How To Quantipulate Using Graphics

To refresh your memory, quantipulation is:

The art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true.

Examples of quantipulation abound in marketing and politics. Today, I’ll show you how to quantipulate with graphics, using a real-life example pulled from a very reputable firm’s blog.

In a post titled What Social Networking Websites Do Consumers Access Within the Course of a Typical Month? the Raddon Group enclosed a Powerpoint deck that reported the results of a recent survey the firm conducted. The graphic below was pulled from the deck, and was altered to hide the numbers on the vertical axis. The chart shows the adoption of PFM (personal financial management) tools from Fall 2010 through Spring 2012.

Based on the chart, what would you guess the growth in PFM adoption has been? From about 30% to 90%+? Sounds reasonable to me. But here’s the chart with the numbers, as displayed in the presentation deck.

Although the two bars representing Fall ’11 and Spring ’12 are twice the size of the Fall ’10 bar, the difference between the bars is just 2%, or 20% of the original bar’s total.

Call me silly, but if one bar is twice the size of another bar, how can that bar be only 20% greater than the other one?

Bottom line: While it’s tempting to manipulate graphics to make changes look more pronounced than they really are, it’s not a good management or presentation practice. Axes should start at zero (unless the numbers reported go into the negative range). And the size of bars should be proportional to the space allotted for them.

In other words, if your chart takes up 5 inches of space, a bar representing 20% should be about 1 inch long (or high, depending on the orientation).

Oh, and one more thing: If you do try to quantipulate, I will find it and call you out on it.

I Hate SlideShare

I hate SlideShare.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the company or the site. In fact, I think the site does a pretty good job of what it does, and I certainly don’t begrudge the company’s right to make an honest, ethical business out of what it does.

But as a self-professed psuedopsycho presentation snob, I hate that people find value in slide decks.

So maybe that’s really it: I don’t hate SlideShare itself, I hate the fact that there’s demand for something like SlideShare.

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I give a lot of presentations at conferences, webinars, and at clients. And I’m usually happy to share my slides with anybody who wants them — after the presentation, that is.

That’s because, as far as I’m concerned, the slide deck itself is useless.

The value of the presentation is what I say and how I say it. The deck is nothing but a prop.

But, as evidenced by the popularity of SlideShare, apparently there are a lot of people who don’t share my philosophy. It kills me when I see SlideShare users fawn over some deck that consists of little more than a bunch of slides showing high-resolution pictures of stuff with a pithy sentence plastered somewhere on the picture strung together.

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There are three components to a great presentation:

1. Quality of the content.

2. Quality of the delivery.

3. Quality of the material.

If I had to weight the three components, I’d say 60/30/10. Great content can compensate for a less-than-great delivery. And great delivery can compensate for butt ugly slides.

SlideShare captures #3. Which means — according to my book — it captures 10% of the value of a presentation.

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Another reason I hate SlideShare: I posted a presentation I did a while back to SlideShare just to see how many people would download it. Here’s the sobering reality: More people downloaded that deck than will read this blog post.

So, not only do people place higher emphasis on the least valuable part of the presentation (the deck), it’s become clear to me that one reason for SlideShare’s popularity is that a lot of people are just too damn lazy to read.

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The irony is that I’m preaching to the choir. By reading this, you’re proving that you’re not one of the lazy-ass heathen ruining the business world with crappy-ass presentations filled with nothing but stupid-ass pictures.

What’s that? I sound mad? Can’t imagine why.

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I would ask you to tweet the link to this blog post so that others may partake of this presentation wisdom. But the reality is that they won’t read this because it requires too much mental energy.

If I had half a brain, I’d take this blog post, split it out over 30 slides, paste it on top of a bunch of high-res pictures, and post it on SlideShare.

UPDATE: Big thanks to @jameswester who created a deck of this post and put it up on SlideShare. Thanks, James!

How Not To Give A Presentation

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a strong interest in developing my presentation skills, and from time to time like to share things I’ve learned about giving good presentations.

