Presentations are changing — but it’s not about software | Part 1 of 2

presentations are changing communication design software

Am I alone in noticing that we as a culture appear to be reverting to communicating like cave dwellers?

When I see operating system icons overlaid in my mind on ancient stone, am I receiving special solo enlightenment like the apes in the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Doubtful. I’m pretty sure there are some very smart PhDs in linguistics and anthropology looking at this. Where we used to read, we now look to pictographs, icons, even cartoons, for our information. Hey, cartoons are cool. Animation is very cool. And communicating this way definitely has its place in business.

So, is this development? Growth? Advancement? Or are we getting less literate?

When we see something that recalls the past, it’s easy to get into what Ken Wilber refers to as the ‘pre-trans fallacy.’ I’m not smart enough to synthesize his work here — but basically it means that, depending on our own level of consciousness, we can easily confuse a higher tier of development with something traditional, even ancient, if they have similarities. Or on the flip side, we can confuse something from a magical era as something very advanced and ultra-post-modern. I have definitely fallen into that trap during my years of interest in tribal shamanism. There is a pure, romantic beauty to Native American heritage, for example. But while an integral thinker like Wilber would embrace and give his love to that history, he would assert that a highly-practiced meditator in 2015, say at a turquoise / high-2nd tier level on a spiral dynamics chart is at a higher level of consciousness and social development.

Short on attention? Or just long on information and noise?

There is this idea now that people have shorter attention spans. I don’t believe this is true at all. In fact I think people have superior attention than they did 10 years ago before the rise of mobile. People with a computer and a smart phone (and tablet, and smart watch) today are processing through insane amounts of information at radically increasing pace. Does this mean they pay less attention to individual batches of information (content, if you like)? Yes. Does that mean that they have reduced capacity for attention? No, absolutely not. People still sit through 90-minute movies at the theater, mostly with phones off. That format hasn’t changed in 100 years and it still works. More and more attend yoga classes and meditate — the ultimate test of attention. We do not have deficits of attention. We have deficits of compelling information, perhaps, and a lot of noise to sift through.

What does this all have to do with presentations then?

Everything. Let’s say you’re a startup founder trying to get some investor interest. Maybe you’ve isolated 20 venture capital funds that are in your space and you’ve got some email addresses and perhaps a slightly warm referral or introduction. So you ship them a 12-slide investor deck as an attachment to a first email. What do you think will happen there? Best case scenario is they don’t respond and forget you because that is an outrageous way to approach. In 2010, maybe OK. In 2015? No, never. Is that a knock on VCs? Not at all. Are they in some cases notoriously unapproachable and difficult? Of course. Wouldn’t you be if everybody with an idea and a half-baked PowerPoint presentation wanted your attention and your money? What if there is a smarter, stronger, more cunning way to get through the gate?

Let’s revisit the cave paintings. Why did our earliest ancestors use symbols and glyphs to record their stories? Did they not have language? (Terence McKenna famously stated that ‘the World is made of language.’) OK, no they did not have books or wordy dialects. But they most certainly had language. Even primates and parakeets have linguistic ability.

What if the cave paintings were meant to be communicated to those not in their tribe? Certainly they were meant to be seen in the future. Otherwise why not paint them on rocks out in the elements?

I’m not talking about sending an IKEA instruction manual to an investor made of drawings and no data charts and no copy. I’m talking about starting a dialogue with material that immediately and instantly conveys your message, visually. And I’m talking about making presentations shorter and faster. It’s the only way to reach someone not in your tribe. And it will make your presentation and pitch better for friends and colleagues too.

Part 2 to follow.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, user Mariano.

Inktank: Driving valuation with brand equity and community

Inktank driving valuation with brand equity and community

When we started working for Inktank, they told us they wanted to be the Red Hat of storage. Now, as it turns out, they are the storage of Red Hat, and that’s just as good.

In Summer of 2013, Inktank was a dynamic young startup with an expensive suite of branded marketing products that were not useful to them. Launch Module Media worked with the existing brand system, and quickly took it in a bolder, more updated and functional direction. Working closely with Inktank product and marketing leadership, Launch Module designed new investor and sales presentations, overview datasheets, Web visuals and iconography, and brandings for Inktank’s signature products Inktank Ceph Enterprise v1.2 and Inktank University. In May 2014, Red Hat, Inc. acquired Inktank for $175 million. Inktank by Red Hat, Inc. continues to change the radically expanding world of software-defined storage.

