course, it was no surprise to me that I chose “growth” and “volunteerism” over all other options.  As a lifelong learner, I believe in hard work and a growth mindset, so constantly improving and advancing myself and my knowledge base is what drives me each and every day.  I thank my parents for cultivating this in me, and I think it is one of the most important values I could ever have as a teacher.  That growth value helps me shape and mold my students even through resistance because it is such a huge part of who I am as a worker and leader.  Volunteerism is the second most important value in my life (even over other values like “family” and “fairness,” “fun” and “creativity”).  This value is influenced by my upbringing in the South, my close relationship with my servant-minded grandmother, my love and commitment to other people, and my community college education with a focus on leadership and service.  These two values emerged through the leadership activity but also came out over and over again through the questions Slim asks on pages 22-25 of Chapter 2 “Define Your Roots” and her “Identify Your Roots” exercise on pages 30-34.  Since knowing your core values, your roots, is an essential part of your body of work, this second chapter was my favorite.  Read more about my roots and see how I share the story of my roots with other people here.

Second, Slim asks us to focus on our ingredients.  These are our roles, skills, strengths, experience, values, and scars or weaknesses.  I spend quite a bit of time documenting these on my CV, but some people never keep track of these!  Her third chapter helps people who don’t make notes and keep meticulous records of work experience AND explains how our roots tie to those ingredients.  In her next chapter, Slim asks us to consider our preferred work “mode,” which, again, ties to the work in previous chapters.

The next chapters, “Create and Innovate” and “Surf the Fear” felt unnecessary for me personally.  Maybe this is because growth and innovation and creativity and challenge seep into my everyday activities and way of life.  I did take a lot away from “The 20X Rule” Slim defines on pages 97-99.  She talks about this concept in her previous book, and you can read more about it here.  However, I do think many people can benefit from reading Chapters 5 and 6, especially those who may not have my same values and life outlook.

I got right back into the book with Chapter 7’s “Collaborate.”  In order to be my best self, I need to be pushed by other people who are doing inspiring things.  This inspiration and collaboration can come from students or colleagues, or it can come from reading books and blogs.  Slim talks about this “ecosystem” idea on page 137.  I can step back and consider the presentation/communication ecosystem I am involved with and feel the resonance of that section.  Since I do meet and network with people intrinsically, I found the most value in the “Identify a Peer Mentor Circle” exercise more than the how/why to network section.

The final chapters on “Your Definition of Success” and “Share Your Story” went hand-in-hand for me because they are the stages I’m in now.  I share my story and my body of work with others here.  Body of Work is an essential book for 21st century employees who want to craft and share their story with others.  Since both Duarte and Slim have a “body of work” concentrating on the importance of story, I wanted to leave you with this final thought from their interview:  It is important to realize that everything that you share – including on social media – does become a story whether you think about it or not, and everything said in a public forum does communicate something about who you are and your personal brand (Source).

Have you read Pamela Slim’s Body of Work?  Share your thoughts with me!

Persuasion in Advertising: Coca Cola


Today, my students and I discussed persuasion where we see it most frequently: in advertisements.  I asked the class to divide into teams, to find any commercial, to watch that commercial, and to analyze it for ethos, pathos, and logos.

My favorite commercial of the day came from Coca Cola.  The opening text explains that a 2010 study revealed the state of the world.  In a series of statistics, Coke compares and contrasts a heavy, negative fact with an uplifting, encouraging one.  Check it out below:


The students who selected and analyzed this video explained that the logos-driven commercial relied heavily on statistics but pointed out that not all statistics are logical… Some can be emotional as evidenced in Coke’s commercial.  This is something I’ve never even considered because statistics I’ve encountered in the past were matter-of-fact and flat.  While the music and happy children obviously add to the cheery feel, I had the strongest emotional pull after reading these bits of data:

“For every corrupt person / 8,000 people are donating blood”

“While one scientist is creating a new weapon / 1 million moms are baking chocolate cakes”

Presentation expert Nancy Duarte explains that we must do more than spit numbers at people in our presentations.  Instead, we must show the meaning behind the data (Source).  In a recent article for the HBR, Duarte writes, “Data slides aren’t really about the data. They’re about the meaning of the data. And it’s up to you to make that meaning clear before you click away. Otherwise, the audience won’t process — let alone buy — your argument” (Source).  Coke’s commercial is a great example of comparing and contrasting numbers to show a specific meaning – that there are reasons to believe in a better world.

Have you seen any great commercials lately?

Duarte and Reynolds Inspire Another Class Overhaul


Always interested in a good reading list, I was excited to see Garr Reynolds’ “10 Books for the 21st Century Presenter, Storyteller.”  His recommendations couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for my superteacher BFF, Chiara Ojeda, and for me.  As I mentioned earlier this week, an issue Chiara and I face is differentiating Public Speaking (our basic, freshman-level class) with Professional Communication and Presentation (our advanced, junior-level course).

