Category Archives: Inspiration

Speaker Ready Room

We would like to invite all of our readers to visit Speaker Ready – a virtual meeting space (chat room) for presentation professionals.

When Ray and I began Visual Being, we were aiming to create a community of presentation professionals built around the sharing of experience and knowledge. It’s in the nature of our profession that many of us work in isolation, lacking regular communication with a shared community of practice. Some of us are freelancers working in sole practitioner environments. Some of us work in the corporate world where no one else in the company does what we do. The bottom line is that almost everyone can benefit from more contact with his or her professional peers and Visual Being hopes to make getting that contact a little easier.

Speaker Ready takes the next step towards reaching that goal by making the opportunities for interaction more immediate and, well, interactive. Think of it as an online water cooler. We hope you will stop by and check it out the next time you are taking a break or at the end of a long day of overpowering PowerPoint. As of right now, we can’t guarantee that there will always be something going on in there. However, if all goes according to plan, that’s how it will be in the near future. In the meantime, we are in the process of setting up a schedule of regular (weekly?) sessions, so feel free to let us know what times and topics will work for you.

What Happens if You Never Stop Digging?

I’m sorry… but I just couldn’t resist. This has nothing to do with presentations (that I can think of at the moment) but it answers a question I know you have all thought about. What happens if you start digging in your basement (if you have a basement) and just keep diggin until you come out the other side of the world? Where would you end up?

Find the answer right here!

Research That Will Raise Millions of Eye Brows

I have been following Bob Befus’s great hunt for the ever elusive “Presentation Facts” and am most impressed with his passion in this area. Here is a bold proposal for all you presentation professionals out there. Let’s take Bob’s interests to the next level. Rather than simply analyzing past research (apparently precious little such research exists), I suggest we actually plan and implement a series of peer-reviewed studies focused on important presentation-related issues.

I am about half-way through my degree in Educational Technology at the University of Arizona. In lieu of a thesis, I have permission to conduct a formal research project centered on a subject of my choosing. Would any of you like to assist me in designing a presentation-based study?

There are so many questions needing answers. We can’t possibly address them all in one study. So I think developing an outline of the most pressing questions will be a first step. Perhaps we can lay the groundwork for an initial study and several follow-up studies. My particular fascination is with interactive visual communication.

In terms of timing, starting in January I begin an independent study devoted entirely to literature review. During that time I also will begin exploring funding sources. An actual project is probably about a year away. Now, however, is the time for planning. Interested? Email me at

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Presentation

Could the runaway success of the J.K. Rowling books hold the secret to successful media-enabled presentation?

Wouldn’t it be swell, really swell, if all your presentations were as well received as the latest Harry Potter? People stood in line for days waiting to buy one. Security guards accompanied shipments to bookstores the way bodyguards ushered Michael Jackson to court. The series has enchanted an estimated 265 million people thus far. The latest book sold 6.9 million copies in the U.S. in its first 24 hours. So lucrative is the franchise, I hear some South American drug lords are getting out of pushing heroin and into pushing Harry.

So, what does Harry Potter have that your presentations don’t? Why are people not selling their kidneys to see your latest PowerPoint creation?

The answer is obvious, of course. Harry Potter has magic. Not the hyperbolic magic often associated with presentation tools, websites, books and laundry detergent. (Serious Magic; REALmagic;; Presentation Magic; “Mr. Clean cleans like magic.”) Harry Potter has the real thing.

MAGIC: an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source; something that seems to cast a spell; something that has the power to enchant. ENCHANT: to attract and move deeply; to influence by or as if by charms and incantation.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He also said, “Any smoothly functioning technology will have the appearance of magic.” Mr. Clarke was speaking objectively about the subjective quality of technology.

