October 13th, 2006

Ricky Gervais’ new series of Extras (watch the latest episode on BBC website) is hilarious. 

Sir Ian McKellan is absolutely incredible as … himself.  (Watch out for his ‘graph’ of his method of playing Gandalf in Lord of the Rings – inspired!)  How does Ricky Gervais get such prominent people to send themselves up like that?  And how does he manage to stitch himself up so effectively the whole time?  Loved the first series, but this one is in a different league, mainly because it has such capacity to make the viewer feel so utterly uncomfortable.  I’ve watched every episode of this series either with my hand clamped over my mouth!

We already knew Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were geniuses of course, but Extras puts them in a different class entirely.

Bitdefender10 Problem

October 12th, 2006

I’m on the verge of uninstalling Bitdefender Internet Security 10 for good after having problems with it for the last month.  Adrian posted previously about my Bitdefinder problem and I’ve been very patient with Bitdefender tech support, but I’m now getting to the point where I’m ready to give up and ask for my money back. 

The problems include:

  • Ridiculously slow file accesses – this means that whenever I try to look at a file (for example a small .jpg image file sitting on my desktop) it will take around 15 to 20 seconds to be able to a) preview the file in Windows XP b) alt-return to get the file properties. For network accesses this can be as long as 2 minutes the first time I access a resource since reboot!
  • Even more ridiculously long file save – if I type the words ‘Bitdefender sucks’ into notepad and save it will take 40 seconds before the icon appears on my desktop and control (not just of notepad but of my whole PC) is returned to me.
  • Send to takes an age!  Normally I use send to constantly, but in the last few weeks I’ve given up using it altogether.  Of course I still try to use it compulsively by right clicking and hovering over send to for just a split second before I realize that I shouldn’t have done that.  Some 30 seconds will go by before I can do anything with my PC again and who cares about a send to after 30 seconds? I’ve already gone off to make a cup of tea. 
  •   Deleting a file – just forget it.  You’d be quicker trying to sniff the ones and zeros off the hard drive!

Initially, I liked Bitdefender because its memory/CPU footprint is not so huge as running Norton AV and Zone Alarm.  Trouble is what’s the point of having a fast bit of software if it slows you down at every turn.  If I’d wanted a PC this slow I’d go back to using the one I had 5 years ago.

I’ve actually developed strange ways of getting things done quickly, for example if I want to delete a file off my desktop I open a remote desktop connection to my laptop and use that to delete the file.  It’s much quicker – even though my laptop is situated in a different room, and it’s not even switched on!

So Bitdefender I think you’ve had your chance.  I was really hopeful that these problems could be solved and that tech support would come to my rescue.  But after several emails back and forth and a long wait, they only came back with a couple of suggestions for setting changes that might (but didn't) fix the problem. They don't want to admit that it's a bug. I’m seeing the same problem with Bitdefender 10 on multiple PCs, so it can’t be just my problem. 

Have you had the same problem? Send me an email … who knows maybe they’ll listen if more than just one person – albeit one with lots of PCs – has the same problem!!

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October 11th, 2006

Question: If I open up a NEF file in Photoshop CS2, why can't I save it as a JPEG when I've finished editing it?

That's a bit of a puzzler but after a bit of searching round and some divine inspiration (ie. clicking on everything!) I managed to recreate the problem.

Originally I was thinking this was an interface bug with CS2 but actually the problem occurs during the import process when the Photoshop Camera Raw dialog box is displayed (where you can set the white balance etc). Check near the bottom of the screen and reset the color depth to 8 bits per channel.
Photoshop Raw Dialog box

If you've already imported the RAW file and edited you can reset the color mode to 8 bits per channel by clicking Image > Mode >8 bits per channel. Saving as a JPG will reappear among the file format in the save dialog.

