Monthly Archives: December 2011

What emotion does your slide convey?

Do you sound like Ben Stein?

Compare that to Professor Lewin’s speech below (start at about 1 minute in)

One of the critical differences is that Lewin conveys a sense of emotion.  Ben Stein actually has some good content, and is (trying!) to get some audience interaction.  However, his lifeless delivery falls flat, while Lewin’s obvious passion helps us engage with him.

After deciding on an organizing thesis for each slide, and choosing a story structure,  decide what emotion the slide should convey.

This Bill Gates slide from is a typically bad example.  Beyond violating the first two rules, can you say with confidence if what feeling the audience has (beyond wishing for their reading glasses)?

Gates is probably trying to show the scope of his services.  Good emotions for him to convey could be:

  • happiness (we’re pleased to…)
  • satisfaction (it’s been a long road, but we finally …)
  • anticipation (it’s going to be great…)
  • pride (this is amazing).

He could also choose to be self-deprecating by being:

  • embarrassed (it’s been a while, but we finally ….)
  • show a problem (we have a lot of services, but haven’t connected them well).

If he decided that this was a happy slide, Mr. Gates could try to convey more enthusiasm, smile more, and make larger gestures.  If he wanted to be embarrassed, he could hunch a bit, look abashed, and moderate his gestures.

A second example slide from the cio article is below.  This slide is overly cluttered, but it isn’t immediately obvious how we are a supposed to feel about this visit.

One immediate way to improve the slide would be to change the title to a strong declarative sentence, such as “Fantastic Results from Beijing.”  In giving the presentation, the speaker could decide in advanced to convey their sense of wonder a the different things in China, or a sense of awe at the history.

If you want a slide to fall flat, hope for the panic of being in front of a crowd to bring your material to life.  Unfortunately, you’ll probably end up more like Stein than Lewin.

Posted in PowerPoint, Presentations | Tagged , | Comments Off on What emotion does your slide convey?

How to find good (free!) images without stealing them

Lara Jade never expected to find an image of herself on the cover of a porn DVD.  The 18-year old had posted a self-portrait to an online forum, and ended up suing TVX Films for using it as the cover of “Body Magic.” (source)

While you probably empathize with Lara, the way most people use images makes them more like TVX Films.  Using the result of a Google image search in a work website, student paper or presentation, or personal blog is just as illegal (while not quite as distressing).

Free high-quality and distinctive artwork is available — you just have to know where to get it.  This guide presents 4 categories of images and gives a short guide on how you can and can’t use each.  While not legal advice, it represents my best understanding of the current laws.

1. All Rights Reserved

The bottom line is you can’t use any images without the owner giving you permission.   Unless you can find a note on the image stating otherwise, assume that anything you locate falls under this category.

To use an “all rights reserved” artwork, you must be able to:

  • Show that there is a compelling reason why this image, and this image alone, satisfies some need for reporting, scholarship, critique, or analysis.
  • Provide credit (attribution) saying where you got this image, and make it plain that you do not own the rights to it.
  • Ethically, if you are making money from something, you need to show a higher need to use a particular image.

Some examples:

  •  There is an image of the GE Board on  You could use this in a presentation or paper talking about GE’s specific board.  You can’t use it if you just need an image of people in business suits, or talking about boards in general.
  • You can use company logos when you talk about them.  For example, using the GE logo from Wikipedia helps to identify the company and would be fine to use in a paper discussing the company.
  • In a presentation on the company Evernote, using a screenshot, chart, or diagram from the company website would be fine (with proper attribution).  However, using their image in a presentation about laptops in general would not be acceptable.

 2.  Free and Paid Stock Photography Websites

There are a variety of stock photography websites on the web.  While iStockPhoto costs from 5-20$ for an image, others, such as Microsoft Clipart Online and stock.xchng are free.

As long as you don’t use the image as a logo for your company, you’re generally free to use them however you like.

3.  Creative Commons

While most of Flickr is not licensed this way under Creative Common’s permissive set of licenses, they do have advanced search option that gives access to some really interesting images.  There are some restrictions.  Look at each image to see if they have any of the following restrictions.

  •  Non-commercial.  If tagged non-commercial, you can’t make money from using an image.
  • Attribution.  Almost all require you to note the original creator.  Generally, a small link or note next to the image appears to be the best practice.
  • Alterations.  Some pictures do not allow alterations.

 4. Public Domain

Public domain is the easiest and least restrictive way to incorporate images into your work.  The best source for this is Wikipedia.  The major problem with public domain is that it’s complicated to release images into this license, so there isn’t as much out there included in this license. There is a decent amount of government-contributed artwork in Wikipedia, such as this 1937 image of Division of National Archives.

What you can do:

  • Use the image.
  • Attribution is not required.


