Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Making points with PowerPoint, Part 1

Running meetings, doing sales presentations, or conducting training sessions has long been a regular part of corporate communication.  We’ve come a long way from the days of chalkboards, flipcharts, and overhead projectors. Now, PowerPoint software is the universal standard for most organizations employing visual aids to accompany speeches or other formal talks.  Most speakers today, in fact, feel naked without their PowerPoint-equipped laptops and digital projectors.

The big question is, how does one make the best use of this technology? I’ve seen a lot of PowerPoint presentations – some good, some bad.  But even with the good ones, many presenters still have a little difficulty understanding both the potential and the problems that go with this method of audiovisual support.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that whatever tool you’re using (like PowerPoint), it’s your choice as to how much (or how little) of the program is needed to get across your message most effectively.  In some cases, the old rule “less is more” may be a better approach than “Let’s see how many special effects I can pack into this presentation.” 

Don’t get me wrong – I like the animations and audio/video effects as much as anyone else, but I’ve also discovered that the effects can get in the way of the message.  As a result, your audience might go away remembering the cool way you transitioned, rather than the informational points you were trying to communicate.  I like using effects or different slide layouts to provide some variety to my presentations, so that the slides aren’t all just lookalike bullet points and “talking heads.”  Even TV news producers have recognized this principle, and intersperse studio shots, on-screen text, location reports, voiceover narration, animations, music, bottom-of-screen “crawl” bulletins, etc., to keep things lively.

The other concern with loading too many elements into a PowerPoint show is that you have a greater chance of exceeding your computer’s (or flash drive’s) capacity to handle all the memory-hogging extras smoothly, without slowing down or having things appear at the wrong times.  I’ve had instances where I’ve slaved away on synchronizing a sound effect to coincide with a particular slide, only to have it come in late in actual delivery, or disappear entirely. 

The other problem comes when you want to share your PowerPoint with others through email, CD-ROM, or on a server that “broadcasts” your program internally to other departments within an organization.  If the final file size of the PowerPoint is too large (because of all the extras), you’ll either find it impossible to upload without getting error messages telling you the file size is over the maximum limit, or, again, the show won’t play back properly on other computers.

So, you’ll want to be careful about:
  1. How many visuals or graphics you include (there are also ways of re-saving images with lower resolution or smaller file size, to keep memory requirements down);
  2. How many different transitions, animations, sounds, or special effects you use;
  3. External “extras” like video files, internet links, etc., that may not function at all when transferred to or played back on a different computer than the one at your own workstation where you’ve assembled your PowerPoint (very often, the simple act of transferring or duplicating the PowerPoint “breaks” the links to the external video or web file.  When the new computer doesn’t know where to look for that external file, the result is a “no show” for that particular element.

Empowering formulas

There are lots of formulas people have come up with to help you plan or write presentations – from the classic KISS (Keep It Simple, Sam) to more professional ones like AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action).  These can be very helpful in ordering your thoughts, structuring the flow of different sub-sections, and staying on target so that you don’t include too many unnecessary tangents.

Revisiting traditional rules of audiovisual slide design will also aid you by keeping your slides simple, readable, and engaging.  For example:
  •         No more than 3-4 lines per slide.
  •         No more than 5-6 short words per line.
  •        Use white or yellow as the text colors when doing “reverse” text over an image.  They stand out better than other colors like hot pink, orange, etc., especially if the background is busy or cluttered.  If possible, also use the shadow or outline option on the text, which will provide an extra bit of separation.
  •         If you have plain colors as slide backgrounds, text colors like black, dark blue, dark green, dark red, etc., will work well – up to a point.  Sometimes, if the background is dark (or you’re using a gradated background effect), some colors may work better than others … so use your own judgment.  You may also have to change the font color for the last line or two, if the text appears over the darkened section of the gradated background.
  •         The simpler and bolder the font, the better, for legibility.  Fancy or decorative fonts may be fun or attention-getting at times, but they can also be overdone, distracting, or inappropriate if you use them excessively throughout the presentation.  Sans-serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Franklin, or Gill Sans are usually more legible than serif fonts like Times, Garamond, Palatino, Bookman, etc. (because of their fine lines, they can be hard to read against complex backgrounds).
  •         If possible, use one image per slide, unless intentionally constructing a montage.  The more you squeeze in, the more competition for attention your audience will experience, with a resulting decline in comprehension.

