Better Presentations

Cliff Atkinson writes about something I too am guilty of doing: “Put 7 bullet points per slide on 20 slides and you have 140 reasons why you are creating cognitive overload for your audience.”

Many people justify 7 bullet points per slide by citing the George Miller article, but what’s always missing in the arithmetic is the total number of bullet points across all of the slides; e.g., 7 bullets per slide times 20 slides equals 140 bullet points. Any single slide is part of a whole experience in which you’re trying to help someone understand something, so to get the whole picture you really have to add up all the bullets.

If our short-term memory can hold 3 or 4 items and we’re seeing 140, you’re probably not surprised that there is a scientific validation for those times you’ve felt overwhelmed, confused or bored by an information presentation approach.

We can move forward by figuring out the 3 or 4 most important things out of those 140 bullet points. One effective technique is a classical logic tree, which is built-in to the story template and can help you create a hierarchy out of your ideas.

Swiss Army Knife for Project Management

Jim McGee writes:

Until you describe what the end product needs to look like, you have no basis to map the effort it will take to create it. Imagine what you need to deliver in reasonable detail and you can work backwards to the steps that will bring it into being.

Working out those steps takes two tools and three rules.

Tool #1: A messy outline. An outline because it captures the essential features of ordering steps and clustering them. Messy because you cant and wont get it right the first time and the neat outlines you were introduced to in middle school interfere with that.

Tool #2: A calendar. If you can do it all without looking at one, you arent talking about a project.

Three rules will give you the substance of the outline:

* Small chunks
* First things first
* Like things together

You dont have a project if you can see how to get from A to B in a single step; instead what you have is an essential building block. Small chunks is a reminder that the only way to eat an elephant is in small bites. There are a variety of heuristics about recognizing what constitutes an appropriate small chunk of a project. A weeks worth of work for one person isnt a bad starting point.

A preliminary list of small chunks is the fuel that feeds an iterative process of putting first things first, grouping like things together, and revising the list of small chunks.

The art in sophisticated project management lies in being clever and insightful about sequencing and clustering activities. Here, were focused on the value of simply thinking through what needs to be done in what order before leaping to the first task that appears. Thats why an outline is a more useful tool at this point than Gantt charts or Microsoft Project. An outline adds structure over a simple to do list to be valuable without getting lost in the intricacies of a complex software tool. An outline helps you organize your work, helping you discover similar tasks, deliverables, or resources that can be grouped together in your plans. An outline gives you order and clustering. For many projects that will be enough. For the rest, it is the right place to start.