With a recent overhaul of our Public Speaking online course and a focus on developing a new syllabus for the campus course, PSP is looking and feeling more solid in 2014 than it has in years.  Chiara and I decided to focus PCP both on campus and online on a visual resume project called the Professional Persona Project.  Presentation will be a major component of the course, still, but there will be even more of an emphasis on developing an impacting, story-driven, visual portfolio.  This is exciting because the Professional Persona Project will help our students AND create a clear division between Public Speaking and PCP.  Win-win!


After watching Nancy Duarte’s interview with Pam Slim, the author of Body of Work, the wheels have been turning.  I definitely want to read Slim’s book now that I’ve heard about it from both Duarte and Reynolds.  While working at our favorite coffee shop on Friday, I told Chiara I wanted to read Slim’s book but several others to help me really get into this Professional Persona Project.

Enter Garr Reynolds’ reading list!  Of course, Slim’s book is among his picks.  Of Body of Work, Reynolds writes, “Pam shows how to find the connections among your diverse accomplishments, sell your story, and continually reinvent and relaunch your brand” (Source).  Click here for his full review and click here for Duarte’s interview with Slim.

In addition to Body of Work, Reynolds recommends other texts I’d love to get my hands on before Chiara and I overhaul the online and campus PCP class.  His list includes new books by Dan Roam and Nick Morgan and the books from Susan Cain and Brene Brown’s amazing TED Talks among 6 others.  I wish I could take a month off work and school to read all of these!  They will prove informative and influential with the Professional Persona Project and the class revamp.

What advice would you give to Chiara and I as we begin researching and redesigning our class?  Are there any must-read books to help our students with their Professional Persona Project?

Nancy Duarte’s How To Tell A Story


It’s true that I stalk Nancy Duarte on a daily basis, so I was surprised that I had never stumbled upon this video on how to tell a story:


Chiara Ojeda and I have been brainstorming this week on an update for Professional Communication and Presentation based on the Professional Persona Project (a visual resume PLUS), and I am excited to begin researching, brainstorming, reading, and studying for the next few weeks as we put the new course together.  The most complicated piece – in my opinion – is teaching our students how to tell their unique story with their professional persona project, so Nancy Duarte’s video helps me find some inspiration.

How do you tell your story in your visual resume?  How would you teach storytelling in a visual resume to college students?

Links of the Week: 2014.02


For both my on-campus and online students, I explain that when it comes to public speaking and presentation, there are two major problems: lack of preparation and presentation anxiety.  It is true that these often go hand-in-hand.  In his latest blog post on Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds discusses speech anxiety, also known as the lizard brain.  “Coping With Presentation Anxiety and Stage Fright” starts off by showing us an example of a Michael Bay presentation fail.  Reynolds then explains that we all suffer from stage fright in certain speaking situations, and we must learn how to deal with that anxiety.  He gives us an excerpt from his book The Naked Presenter written by guest author Les Posen called “Five Tips for Dealing With Presentation Nerves.”  These five suggestions include chunking your presentation; rehearsing; engaging in positive self talk; controlling physical symptoms of fear through deep breathing; and practicing deliberately.

Sometimes, the part of the presentation that makes us most fearful is the question and answer portion.  Fortunately, Ethos3’s latest post, “How To End Your Q&A Session,” can help!  My on-campus students are the only ones who ever do Q&A after speeches, and this can be a positive, productive experience or a really, really sad time.  For example, one of my students gave a persuasive speech on an emotionally-charged, polarizing topic… one which I told him he should reconsider due to his audience.  He ignored my advice, and I told him to meet me in my office to prepare and plan a successful speech.  Of course, he declined my offer (and, I should add, declined to apply all of the things I taught him that semester) and instead delivered a scattered, disorganized, essentially impromptu presentation which, needless to say, did not go over well with his audience.  During the Q&A, his fellow classmates tore him apart.  And I let them.  While it’s not my intention to ever make a student feel bad about himself, it is important that students learn one key thing in my class: it is all about the audience.

Not all students ignore my lessons and feedback and one-on-one help in my office, and most do a great job with Q&A because they’ve prepared and practiced.  They’re ready for their audience and genuinely want to clear up confusion or elaborate on their ideas.  Ethos3’s advice on how to manage a successful Q&A is a great article I would like to share with my audience-centered students.  The three tips Ethos3 give us for a post-speech chat include 1) taking one question at a time in a structured and organized fashion; 2) explaining up front the kinds of questions that will be answered; and 3) sharing an agenda.


