Category Archives: Design Matters

Slides Don’t Matter

At least not as much as we think…

June marked my last month teaching the current campus iteration of PCP. In July, Alex Rister will be tackling the new iteration on campus; and in August, the new online course launches. The focus of the reboots as I’ve discussed before is on helping students develop a personal and professional brand. The courses minimizes the focus on visual design and slides and places more emphasis on process, strong content, and natural delivery. Why this shift? Well, frankly, it’s because slides don’t matter. That’s right–this is me, the presentation designer and Slideshare.net contributor telling you slides don’t matter, at least not as much as what’s at the core of the 21st century model of presenting–conversation, connection, and engagement. Slides and technology, regardless of how flashy, beautifully designed, interesting, or relevant just aren’t a substitute for consistent and thorough preparation, impacting content, and engaging delivery.

What do when our technology fails or our slides don’t function the way they did on our screens? Most of us freak out, begin an elaborate struggle with the computer, and create an awkward waiting period for our audiences while we set that technology right. My students and their teachers often reduce what they learn in PCP to “making better slides,” but this disregards the most important lesson I hope my students learn–that detaching from technology as a crutch or replacement for preparation and engagement is what will ultimately lead them to not only learn when or how to use slides properly but also learn that sometimes, it’s best to go without. To help illustrate, I’ll share with you this brief but excellent talk from Improv Everywhere, “A TED Speaker’s Worst Nightmare.” This talk, while in reality an elaborate part flash mob, part improv, part prank performance, illustrates just what can happen when we rely too much on technology and a flashy concept and not enough on solid content and connection.

What do you think? Do slides matter? How can we use slides responsibly and ensure they don’t overwhelm or derail our talks?

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What’s really wrong with Comic Sans?

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Photo Credit: eanur0 via Compfight cc

 

The short answer is nothing and everything.

The long answer is still nothing and everything, but let’s explore why. Comic Sans, which was created by Vincent Connare was never meant to be used in the regular system of fonts available on a Windows PC (Source). It was created to solve an incongruity Connare noticed while he was working on Microsoft Bob, the interface designed to make the computer-using experience more palatable to novice computer users (Source). Connare noticed that while the interface was a cartoon, the characters’ text boxes uses Times New Roman. This didn’t make sense to Connare, so he created Comic Sans based on the style of Marvel and DC comics. So, the purpose of Comic Sans was to fit a very specific interface and experience–the comic, cartoon, animated experience. It was not meant to be used for business letters, websites, products, signage, CERN presentations, or tributes to retiring Popes. Christine Erickson of Mashable.com explains the source of Comic Sans’ bad rep: “While Comic Sans is perfectly adequate in designs for children or designs related to comic books or cartoons, designers believe it has no place in business or professional work usage. It’s also ill-suited in content body text, which means it’s best used as a headline/heading or short quote — in other words, a comic book” (Source).

In essence, the problem with comic sans goes back to the user (it’s the same reason we have “death by PowerPoint”). The problem with the typeface is not inherent to the typeface itself; the problem is that we use it incorrectly. Every typeface and individual font has a personality and mood. Research has even shown that typefaces evoke specific emotional responses in us. Eric Jaffe of Fast Company writes that “the latest evidence suggests that typefaces convey their own meanings and elicit their own emotions independent of the words they spell out” (Source).

So, not only does a font have a particular tone, but that tone is independent of the words written in that font–this means that text’s impact and meaning can be affected by the typeface used. Jaffe cites a 2004 study in which researchers noted that students described fonts like Times New Roman as professional but common; Helvetica was blah and least artistic; Comic Sans was childish (Source). An even more surprising study included in Jaffe’s article emphasized that while most fonts illicit one emotional response, “Comic Sans produced spikes across the emotional spectrum–from agitation to calm. It’s basically a rollercoaster of emotions wrapped in a few playful curves. People either love it or hate it” (Source). So, consistently incorrect use of an emotionally charged font has led to Comic Sans becoming the most hated, ridiculed, and ostracized font (it’s pretty much as bad as using Word Art).