Inktank by Red Hat presentation logo design

From TechCrunch:

Red Hat Buys Inktank For $175M In Cash To Beef Up Its Cloud Storage Offerings

“[Inktank has] built an incredibly vibrant community that will continue to be nurtured as we work together to make open the de facto choice for software-defined storage,” said Brian Stevens, executive vice president and CTO, Red Hat, in a statement. “Inktank has done a brilliant job assembling a strong ecosystem around Ceph and we look forward to expanding on this success together. The strength of these world-class open storage technologies will offer compelling capability as customers move to software-based scale-out storage systems.”

Inktank, based in San Francisco, had raised some $14.4 million since opening for business in 2012, with investors including Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, and New Dream Network, owners of the cloud hosting company DreamHost. New Dream Network was co-founded by Sage Weil, the CTO and founder of Inktank. Weil was also the person behind the development of Ceph. What the deal will mean for Inktank is the opportunity to grow its product with more direct integration with Red Hat’s other open source products.

All in all, a pretty amazing result from our favorite Client so far.

Why your startup’s pitch deck isn’t ready for prime time

why your startup pitch deck is not ready for prime time

When it comes to finding willing investors, nothing matters as much as the presentation, or ‘pitch.’

The business idea, the investment options, the market, and the story behind the company are important. But how the information is presented and what the potential investors walk away from the meeting understanding  — this is where the rubber meets the road and real traction is gained. Any startup needs to take careful notes about maximizing their pitch delivery because those who want to win over and persuade top tier investors need to fine tune their presentations to a degree they never thought possible.

The suit makes the (wo)man, and the visuals make the presentation

Presentations that are visually generic and boring are not going to interest decision makers. Whether the presenter is using PowerPoint, Keynote, or InDesign, the pitch deck should be beautifully designed and perfectly complement the person giving the talk. Investing the time and money needed to develop a sleek and professional presentation that will stand out from the crowd is key. A business incubator can offer the tools, but finding investors is about impressing people. Why should anyone else care about the company story if the company itself does not seem to? The presentation is the time to be excited about the company and all that it can do for the investor and for the market, and share that excitement and enthusiasm with the audience. A great presentation can be the perfect business accelerator; companies just need to reach out and seize the opportunity.

Rehearse until the mouth is dry

The spoken part of the presentation should flow seamlessly, be engaging, and leave investors excited about the new company. Presenters should avoid referring to notes or to their own presentation, they should know the entire piece by heart. Before a person walks into a new job interview at their dream position, they are sure to rehearse their answers and look sharp. They make sure their portfolio contains everything they want to share. They practice in front of mirrors and ask friends to give them practice questions. Imagine the presentation is a job interview. The presenter should show the audience that their ideas are so new and so exciting, that the investors would be missing something if they did not join in.

Rehearsal does not apply only to the spoken part of the conference, however. A startup should also be sure to go over all their tech (remotes, pointers, projectors, screens, etc.) and make sure that everything works properly. There should be backup plans and ways to troubleshoot in case something goes wrong on the big day. It is not possible to be too prepared. Keep everything contained within the presentation, and avoid linking from the presentation to the Web. It will minimize the chances for something to go wrong.

Prepare to Win

The presentation is the key to landing investors and building the business. Winning over prospects at this elite level, however, requires time and energy. Startups will never regret making the investment in perfecting the pitch.

Photo credit:, Bill H.

The Art of Storytelling in a Presentation

the art of storytelling in a presentation

What is easier for you to remember — A list of statistics and facts that tell why a particular business will be a worthwhile investment? Or one or two stories of the company helping people and showing promising signs of growth?

Chances are, it would be the latter. Stories help make information personal. That is why people tend to pay more attention to charity campaigns that tell the story of a single child than full-page advertisements that just give numbers. People like to feel connections, and stories offer them.

Why stories are so effective

Humans are social creatures, and for thousands of years we have connected through storytelling. It is how we teach children the rules of our society, remember major events in the history of the community, and entertain each other. It makes sense that we are wired for storytelling. Yet countless people go to a conference and just talk about sales figures and numbers. People cannot relate to numbers. Stories help them place themselves within the narrative and see how the presenter and his company can help them. Some estimates say that stories are 22 times more likely to be remembered than facts alone.

Incorporating stories into a talk

Delivering the keynote at an important conference can be stressful. Public speaking is considered one of the most fear-inducing activities. It sure would seem easier to make a presentation based around facts — remaining safely detached from impersonal data. But the purpose of a presentation is not just to talk — it is to persuade — and persuasion requires stories.

Look for stories that show strong customer satisfaction or business growth. Give examples of successes. If there is interesting background to a new startup, invite the audience to share in stories of those early days, to help them connect. While the entire presentation cannot be one big story, using the art of storytelling freely throughout the conference will help keep the audience interested and encourage them to remember the good stuff.