At our last English Department meeting, a colleague brought up the topic of visual resumes.  This is something I teach in Professional Communication and Presentation to my business students, and I loved the timing of Nancy Duarte’s “Old Career Rules Don’t Work – To Compete, You Need A Body Of Work.”  While my colleague did a great job of sharing examples of visual resumes, what wasn’t said in our Department meeting was why an online, digital portfolio or visual resume is essential in 2014.  Duarte talks about that specifically in her latest blog post.  She writes, “If you neglect your story, one will be written for you […] The rise of social media has blurred the line between our personal and professional lives. Anybody can search for your name on the Internet and interpret the results however they wish” (Source).  And this is where managing your digital reputation comes in.

In 2010, Facebook was my obsession.  I’d had it since 2004 and spent hours every single day looking at photos and posting on my friends’ walls.  My Internet “brand” was what I posted on my personal Facebook page and the pages of other people.  Fast-forward to 2014, and I’ve been Facebook-free for nearly three years.  Instead, I’ve focused on building my digital brand in a much more constructive way through my blog, my contributions on the blogs of others, my Slideshare posts, my visual resume, and my LinkedIn profile page.  If you’d conducted a Google search of me back in 2010, you wouldn’t find much because I was wasting so much time on Facebook.  These days, I like what I see when I type “Alex Rister” into Google, and this has taken years and years of work.

Duarte says, “[Y]ou can no longer rely on a traditional resume of bullet points to position you for success. You must understand that all information in the public forum will become stories that influence your personal brand” (Source).  We only have 24 hours each day, and we get to decide how we want to spend that time.  Are we using our hours on the Internet for constructive, career-building, brand-creating, storytelling purposes?  If not, how can we make this more of a priority?  Can we cut out just 30 minutes or an hour of Facebooking each day to focus on our personal brand?

What great articles have you read this week?

Links of the Week: 2014.01


We have our very first “Links of the Week” roundup for 2014!  And what a way to kick off the new year: with a Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds feature.  When I saw that Duarte conducted an interview with Reynolds in her office and posted an article containing that interview yesterday, I was THRILLED.  Called “Garr Reynolds Shares How Kids Impact The Creative Process,” the blog post contains a video interview you absolutely must watch.  Check it out below:


In addition to the interview with my two favorite public speaking and presentation professionals, I learned that Reynolds has a soon-to-be published book on storytelling!  I cannot wait.  Since I am seeking a new textbook for my public speaking class, this might definitely be the book I’ve been desperately searching for.

I also loved the focus on play and on making sure play is incorporated in school and in work.  My university launched a unique course called Psychology of Play as opposed to a traditional Behavioral Science, and after meeting with the team leaders and learning from them, I felt so inspired!  I’ve been incorporating more play into my classroom and into my online GoTo Training sessions.  For example, during my last GoTo Training session with my Public Speaking Online students, I gave them 2 minutes to find either a really great or a really terrible presentation on YouTube.  We came back and analyzed a few together.  The experience was fun for everyone and got the students more involved in the session.  I find that whether we’re lecturing in the classroom or just talk talk talk talking our students’ ears off during a GoTo Training, we can interrupt that boring, mind-numbing sermon and instead incorporate play through activity and discussion.  I’m trying to do more of this in my own life, so it was great to be inspired by Reynolds and Duarte again in the interview video.


Another tried and true favorite blog with a great article out this week comes from Ethos3.  “Presenting to Small Groups” gives advice on how to speak in a smaller venue to a smaller audience.  This was definitely an adjustment for me!  After teaching classes of 30-60 students for years, for a few months, I found myself cramped in teeny tiny classrooms of sometimes less than 10 students.  The experience was odd at first – because I do prefer a medium-sized audience – but I learned to adjust and to see the positives of a small group.  Ethos3’s advice includes changing the way we see the speaking situation from “presentation” to “consultation” and changing the type of presentation software used.  Although I would never recommend that any presenter use Prezi, I do agree with many points in the Ethos3 piece.  Check it out here.

Last, but not least, is an article we can all print out and put in our public speaking toolbox the next time we have to address an audience.  “10 Tips For Setting Up Your Presentation” by Jim Harvey contains advice to make sure you are as prepared as possible.  With tips like leaving the lights on while speaking; avoiding complicated animations, transitions, and multimedia; and sitting in an audience member’s seat beforehand to check readability of slides, Harvey’s latest article is one I will be sharing with my students from now on.

What interesting public speaking and presentation blog posts or articles have you read so far in 2014?

Did You Get Your Free Copy of Resonate Yet?


Back in November, I shared that Nancy Duarte released Resonate for free.  Check out a video explanation from Duarte herself about the two reasons why she decided to give her book away:


Since we use Resonate to teach our students in Professional Communication and Presentation, a free HTML copy of the book allows them to access the text at any time from any computer.  The new, free release has helped eliminate a lot of technological problems and issues.  Better yet, the new book contains interactive features which truly allow students to dive into understanding and applying concepts.

Check out Resonate for free here.

Do you appreciate Duarte’s two reasons for releasing her book for free?  Do you like the new version of the text?