If you have seven minutes to spare, please watch the following video. It’s a great example of what not to do when presenting. And it’s funny as hell (not that it tries to be, mind you).

Why You Don't Write So Good

Seth Godin writes:

“The reason business writing is horrible is that people are afraid. Afraid to say what they mean, because they might be criticized for it. Orwell was on the right track. Just say it. Say it clearly. Say it now. Say it without fear of being criticized and say it without being boring. My best tip is this: buy a cheap digital recorder. Say what you want to say, as if the person you seek to persuade is standing there, listening. Then type that up. “

Maybe it’s the nature of the people I typically interact with (highly educated and opinionated), but I’m not picking up on a lot of fear of communicating in the workplace. In fact, I think Gen Yers are more confident expressing their opinions that Gen Xers or Boomers before them were.

My take: Fear might play a role in it, but there are other — and more important — reasons why business writing sucks.

If your writing sucks, it’s probably because you:

• Aren’t thinking clearly. Poor writing — and poor communication in any form, for that matter — springs from poorly formed ideas and thoughts. Too much of business writing relies on buzzwords and meaningless platitudes — which are simply shortcuts for getting at the core of an idea or thought. On countless occasions on this blog, I’ve taken someone (blogger, researcher, etc.) to task for not critically thinking through what was expressed on the blog or white paper.
• Aren’t clear why you’re writing. If your writing sucks, you probably haven’t figured out why you’re writing what you’re writing. Is it to educate the audience? Entertain the audience? Persuade the audience? Some of all three? If you can’t articulate why you’re writing, your writing won’t be very articulate.
• Haven’t practiced. You can sing, can’t you? But just because you can sing, it doesn’t mean you can make good music. Same with writing. Just because you can speak, it doesn’t mean you can write effectively. Good writing is a skill. You get better by practicing.  If you’re not Beethoven, you’re not going to write a great symphony on your first try. And if you’re not Seth Godin, you won’t produce great business writing just by speaking into a recorder and typing up what you said.

Speaking isn’t a substitute — nor a prerequisite — for writing. When we speak, we use phrasing, intonation, and facial expressions to help convey meaning. If you simply translate what you say into the written word, something will be lost. I can guarantee that.

This isn’t the first time Godin has written about writing. Back in January 2008 he wrote:

“Don’t let the words get in the way. If you’re writing online, forget everything you were tortured by in high school English class. You’re not trying to win any awards or get an A. You’re just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading. So just say it.”

I said it then, I’ll say it now: DO let the words get in the way. Read through it through the eyes of your audience (to the best you can), and ask yourself: How will they interpret what I’m trying to say? Am I using words that could be misconstrued? Is there a simpler and more concise way to say what I just said?

Here’s why this is so important: The ideas that win in the business world aren’t necessarily the best ideas. They’re the ones that are most effectively communicated, by the most persuasive communicators.

If you want to record and type up what you say — with all your “ums” and “likes” and the poor grammar we get away with when we speak — go for it. Your writing will suck. And my ideas will kick your idea’s ass every time.

The World’s Worst — Or Best — Powerpoint Slide?

Gizmodo ran an article titled Behold, the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide. As Gizmodo wrote:

“It often seems like every PowerPoint slide is the worst, but here lies what projector company InFocus deems history’s most heinous. I’m inclined to agree. It’s almost brilliant in its horror. Diabolical. The arrows. The colors. This is Satan’s face.”

Here’s the offending slide:

My take: I’m inclined to disagree.

Here’s why:  A good slide isn’t necessarily about legibility. In fact, for the most part, you don’t want people to read your slides when you present something.

Good Powerpoint slides do a number of things. For one, they remind you what you’re supposed to be talking about at that point in the presentation.

Another thing a good Powerpoint slide does is elicit an emotional reaction. And the quicker that reaction is generated, the better.

