Are They Taking A Picture Of Your Powerpoint Because They Like It Or Because They Can’t Read It?

In his reflections on attending the 2018 Nonprofit Technology Conference, Drew McManus noted how many presenters at the conference packed too much text on to Powerpoint slides. He observes the text was so dense and the font size so small on some slides he had to take a picture with his phone so he could magnify it to legibility.

I immediately knew I needed to pull out a post Seth Godin made earlier this month on that very subject. In discussing how to most effectively use a Powerpoint presentation, rule one was not to read the slide content aloud and rule four was to see rule one.

Additionally, he wrote:

2. But even better, remember that slides are free. You can have as many as you like. That means that instead of three bullet points (with two sentences each) on a slide, you can make 6 slides. Or more. The energy you create by advancing from slide to slide will seduce most of the people in your audience to read along to keep up. Slides that people read are worth five times more than slides that you read to them.

3. Better still, don’t use words. Or, at the most, one or two keywords, in huge type. The rest of the slide is a picture, which I’m told is worth 1,000 words. That way, the image burns itself into one part of the brain while your narrative is received by the other part. The keyword gives you an anchor, and now you’re hitting in three places, not just one.

5. Many organizations use decks as a fancy sort of memo, a leave-behind that provides proof that you actually said what you said. “Can you send me the deck?” A smart presenter will have two decks. One deck has plenty of text, but then those pages are hidden when the presentation is performed live.

I think people in the arts can really appreciate these points because they understand the value of pacing and using images to convey your message. There may be some reticence to do so for fear of breaking some rules of business decorum. Godin is basically giving people permission to flex those skills.

Just remember that too much flash and spectacle can detract and distract from your core message.

I love rule five. I had never considered having an enhanced version of a slide deck that you could send to those who requested it until I read this post. If you read my post last Wednesday, you know this is exactly what Drew did when he made the version of the presentation Ceci and he delivered available with all the background notes.

I was a little tickled to see that Godin’s post in early April about paring down the content of Powerpoint presentations was itself a pared down version of a post he made 11 years ago. That post in turn, was pulled from an ebook he wrote four years earlier. A little practicing what one preaches!

That is also the secret to delivering good presentations–practice and revisions. Practice and revise multiple times before the first presentation and then continue to do so every time you revisit the content.

As with so many things, there is a tendency to believe an effective speaker possesses an inborn talent and genius for a turn of phrase. One of the benefits of having so much video and audio content available online is that when you watch or listen to a favorite speaker, you have many opportunities to note how they continue to weave familiar content in and out of their addresses and evaluate how they are improving over time (or getting a little stale).

Yes! Long Awaited Good, Bad and Ugly of Tech RFPs (Far More Interesting Than It Sounds)

For over a year now I have been excited about the session on writing Requests for Proposals (RFP) Drew McManus and Ceci Dadisman are presenting today at the NonProfit Technology conference so I figure I am pretty much obligated to write a post about it.

(Also I begged Drew to put up a mini-site with the presentation)

I should note, I am not attending the conference. I am just responding to the mini-site Drew has put up with the session content.

Wait! Before you ask yourself why you have read five sentences into a post about something as boring as a request for proposal and haven’t clicked away yet, let me assure you this is valuable info.

The more non-profit organizations depend on websites, social media, email, CRM software, ticketing systems, etc to cultivate relationships with their constituencies, the more it is necessary to make effective choices about the way technology facilitates these interactions.

I have been involved with a number of requests for proposals before and while it is an onerous process, there are some upsides to using it. As well as some downsides, both of which Drew and Ceci cover in the slide deck on the mini-site.

The mini-site covers all the steps, from gathering staff input to define your needs to communicating with different vendors to deciding what process to use. Project Evaluations are an alternative to RPFs, but have their own pros and cons.

The mini-site has a self-diagnosis questionnaire to help you decide which approach might be appropriate to you. (Note the emphatic disclaimer that they aren’t collecting any info on you, including placing you on a cold call list because “that would be a serious d**k move”)

Drew and Ceci solve one of the most frustrating parts of viewing a slide deck outside the context of the live presentation– trying to figure out what the bullet points on a slide really mean– by making their presentation notes available alongside each slide.