Stories can be immensely helpful when communicating with audiences. Weaving a few delicately throughout a presentation can help customers remember facts much better. They certainly require a bit more creativity, but the rewards can be enormous.

Making presentations personal – Engaging across audience learning styles

making presentations personal engaging across audience learning styles

Psychologists over the years have theorized that everyone has different strengths when it comes to learning and mastering new material.

Some people might excel when they read something or see images. Other people prefer to listen to content. The VARK method offers four main styles of learning. Other models may say seven or even more. While we can leave it to the psychologists to iron out the details, as presenters we should at least take away that the people attending your presentation are not all going to learn the same way. So what does this mean for presenters?

The importance of reaching the audience in their learning style

When giving presentations, you want the audience to absorb the information you are giving them. You want them to appreciate what your company can do for them. If your presentations focus too much on just one or two different learning styles, there is a serious risk that the rest of the room is not going to learn what you are trying to teach. This is not school, where people will go back and review their notes. You have one pitch to get them to absorb your big idea, and you have to make that count.

Reading the audience

It is not going to be possible to incorporate every learning style into every presentation, so presenters must instead choose a few that make the most sense based upon the audience. For example, those who excel in the sciences and engineering tend to be very logic-minded. Those working in design most likely enjoy more creativity and imagery. Work to incorporate a bit of variety into the overall presentation, such as stories, facts, graphs, images, and maybe a bit of music to make a well rounded pitch to reach as many people as possible.

The same way a teacher must work to create lesson plans that will appeal to the variety of learners they have in their classroom, presenters must also work to appeal to as much of their audience as possible. Understanding the varied learning types making up your audience can go a long way toward reaching everyone in the room.

PowerPoint is still top choice for investor decks

PowerPoint still top choice for investor decks

When startups sit down to create a presentation, it feels as though many of them spend more time debating the application or platform they are going to use for the slideshow than they do preparing the actual material.

This is one of those times when having too many choices can actually be a bad thing. In this case, it is just slowing down the creative process. Imagine a screenplay writer. According to Film Underground, per the Writers Guild of America,  the standard font for professional screenplays is Courier 12 point font. Anything else just looks amateur. No pro screenwriter or production company is going to waste time reinventing time-tested script format when they should be focusing their creative energy on the storyline they are developing. The same idea applies to startups crafting a pitch for an investor.

The truth is that PowerPoint is still the industry leader, and in the vast majority of cases, it is all the company needs to create the perfect, winning presentation. There are, however, plenty of other details that startups should focus on to make sure their ideas captivate their investors. Here are some of the key elements that those designing a professional presentation should use to make sure their pitch stands out from the rest.

Use the slides to complement the presentation, not be the presentation

A good presentation will not have the audience spending more time reading off the slides than listening to the speaker. Try to keep words and numbers on the slides to a minimum and instead use visuals that can help reinforce the points made in the presentation. The slides should not be used as an outline of the presentation. In areas where words and numbers are unavoidable, use them as sparingly as possible.

Multimedia and animations should also lend themselves to creating a professional yet enticing appearance. They are fantastic for helping to elicit emotions, bringing attention to the presenter, and they can help accent a particular point, but do not let them overpower the message. The primary focus should always be on the presenter and what the person is saying. Those who design presentations professionally work to strike a balance between entertaining and distracting, and it is a fine line to walk.

Think about the details

Nothing will bore an audience faster than not being able to easily see the PowerPoint content onscreen. It is important to make sure that any words or numbers can be easily seen from all areas of the room. Guy Kawasaki offers some great guidelines here in his classic 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint — not always practical, but worth noting.

Do not forget the value of story time

Develop a presentation that offers clear substance, explains and supports the main messages, and is easy for everyone to remember. Hard numbers and statistics are great for supporting an idea, but it is stories that help to embellish a presentation and make the entire concept easy for people to remember and recall later, so try to include both.

Develop a presentation that speaks to the ‘Big Idea’

Too many presentations leave unanswered questions. Perhaps they clearly explain what the audience should understand, but they do not explain what a person should do with it. Maybe they explain a vision, but they do not articulate why that way would be best. Create a well rounded presentation that clearly explains the thought process, the research, what the person should feel, what should be done, and what the result will be.

Presentations are a critical part of conducting business. From early-stage startups looking to find their first customers or investors to the experienced company making their thousandth sales pitch, everyone needs to know how to develop a top notch presentation. Just like no working screenwriter is going to question their choice of font, companies should focus less on their platform options and more on their content. Sometimes, however, creating visual aids for the presentation can be taxing and difficult. Consulting with a professional to get their opinion on particular aspects or help polishing up the finished product can be the best way to ensure the slides offer all they can. When the future of the company is on the line, making sure everything is the highest quality is always the number one priority.