Ric Bretschneider

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Open Letter to Michael Bay

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Dear Michael Bay

I watched you get messed up by Samsung’s presentation support staff at CES yesterday. You’re probably aware that it’s all over the net now, likely a skit on SNL this weekend and maybe you’ll make The Daily Show.  You’re a pretty easy target to begin with (*boom*) but add all the things that went wrong in the space of a couple of minutes to your already fiery personality and wham instant Internet meme.

It’s tough. It’s unfair. How many of the people having fun at your expense have themselves spoken live in front of an audience of 200 people? 500? The pressure of standing in front of thousands at CES and hundreds of thousands more virtually would make most of today’s detractors wet themselves on the spot. But the Internet is not big on walking a mile in anyone else’s shoes if they can feel schadenfreude or get a laugh instead.

But you could have done better.

No jokes here, just a couple of things to remember the next time you get in front of an audience.

Fight or Flight

One of the basic human reactions to pressure is fight or flight, especially when it’s a surprise. We civilized folk tend towards flight, because it’s more socially acceptable. And obviously that’s what happened yesterday. But maybe fight doesn’t have to always mean throwing a punch. Fight can just mean fighting yourself to stay on that stage and keeping your audience involved.

Expect the unexpected

Murphy is my traveling companion. He always makes something go wrong. Always. Because of his tenacity, I believe in multiple levels of redundancy in anything that matters to my performance in front of an audience. And you should too when you can.

Of course, much of it is out of your control, no amount of planning can cover everything.

So just go into it expecting something to go wrong. It’s not frightening, it’s just realizing that you need to remain flexible in all situations involving pressure and performance. If you’re expecting someone to fail to hit their cue, step on your line, the wrong slide to be showing, anything unexpected can be dealt with.

And most important here, you must keep your sense of humor about it. Taking yourself too seriously will lock you into a situation where you can’t think and have no alternative other than flight.

Accept the situation

When something goes wrong, accept it. It can’t be undone now. You now have choices as to how to proceed.

Grace

It is somewhat paradoxically important not to apologize too much, and not to find others to blame. Both may be your immediate urge, but you must suppress it. Your team may have let you down, but they probably feel worse about it than you do (and it’s likely going to be a topic for discussion with their own management!) Focus on getting back on track, not on how you got off track – your audience doesn’t really care.

Humor

Humor is a powerful ally when you can do it off the cuff. You don’t have to have the audience rolling in the aisles, just keep them on your side. “Ever have one of those days?” or “Pardon me while I burst into flame here.” will let them know you’re off-script and the personal aside will keep them in your corner. Resist the urge to be the butt of your own joke, that’s an easy way out, but like too much apologizing it undercuts your relevance and credibility. It’s important to remember that very few people in the audience really want you to fail. They’re basically on your side.

Improv

One of the greatest exercises a speaker can do is improvisational speaking. Develop some level of familiarity with improvisational tactics. Lots of forward-thinking organizations bring in formal improv training for team building and management seminars. You can approach this in many ways, but once you do you’ll find it’s value surprisingly useful.

For example, at our Pecha Kucha events, we warm up with a form of presentation called PowerPoint Karaoke. Here presenters must string together a presentation based on slides they have never seen before. And we do this for fun! Of course presenters are expecting the situation,  developing their ability to expect the unexpected, and again the audience is on their side. And it’s damn funny. But it’s a terrific exercise for any presenter wanting to develop their list of public speaking calisthenics.

While you’re in the moment, look around. Quickly appraise the situation and prepare to deal with it. Look for inspiration, allies, audience reactions… these are all fodder for your response to bridge back to the topic at hand.

Continue the Dialogue

Now that things are composed, and assuming you’ve done your homework, you can probably wing your presentation for a short bit. Hopefully the support staff is working frantically to correct things. And hopefully the well-managed disturbance takes on no more significance than an interrupting sneeze.

But if it goes longer, nothing changes in the advice. Remain graceful and move to transition out of the confusion. Lots of alternatives here. Consider:

  • Engage other speakers already on stage or invite other participants onto the stage. This is what you really should have tried with Joe Stinziano, senior vice president of Samsung Electronics yesterday. He’s probably conversant enough to answer an off the cuff question or give you a clue as to what you want to move onto next. A conversation is a lifesaving improvisational step that can take the pressure off while keeping the audience’s attention. (Improv Hint: Read up on “Yes, and…” technique!)
  • Backtrack and start over. Often the easiest thing to do. It doesn’t have to be a complete recreation, but a summary of what you’ve covered so far can also help the audience shake the confusion of that moment off themselves.
  • If all else fails, moving on to another part of the agenda and returning to your message once the situation is corrected is the graceful way out of a presentation that has burst into flame. Inform the audience, and move gracefully to the side until recalled.