When I look at the slide above, I can’t read a damn word on the slide. But I do have a reaction: “Holy sh*t, IT modernization is going to be really freaking complicated, time consuming, difficult, and probably expensive.”

And if you’re the CIO of a large organization, eliciting that kind of response from the senior management team is golden. After all, those bastards think your job is easy, don’t they?

Bottom line: This is far from being the world’s worst Powerpoint slide.

Ten Things You Need To Know So You Don't Suck When Giving A Presentation

I’ve written an eBook on how to give great presentations (or, at least, how not to suck so bad at giving one). It’s available for free for the first 1,000 people who download it. After that, the laggards who are late to the party will have to pay through the nose to be able to get their hands on this.

Right-click on the following link, and save the PDF file to disk by selecting “Save link as…”:

TenThingsYouNeedToKnowSoYouDontSuckGivingAPresentation

Well, the first 1,000 people got their free download, and so the eBook is no longer available here. However, it is available on Lulu.com for the measly price of \$2.49.

Click on the book image to go to Lulu.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for eMarketer. They do great work, and although I’m picking on one of their graphs, I mean them no disrespect.

OK, with that out of the way, take a look at graph below. See anything wrong?

Here’s what ticks me off about it: The 58.4% bar stretches all the way across the graph.

Think about this for a moment. This chart can be translated into words: “Talent was cited by 58.4% of marketers as a web analytics challenge. Actionability was mentioned by 47.3%. Finding insights was the third most frequently mentioned challenge…..” And so on.

What a snooze that would be. That’s why we use charts and graphs — they’re a more efficient (and perhaps effective) way to communicate something.

But when you stretch a 58.4% bar all the way across your graph you diminish the efficiency of the graph because you make viewers work harder than they have to to interpret the graph. A bar that occupied about half the space allotted to the graph would be perceived as having a value of about 50%.

But in the graph above, with the 58.4% bar taking up the whole space, it’s not only not intuitive that the value is 58.4%, but it makes it harder to interpret the other bars.

I see this kind of thing in a lot of presentations. Sometimes it’s the result of not consciously thinking about, but sometimes it is intentional. Like stretching a 20% bar across the space of a graph is going to make people think that 20% is a really big number.

Next time you construct a graph and chart for a presentation, think about how you use the space. And round the percentages down to no decimal places (exception: when the numbers are less than 10%).  When people have to work harder than they should to understand what you’re talking about, you’ve lost a little of your potential effectiveness as a presenter.

Take This Template And…

Many of you have probably experienced this: You’ve been asked to speak at a conference. About 12 weeks before the conference date, the conference organizer sends you a Powerpoint template for you to use.

There are three things wrong with this:

1. It’s too soon. I have a better chance of sleeping with Tiger Woods than I do of having my presentation for the conference ready at that point. Even 12 days before the conference is a stretch for me. But hey, that’s my problem, not the conference organizers. And in the scheme of things, this problem isn’t nearly as bad as the next two.

2. The templates are butt-ugly. No offense (who am I fooling, of course I’m offending someone), but these templates are usually atrocious examples of poor design. The one I received the other day had two huge blue boxes — one at the top of the page, one at the bottom — and a space in the middle for the page header and text. Right, the header was below the blue box at the top. The bottom blue box had the logo and conference name in large font, of course. And I’m supposed to cram my content in the white space in the middle. This was one of the better designed templates I’ve received.

3. Templates are counterproductive. It’s a shame that conference organizers don’t understand this: Clinging to some fantasy of “conference branding” detracts from the attendee experience. Most Powerpoint presentations are poorly designed as it is.  A conference -branded template doesn’t help the situation. The purpose of each slide in a deck is very simple (to describe, not to execute): To communicate an idea. Any extraneous text or graphics on a slide detracts from that goal.

What do conference organizers think? That attendees don’t know what conference they’re attending, and have to be reminded by each of the 600 slides that they’ll be subjected to looking at?