Bruno Mercier found that a French Publishing House used his image as the cover for their latest book without paying.  In an email exchange, the publisher said that he thought he had the right to use any unprotected image posted online.  The author (a 70-yearold woman) even wrote him that it was on honor for his image to be used on her book.

Once lawyers became involved, he was eventually paid. But, it was a lot of trouble on everyone’s part for a simple, but complete, misunderstanding of how copyright works.

Posting an image online does not make it free, but there are good ways to find free images without putting yourself, your business, or your ethics in jeopardy.


Posted in PowerPoint, Presentations | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on How to find good (free!) images without stealing them

Finding appropriate and legal images

Unfortunately, most people’s first source for images tend to be Google Image search.  While effective in finding images, this is not an ethical approach.

Ethics of Copyright

Simple because someone posts material on the Internet does not mean that they are ok with you using them.  While it’s incredibly easy to rip off images, it’s not a professional or ethical approach.

Free Clip Art Sources

Microsoft Clip-Art is one of the easiest sources for good artwork.  The key is to go to their online website and search for images.  These are royalty-free, and do not require attribution.

Another source I recently ran into is StockExchange.  Registration is required, and you have to avoid the frequently listing of images from iStockPhoto (which are not free), but this is a great place to find mid- to high-quality artwork.

Creative Commons Sources

The Creative Commons license is a way for people to easily allow others to use their material.  The easiest way to find material with this license is Flickr’s Creative Commons Search feature.  Go to the flickr site, and start a search.  Then, click on the advanced search option.

After getting into the advanced search option, scroll down, and check the “Creative Commons” box.  This will only return images that other people have explicitly marked as being ok for you to use.

As long as you provide attribution, you’re generally ok to use any cc-licensed work in your presentations.

Public Domain Images

The last good source of images that I frequent is from Wikipedia.  You need to click on the actual image to find its licensing agreement, but generally, images posted there are licensed under the public domain.

Posted in PowerPoint | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Finding appropriate and legal images

Sample Theme – Steampunkish

Glenna Shaw posted a steampunk-style PowerPoint Template on her blog recently, and I thought that I could create a slightly-darker template to complement her work.

Below are sample screenshots for the title, a bullet list, and the credits.  Thanks to Glenbledsoe and Amedina for allowing the use of their artwork through a creative commons license.

To use, just download the template potx file.  Go into PowerPoint, choose to browse for a custom theme, and choose the newly downloaded file.

Posted in PowerPoint | Tagged | 1 Comment

Mobile and Presentations – Data from SlideRocket

The image on the right is originally from SlideRocket’s research page.

The major take-away is the prevalence of mobile.  According to their statistics, 1 in 10 presentations are viewed on a mobile device.  Devices used seem pretty evenly split between Android phones, iPhones, and iPads.

I don’t personally use their service (due to cost/features mix, and having a Moodle installation at Woodbury).  But, if I gave professional presentations, seeing the large number of mobile devices would make me want to post slides online in a convenient location.

Beyond SlideRocket, there are other ways to easily share your content:

  •  This seems to be the most commonly seen location for posted slides.  It’s incredibly easy to view content posted here. While not incredibly nice to view (does the screen size need to be that small), and occasionally borks on complex layouts for the iPad/iPhone, it seems to be the most commonly used service.
  • Google Docs.  While I haven’t used it before, Google does provide an online slide editing program.  My wife and I have used the docs writer, and found it to be an acceptable scratchpad service.  It doesn’t have the polish to replace Word, but is good enough for simple tasks.
  • Microsoft’s SkyDrive service is another option. I’d never heard of this until following some Microsoft MVPs, but it seems to be a nice option for posting if you already have a Live ID.  However, I tried to test with Firefox on Mac, and it crashes every time with an unexplained error.

Overall though, I still think the best option is to get a free blog hosting somewhere and post the file yourself.  If you give presentations, you should have your own URL and web-space available.

Posted in PowerPoint | Comments Off on Mobile and Presentations – Data from SlideRocket

End of year on the CMS/LMS

Tony Bates provides a retrospective look at e-learning systems in 2011.  I think he mainly hits the series developments on the head, ranging from the consolidation in the CMS market (aka BlackBoard), to the potentially disruptive influence of Pearson’s Open Class.

From my own experience working in an IT department and supporting faculty, I think that the major problem with the Open Class initiative is that it doesn’t truly address the core IT problems with those systems (training, support, and debugging problems).  We use Moodle at Woodbury, and while it’s a competent system, it is has a lot of odd legacy wrinkles that make using it a learning proposition.

I’ve played with a variety of Web 2.0 alternatives, but the integration of accounts and course enrollment makes a large barrier to adopting a mishmash of 3rd party systems.  Until we get a good standardized API for exporting that data, I think it’s unlikely that we’ll get broad adoption of 3rd party tools into the normal student’s experience.