Always Prep

Yeah, good advice in hindsight. Easy, right?

I can see it right now. Someone asked you to get on the stage and get some promotional value for the next Transformers film while pushing some technology you actually liked.  Your protests of I haven’t got time to prepare for a presentation! were met with assurances that all you have to do is read the teleprompter. Well, we see how well that worked out.

Even if you can’t take the time to memorize the speech, break what you have to talk about into one or two salient points that you can fall back on should the unexpected happen. Winging it still means you stay on topic, and you need the facts to do so.

Of course preparation is the activity that pays off in gold. It makes everything above that much easier. If you can’t take 10 times the amount of time you’re planning on being in front of an audience in preparation, you really should bow out.

And That’s About It

Hope this somehow gets to you Michael. While I’m not the biggest fan of your movies, my heart went out to you at CES. It wasn’t your fault, and the Internet is having a lot of fun at your expense today.

I know you already addressed the situation in your own blog with the self-deprecating comment I guess live shows aren’t my thing. I know it’s tough right now, but with just a little prep I think you could turn that impression right around.

Written by ricbret

January 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Calming Down the Grandpa in Office 2013

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I got a lot of good feedback on The First Thing to Do to Your New PowerPoint 2013, thanks and wow – happy to help.

So OK, here’s the second thing you should do after you install Office 2013.  It’s a bitter post, full of my opinion, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that others may disagree.  However, in my opinion this trick corrects one of the most ridiculous mistakes made in Office 2013. You may consider it more of a taste issue. But I think that if you have taste you’ll want your Office interface to not look like somebody’s grandpa sending e-mail with the CAPS LOCK key on.

HEY, YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!

Yeah, that’s right. For some reason the designers at Office decided that years of calming down the interface, using readability methods developed and proven literally over centuries, should be abandoned so they could inject some “style” into the product.  Beware of designers attempting to make their mark.

Application design should fall back against the content, should not stand there screaming HEY LOOK AT ME, or HEY, GET OFF MY LAWN, or HERE’S A JOKE THAT ALL MY SENIOR FRIENDS THOUGHT WAS FUNNY SO I’M ADDING YOU IN MY REPLY-ALL… just for example. UI should be clear, it should be available, but not garish and hard to interpret.

So one of the first things you’ll notice looking at Office 2013 is the ribbon. The ribbon that so many hate, and the rest just find somewhat annoying. Sure it makes it easier for novices to find things, but it’s proven that the ribbon limits experts from levels of productivity they had with the prior menu UI. But we’re kind of stuck with it, and I digress. You see how easy that is.

What we’re looking at most is the tabs. The little label tabs at the top of each ribbon. And they’re all screaming like grandpa.

FILE  HOME  INSERT  DESIGN  TRANSITIONS  ANIMATIONS  SLIDE SHOW  REVIEW  VIEW

Hideous, right?

Well, maybe you’re not bothered by it, and hey, good for you.  But there’s so much basic knowledge about how typography works, how the eye interprets words and breaks, how recognition is speeded by properly applying basic typographic conventions… all ignored here. It’s tragic really when you consider the scope of Office, how many people deal with this UI on a daily if not hourly (if not constant!) basis.  There were lots of people bringing up how ugly and broken this was in the open Beta for Office 2013, but Office designers decided they knew better.

Sigh

Anyway, you can fix this, calm it down. I can show you how. It’s a little tricky, so follow closely.

We’re going to go into the customize ribbon command. Right-click somewhere on the ribbon where there isn’t a button or control, and you’ll see the hidden commands. Choose Customize the ribbon and you’ll see the ribbon customization mess… er… UI.

right click taskbar and select Customize the Ribbon

Now, if you’re pretty perceptive you’ll notice something kinda weird.

customize ribbon ui

We’re looking in the right column, a list of the ribbon titles and the controls each ribbon contains. Funny thing is, all the labels are already in initial cap case. They are not in all-capitals. The UI let’s you change the name of any of these labels, see the Rename button beneath the list, but if you want to continue using the right names you’re kind of stuck.

