Jerry Seinfeld and PowerPoint

There was a great New York Times piece on Jerry Seinfeld last month.  You should read it.  Here are some of his musings:

I had a joke: “Marriage is a bit of a chess game, except the board is made of flowing water and the pieces are made of smoke.” This is a good joke, I love it, I’ve spent years on it.  There’s a little hitch: “The board is made of flowing water.”  I’d always lose the audience there. “Flowing water?  What does he mean?”  And repeating “made of” was hurting things.  So how can I say “the board is made of flowing water” without saying “made of”? …

The breakthrough was doing this (Seinfeld traced a square in the air with his fingers, drawing the board).  Now I can just say, “The board is flowing water,” and do this, and they get it.  A board that was made of flowing water was too much data.  Here, I’m doing some of the work for you.

So what does Jerry Seinfeld have to do with PowerPoint?

He used a visual to convey meaning.  He shortened his spoken line, making it more powerful and easier on the audience.  And he let his visual do some of the work.

Properly used, PowerPoint can convey meaning.  It can shorten your spoken words, making them more powerful and easy on your audience.  And you can let your slides do some of the work.

Notice that Jerry didn’t put his spoken line into his visual.  That would be redundant.  And it would confuse his audience trying to comprehend spoken words and reading simultaneously.  Nor should your spoken words be in your slides.

A picture says a thousand words.  Don’t make your audience read them.

PowerPoint Presenter View

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When you give your next PowerPoint presentation, how would you like to have your slide notes on your laptop screen in front of you, while your audience sees just your slides?  How would you like to like to see the next slide or two ahead of time?

You can do that with Presenter View.  On the ribbon (PowerPoint 2007 or later), click on the Slide Show tab, then check the box for Use Presenter View.

Note that your computer must be connected to a projector, or a second monitor, for this to work.

Now, when in Slide Show mode, you’ll be armed with your own special view, showing your notes, and upcoming slides, as well as the slide that the audience is currently seeing.

A word or warning here.  If you work with large dual monitors at your desk, those screens typically have more real estate than your average laptop.  When you step up to the lectern to give your talk, PowerPoint shrinks all of the above panels down, but leaves the font size of your notes the same.  If your notes are lengthy, they will spill off the bottom.  Oh, you’ll get a scroll bar in the notes panel, but scrolling is a little awkward while you’re talking, especially using the laptop’s touch pad because you likely won’t have a mouse up there.

How do I know this?  Uh, … been there, did that.

You can check to see if your notes will fit by undocking your laptop and connecting just one of your dual monitors directly to the laptop.  There’s no harm in duplicating the slide and putting half of your notes on one slide and the other half on the other.  Just don’t use any fancy transitions between those slides or your audience will wise up to you.

Another warning.  Always bring printed copies of your notes as a back-up.  At larger events, instead of a laptop on a lectern, your “speaker’s display” may be a large flat panel on the floor between the stage and the first row.  Sometimes these won’t work with presenter view because they are a secondary display, and the primary computer is up in the A/V technician’s booth.  Also, some conference rooms won’t have a “speaker’s computer”, but a desktop PC in a closet, and the only display is the projector – you may not have a laptop on front of you.