Do we, as presentation designers ignore the public outcry to ban Comic Sans? Do we ignore the many criminally inappropriate uses of Comic Sans we see every day? How do we explain to novice designers, students, and those who use Comic Sans when a more appropriate font exists that it is up to them to turn the Comic Sans tide, to ensure it is used only when appropriate–in cartoons? Designers out there have their own solutions. Comic Sans Criminal asks users to take a pledge to think twice before choosing a font, and to consider its purpose. The folks who created Ban Comic Sans.com have turned their focus to positivity and using words for good, not evil. Dave and Holly Combs founded the Department of Public Words, an organization whose mission is use the power of positive words to better our community. By emphasizing the positive use of words and typography, we can emphasize that type must be used appropriately; it must be used for good.

Finally, designer Craig Rozynski has created a sleeker, more designer-friendly version of Comic Sans called Comic Neue. It is available to download free here. I tell students and teachers that bullets, Comic Sans, and frenetic animations “kill” their audiences and their presentation’s impact. Sometimes, this is perceived as me hating on the very foundations of the Keynote/PowerPoint presentation. And, they are right. But reducing this idea to “hating” is missing the point, which is that we must do better as presenters. The only way we can work to create better presentations is to let go of the bad habits of the past. Once we outgrow those habits, we may learn to use them the right way.

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Data Display of the Day: How to Sell Without Selling

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In my class, Professional Communication and Presentation, my students and I devote a significant portion of time to persuasion and selling. From my perspective, every presentation is persuasive. Even when the on paper purpose is to inform–quarterly report, update, process, lesson–there is an underlying current of persuasion that cannot be ignored. Even if a presenter is informing an audience on how to complete a process or how to engage in a process, he or she is really persuading the audience that his or her approach to completing that process is viable, worthy, or preferable to another method. In addition, every presenter must persuade the audience that he or she is credible and worth listening to. So, it naturally follows that learning more about persuading and about one of its most prevalent types, selling, can help each presenter grow his or her skills. Selling today (just like persuading) involves more finesse, innovation, and a knack for visualization than in the past. Most consumers today see right through infomercials and are much more drawn to subtler forms of persuasion–advertisers know this and continue to adapt. Presenters too must adapt to our new world of communication and content interaction. Today’s infographic, brought to you by Daily Infographic, discusses the subject of passive persuasion, or selling without selling. There are a few key ideas in this infographic we can apply to persuasive presenting:

1. People buy into ideas that appeal to their needs

According to today’s infographic, people buy products for a variety of reasons. Each of these coordinates with one of Maslow’s needs (physiological-basic needs, safety-replacement or value, belonging-urgency/scarcity, esteem-name recognition, self-actualization-a good cause), which is a good starting point for tailoring a message to a particular audience. What is interesting about the reasons people buy products is how readily we are driven by higher-level needs like name recognition. By purchasing an Apple product for instance, a consumer becomes part of one of Seth Godin’s “tribes,” a group of others whose values align around a brand. Harnessing Maslow’s needs when crafting a persuasive message taps into the very reasons audiences make the choices they do–WIIFM or “What’s In It For Me”.

2. People buy into well-designed products

A well-designed product is appealing–from color and form to function, usability, and novelty, user-focused design can truly make the difference between a product that thrives and one that fails. The same goes for slide decks. If 85% of consumers say that color is the main reason why they choose a product, and 93% of consumers are concerned with visual appearance, then it’s clear that design is king. David McCandless, of Information is Beautiful, provides a bit of insight into why visualizations are so useful in disseminating information. Our vision is our primary sense, and we are bombarded by an incredible amount of information each day, most of it visual (Source). By harnessing the power of design, we can speak to audiences in two languages–the language of the eye (visuals) and the language of the mind (text, numbers).

3. People buy into products that use surprise and unexpectedness

The final lesson we can draw from today’s infographic is that surprise and unexpectedness draws audience’s in and sets the conditions for persuasion. Chip and Dan Heath codified the formula for ideas that stick in Made to Stick. One of their primary modes of crafting sticky ideas is unexpectedness. When the brain encounters something incongruous, something that does not adhere to the schemas or cognitive patterns already in place, it cannot help but want to find a solution. This is why mysteries and thrillers are so popular–they break a schema and then through careful construction, create a new way of thinking.