The developers have special-cased these label titles for each of the individual ribbons so they display in all caps if they match the intended default label. Why did they spend their time doing this instead of fixing bugs or getting good features into the product? Who can tell. We can imagine the passionate arguments the designers put forward about not allowing users to destroy the delicate balance of their screaming grandpa design, but that’s just me recalling similar conversations. Probably nothing like that. But again, digressing.

A little experimenting will show you that the labels

Home displays HOME
HoME displays HoMe
HOME displays HOME

but it’s kind of hard to get it to just display “Home.” But not impossible. Just give it some space.

Or one space to be exact

Select one of the tab labels in the list and click the Rename button.  Adding a single space character, either before or after the letters “Home”, apparently is enough of a Jedi Mind Trick that  the developer’s force to upper-case code is told “these are not the glyphs you’re looking for” and they pass along to be displayed unharmed. Do this to each label, and you get a nice initial cap label and a much calmer interface.

lowercase tab labels

Yeah, Grandpa is still yelling FILE. If you can figure out a way to get him to calm down there, let me know.

A couple of things

You may want to do all the labels ahead of time. There are more than what are initially shown. Just open the list at the top of the right column and choose All Tabs.

alltabscontextual tabs display at the bottom of the list

Notice a bunch of items got added to the bottom of the list. These are the “contextual tabs”, tabs that show up when you select certain things, like shapes and tables, to give you control over their options.

It does take a few minutes to change all of these labels, but you’ll find the pattern is pretty easy to get used to. Might take you 15 minutes to add spaces to the end of each label. I think that’s the easier technique to use.

And don’t worry about making a mistake. If you do, you can nuke all your changes and reset the UI to the defaults again. That’s what the Reset button at the bottom is for. You can reset all, or just the selected tab.

And One Last Thing

Which leads us to the last tip here. It’s Extra Credit, so feel free to skip it.

If you’re a writer or instructor or someone who needs, occasionally, to make your UI look like it’s fresh out of the box, you can use the Import/Export UI changes command.  It’s just beneath the Reset button.

the import/export change file command

This lets you save a file with all the customizations you’ve made as a file that you can reload later, even share between machines. So if you need to undo your changes and go back to the just out of the shrink-wrap smell, save your customizations, then Reset everything.

Later when you want to stop grandpa from screaming, just Import the saved settings again and you’re back to a calm, mature looking UI.

Let me know how this works for you.

This somewhat silly article is dedicated to my dear departed father, a grandfather and computer user himself, who eventually learned to just use all lower-case in writing his e-mail.

-Ric

Fun Fact: Did you know that the first few versions of the 
Apple computer did not have the ability to display 
lower-case letters? The keyboards had a shift key, but 
it was used almost exclusively for shifting number keys 
to access punctuation characters. The Atari and Commodore 
Computers were among the first personal computers to 
introduce lower-case letters as a standard personal 
computer feature!

Written by ricbret

January 19, 2013 at 8:46 pm

The Facebook Face Flip

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This is not a political post, although a quick reading without comprehension will surely give some that impression. Trust me, and read on.

I was reading this evening about how you can actually see people “unliking” Mitt Romney’s Facebook page in real time graphics on a web site called Disappearing Romney. It sounded pretty wild, and the graphics on the page were conceptually stunning, but the whole thing was kind of sophomoric.  It looked like it might have been a prank.  So I decided to check his Facebook page to see if their math checked out.

It did check out, was really easy to confirm with a couple of page refreshes. But that’s not what caught my eye.

You see, around 100 years ago I took both high school and college journalism. A lot of it stuck, writing of course, but also a lot in the area of page layout.  There’s one guideline that borders on being magic in making a page and subjects on the page look appealing and interesting.

If you have a photo, or graphic, where a subject is looking in a left or right direction, place that element such that it is looking into the page, away from the edge they’re nearest.  If you have to, you can consider “flipping” the element such that it can do this regardless of what side of the page it’s on.

(Pause here to note how well I’m avoiding unnecessary political metaphors. Thanks for noticing.)

Check out the original, and see what happens when you flip both the photos.  It really is like a magic trick!

Flipping the elements of Mitt Romney's Facebook page we come away with a completely different impression.

You always try to have faces looking into the page, it makes them look better, the page look better, and the reader feel better. In this case, we have original Mitt back-to-back, looking very disconnected, even defensive. Look at how flipping both photos around makes him look, well, happy to see himself.