Every technology is magic before it happens, and every technology is magic when it reaches its fullest realization. Continue reading

The Power of Thought

Last year about this time I was dabbling on the Web, searching for video related to brain functioning, when I stumbled across fascinating research called Brain Computer Interface. Unfortunately I can’t now locate the site I studied back then (although there is downloadable video at TCTS Lab—requires divx codex), but the idea was to have computers interpret brainwaves. The goal of this particular project was to help paraplegics gain functional movement. The subjects imagined movement in their mind (such as picking up a glass) and a computer interpreted those thoughts and guided robotic devices attached to subjects’ arms. I was struck at the time by how such experiments are further blurring the concept of “objective” reality and what little we know about the potential power of our thoughts.

I then started wondering how thoughts (and view of reality) influence the effectiveness of our digital communications. To what extent do an audience member’s concepts, perceptions, and assumptions dictate what he or she takes away from a live presentation? Apparently such psychological components are enormously important. As presenters, the visuals we use can have impact beyond their obvious intent, especially in the context of interactive presentation.

For example, I have a slide in my Presentation Network containing logos for all the companies or institutions I’ve worked with. I use it as a switchboard to showcase projects during training workshops. Sometimes after using this switchboard a couple of times, I quiz the trainees. I ask, “who made the assumption I’ve worked with all of the entities shown here?” Almost invariably, all hands go up. I could have put any (or as many) logos on that slide as I wanted to and my audience would automatically assume all represented legitimate projects.

More and more I’m discovering intriguing visual tricks and optical illusions we can use to our advantage as speakers, even while using PowerPoint. In a workshop last week, in fact, I’ll admit I had a delightful time playing with attendees’ minds. Doing so was necessary to show how a savvy presenter can employ an understanding of the human mind to great advantage.

I encourage all presenters and presentation professionals to join me in exploring the psychological implications of live presentation. As far as I can tell, far too little research or experimentation has been done in this arena. The power of thought is only beginning to be tapped.

My Summer Vacation at SIGGRAPH

I took a trip down memory lane this week, attending SIGGRAPH in LA. 17 years ago this was my first computer trade show after venturing into computer graphics and I nearly fled the show floor in Las Vegas in terror. In those days, VR meant a computer the size of a room.

Now the show is mainly for the entertainment and game industry, but there are new toys to whet the appetite of presenters. My jaw dropped at Barco Simulation (which shows its projectors at InfoComm). It had two of them set up simultaneously in a virtual 3D display (yes, with the 3D glasses!) but you could enter the environment and walk around. Barco calls it a VR Workroom, and it costs a bundle. But imagine if you’re trying to sell an airplane, a building or a drug regimen, and you can take your prospects of a tour inside what you’re showing (not in the hokey QuickTime VR way, but much more photorealistically) and what if there were tools that enabled you to influence and manipulate the environment.

So I was interested in the software, and found myself in the nearby booth of Virtools. Virtools calls itself the “Behavior Company” which is pretty audacious until you look at the software. This is a work environment into which you can drop conventional 3D models and enable a user to interact with them. As a game platform development tool it can be exported to Xbox, but it also has a Web Player (plug-in). I saw a fully 3D race car that could be turned around, and then actually driven through a landscape in a web page. What about simulating a heart , an operating room or a brain?

A single license of Virtools costs about three times what it costs for 3D Studio Max. So it’s not for the casual presenter. But if you are playing for high stakes, investing in such a tool and the time to use it effectively might well give you a leg up in medical, architectural and other high end markets.

Another interesting tool, for a lot less (about $995) is Antics Pre-Viz. This is ostensibly a previsualization software for the entertainment business but it is cool for creating role playing scenarios and exploring different types of venues for training purposes (like training a staff for a trade show booth). It’s kind of like VOX Proxy on steroids because behaviors are dropped on animated characters but they’re not limited to a PowerPoint slide or your screen — you also create a complete environment in whcih they can interact. “Characters intelligently navigate around their environment, avoiding props, opening doors, and getting in cars just by clicking the mouse”.

Truthfully I didn’t stay at SIGGRAPH long. You can only watch so much 3D animation. However, I really think that these sorts of immersive tools, when they become more cost effective and user friendly, will be a key to the future of presentations.