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3 As of an A+ Web Source

This week is spring break at my school, which means it’s time to spend some time attending continuing education workshops, making a big dent in the Professional Communication and Presentation reboot, and working on creative projects (along with a small side trip to the beach and another to the Salvador Dali museum). In addition to working on revising rubrics and creating lessons for the reboot, I’ve been working on two new infographics. The first is a teaching tool I’ll use in class; the second is an infographic exploring the concept of superteacher, something both Alex Rister and myself have talked about before on our respective blogs. Today, I’ll share with you the first.

For many people (students, teachers, and professionals), the web is a primary place to seek out information quickly. The web is a vast source of information and can be a great place to find relevant, useful content. But, the web is also a perfect example of information gone wrong. Information that began as “truth” is diluted, repeated, degraded, and misrepresented. While most teachers encourage or require students to avoid web sources found through Google and other search engines, asking students instead to use library resources–books and database articles–the truth is, most students will still Google their topic, choose the first five articles on the first page of results and call it a day. I find that for students, research is often a cursory part of the presentation or composition process (I often hear, “I hate the library databases; I can’t ever find anything in there!”). They understand why they need it, but are often frustrated because they don’t have the tools they need to seek out the best information.

Now, some of this stems from a need for further instruction on what search terms to use, how to best use a site like Google to filter out unusable information, and a habitual belief that good information should be instantaneous (how often do you have a conversation involving the name of this or that movie star? how often do you simply look the information up quickly on your phone, landing on the answer in the first two or three Google hits?). But, part of what makes the process of researching frustrating for students is not knowing exactly what is a credible, worthwhile source of information.

Today’s infographic, “The 3As of an A+ Web Source” is meant to address this specific need–isolate specific qualities that make a source credible and present them in a way that is visually engaging but also information rich. The infographic focuses on three core characteristics of a strong web source: authority, applicability, and aim. Within these are other categories commonly used in determining strong research: credibility, reliability, accuracy, purpose, bias, currency, and audience. I’ll be adding this as a downloadable file to the current and future iterations of PCP. In class, I’ll pair this infographic with an already existing lesson on research that includes the deck below and a series of analysis and application activities. Note that this deck is specific to using sources in a presentation, though it could easily be adapted for research in writing:

Check out the infographic below, and feel free to share with others!

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Slideshare of the Day: The ten worst body language presentation mistakes

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SOAP presentations is definitely among my top Slidesharers to follow. Their decks are consistently useful, well-designed and engaging. Today’s Slideshare of the Day features a topic that is important to both live synchronous presentations and asynchronous video presentations. While we can debate just how much we say through body language vs. verbal language, no one can deny that an audience makes certain decisions about a presenter’s credibility and relationship to them based on non-verbals. As Amy Cuddy asserts, our body language can speak volumes about how others perceive us (Source). Garr Reynolds in The Naked Presenter speaks about the honeymoon period of a presentation:

Even famous, well-established presenters–including celebrities–will only get a minute before audiences grow tired of their inability to grab attention.

Often, it is body language that can determine whether or not a presenter can truly grab an audience’s attention. Maintaing an open posture, facing the audience, maintaining genuine and consistent eye contact, moving with a purpose, and focusing on clarity in vocal delivery can all make the difference between an engaging, memorable presenter and a forgettable one. Pairing SOAP’s tips with Amy Cuddy’s “power pose” strategy can be a great starting point for stronger physical delivery. Check out today’s Slideshare below. For more on Amy Cuddy’s theories of body language, check out her TED talk.

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Slideshare of the Day: 7 Rules for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read and Shared

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As a blogger, one of my main goals is gaining readership through meaningful and worthwhile effort. The blogs I love to read provide me with information I cannot find elsewhere or have conceptualized myself but not articulated.  This year, I committed myself to becoming that type of blogger. My first step was and is consistency–from what I’ve observed, blogging consistently at least three times per week not only grows the amount of relevant content I have to offer readers but also helps me continue to grow my skills as a writer. Blogging consistently has also helped me connect with other like minded professionals. So, consistency is important, but, even more important is relevance and attractiveness. Today’s Slideshare, “7 Rules for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read and Shared” created by author and blogger Michael Hyatt includes some excellent tips for determining the audience relevance of your posts and crafting blog posts that attract readership. Check out the full deck below; three tips I will implement in my next posts are: 1. focus on the reader, 2. create a powerful headline, and 3. make your posts easy to share.