Arguably the wider cover page might work in either direction, and if it were left right-facing the light sourcing for each of these photos would match up, but that’s not a big deal.  I personally liked them facing each other, but your mileage may vary.

And yes, this is eminently applicable to your presentations!  Ah! You knew I’d get there eventually!  It’s one of the simplest things you can do to make your slides look more intriguing, trustworthy, or even happy.

Anyway, it’s not like it cost him the election or anything, but I found it really amazing that nobody on his staff, or even Facebook friends suggested fixing this classic journalistic page layout gaff.

Yes, I am available for consultations.

Written by ricbret

November 13, 2012 at 7:12 am

GoPayment Vs. Square – One More Thing, One Less Thing…

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I signed up for Intuit’s new GoPayment card system yesterday. Thought I’d share a few thoughts.

GoPayment is a way for regular folks to take credit card payments from other regular folks using your cell phone or tablet.  It’s advertised pretty much like the Square system, the first credit card device and service for regular folks. The major benefit is that it’s cheap, no monthly payment, and it has a cute device that plugs into the phono jack on you device that you use to swipe the card. Both GoPayment and Square charge a very low percentage per transaction (Are you listening PayPal?) lower than commercial rates, and no monthly fee.  GoPayment is so much like Square… well I haven’t seen any written description of it that hasn’t included a reference to Square. I’ve liked the Square system, but was curious about Intuit’s entry.  Given it was free, I figured what the heck, give it a try.

Intuit GoPayment System

Intuit GoPayment System

Haven’t got the reader yet, but already it’s coming across as a whole lot more in my face than Square.

I got a big follow-up annotated bill in e-mail this morning with a lot of line items and $0 due notations. Like that’s supposed to make me feel good? My first reaction was “WTF? A bill?” OK, maybe that’s just the three cups of morning coffee talking.

What really bugged me was GoPayment had this “hidden” credit card they issue you as a way to get your money. That wasn’t at all obvious until I got the confirmation that I’d ge getting the card in the mail.  I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need or want another credit card.  Not for SkyMiles, not for Dinner Credits, not for an additional 5% off on my purchases. It’s already hard enough to track my intentional spending, and if I was the victim of identity theft I want to make as few calls as possible if it becomes necessary to shut things down. So I try not to have a lot of credit cards, especially specialty cards.

Square and Devices

Both systems work across all major smartphone devices, but Square hires a better photographer for their ads.

Of course,  after a call to their customer service, it turns out I don’t have to use or keep the card. I kept saying things like “So when I get the card in the mail, I can destroy it immediately and not have that affect my GoPayment account?”  The guy was a bit unnerved about that, suggesting I activate the card first, then call in to terminate it.  Um.  Yeah.  That makes sense.

You can still get the money transferred to one of your accounts, just like Square does, but they default to using the rechargeable credit card.  But how many people are really going to rebel like me? So many just accept that “well this is the package, guess I’ve got a new card to monitor.”  And we all know that terms on cards can change when the bank thinks it’s not getting enough profit on your business. Right? It’s just another thing to monitor, reading all the bland, poisonous notes in the monthly statements. And I hate that.

If I was going to devil’s advocate their design decision here I’d guess they found that most people were unable to complete their process if it required the banking codes necessary to do the direct deposit dance. Issuing a credit card was much easier, just requiring an address, social security number, and a couple of additional personal data chunks. Probably, but that’s a big part of what’s wrong with the credit industry in general. I’m not going to dig in on that speculation, it’s not the real devil that I think is in play here.

I’ll probably give it a whirl when it arrives, but I expect I’ll be dumping this. Square stays silent until I use it. So far it hasn’t tried to sign me up or send my info along to other companies. I’m not feeling the same warm fuzzy about Intuit.

Written by ricbret

March 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

How Facebook Will (May Have Already) F#@k You Up

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Really, I’m not doing much here.  Just trying to draw your attention to someone else’s work on how Facebook’s recent bout of ill-conceived changes continue to mess with your privacy, your communications, and your ability to actually use the system without getting screwed-up.

It’s essentially the same problem.  The code monkeys at Facebook have decided that they know better than you how you want to get your information, or more importantly, they’re deciding what information is important.  They’re trying to prove how smart they are by writing algorithms that watch what you do, analyze words in messages, and essentially hide a shit-ton of stuff you probably would prioritize higher than they do.  Any time you have someone who has doubtable social skills managing your social interaction, you are doomed.