I, for one, will continue to ignore conference organizers’ requests to use their templates. I’m this close to telling them to take their templates and….

Presentation Tip

Don’t do Q&A at the end of a presentation.

I’m not saying to not do Q&A — just don’t it at the very end of the presentation. By waiting until the very end of a presentation a few things can go wrong: 1) You leave insufficient time for discussion; 2) You end with a thud if no one asks a question; or 3) You get sucked into answering bad questions.

Here’s what I plan to do with my presentations from now on: Before my last two closing slides (which typically restate my presentation’s theme and close on a humorous note), I plan on inserting a slide titled “Thoughts/reactions?”

Instead of asking the audience if they have any questions, I’m going to say “before I go on, let me pause here a moment and ask you — what are your thoughts, comments, reactions?”

This will (hopefully) accomplish a couple of things:

1) Change the tone from “questioning the speaker” to “generating conversation”. How many times have you seen a presentation, had some thoughts you thought worth sharing, but didn’t because you didn’t have a “question”? I want to change that in my presentations.

2) I can manage the time better. No more looking at the conference organizer to see if I have time for another question. I’ll know that I have to leave enough time to end with my last 2 slides, so I can stop the discussion when I want to.

3) I get the last word to close on the tone and note that I want to close on, with people leaving remembering my last slide, and not necessarily the lousy answer I gave to the last question.

Off-Topic: Why So Many Conferences Suck

On the Jupiter Research blog, Michael Gartenberg opined that “most conferences suck.” He said he goes to fewer and fewer conferences each year because “there’s so little to be gained as an attendee.”

My take: He is so right. Gartenberg didn’t elaborate on why there’s so little to be gained, however, so I’ll add my two cents:

CEOs don’t get to speak freely. Conferences like BAI’s Retail Delivery show have focused on pulling in top name financial services CEOs over the past few years. Unfortunately, many of these speeches are the worst ones. It’s not the fault of the CEOs. They’re like political candidates — they have to watch every word they say, so as not to offend anyone, and not to reveal any information that could be construed as revealing insider information. And all too often, they’re just giving speeches prepared for them by staff members because, let’s face it — they’re often not that close to the conference topic.

The next rung down are lousy presenters.
Sorry to call like it is, but many people speaking at conferences are lousy presenters. There’s one that really sticks in my mind from a financial services conference I attended this year: A presentation by the SVP of Customer Experience at a large bank (please Lord, don’t let him read my blog). If it wasn’t bad enough that he was boring as hell, you’d think that a customer experience guy would know better than to use 8- and 9-point fonts on his slides.

You’ve got to pay to play. Translation: The people who get to speak are the vendors who sponsor the conference. I’ve been personally hit by this. Despite being recommended by other speakers to present at an upcoming financial services conference, the organizer said nope, I work for a vendor, I have to sponsor in order to speak. Never mind that I might actually provide value to their attendees, and was willing to pay my own way there. So what ends up happening — when you throw in point #2 — is what you get are not only shameless vendor pitches, but shameless pitches from lousy presenters.

Too many authors, not enough practitioners.
It’s a consultainer’s world out there when it comes to conferences. Write a book, develop a canned speech, get a few speaking gigs. Don’t get me wrong — some are really good. But some — and I’m talking about some of the big authors here — aren’t that good. Conference attendees want something customized to their industry or the conference topic or them — which they often don’t get.

Too much talking at attendees, not enough talking with attendees.
The way most conferences are setup, you’d think that the speakers are the only ones worth hearing. Sessions are 45 minutes long, the speaker takes up 40, and leaves 5 minutes for one or two people to ask a question. The first Law Of Conference Questions states that those questions will be the ones the rest of the attendees find the least interesting. The second law is the one that pertains to me when I present: I get the two questions I can’t answer very well.

What’s the solution? I haven’t been to a BarCamp yet, but it sounds like this might be a welcome relief from the plethora of no-value-added conferences out there today.

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