1. Focus on the reader

Audience adaptation, relevance, and a focus on WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) are great guides to follow when creating any type of content. In class, we devote weeks to various forms of audience analysis–audience questions, an audience needs map, Nancy Duarte’s audience questions from Resonate, and audience interviews. But, I’ve not done the same type of in-depth audience research in my blog. To be frank, I’ve taken for granted that the subject is what drives readership, but what if my content isn’t tailored to the audience’s who most often draw inspiration from Tweak Your Slides? Hyatt’s advice is to create an audience survey, distribute it among readers, and then write a followup post with insights and observations. Creating this type of survey can help bloggers create content that is user-centered, not writer-centered.

2. Create a powerful headline

I am sure that by now you are familiar with the types of attention grabbing headlines created by sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed. There’s something about these titles that draws the reader in and helps cut through the cacophony of social media feeds. Much of the success of sites like these comes from the genius of founders like Jonah Peretti, who devote years to studying the anatomy of a sticky idea.  BuzzFeed and Upworthy headlines are often the epitome of the Heath brothers’ sticky concept–attention grabbing, jarring, memorable. A blog post title similarly has to break through the noise to manifest as signal. Hyatt suggests three excellent strategies for blog posts titles that stick: first, create a numbered sequence headline (“Five ways to…”); second, create a provocative question headline (“Are you….”); thirdly, create a how to headline, especially since blog readers often want to learn a new facet of your core subject.

3. Make your posts easy to share

Though I tend to rely on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress to spread word of my posts for me, there are several other useful tools out there that can help you help others share your work. Hyatt introduces viewers to several tools, namely AddThis and ShareThis, that can increase shareability (whether it is other sharing your work or others reading more of your work). I particularly like the content recommendation tools available as they not only lead readers to other content related to a specific post but also allow you to link readers to other awesome blogs on the subject.

What are your tips for writing blog posts? Whose blogs are unbeatable for consistent, relevant, worthwhile content?

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Design Smarter: Learn to Generate Color

I will admit, color is one of my serious areas of growth when it comes to designing presentations. While I can manage to reasonably dress myself in suitable colors, the choosing of workable colors for a set of slides is something that takes me longer than any other part of the presentation process, especially if I choose to go it alone. This is why I appreciate the sites I’ll share with you today as well as the techniques I’ve learned from them in growing my design skills.  I’ll use the image below, courtesy of Mohamed Muha, for my examples.

Photo Credit: muha... via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: muha… via Compfight cc

First, experiment with the color wheel on Adobe’s Kuler

Adobe’s color generator, Kuler, is part of their Creative Cloud, a storehouse of tools creatives can use to collaborate, share, and create work. When I first discovered Kuler, I was intimidated–the site on first glance is for professional designers–folks who understand RGB, CMYK, Hex, and HSB values (not me at the time). However, Kuler’s user-friendly tools (creating a palette from an image, color rule options that allow users to choose from types of color schemes–analogous, monochromatic–without formal training, and the thousands of color palettes made available by Kuler’s community of users) quickly helped me create custom palettes that made sense both emotionally and aesthetically. Not sure where to start in Kuler? A great place is the create from image tool, which allows you to upload an image (ideally, one that communicates the emotional tone of your presentation) and create a color palette from that image.

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This is the “colorful palette” I created using Kuler’s image-based color generator.

Shifting to the color wheel option with the same base colors creates a new variety of options.

Shifting to the color wheel option with the same base colors creates a new variety of options.