Since part of the title of the presentation promises to tell you about the stuff tech providers don’t want you to know, you will probably want to pay attention to those notes for this slide.

Here is a sample of some of the notes for this slide:

  • Tech conflict resolution (troubleshooting borders).
    • Some providers are all too happy to let someone else do the dirty work of quality assurance and troubleshooting or blindside you with unexpected fees to carry those tasks out.
  • Lack of flexibility and/or extensibility.
    • They may deliver on your project requirements but they may not play nice with other providers or make it easy to maintain.
  • Free, unsupported third party scripts/plugins.
    • Free scripts aren’t bad, but is the provider willing to support them or conflict resolve down the road. Ideally, a provider should provide a line item list of plugins, extensions, scripts, etc. that come from free and paid resources.
  • Non optimized performance (A.K.A.brute force programming).
    • This is all kinds of important in a post net neutrality world.
    • Talk about programming bloat where things work great on launch but performance grinds down over time.
  • They outsource coding but present themselves as a full service developer.
    • It’s increasingly common for design and branding agencies to project themselves as full web developers when the reality is they outsource coding.
    • Examine the difference between coders: frontend UX developer is not the same as a platform programmer.

If any of this starts to concern you, you may want to explore the whole presentation. Not just to raise your awareness about the problems that may arise, but to also become familiar with constructive approaches to the process both for your staff and the people with whom you may end up working.

Focus On Art, Extend Your Attention Span?

A common complaint in live performing arts is that no one has an attention span anymore. The sense is that cell phones, videos, bright flashing lights, etc have ruined our brains.

But according to Eric Barker on Barking Up The Wrong Tree, our brains have always been that way.

First off, stop blaming technology. It’s not your phone’s fault; it’s your brain’s fault. Tech just makes it worse. Our brains are designed to always be seeking new information.

In fact, the same system in your grey matter that keeps you on the lookout for food and water actually rewards you for discovering novel information.

From The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World:

The role of the dopamine system has actually been shown to relate directly to information-seeking behavior in primates. Macaque monkeys, for example, respond to receiving information similarly to the way they respond to primitive rewards such as food or water. Moreover, “single dopamine neurons process both primitive and cognitive rewards, and suggest that current theories of reward-seeking must be revised to include information-seeking.”

And this dopamine reward system is also what convinces people that they are good a multi-tasking. In reality, those who feel they are good at multi-tasking exhibit the worst ability in performing tasks requiring cognitive skills like simultaneously holding something in memory while trying to focus their attention on a task.

Says Barker,

Yes, you probably feel good when you multitask. But feeling good and efficiency are not the same thing. Multitasking meets your emotional need to do something new and exciting… while also slowing your brain down and increasing errors.

So if our brains have always been like this, why do we feel this is a new problem? We cite sitting quietly in a dark room watching a problem as a relic of past arts practice, but why were people content to participate in that way for so long? While there were fewer options in years past, there was still more to do than a human had capacity to engage in at one time.

In fact, with fewer options to record something, there was a much greater chance of missing out on an experience in the past than there is now. You can do a 48 hour binge watch of your favorite show and then catch up with everything you were ignoring during that period at a later time. We have much more control over how we consume an experience.

Yet people feel powerless in the face of all possible options. Why didn’t they start feeling anxious about this lack of power 30-40 years ago?

I am kinda tossing this out there for debate and consideration because I don’t know the answer.

Barker’s article is focused on providing people ways to extend their attention span which include: Stop Multitasking; Exercise; Meditate; Call Your Mother Nature (experiencing nature or even looking at pictures of a natural setting); and Reduce Interference (deal with email/cell phone/texts/other distractions at specific intervals only).

Of those things, I think people exercised more, had more exposure to nature and had their lives filled with less interference in the past. I think people have often needed to engage in multi-tasking and few have engaged in meditation so I don’t see much difference from the past in those areas.

