Visual Storytelling - T. Benjamin Larsen's Blog

The Empire Strikes Back

-Seduced By The Dark Side Of The Force

In hindsight I’ve become increasingly aware of some shortcomings in my last post about technical presentations:

Returning to the master slide after each and every detail seems redundant in my presentation example. The Star Destroyer Blueprint is easily recognizable even in its miniature form and the viewers should have few problems recognizing the different parts based on the highlighting of the miniature model.

Return of The Jedi

Keep in mind that more complex blueprints could demand going into more detail. If this is the case the technique is an easy way to assure your audience is focusing where you want them to. When you’ve performed the return-to-master-trick a few times the audience should have familiarized themselves enough with the layout so that you can skip this interim step.

If nothing else I hope my slip-up has served as a reminder to the fact that no two presentations should be treated the same. Every case must be true to itself and follow its own dynamics.


PowerPoint Jedi

-Improving Technical Presentations

Strong visuals, less text, no bullet points and a clear story-like structure are some of the steps on the journey to become a PowerPoint Jedi. I recently watched a Q&A session with Garr Reynolds where he was asked how best to give a technical presentation. His answer was something like "Give the audience a copy of the printout". (Due to the low image resolution of PP-slides). I agree that this is a good idea but don't think it should be the final word.

Heart of Darkness

It is not uncommon that a detailed technical printout is at the heart of the presentation. Normally this would mean an audience familiar with most of the technical terms. If you're giving a presentation of this nature it still needs to be as effective as possible. It is important that you lead the audience so that you all focus on the same details at the same time. This is where the Rebel Alliance can help!

Attacking the Death Star

When attacking the Death Star, rebel leaders had to communicate the technical details to a crowd of pilots. They could have just handed out printouts of the thing and given a standard PowerPoint presentation. Luckily they didn't. If they did, the emperor would already have won. Instead they split the information into smaller chunks, focusing on one piece of the puzzle at the time. I suggest you do the same.

Death[star] By PowerPoint

Use the Force

By all means, let the audience have a printout of the technical information and begin the presentation-segment with the same image. Then you can start focusing on the details. I reckon you don't have an R2-unit to help you, but you might should have some sort of image-processing program and a high-resolution scan of the information you want to share. Create separate images from parts of the high-resolution image, detailing different parts. It is easier to show and tell, than just tell, so I've tried to give an example below.

A quick and dirty Keynote example

I've borrowed the blueprints from The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels (Star Wars) and Ansel Hsiao (did I get that right?) kindly granted me the right to use one of his 3D-renderings. Check out more of his work at FractalSponge.

Update: When exporting to flash a lot of the transitions etc. was lost on the way. I have therefore included a Quicktime-version where everything should look as planned. Macusers can also download the original Keynote-file, if they're interested(?)


Drew Struzan

Childhood Hero

While I briefly mentioned Drew Struzan in another post he definitely deserves a post of his own. He is, according to George Lucas, "The only artist worth collecting since World War II". While I think this is erhaps taking it too far, he has been one of my heroes since my childhood. Not that I was aware of it at the time, but I used to marvel at those fantastic movie-posters wondering what kind of magic was used to make them. A film with a poster like that had to be worth seeing!

Incredible But True!

Only several years later did I find out about the man behind the art. No magic-tricks, just an amazing talent in the visual arts. That his parents actually named him Drew is one of those coincidents that it is hard to believe. But it is nevertheless true.

The Hero Of A Thousand Faces

Better Than The Movie?

Being one of the most recognizable poster-artists in the world he is probably best known for his work on Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Even if people don't know about the man, they're likely to recognize the style. In addition to the almost super human technical talent, he also seems to recognize the storytelling aspect needed of a Movie Poster: Teasing the audience to see the film. I dare say Drew's work is often the best thing about a movie!

Personally I just find it gratifying to see someone build their success on an indisputable talent. Mr. Struzan makes the posters with a variety of natural medias and techniques, without the aid of Photoshop or other digital tools. Come to think of it, that sounds a little bit like magic after all...


Ramblings #3 - Electing #44

Yup it's finally time for another one of my Pointless Ramblings. This one might actually not be entirely pointless.

This time I've tackled the media's role in the upcoming election and I think it should be worth a look for just about anyone. Enjoy!

A higher quality Quicktime-file is available here.


The 10th Anniversary Of The iMac

Sweet As Candy And The Birth Of i...

That's right. 10 years ago Apple released the first iMac. It was in its time a revolutionary product on many levels and can in many ways be considered the first big step in the resurrection of Apple.

The most obvious differentiation from its peers was the way that it looked. The all-in-one-enclosure was a friendly looking egg-shaped machine in a blueish hue. The material had reportedly been created in cooperation with a candy-factory and I think it is safe to call the machine a genuine design-classic. It was by and large the first computer made where the manufacturer really considered the esthetics to be as important as the technical specifications. As Steve Jobs (Apple's CO) said: "...the back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guys'...".

It also gave birth to a new naming convention, starting the name with a lower-case "i". Today, using a lowercase first letter is fairly common, but back in its day it was another thing that told the audience that the iMac was something special.

Apple is today one of the strongest, most popular companies in technology. This is of course largely down to the fact that they release high quality products. But, it is also because Apple honors the fact that the "story" matters...

First iMpressions (ooh, that's clever)

As I've been mentioning going on and on about in my last posts, the first impression is incredibly important. Apple's focus seems to be on delivering the best possible user experience and they obviously understand the importance of a good first impression.

That's why they spend money on stuff like packaging. Where most PC-manufacturers will send out their machines in a brown cardboard-box, Apple will pack their machines in specially designed cartons with 4-color printing and often creatively designed styrofoam designed to make the unpacking easy but also to create an experience in its own right.

Ad for the original iMac

Telling A Story

Some will shrug at this and say that it doesn't matter. Well, it doesn't matter if your product doesn't live up to the experience, but it certainly puts the receiver in a mood where he or she is ready to be further impressed by the hardware. When people spend hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars they want to feel well catered for. The same feeling of quality and attention to detail seeps through from Apple's advertising all the way to the finished product. It tells a story. The story of a company that cares about their products, not just about cutting costs to improve the bottom line.

Above you'll find a video from the release of the birthday-kid. It's also a nice example of how to give an effective presentation.


Presenting Presentation

Repeating myself

This post is a straight follow up to my last one. After writing Setting the Mood the subject has lingered with me. Looking through my bookshelf I couldn't help but being struck by the difference in presentation from one book to another. I was particularly taken by the difference between Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points and Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen.

Both books tackle PowerPoint/slideware Presentations and set forth to make the reader a better, more efficient presenter. I've praised Presentation Zen earlier, so I won't go any further than saying buy it this time. As for Beyond Bullet Points it really is rather good, giving a clear and concise recipe of how to make your presentations more accessible to the audience. (And as you've probably guessed, how to get rid of those dreadful bullet points). Perhaps a tad on the technical side at times and limited to one particular method it is still more than worthy of purchase. I am sure it would be very helpful to a lot of people who want to improve their presentation skills, but don't know how.

Judging two books by their covers

Where the book really fails however is in its presentation. This is bad for any book but could be disastrous for a book about presentations. How many people have seen that cover and decided that whoever's behind it clearly don't know anything about presentations. The book has done very well, despite this shortcoming though. (Mostly due to strong word-of-mouth I believe).

Imagine coming into the bookstore looking for a book on presentations. Just look at those two covers, which book would you choose? I don't think they even compete in the same division...