Next, draw inspiration for capturing mood and tone from Design Seeds

So, Kuler’s algorithm does a great job of grabbing pleasing colors from an image, but as you will learn, it often misses the point when it comes to mood and tone. Learning to grow as a designer means immersing oneself in the processes that lead to design success. After a time, you may be called upon to create a scheme without the help of a generator, so learning a bit from a seasoned designer can only help you grow. Design Seeds, which is curated by Jessica Colaluca, a veteran designer and consultant who has worked with Ford, Timberland, and Reebok, is a fantastic starting point for color generation inspiration. Jessica’s site, Design Seeds, features hundreds of original color palettes organized by color value and theme. You can also gain some insight into her process by checking out the about section of Design Seeds. Her blog, Fresh Hues, features even more color palettes organized by color as well as Pinterest-inspired mood boards.

One of my favorite new design-seeds palettes--I love the vibrancy!

One of my favorite new design-seeds palettes–I love the vibrancy!

The best part of Design Seeds is Jessica’s process and her treatise in defense of true color generation. Her process may surprise you, but it works. First of all, Jessica begins by tracking color and design trends; she then creates a list of images and colors that align with those trending moods. Next, she purchases photos and modifies them to create precision color; she then imports the images into Illustrator and mixes each color swatch. Finally, she polishes her work and shares it with the world under a creative commons license via Design Seeds. What is impressive about her process is her sensitivity to mood. What she often finds with color generators is that they miss important colors that the human eye would naturally gravitate towards:

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Can you see how Kuler provides a starting point to creating strong color palettes, but that is all–sensitivity to mood, tone, trends, and design inspiration will take you further than a generator or color picker can. As Jessica asserts:

“The quality that a person has that makes them love color, is the same one which is critical in creating palettes.” -Jessica Colaluca

I’ll leave you with my first attempt at a custom palette–it’s based on color grabbing, but my focus was on mood and vibrancy. We may have much to learn in developing color skills, but with tools like Kuler and Design Seeds, both you and I can be well on our way to smarter design!

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Slidesharer to Follow: Orsolya Nemes

This week’s Slidesharer to Follow is one of my favorite presentation all-starts, Orsolya Nemes. Orsolya first reached out to me several years ago as she was beginning her own journey as a professional presenter. She followed up that reach out by creating several excellent slideshares, which have been featured as “Top Presentation of the Day,” and a TEDxYouthBudapest talk based on her debut deck, “Generation Y.” Orsolya, who runs her own consulting agency, “Y Consulting,” shared the story of how effective presenting helped her communicate the Generation Y perspective in front of a group of young TEDsters. Check out her TEDx talk below as well as my favorite Orsolya deck. Check out all of her work here.

 

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Slideshare of the Day: 29 Design Resources That Work Miracles

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Today marks the end of my two month break from classroom teaching. I’ve been busy writing up lesson plans for the Professional Communication and Presentation course reboot, revising assignment for the coming month, and tweaking my core slidedecks. As I am always working on minor or major adjustments to my deliverables, I am always looking for new sources of design inspiration and know how. A Tweak Your Slides reader, Richard Garber, who writes Joyful Public Speaking, shared the Assertion-Evidence format created by Michael Alley with me yesterday, and today, while browsing the latest Slideshare offerings on design and presenting, I ran across today’s Slideshare, “29 Design Resources That Work Miracles” by SEO.com:

The deck begins with a brief rationale–visual content today is one of the most powerful marketing tools for individuals and companies alike. But, like any good tool, it must be used in the right way, and this means placing the focus on good design and using good design resources. I was surprised at how many of the resources listed were new to me. Several are sources I wish I’d had in creating particularly difficult decks in the past and several others are sources I cannot wait to try this coming month. Here are a few of my favorites:

For Design Inspiration:

Creattica: though I already use Pinterest to curate designs I am inspired by, the added value of Creattica is that the site’s offerings are voted on and only displays examples of a designer’s greatest work–it’s a great way to filter inspiration down to great design for someone who is not a formally-trained designer.

