Video, Powerpoint and the Back of a Napkin

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 12th, 2008
2008
Jun 12

A screencast is " a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration."  I completed a screencast recently, and would like to share the final results and the process to create it with the readers of this blog.

 

In my last post here, I wrote about the video coverage project I put together for my company’s annual user conference. This video project went extremely well (despite a few hiccups, especially with wi-fi and cell coverage). In the week after the event, I had to put together a report to share the results with internal employees and with the audience for the Citrix blog

 

On the flight home, I was thinking about the format I wanted to use for the report. I felt that a video about the video coverage was the best way to communicate the results. I dabbeld with the idea of using the Nokia N95 cell phone to do a Qik video, but quickly discarded that notion. The view of my big head adds nothing to a report.

 

I had just finished reading an excellent book called "The Back of the Napkin" by Dan Roam. This was a very eye opening book about the process of using visual thinking to solve problems and communicate ideas. While Dan’s focus in totally on white boarding, it occurred to me that his process applies to any type of visual communication, including powerpoint presentations and screencasts. I resolved to create a screencast of the Synergy Underground results that follows Dan’s model for the types of questions to ask and answer in a visual manner. 

 

In addition to using the visual thinking frame work from "The Back of the Napkin" I used several other techniques that I have discovered during my journey down the road to more effective speaking. As I have written about before, I used a mind map for the outline and included it as the agenda slide. In several slides, I followed the Lessig Method for text. The great majority of the sides were simple visuals which I narrated, consistent with the principles of Garr Reynolds book (and blog) Presentation Zen and the research of Richard Mayer.

 

 

 


 


 

 

I am very pleased with the overall results. This screencast is certainly not perfect and has given me the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons as I reflect on the experience.

 

 

Voice over – The mic I used was not very high quality. I spent a lot of time trying to clean up noise. Camtasia is great for editing video, but I found the audio editing capabilities of my version to be lacking (or at least my knowledge of how to use them). These lessons have been useful in my preparation for the new podcast series I am putting together for Citrix. I have upgraded to a studio quality condenser microphone (an AKG Perception 200 from ebay), an Alesis Multimix USB mixer and a home made "Porta-Booth" to minimize noise. I have also started using Adobe Audition specifically for audio editing.

 

Overall, I am not thrilled with my voice over. My voice was very flat in the beginning. In several places I stumbled as I narrated then slide. Two main factors contributed to my lackluster voice over- insufficient practice and the very late hour when I did the final cut. 

 

Preparation – I spent the lion’s share time trying to get all the other pieces right (the outlines, slides, Camtasia screen recording, etc…). I set a deadline when to finish this, and spent most of the time changing the outline and redoing the slides to fit with the new structure I learned from Dan Roam’s book. Recording the voice over at 2 am was probably not the best choice to maximize the tone and rhythm of my voice. Since I have not done a screencast in some time AND I was using a new framework for the overall structure of the presentation, I should have given myself more time to complete this project.

 

Visuals- I am very pleased with the content of the screencast overall. One issue does stand out however. It is very obvious now that the video is too long. While I did get many questions about how I did the live video streaming from the Nokia N95 cell phone, I can see now that I should have made that into a separate video. That one changed would have cut the length by about 4 minutes.

 

My goal for the over all structure was to follow the "Visual Thinking Codex" from "The Back of the Napkin"  (pg. 141). I chose the relevant  frame work questions and selected one of the recommended visual methods  to answer each question. Mind mapping  this new frame work helped a great deal, but took much more time than expected due to numerous revisions.

 

Using the simple visuals, minimal text and the basic bar charts recommend by Dan Roam for "How many?" questions did help save a great deal of time. Unfortunately, when Camtasia converted the video to wmv or avi format on the first few attempts, there were significant issues rendering the rapid text changes. That issue took an inordinate amount of time to solve.

 

 

 

Despite these issues, I am very happy I went through this process. I learned a lot of important lessons that will help me in the futre. I hope that my writing about this process will help some of you as well.

 

 

My ultimate goal here is to create a repeatable process that allows me to communicate even more effectively.This combination of visual thinking from "The Back of the Napkin", powerpoint and video along with other lessons I have learned in the past are moving me closer to that goal.  I appreciate any feedback you have on the progress to date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Best Bad Tech Speakers Video…Ever

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Mar 16th, 2008
2008
Mar 16

 

I have been meaning to post this one for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it until now. A group of speakers at the Microsoft Mobile and Embedded DevCon in 2007 apparently got together to make a gag video of the worst technical speaking they have seen. They are very convincing in their dreadfulness….:)

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZOL878CwfM]

 

I love "Command Line Driven Flux Capacitation" and "I am the PMD of CPE for MCB of the END division". Some technical speakers use so many acronyms you can just see the eyes of the audience glaze over. Stage hypnotists are not nearly as effective at putting an audience in a deep trance as someone who feels compelled to use an tech acronym every 15 seconds.

 

Unfortunately, I have seen Visio drawings on slides with as many (and more objects) as the "System Diagram v2". The next to last guy made me laugh out loud when he said "I am really excited" in the most monotone and flat voice I have ever heard (with his arms tightly crossed). I have been in week long meetings where 90% of the presenters where exactly like this guy.