For more ideas, check out how professional broadcasters and movie makers employ text, images, and transitions – TV shows and films offer great examples of dramatic, impact-generating, extremely legible use of the common audiovisual elements available in PowerPoint. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Great CEO’s ghost

(This message was ghost-written for a major healthcare organization CEO, for use in an annual newspaper supplement.   If you like how their story was told, imagine what we can do for you.  We’ve also ghosted articles for other physicians.)
An editorial comment from Lovelace
The emphasis is on wellness.

You’ve probably heard of “preventive medicine.”  It’s an idea that has been around for some time in the medical world.  Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, and other scientists have long looked for ways to prevent illness, as well as to treat it.  Today, our goals are still the same.  If anything, we’re now pursuing preventive health care on an even greater scale, since we’ve learned just how effective this approach can be—solving problems before they occur.

At Lovelace, this quest for “wellness” is something we take very seriously.  It is an everyday concern, which goes well beyond the doctor’s office and state-of-the-art facilities.  Emphasizing wellness not only makes good business sense (healthier employees are more productive), it also provides financial rewards, in the form of lower health care and insurance costs.  A healthier New Mexico is in everybody’s best interest.

Bringing wellness to you.

All the medical knowledge in the world won’t accomplish a thing, however, unless it is shared with, and practiced by, the people who really count…you, your family, your friends, and thousands of others in cities and towns across our state.  That is why Lovelace is so active in the community.  Our commitment to wellness means taking the initiative, getting involved, putting our expertise to work for you—at home, at work, at school, or wherever else it’s needed.

The special newspaper section you are reading right now is only one example of our efforts.  We are constantly making information available on a wide variety of health care topics, through brochures, newsletters, and publications like Lovelace’s Health and Fitness Magazine, articles in medical journals, broadcast news reports, and many other media, including a closed-circuit TV system at Lovelace facilities.

Our “Lifestyles” programs bring full-time health education professionals into the community, through regular classes designed to improve and promote healthy lifestyles…from sessions on nutrition and weight management to smoking cessation, stress management, exercise programs, and much more.
Free and low-cost services.  We also offer a number of programs, such as diabetes screenings, blood pressure checks, cancer support groups, effective parenting classes, mammograms, immunizations, and other services, which are often given free of charge or at low cost, at health fairs and other events.
Employee programs.  Beginning with the astronaut testing we pioneered for the space program, Lovelace has been diligently studying and dealing with the issue of health at the workplace.  Our occupational health programs enhance employee health, safety, and productivity, while helping control employer health care costs. These include examinations and evaluations, injury and illness care, physical therapy, immunizations for foreign travel, and work site programs.
Sports event and team sponsorship.  With Lovelace’s longstanding interest in health and physical fitness, it’s only natural that we have also become involved in sports-related activities, such as our continuing sponsorship of the Duke City Marathon, community sports teams, support of school sports activities, and other similar programs.

Taking a leadership role.

At Lovelace, this dedication to wellness doesn’t stop at the boardroom, but extends to our entire organization. Our facilities have been officially designated as a “No Smoking Zone.”  An indoor track has been built into the Lovelace Medical Center on Gibson Blvd., above the main lobby, for use by employees and visitors alike.  Numerous Lovelace physicians, nurses, and staff members have joined the physical fitness movement, participating in a variety of individual and group activities.  The way we see it, it is our duty to lead by example.