IE 7 get ready

October 11th, 2006

Just fixing a few things ready for IE7 which should start being automatically delivered to us all via Windows update any time now. Think about it, switch on your PC in the morning and it silently upgrades while you go make coffee (herbal tea in my case, but once IE7's out I may be back on the hard stuff in no time!). Imagine your surprise when you come back and find that the world looks slightly wrong and websites you use all the time, including your own, don't work quite right. If like me, you haven't been running the beta ("too big, too scary") and have been avoiding thinking about whether everything works in IE7 or not, then this day has probably come around rather suddenly! Picked a helluva day to quit drinking coffee ... 😕

Apparently this is due to happen any day now as Microsoft's update servers fell over for yesterday's patch Tuesday ... so I'm guessing that with supreme irony or forshadowning we'll start to see this roll this out the day after tomorrow or Friday the 13th.

Is that an omen? :mrgreen:

Presenting PowerPoint: Dos and Don’ts

October 11th, 2006


  • Check out where you will be presenting before you go. What size is the room? What size is the screen? Where's the light switch? Does the sound system and microphone work?
  • Find out what storage media can be used to transport your presentation? (floppy, CD, DVD, USB memory stick, wireless network)
  • Keep the 3 elements of your presentation separate: your notes for presentation (what you're going to say), your PowerPoint (what your audience will see), handouts for the audience (what you give to your audience to read afterwards).
  • If you can, check through your PowerPoint beforehand in the room where it will be presented to look for any possible problems.
  • Have the title screen of your presentation on the screen before you start. (This saves you from having to speak over screeching chairs as people realize they're in the wrong room, which happened to me!)


  • Don't start the PC, projector running after your audience has arrived. Do it first!
  • Don't clear your throat before you speak! Well, go ahead and clear your throat, but do it before standing up, walking to the podium or picking up a mic! Then take a few deep breaths.
  • Don't read your PowerPoint. It's redundant. Your audience has come to hear you speak, not hear you read the screen. Keep your notes separate and glance at them as you need to. Some people say only glance at them occasionally, but don't be afraid to look at them if you need to. It's better than forgetting your words. Switch from looking at your notes to sweeping your eyes around the room to making eye contact with individuals, looking to the screen occasionally to connect what you're saying to the words (and to check that it's on the right slide if you don't have your own monitor!)
  • Don't stray from your subject. It's easy to take a sea of nodding heads as meaning 'wow, this is great, give us more, more, more!' - they may just be nodding off! Remember the old adage 'Leave them wanting more.' and stick to your original outline.
  • Don't let it linger. If you've left a spot for questions, remember to create a slide for this (just the word 'Questions' is fine) and state the time you've allowed for this if you wish. (You may want automate the timing on this slide to move on after the allotted time to give an added visual cue.) Remember to put in a final slide after this to signal that your presentation is complete. A polite thank you on the final slide always works well. If there is a handout for the audience, indicate where they should pick this up before they leave (as you may be ambushed by questioners and hand shakers and you won't be available to do the handing out yourself). Here's a great set of dos and don'ts for presenting your PowerPoint from Cherie Kerr.