From Slate Magazine - Used to promote their story And Facebook is no better at predicting what you want to see than any other company.  Do you recall that old chestnut “My Tivo Thinks I’m Gay“?  Well here we are a decade later and Facebook thinks you don’t want information from someone you just met, haven’t actually met but who really needs to get in touch with you, or haven’t spoken with for a while because they only recently decided to forgive you… the list goes on with the potential ways Facebook will or may have already f#@ked you up.

This time, it’s messages.  Did you know there’s a whole bunch that Facebook pushes off into a separate area without EVER giving you a surface level indication that they’ve arrived?  Yup, we can thank Slate Magazine’s  for sharing her experiences today in Furious at Facebook Again!

Seriously, when are these guys going to be sued for abusing their customer’s information?  This is an area where we set serious and definitive precedence.

Written by ricbret

December 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Nest Learning Thermostat

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Last Friday I installed a new thermostat in the house, the first one since we moved in.

Now the prior thermostat was programmable, hourly and daily you could configure it to heat and cool as you like.  It made a lot of sense at the time, but so did parachute pants.  Yeah, it’s been a while.  Unfortunately programmable thermostats don’t take into account when you’re gone, you have to remember to override the programming (time-consuming and bothersome) or turn the thing off (and come back to a frozen cat.)  But it was better than the manual option of course.

Now a company called Nest has come out with a Learning Thermostat.  One that tracks your use, and presence, and uses that information to anticipate the best settings for you at any given time.  It’s also a green device, and will help you try to use less energy while staying comfortable.

The Nest Learning Thermostat

The new thermostat. The green leaf means we're saving electricity. And that we're cold.

I’m not going to rewrite their web page (which you can view here) but wanted to show you a little walk-through video I made to answer all my geeky friends questions.  Click here to enjoy the video on YouTube.

Written by ricbret

December 6, 2011 at 1:35 am

My iOS 5 Update on iPad

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Just finished the iOS 5 update on my iPad 2. Man, what a marathon. It basically needs to back up your data, reset the device, update the OS, then restore your data. So plan for a few hours to completion. I have no idea how people without a computer (wasn’t that the promise?) would do this.

There’s some nice stuff here, you can read about that on the Apple site easy enough, but I’m not rushing to update Debbie’s iPad any time soon.  Not until I’ve made sure I’m aware of all the sharp corners here.  To that effect…

Two Hiccups:

  • When update was “finished” I noticed I only had sound in apps that specifically were made to play sound (like Garage Band for example.) Very strange. Took about 30 minutes to realize that Apple had reset the option of how the physical switch near the volume control buttons work. I’d set that against the default, so it managed locking screen rotation (the original function, and absolutely necessary for those of us who read in bed.) They set it to control sound muting, and apparently the setting for free rotation is the same as mute. Wow, I imagine this is going to burn a few users.
  • Second is that apparently some downloadable content may be corrupted or just not migrated properly. Comics on Graphic.ly all came up as black pages. Had to uninstall the Graphic.ly app, then reinstall and redownload the issues I’d put in my library. Luckily that was only about a dozen, but that could be really painful for someone who bought a lot of comics.

Siri - Not 4 U iPad!

Biggest disappointment: Siri is not on the iPad. There’s really no good reason for this, other than to drive people to iPhone. And we’ll have to see how well that works. Android voice commands work very well, and is integrated in all the right places, but I rarely use them. Siri is not a game changer, it’s just a game.

Useless features:

  • Reminders task List – Frankly anyone who isn’t using WunderList will be pleased with the Apple task list app.  However, it’s not near as cool as Wunderlist, is not cross-platform, does not sync to your Windows or Android devices… well, let’s just say I’ve buried this app inside a “Utility” folder to keep it out-of-the-way.  Why Apple made this lame addition an “essential” app, one you can’t delete, is just mind-numbing hubris. Go find Wunderlist and thank me later.
  • Grid in Camera.  Don’t get me wrong, the rule of threes is essential for good composition.  However just adding a grid to the camera is so Apple – no documentation or help in figuring out why you would turn it on.  Come on Spartan design sense, surely even you can give a hint now and then.
  • Newstand.  Just another Apple money grab.  My non-newstand publications sit on a page around a Newstand app with two demo pubs in them.  It just looks lame and yes!  You can’t delete this Essential app either.

May update as I learn more.

Written by ricbret

October 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm