A friend referred me to Vinod Khosla’s Five-Second Rule at Forbes.com. It’s about the slide decks we use for presenting, and its wisdom is a lot like what you get in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink or thousands of blog posts about the importance of headlines. Here’s the Vinod’s test for slide decks:
he puts a slide on a screen, removes it after five seconds, and then asks the viewer to describe the slide. A dense slide fails the test—and fails to provide the basic function of any visual: to aid the presentation.
Post author Jerry Weissman explains how this addresses two of the most important elements of presentation graphics:
Less is More, a plea all too often sounded by helpless audiences to hapless presenters; and more important, the human perception factor. Whenever an image appears on any screen, the eyes of every member of every audience reflexively move to the screen to process the new image. The denser the image, the more processing the audiences need.
This is a good example of the underlying principle of instant rejection. It applies as well to emails, blog posts, and other content. It’s as simple as turning the page, switching the channel, or going on to the next email. As a communicator, or content provider, you get an instant to pitch your message before the attention moves on. If you don’t win the instant, you got rejected.
I like serendipity. Not just because the word sounds like a refreshing drink in the shade on a hot day, but because when serendipity happens, it’s always good. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. …
So I had a great Friday: a nice drive from Eugene to Portland on a bright clear sunny early summer day, then lunch with Pamela Slim (@pamslim on twitter) and the second half of her Escape From Cubicle Nation workshop, with me included for a short guest spot on business planning. Then dinner with Pam and friends.
So what’s the serendipity here? It’s a reasonable question. It’s not like I didn’t already know Pam through telephone and email, and a lot of twitter; so I knew she does an excellent workshop. No surprise there — it was. And maybe you already take this for granted, but for me, at least, an old guy, the process of finding the real people through the blogs and tweets is a very special thrill. I’ve never been that good at cocktail parties or networking. But, through the magic of this new world, I’m meeting new people, and loving it.
So on Friday, I met Pam and several of her good friends, fellow bloggers and tweeters. We had a dinner hosted by @chrisguillebeau of The Art of Nonconformity and his wife Jolie; and I also got to know Matthew Scott of The Strategic Incubator (@MatthewRayScott on Twitter) better. Matthew is a wealth of really interesting stories, wisdom of both the real and folk variety, and business experience.
So I’m reminded that there really is a social in social media. Or at least there can be. It might start with blog posts, and tweets, but over time, as you follow people’s work and share (podcasts, phone calls, other posts), you get to know real people. And, when you meet them, they are real people.
Some people who write books do it like I do. I keep thinking about the order of things, the structure, even as I write up the draft. This might seem disorganized, but it’s worked for me through a number of books and a lot of years. I adjust continually.
With the book I’m working on now, it’s even worse. My plan-as-you-go book is due early next month so I’m pretty deep into it, as you might imagine. I’m posting part of it on this blog, I’ve done interviews on it (links are on the sidebar), and I do presentations on it. And as I do, it changes. I reshuffle the cards. I can’t help it. I think rewriting and reshuffling is part of the interest in writing.
So today I realized how much I’m using the slide show as card deck as book reshuffler, so much so that I decided to pause briefly to make it a practical tip for you. This can help you with a book, a white paper, a long memo, or whatever. It’s really very simple: a card deck instead of an outline. In my case, much as I’m loving my new iMac, I’m still mainly on Windows with PowerPoint. Here’s the view:
Of course, I realize as I write this that you can’t make much out of that postage-stamp view of a book in process, but what’s happening is that I have almost all of the different segments of the book tied to pictures, which are slides. Each picture you see means a topic to me. A topic is usually like a significant piece of one of the 30 (or so) chapters.
My discussion about the elevator speech, for example. It’s pretty much written, so much so that I posted most of it as a 5-part series here on Planning Startups Stories, but I keep changing where I want to put it in my book. Yesterday it was in the heart of the plan section, where I talk about core strategy of positioning and differentiation. Today I moved it — that’s what prompted this post — down to the "dress it as needed" section, later in the book, where I’m trying to make the point that the plan is a core thing that you can then use to create an elevator speech, a pitch presentation, or a formal plan document, or none of the above, just use it to manage your company.
I doubt I’m the only one who reshuffles content as the book gets closer to completion. Some writers would say that’s crazy, you should set the outline and follow it through until the complete first draft is done. I don’t. If you share that behavior, then you’ll probably like the way this works.
Why this instead of the standard outline? First, because it’s easier, for me anyway. I drag a piece from one place to another using the slide sorter view in PowerPoint. I can drag it back if I want, and I can drag a collection of pieces too, if I want. Second, because I’m working on my presentation at the same time. I’m off to New York tomorrow, and I give a workshop for SCORE in Eugene, Oregon next week, so I will use this presentation and I keep it conceptually linked to the book.
The one thing I miss is the ability to hang slides into an outline view by title, with a hierarchy built in. Aldus Persuasion, which was king of slideshow software before PowerPoint took over, used to let me indent some slides underneath a section title holder, giving me a visual something like a standard outline, as an alternative to the slide view. PowerPoint’s outline view, however, (the illustration here) keeps them flat, all at the same level, and indenting a group of slides turns them into bullet points. For example, in the outline view at right, I’d like to make slides 14-16 subsets of slide 13 by indenting them. But I can’t. PowerPoint turns them into bullets on slide 13, essentially deleting them (at least it gives me a warning before it does, so I can reconsider).
I miss the combined power of the card deck (called slide sorter view) for some things, and a more powerful outline view for others. If you know a PowerPoint product manager, please send her or him the link to this post. Let’s get that into the software.
I keep thinking maybe Keynote on the iMac will do that, but I haven’t had the time to go explore yet. My latest iMac is still barely a month old.
In the meantime, this is still so useful that I wanted to share it. And if it’s absurdly obvious, sorry.