 

The sad thing is, if you did not know this was a gag video, you could easily see this happening at a technical conference. Enjoy the video…

 

 

 

 

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Great Tech Speakers on Video, Part III

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 19th, 2008
2008
Feb 19

The next great tech speaker I would like to highlight is Steve Riley from Microsoft. Steve Riley is a regular speaker at every Microsoft Technical event around the globe, and receives consistently high ratings for his sessions.

 

Here is Steve’s bio from his blog -

Steve is now a senior security strategist in Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group. He is a frequent and popular speaker at conferences worldwide, often appearing in Asia one week and Europe the next: speaking engagements have included multiple Microsoft TechEds and other conferences, plus SANS, RSA, Black Hat, Windows and Exchange Connections, Windows IT Pro Magazine roadshows, TechMentor conferences, the Institute for Applied Network Security, and InfoSec US. When not evangelizing the benefits of Microsoft security technology, Steve spends time with customers to better understand the security pain they face and show how some of that pain can be eliminated.

Steve Riley is certainly not your typical technology speaker, especially from a company as big as Microsoft. Steve has wild blond hair and is known to be very loose with the corporate dress code (he states in one session that "I don’t believe in pants that go all the way to the ground"). He wears earrings on occasion (see picture below), uses profanity on occasion and sometimes says things that the PR people likely wish he hadn’t ("We let you down with Windows XP"). Steve does not fit the stereotype of technical speakers, and that is part of what makes him so engaging, interesting and dynamic in front of the room.

 

Steve Riley

 

Steve has been blogged about by several people who have been in his audiences around the world. Long Zheng from Melbourne, Australia had this to say about Steve on his blog I Started Something

I had a chance to attend one of Steve Riley’s sessions today and it as one of the best presentations I’ve seen. Steve Riley is a security expert at Microsoft and has been involved in the work that has gone into BitLocker and other Vista’s under-the-hood security features. The content of Steve’s presentation was not all that out-of-this-world, but his personality and way of presentation was so captivating. He would not use the stage, instead he walks just over a metre infront of the first row of the audience. He would walk back and forth and often stopping infront of people, looking at them right in the eye and kept talking. Sometimes he’d even walk up half way the sidewalks to get closer to the people at the back. It sounds weird, but it felt like he wasn’t presenting to the audience, but more having a chat with the audience.

 

Aidan Finn in Ireland had this to say about Steve on his blog -

 

Steve Riley has posted links to video recordings of a bunch of his presentations at TechEd conferences. Steve is a serious security expert. Don’t let his employment by Microsoft prejudice your opinions. He’s pretty open, honest and has well thought out reasoning for all of his points. Steve is also one of the best speakers I’ve seen. He can make a very entertaining presentation out of what is normally a very stuffy subject.

 

To confirm the first two comments, I found this comment about Steve from a blog in Virginia.

 

While Steve’s appearance is the antithesis of the stuffy Redmond culture, (hey, do you think the MS guys will be wearing blue shirts and black pants/shoes AGAIN at this year’s TechED?) he is quite possibly their best presenter. His fun loving and irreverent seminars, complete with opening trance music, are informative and inspiring. I highly recommend that you visit some of his sessions this year.

 

Steve’s session videos are all hosted on Microsoft.com at the TechNet SpotLight. Since these videos are in Microsoft SilverLight, I am not able to embed them into the blog (though I am looking for a working SilverLight plugin for WordPress). One of Steve’s recent sessions was called The Fortified Data Center . In this session you see Steve down in the audience, moving throughout the room, using alot of audience appropriate humor (I love his "unhandled coffee exception"). Steve uses personal and customer stories very effectively. He does a great job of continually changing his volume, pitch, rhythm and vocal pace to keep the audience engaged. He uses many visuals quite effectively and for the most part the slides provide support for his remarks. He uses a presentation remote to keep him from being tied to the laptop to advance the slides, which allows him to get down in the audience and physically connect with the crowd.

 

There are a few occasions where the slides are overloaded with bullets or text (one slide on SharePoint had over 100 words). Another slide that depicts all the components of Steve’s "Fortified Data Center"vision is overloaded with graphics and texts. On those occasions, I get the sense that Steve is committing one of the commons sins of technical speakers, using the slides as a handout. If you use the slide merely to provide visual context to your remarks and create a separate handout, it is much easier to avoid these issues. Admittedly, this is extremely common in the tech industry and I have done it myself many times, unfortunately.

 

Despite those few slide issues, overall Steve is a very good technical speaker. There is much to be learned from his use of stories, metaphors, examples, and audience interaction. In my opinion, if Steve implemented more of the concepts in books on powerpoint design like "Visual Selling" or "Presentation Zen" he would be even more effective. A very interesting combination would be Steve’s engaging speaking style with Dick Hardt’s powerpoint design (inspired by Lessig).

 

I have more in this series planned, and several posts on bad speakers. I am still crafting the first in the deep dive series on the Six Rs to beat the curse.

 

 

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