Rethink the Presentation Research

The July 21 post by Robert Befus citing the “1986 UM/3M Study” and his July 14 post regarding the “1981 3M/Wharton Study” clearly point up the dearth of research on the impact of visuals in the persuasion process. Those studies are decades old and were done well before computer-based presentations became commonplace. Even the 1996 update of the UM/3M study is antique by today’s standards. Yet these are still about the best we have of this type of empirical research.

But maybe it is not the volume, timeliness or even the quality of research that is lacking. Maybe what the industry needs is a new approach to understanding the power and impact of media in presentations. Maybe what we need is a more enlightened and contemporary methodology, a fresh look at what we need to know.

As the situation stands, presentation pros must use their instincts and training to determine when the goulash of media elements in a presentation works and when it doesn’t. Often, the presentation pro never sees the final presentation. Typically, only feeble attempts are made to collect information after the fact about audience reaction or effectiveness, with little attention given to media specifics. In most cases it is impossible to determine which individual elements—visuals, sounds, graphics, message, environment, presenter skills—were effective and which were not, much less how the elements worked as an ensemble to influence the audience.

In our search for understanding the impact of media in presentations, are we looking in the right cupboards? Continue reading

Put Your Right Brain In…. and Shake It All About…

Have you ever been told that you need to be a better problem solver or to “just do the math” and find yourself drawing a picture in your head or on paper and wonder what’s wrong with you and why you can’t just calculate something math-related in your head (like figuring out the tip after dinner)? The right-brain, left-brain theory comes immediately to mind, but so does another term. Extreme Thinking. Continue reading

It’s Life’s Illusions I Recall…

Nothing to do with Joni Mitchell this, but the lyrics to ‘Both Sides Now’ came to mind when I first saw ‘Akiyoshi’s Illusion Pages‘ recently.

There’s been a few occasions when, whilst creating graphics for presentation, I’ve noticed odd visual effects that occur when certain repetitive elements are combined using certain colours. I’ve always understood the effects to be a result of our bilateral stereo vision and the brain’s inability to correctly interpret conflicting or overlapping data. I’ve never had a name for these peculiar visual aberrations before, but now I can amaze my friends with comments like “Oh that’s just a peripheral drift illusion” or “You’re probably experiencing vertical retinal slips”. The amazing body of work assembled (often created) by Akiyoshi Kitaoka of the Department of Psychology, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan, is quite remarkable and one can spend a lot of time exploring the phenomenon of ‘anomalous motion illusions’ on his site.

AlieneggsThere’s an important caveat to viewing here though. Akiyoshi states: “some of the pictures on the website can cause dizziness or might possibly (in rare cases) induce epileptic seizures. The latter happens when the brain can’t handle the conflicting information from your two eyes. If you start feeling unwell when using the website, immediately cover one eye with your hand and then leave the page. Do not close your eyes because that can make the attack worse.”

The BulgeAnyone who spends time creating repetitive patterns or graphic elements in varied colours can learn a lot from his work. And it’s useful for photographers to be aware of the phenomena associated with colour and pattern also. I first discovered Akiyoshi’s page through a link from a British photoblog that I subscribe to called Chromasia – Best European/British/Irish photoblog in the Photobloggies 2005 Awards and one of TIME magazine’s 50 Coolest Websites in 2005. The clouds in the picture displayed on this entry appeared to move behind the main subject when viewed peripherally – that’s the drift illusion.

The example above appears to move; the example at the right, composed of only horizontal and vertical elements, appears to be curved. Click either to see a larger version where the effect is displayed more clearly. Hopefully the majority will be able to view the hundreds of other fascinating visual effects on show at Akiyoshi’s site without experiencing any ill effects. Give it a try.

MakingRoom Magazine

One of the basic assumptions of this blog is that the difference between an ordinary presentation and a great one is often related directly to the strength of it’s visual elements. MakingRoom Magazine is all about powerful images and could serve as a source of inspiration as we strive toward being more visual.

“MakingRoom is a magazine about the process, intention and results of image-making. … It’s our hope to comfortably view and examine the range of individual processes that lead to powerful visuals. We plan to talk fairly plainly but with depth to artists at all stages of their practice.”