If these general areas are useful in extending attention spans, perhaps the sensory isolation of passively watching a performance in a dark room with an enforced moratorium on electronic devices isn’t something arts and cultural organizations should abandon.

Which is not to say that active, engaging experiences shouldn’t be provided. Many potential arts activities hit on a handful of Barker’s suggestions. How much art has been created by applying a singular focus after finding the perfect natural setting at the end of an invigorating walk which has taken you far from cell phone service?

Even in the middle of an urban setting, acting, dancing, painting, shaping clay, etc, etc, can involve these elements, including being a meditative experience.

Indeed, the concept of an experience transporting or transforming pops up on nearly every survey about arts and culture you can find.

Makes me wonder if there is something to be gained by positioning performances/classes/experiences as distraction free and spiritually renewing. Basically, leave both your cell phone and ego at the door.

Enough Sins To Go Around

A couple weeks ago Ali Webb wrote the provocatively titled Philanthropy’s Seven Deadly Sins on Non-Profit Quarterly.

According to Webb they are,

Blindness to privilege
Dismissing community knowledge
Misplaced accountability
Poor partners
Failure to learn
Risk aversion
Lack of transparency

Some of the sins were more specific to philanthropic foundations than non-profit organizations in general, but I saw some parallels with topics I have discussed in the past.

I am relatively sure most people recognize that “Blindness to Privilege” is a significant issue right now.

Carlisle observes that, “There are increasingly few places in the country where there’s not going to be significant racial and cultural differences…where people who have been very sheltered or in dominant culture settings are beginning to say, ‘Wow, we are fish in water. We didn’t know we were fish. We didn’t know we were swimming in water.’”

Don Chen, Director of the Equitable Development Team at the Ford Foundation, remarks that he wishes he “had a dollar for every organization that comes to me and says our board came up with a new strategic plan, and we are going to focus on equity. These same people aren’t talking about equity as a core value or a core component of their mission; they are often talking about equity as a topic. That’s a warning sign for me because it could be dropped like any other topic.”

In the sin of “Dismissing Community Knowledge,” I saw some familiar phrasing.

Keller observes that too often, “we ride into communities, stand before them, and tell them what they need to do to solve their problems. Then we ride out, expecting programs to be scaled and sustained.”

“Foundation people tend to over-intellectualize but under-experience the challenges of those they seek to serve with no authentic proximity to the issues,” says Carlisle. She continued, “The validity that comes with seeing and understanding different world views, which are not dominant culture, can have extraordinary outcomes.”

[…]

Chen calls it “drive-by grantmaking,” where foundations make a grant and then go away for a year or two. “Local folks have a BS meter and they know if you don’t trust their knowledge,” says Harris.

For me, this echoed what Marc Folk of the Toledo Arts Commission said about riding into a community on a white horse and Margy Waller’s “We’re From The Arts and We Are Here To Help,” post I wrote about two years ago. Likewise, Ronia Holmes piece about arts organizations being bad at community outreach which I also wrote about also has resonance with this “sin.”

From a recipient point of view, the “Failure To Learn” sin encapsulated a lot of the issues non-profits face today with the expectations of funders. If you read Vu Le’s Nonprofit AF blog, you will be familiar with these gripes.

“In philanthropy, we don’t always clean up our messes when we change priorities and make transitions.” Hegarty offers that the unwillingness to learn may stem from “a tendency to think we are the smartest persons in the room and the assumption that we have all answers and understand all the angles.”

[…]

Another possibility that Chen offers is that the field is “delusional” about what was or could be accomplished with the amount of money offered. Sometimes, Chen said, the sector believes it is “smarter than everyone who ever came before. Especially when working in in under-resourced, low-capacity places, philanthropy tends to think it has super powers.”

[…]

“We ask a lot of our grantees and then what they share with us goes into a black hole. We never do anything with the information to further the work,” said the officer. “Without processing the information and developing a vehicle to get it back to the grantees, much learning is lost.”

All of this is something to think about. It is difficult to effect the change we like as fast as we think we should, but being reminded of these concerns on a semi-regular basis feeds progress.

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