As you finish reading the many informative articles in this paper, we encourage you to get more information.  Feel free to contact the doctors who are listed with each story.  And if you’re as committed as we are, please join us in our quest for wellness.

Lovelace President and Chief Executive Officer

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Formulas and fluff

Ever watch the evening news on TV?  Bet you're not even aware of how much this very familiar, traditional fixture of American TV owes its appearance and organization to powers-behind-the-scenes, some of whom are still relying on formats and practices that go back 30-40 years at least -- and, shockingly, in some cases, even before the birth of television.

On the one hand, the tabloid-style sensationalism, celebrity obsession, superficiality, misleading "teaser" promotional plugs, and even the style of writing actually comes from the early "yellow journalism" days of newspapers, back when publishers would stoop to anything to get a story (even if it was only "half" true), scoop the other papers, or even put rivals out of business.

The obvious opportunistic, ruthless, and even heartless tendencies of some reporters and editors would put them only about one step above mercenary killers, thieves, and scoundrels in society's pecking order.  To be fair, there were also a number of very nice, kind, caring, and thoughtful journalists, too, who would give you the shirt off their backs if your story or predicament touched them deeply.

The business motive has always been a part of journalism, of course -- even back in the days of publisher Benjamin Franklin's newspapers.  But, beginning in the mid-1970s, some large station owner groups began hiring high-priced consultants who went from city to city, selling their "guaranteed successful" news formats to whoever had enough cash to ante up…sometimes precipitating bidding wars among rival broadcasters.
One of the developments that came out of this time was the "Eyewitness News" format,  created in Philadelphia in 1965 by a young news director, Albert Primo, at KYW-TV.  He later adapted his successful news product for the ABC Network station group, especially its New York city flagship station, WABC-TV.  This format also became known as "happy talk" news, because of its mandated on-camera bantering, quips, and hijinks that were more entertainment than journalism.  The various reporters and anchors competed for laughs, rather than journalistic scoops.  Personality seemed to become more important than public service, and the viewing public soon found itself with an increasingly more superficial, slanted, and sometimes silly product, not much different than the clowning around on that famous sitcom about a TV news team, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. 

A close cousin to Eyewitness News was the "Action News"
format, also developed in Philadelphia (at the Triangle TV station group), which was similarly transplanted by TV news consultants to countless other stations across the country.
The news formats we see today still relay on some of those original consultants' commandments, like emphasizing controversy, conflict, crime, and other elements that are more "anti-social" than uplifting.  Is it any wonder that many of us viewers feel more depressed, hopeless, and fearful, after watching the nightly news?

Want to change things?  Take action by talking to your local TV station -- or by putting pressure on advertisers who sponsor the newscasts (as one who was working in TV during a comparable public action campaign in Cleveland in the late 1970s, I can assure you that it works).  Complain to local legislators, government leaders, etc.  Check out the Radio-Television News Directors Association, to see what you can learn about modern-day broadcast journalism.

And, as a last resort, turn off the TV.  Ultimately, if more people did that, the ripple in the ratings might finally make station owners sit up and take notice.

When homelessness hits home

“Daddy, are we going to have to find a new house?” It’s a question heard by many Boston-area parents wrestling with news of layoffs, and the aftermath of lost income (with its ultimate impact on household budgets, particularly rent or mortgage payments). How does one answer an innocent child who doesn’t realize the severity of social upheaval and economic chaos – until it hits home, when the family needs to move out, because there’s no longer any money to pay for basics like food, housing, or clothing?

Local governments and social service agencies are desperately trying to cope with the avalanche of families in need – many of whom are facing the real possibility of homelessness, through no fault of their own. In the face of budget troubles in the non-profit sector, and cutbacks from area foundations that previously funded housing programs, both public and private groups are scrambling to deal with the problem.
In the state of Massachusetts, there are a number of resources available, including organizations whose mission is providing shelter for displaced, homeless individuals and families, such as emergency-centered groups like the Salvation Army, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and theCity Mission Society of Boston.
Housing options
When it comes to housing, a quick scan on the web reveals a variety of non-profits, including theMetropolitan Boston Housing PartnershipCooperative Metropolitan Ministries, the MetroBoston Regional Network, Homestart Inc., Heading Home Inc., the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter AllianceOne Family Inc., and Home At Last, in the Metrowest suburbs.