Posted in education | Tagged , | Comments Off on End of year on the CMS/LMS

Are 30 million PowerPoints really given each hour?

Articles on PowerPoint frequently start by saying that 30 million presentations are given each day, and 1.25 million each hour.  Some examples include:

Where does this come from?  Following the tangle of citations leads back to a single sentence in a critical evaluation of PowerPoint (Parker 2001).

According to Microsoft estimates, at least thirty million PowerPoint presentations are made every day.

Parker also says in the same article that 250 million copies of PowerPoint are installed.  This suggests that, on average, that every computer with PowerPoint installed on it is used in a presentation every 8 days.

A second source is often found in Mahin 2004:

Yet no one disputes the importance and pervasiveness of PowerPoint. At a conservative estimate, PowerPoint can be found on 250 million computers worldwide. According to Microsoft, 30 million PowerPoint presentations take place every day: 1.25 million every hour.

This sounds suspiciously similar to the Parker quote, and contains no additional information that could be used to find how this number was generated.

An anonymous Microsoft representative is probably not the most reliable source.  Who is this person, how did they arrive at that number, and how that figure has changed in the decade since Parker’s article was published?

As critical researchers, we need to stop receiting a decade old ‘fact’ with this little support.  No one would dispute the importance and impact of PowerPoint; repeating old facts does not help build anyone’s case.


Mahin, Linda. 2004. Powerpoint Pedagogy. Page 219-222 in Business Communication.  Quarterly. Vol. 67. No. 1, March 2004.  Excerpt can be found at

Parker, Ian. 2001. “Absolute Powerpoint. Can a software package edit our thoughts”.  Page 76ff in The New Yorker, 28 May (Annals of Business Section).

Posted in PowerPoint | Comments Off on Are 30 million PowerPoints really given each hour?

Glendora Mountain Ride Report

On my way to Claremont Graduate University, I took a slight detour through the Glendora Mountain Road.  Taking about an hour, it’s a great motorcycle ride through the Los Angeles National Forrest.

The first third of the trail is a soaring climb with plenty of visibility and heavily banked turns.  The middle part is a bit more worrying, as the road goes down to an unlined road, and there are plenty of blind curves.  The last portion down into Claremont is an easy and straight descent.

The road was almost completely deserted on a Thursday morning.  I saw three other motorcyclists, two parked cars, and close to 15 bicyclists.

The road got cold at the top, as you’re in shadow along the ridge-line.  You climb to around 5,000 feet at the peak.  Aside from passing a small town (Mt. Baldy), it’s a quiet ride through some pine forests and along the hill line of a series of mountains.

Posted in Motorcycle | 1 Comment

The Long Tail of PowerPoint Design

Excellent image describing the degree of effort needed to turn your presentation from a basic list of bullet points into a more polished effort.  There are definitely rapidly diminishing returns after you choose some basic images and color/font choices.

Image from

Posted in PowerPoint | Comments Off on The Long Tail of PowerPoint Design

Having a clear thesis

Below is a quote from (emphasis added)

It is likely that you have done a lot of analysis and many calculations in order to come up with the conclusions that you want to present. The common view is that it is important for the audience to hear about all the assumptions, steps in the process, formulas, and calculations. You may also be tempted to include who did each step, how long it took, when it was done and even what office location helped out. While all of this information may be important to you, the truth is that the audience doesn’t need to hear it all.

Attend an hour talk by an academic, and you expect to get 30 minutes of literature review and background information, 20 minutes of how they set up their study, and only about 10 minutes of actual results.

I’m a big believer in a presentation having a strong point of view.  Jeff Attwood’s Strong Opinions, Weakly Held blog post describes his approach to blogging, but it applies just as much to presentations.

My students frequently approach talks in the same way.  They spend an hour or two doing Google searches for “Long Tail” and then dump the information into PowerPoint slides.  After a bit of massaging, they then add some generic clip art and call it a day.  It’s a low-risk approach, because just describing a concept doesn’t run the risk of being different than what the professor thinks.

As a listener, that’s not what we want.  The most significant critique I give of student presentations is that they lacked a point of view.  In opposition to Wikipedia’ NPOV (neutral point of view), a presentation has to have a strong argument.  In writing, we call it a thesis.

This argument needs to have some tension.  So, here are some other ways to have a more focused thesis:

  • Why the Long Tail will replace traditional Blockbuster movies
  • Why the Long Tail isn’t as important as Amazon thinks
  • How the Long Tail will transform TV

In each case, the student needs to take a more critical look.  I think it’s hard for many to do so, as the more interesting/provocative their speech is, the less likely the professor will agree with it.  Unless specifically pushed to have an argument, most students will simply do the easier thing and give a summary of the Wikpedia article.


Posted in Presentations | Comments Off on Having a clear thesis