For Image Editing:

Pixlr: I am lucky enough to have the entire Adobe Illustrator suite on my employer-provided laptop, but on my personal mac, I am limited to photo editing tools inside of Keynote and PowerPoint. Thankfully, user-friendly photo editing services like Pixlr are here to help. Available as a full online editor, express editor, and mobile app Pixlr is an easy to use tool for the novice designer

For Patterns:

Subtle Patterns: this is my absolute favorite new source. Again, as I am now teaching myself to use the Adobe Creative suite with the help of Lynda.com, my skills in creating depth through texture and patterns are limited to what I can find on image sites like compfight.com, ColourLovers, or what I can create myself using slide design software. As soon as I opened Subtle Patterns, I fell in love. The site contains hundreds of patterns available for download as .pngs and also features a Photoshop plugin similar to Kuler‘s that allows you to access the patterns without visiting the site.

Check out these and the other 26 awesome resources by scrolling through today’s Slideshare of the Day!

 

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Design Smarter: Find the best blend for text and image

The picture superiority effect occurs when you combine visuals and text together to increase audience retention of your message. The picture superiority effect is what allows you to create one of Nancy Duarte’s STAR Moments, evocative visuals. Not every visual needs to utilize text; Lisa Kristine in her amazing TED talk uses no text on her images; using text over her haunting and beautiful images of human slaves would have diminished their impact. However, text, especially in stand-alone presentations can help enhance a slide, communicate a more impacting message, and add to that cohesive look we want from original slide decks.

There are a few ways to blend text and image together on a slide. What you do depends on what you want to accomplish, the nature of your image and the amount of text on your slide. Your choice depends on what your main focus is in displaying the word with the image. Are they equally important? Is one more important than another? Here are a few variations to get you started.Below, I’ll cover a few of the more common combinations I see from designers and students. There are several ways to combine a bit of text with an image. Here are a few variations to get you started.

One idea, one image with empty space

One way to combine an image with an idea is to look for an image that has empty space. Often, images that employ the rule of thirds  include enough space for text. You know there’s enough space when there is little to no overlap between image and text. In this example, the original image by Flickr user Photoco. was licensed for commercial use with adaptations or remixes allowed. I was able to fill the slide with the image (which was large enough to display without pixelation) and use the empty space to the left of the figure to add my idea.

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One idea, one image without empty space

In other situations, you might have a fairly busy image you’d like to use on your slide; there is no one specific detail in the image that is more important than another that must be visible as in the example above. So, you can use a few strategies to blend image and text. The first is to adjust the brightness and exposure of the original image and place one large word over the picture (fig. a); note that this works well with a typeface like Intro, but might not work well with a typeface that has a thinner weight. In the first two examples (fig. a, fig. b), I adjusted the brightness and exposure of the image. In the next, I added a shadow to differentiate the text from the background (fig. c). In the final example, I adjusted the opacity of the text (this sometimes improves readability) (fig. d). Notice that the color changes depending on the option.

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After tweaking colors, shadows, and image settings, I chose this variation:

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Now, let’s assume you want to use a font with a thinner weight, like District Pro. Notice that without a bit of help, the text here is difficult to read. This is where a supporting shape comes in. Placing a shape behind the text (as long as it doesn’t make an important element on the image impossible to see) can be an option when blending text and image. In the example below, I’ve used several shapes to emphasize the text.

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One quote, one image with empty space

So, what if you want to place a quote or a lengthier idea (keep words to a minimum on a slide; 5-8 words is enough) on a slide with an image? Your first and best bet is to seek out an image with empty space, like the one above. Using an image with empty space and a readable typeface will help you maximize the impact of the quote by providing simple, clean visual support.

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One quote, one image without empty space a quote

At times, it’s possible to place a quote on a slide that has is busier–again, as long as the quote does not interfere with important parts of the image. However, this is the option I would advise the least. Placing a quote on a slide with a busy image will increase your chances of creating noise and it could minimize signal. In the case below, the quote on the slide combined with the image creates noise.

 

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The solution here is to rearrange the image to fit the frame (fig. e), find an image that allows the blend to happen naturally (fig. f), or allow the quote to stand alone.

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These are only a few of the many ways to blend text and image together.Whatever your choice, it’s important to consider these three best practices when pairing text and image:

1. The picture superiority effect is maximized when text and image are blended.

2. Create the most seamless blend possible.

3. Keep signal high and noise low.

What are your go to strategies for maximizing the picture superiority effect?

 

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