There is also a long list of other agencies trying to lend their support:
• Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD)
• American Friends Service Committee Material Needs Program
• Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence
• Bay Cove Human Services – Kit Clark Senior Services & The Tenancy Preservation Project (TPP)
• Betty's Place ( Boston YWCA)
• Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program
• Boston Housing Authority
• Boston Rescue Mission – Kingston House
• Bridge Over Troubled Waters
• Bridge Transitional Program at the YMCA
• Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services
• Cambridge Cares About Aids – Emergency Transitional Program & Youth on Fire
• Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs—The Cambridge Multi-Service Center
• Cambridge Employment Opportunity Council
• Cambridge Health Care for the Homeless
• Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund (CHAF)
• Cambridge Housing Authority
• Cambridge YWCA Transitional Program
• Cardinal Medeiros Center for Older Homeless Adults
• Cardinal Medeiros Transitional Program (Boston YMCA)
• Carey Transitional Program (Cambridge YMCA)
• Caritas Communities
• Casa Esperanza - Latinas y NiƱos
• Casa Myrna Vazquez
• CASPAR – ACCESS, Emergency Service Center , GROW House, & Womanplace Residential Substance Abuse Treatment
• Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA)
• City of Boston 's Department of Neighborhood Development
• City of Boston 's Emergency Shelter Commission
• City of Boston Homeless Services – Long Island Shelter, Long Island Annex, Project Soar Transitional Program, Wise Street Transitional Program & Woods-Mullen
• Commonwealth Land Trust
• Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance
• Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development
• Dennis McLaughlin House
• East Boston Rehab
• Elders Living at Home
• Eliot Community Human Services—Bread & Jams & Eliot Homeless Outreach Services
• Elizabeth Stone House
• The Family-to-Family Project
• First Church Shelter
• Gavin House
• Granada House
• Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS)
• Harvard Square Homeless Shelter / Phillips Brooks House at Harvard
• Human Resource Development Institute Inc. – HRDI ASKIA Academy, HRDI Casa Don Pedro Albizu Campos & HRDI Women's Circle
• Hello House
• Homes For Families
• hopeFound—IMPACT Employment Services, Shattuck Emergency Shelter & Transition to Independent Living (TIL)
• Huntington House (Boston YMCA)
• Inman Square Apartments
• Justice Resource Institute (JRI)
• Lend A Hand Society
• Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership (MBHP)
• Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless (MCH)
• Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA)
• MassHousing
• National Student Partnership
• New Communities Services
• New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans
• North Charles
• One Family Inc.
• On the Rise
• Pine Street Inn-- Men's Transitional Housing Program (MTHP) and Paul Sullivan Housing
• Project Place—Work Programs & the YWCA Transitional Program for Women
• Quincy Interfaith Sheltering Coalition - Father Bill's Place
• Rosie's Place
• Shelter, Inc. - Common Ground Transitional Program, Emergency Shelter, Mid-Point Transitional Program, Shelter Legal Services & Women's Drop In
• Solutions At Work
• Somerville Homeless Coalition
• St. Francis House – Day Center, Moving Ahead Program (MAP) & Next Step Transitional Program
• St. James Shelter
• St. Patrick's Shelter
• Transition House
• United Homes -1900 Washington, Family House, Pilgrim Emergency Shelter, Richardson House, Second Home & Up & Out Program
• United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley
• US Department of Housing and Urban Development
• Victory Programs - New Victories, Portis Family House, Shepherd House, Victory House & Yetman House
• Vietnam Veterans Workshop
• Women's Lunch Place
This is just a starting point. In future installments, we’ll share more ideas & resources for families trying to stay afloat in these uncertain times. If you have any suggestions, pass them along, so that we can share them with all our readers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

If I could change TV...

