Documenting Your Growth

Growing plant

I used to be an expert at a program on my computer. When I say expert, I don’t mean just good. I used Finale (music notation software) from version 1 (1988) heavily until 1999, completing a good solid decade of almost daily use of that program to write and arrange music. I knew it in and out and I am pretty sure I was what you might consider a world-class expert with that one program. Having just recently downloaded the most recent version, I realize the program has changed, and I’m glad I can open my old files, but man, you can feel the loss of all that skill. It’s almost surreal.

Which is my opportunity to pivot. A friend asked me which one application on the Mac I was the best at. “You have to be an expert at something, right?”

For many years I used Photoshop almost daily. I was fairly good at Photoshop, but never world class. And now the program I think I’m getting especially adept with is Apple’s Keynote. I make a lot of presentations.

Growth is starting one place and seeing that you’ve moved.

My old, original Keynote files are pretty boring. I used a lot of text and fell into the habit of adding bullets when the slide templates invited me to use them. But while I know this software well, it’s not the software I need to talk about. I chose to offer training on communication with virtual platforms and therefore I needed to develop some decks for each workshop session. I’m going to some old standby authorities, Duarte and Reynolds; I have some original insight as well. Then I rewatched a video of Dick Hardt presenting on “Identity 2.0” from so many years ago. That presentation had made such an impression on me, with Dick going through what, a few hundred slides in his one short talk, Lessig-style?

I am selling my learners on the value behind what Duarte calls SlideDocs—a second version of your presentation that acts as the handout. You use the same slideware of choice to make these documents, which I distribute as PDF. Slides are there to enhance your speech. Slidedocs allow folks to reference what you said and to even go into more depth.

Yet, after delivering two workshops I went back and looked at my slides and felt like I’d cheated them. My slides looked interesting, they were bold, they had some great ideas within, but gosh. They just weren’t world class.

The key was the freedom it required me to go through the same process I’d used to create slides—to edit a copy of the SlideDoc and remove (mostly) text—and leave more visuals behind than words.

I was ruined when I casually watched a YouTube after dinner.

A guy was editing a video and not even using slideware to make the video; he used b-roll, motion graphics, and it was really slick. And this part is important. I imagined going through my slides again, ensuring that every slide had movement (animation, transitions), and trying to create not a set of slides I’d use to present with, but an actual video.

Then I stayed up late and started doing that.

Editing/Pruning Twice

My workshops were designed for an hour, but really maybe 90 minutes, with time for audience involvement and discussion. I got my video down to 11.5 minutes. I got rid of the fluff. I deleted so many words and used icons and pictures and more animation. This time I wrote out the script. It was still natural but man, it was so much tighter now. I could really focus on my voice and my gesticulations. Heck, I didn’t even use the video of me talking, it was just a voice over.

I sat there when it was done a little dumbfounded. How could I ever go back to the slides? They didn’t even fully represent what I’d been telling others to do! But making a video changed that.

Of course I am going to make a music analogy. Making a video using slideware is like playing a recording of music. It can be good, polished, and be great. But a recording doesn’t capture the energy one can bring to a presentation in a live session. It’s the most virtuosic option, to perform on a stage, or behind your webcam.

My presentation wasn’t very boring anymore. All I did to keep it visually sharp and interesting spilled over into my delivery: it was more focused, it sounded more confident, and it was tighter. There were fewer ums. It had been well rehearsed and I’d rehearsed it so many times I didn’t need to rely upon what was on the slides.

In conclusion

So this blog post is personal. I wrote it to remind myself I did a good thing by practicing and exercising my perfection-focused muscle for once. I took something good, using software I’m very comfortable with, and made something more good. I am not sure it’s world class so I won’t say great. But this new technique I’ve used—to think of a presentation slide deck as a video—really transformed my game.

I just hope I remember how I created the decks in a few years—I can’t say I how I wrote the musical ideas I did when I was running Finale from a floppy disk.

Categorized as essays