(originally posted 12/29/08)

As we go into the New Year, here’s a new kind of “resolution”:  If I could change TV for the better, right now, I’d work for the following…
  • Comedy shows that don’t rely mostly on insult, put-down, and disparaging humor that always sets up other people as the stooges, fools, victims, or butts of cruel jokes.
  • Fairer, more balanced news coverage that isn’t so slanted toward sensationalism, tabloid sleaze, conservative reactionary politics, and other non-helpful perspectives that hurt society, instead of helping it.
  • Fewer “reality” series.
  • Tighter rules on misleading, unfair, mudslinging political campaigns.
  • Less violence, across the board – fewer crime, CSI, war, spy, and other such “horror” shows that bring blood & gore into our living rooms.
  • More public interest programming that discusses and suggests real solutions for community problems, needs, and opportunities.
  • A return to musical variety concepts in prime time – like the Carol Burnett, Smothers Brothers, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Dean, etc. shows.
  • More believable, “real” people personalities, news reporters, anchors, and hosts – not the egotistical, plastic, pompous, perfect-hair people who presently over-populate the channels.
  • Less exploitation of vulnerable viewers like children, the differently-abled, and underrepresented minorities who (1) don’t get a fair shake in honest, accurate portrayals of their real human condition, needs, concerns, feelings, etc.; (2) are seen mainly as potential consumers to be sold things to (often unfairly or without sensitivity to their limited ability to discern false claims, unsuitable or inappropriate goods or services, or poorly-designed or inadequately-performing products; and (3) and stereotyping or even total absence of characters similar to them on TV.
  • More diversity of TV station ownership (especially more local ownership) so that there is less of a monopoly of the media in the hands of only a few mega-sized international corporations.         

Helping children learn through different learning styles

Current educational theory abounds with discussions of multiple intelligences, learning styles, use of different senses, etc. What can Boston-area parents learn from these helpful resources when teaching or interacting with their own children, particularly when it comes to making sense of public school experiences that may be less-than-ideal for their own youngsters with special needs?

Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard developed the multiple intelligences theory in 1983. Basically, it says that there is really a broader range of “intelligences” that we use to learn with than many educational institutions are equipped with or prepared to use. Gardner’s list includes:
  • Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
  • Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
  • Musical intelligence ("music smart")
  • Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  • Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  • Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

According to a review of multiple intelligences by Dr. Thomas Armstrong, “schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled "learning disabled," "ADD (attention deficit disorder," or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

Armstrong says, “The theory of multiple intelligences proposes a major transformation in the way our schools are run. It suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more.”
Theorists like Gardner and Armstrong undoubtedly have some very valid points to make. But when the rubber meets the road, how many people are really able to separate these different “intelligences” in the learning process? How each of us uses our particular gifts, talents, and learning styles is what makes us unique. So perhaps we don’t need to worry so much about making activities that are 100% Bodily-Kinesthetic, Spatial, etc.

A better approach may be to look for a variety of opportunities to invite an individual child (or a group, if one is working in a classroom setting) to encounter and engage in different ways. Gardner, for example, explained his seven ways to approach subjects, in “Intelligence Reframed”:
  • Narrational, learning through stories
  • Quantitative/numerical, learning through numbers and the use of them
  • Logical, learning through deductive thinking
  • Aesthetic, learning through works of art or the ways materials are arranged
  • Hands-on, learning through building something, manipulating materials, or carrying out experiments
  • Social, learning through assuming the roles of someone else, observing other people, interacting with others, especially in problem solving
The key to using theories like this is being constantly open to new learning and/or teaching opportunities, and adapting lesson plans to the many different situations, circumstances, interests, and abilities as they present themselves, either in the classroom or outside, in home or play settings.