Managing your presentation

October 11th, 2006

Some tips for managing your presentation

  • Keep the presentation ‘on topic’
    Nothing is more boring than a discussion between a speaker and a single member of the audience that seems to have drifted off onto another plane! I think it’s the duty of a presenter in that circumstance to state quite plainly that, while that subject is of great interest to yourself and you’d love to discuss it in greater depth, that it probably isn’t as interesting to the rest of the audience and then offer another time or venue where you can give them more information. Offering to find additional resources that you don’t have with you can be a very useful way to put off even the most persistent questioner!
  • Handling Quentions
    One tip for anyone who is daunted by questions after their presentations: I try to include a slide in my presentation for questions and I limit this to ten or fifteen minutes.  I set the slide timing to move on to the next slide (usually the 'The End - thanks for listening' slide) automatically after the time has elapsed.  If the questions don't fill the allotted time, I simply move to the next slide.  Another tip to prevent questions from delving into the minutia is to state clearly that I want to answer as many questions as possible in the time, then (as the politicians do!) move straight to the next question after giving my answer.  If that feels a little impolite then I add something like 'I'll gladly continue this with you afterwards or via email'.
  • Tough Questions and Persistent Questioners
    Dealing with questions that you don't know the answer to can be hard.  While speaking in public is a major fear for many people, getting asked questions they can't answer is the ultimate stress inducer.  So how do you handle the fear of it happening and how do you handle it if it does? Firstly, it helps to remember that the audience will be sympathetic to the situation you’re in, so even if the questioner is quite determined it helps to remember that everyone else is on your side! Also they’ll probably be very grateful if you put off the person to another time or promise to discuss it with them later (because let’s face it, the questions come at the end of the presentation, and by then everyone will be wanting to get away!) So, smile broadly and do what the politicians do, answer as best you can, then without pausing move on to the next question!
  • Questions during the presentation and Losing your place
    It’s not always possible (especially if you're delivering a presentation in an academic setting) to leave questions to the end of the presentation. One tip if you feel you’re being pulled off your train of thought is to write ‘we got to here’ on the slide at the point where you got to. This gives a reminder for you and a visual reminder to students that the discussion needs to end and you need to move back to your planned presentation. And if they are doing it just to get you off track, hopefully they’ll have realized they’ve failed!
  • Handouts 
    Keep these until the end.  This avoids paper shuffle during the presentation and also avoids the audience feeling anxious that they're supposed to be reading this stuff, when you really want them listening to you and looking at your presentation.  It's best to put the handouts somewhere for people to pick up on their way out, preferably near the door, because you may be too busy answering questions or shaking hands to hand them out.  Put a reminder (on your final 'thank you' slide) to pick up the handout on the way out (and you can even say where the pile of handouts is if it's possible to edit your slide in situ). Also remember to include your email address or phone number on both the final slide and the handout, so that those who don't have time now can follow up with you later.

Preparing to Present

October 11th, 2006

  •  Visualizing your presentation going smoothly is a very effective way to ensure success!  Not only does it help to keep the presenter calm but it also creates a better rapport with an audience if you've visualized them giving you positive responses to your presentation.  And even if their reactions turn out to be negative, the presenter is more likely to handle it  in a positive way! :mrgreen:
  • You might enjoy reading Seth Godin’s short book on avoiding Really Bad Powerpoints (PDF, requires Acrobat or other PDF reader). I’ve found it very handy in avoiding giving my audience a fatal case of Powerpoint poisoning! )
  • Get there early and check the room and the equipment! That's probably the best presentation tip there is, because it doesn't matter how good your PowerPoint is or how well rehearsed you are, if the equipment isn't working nothing else matters! Some things to check before the presentation include PC (check it can take your media CD/DVD/USB stick, check PowerPoint runs OK including any embedded objects such as videos), check projector or screen, lighting (how to switch it off/on), curtains or blinds, microphone, sound system and speakers (don't forget audio loop system for hearing aid users if there is one), water for you to drink, seating arrangements, whiteboard pens/eraser.
  • Keep your speaking notes separate.  Don’t use the main/projector screen as an aide memoire for what you need to say.  Use the speaker’s notes option and view your notes on one screen and the presentation on the other. You can also make annotations on the slides during your presentation and rather than trying to 'draw' on the projector screen (as I've seen so many presenters struggling and twisting round to do) you can simply make the annotations via the laptop screen, without contorting yourself! Here's an article which shows you how to set up a second monitor and how to set up your show so that your speaker's notes will be visible on your screen.

  • One tip for anyone who is daunted by questions after their presentations: I try to include a slide in my presentation for questions and I limit this to ten or fifteen minutes. I set the slide timing to move on to the next slide (usually the 'The End - thanks for listening' slide) automatically after the time has elapsed. If the questions don't fill the allotted time, I simply move to the next slide. Another tip to prevent questions from delving into the minutia is to state clearly that I want to answer as many questions as possible in the time, then (as the politicians do!) move straight to the next question after giving my answer. If that feels a little impolite then I add something like 'I'll gladly continue this with you afterwards or via email'.
  • Keep handouts until the end to avoid paper shuffle during the presentation as well as making the audience anxious that they should be reading along!

PowerPoint Design – Styling and Visual Elements

October 10th, 2006

PowerPoint has LOTS of cool features, but the key with Powerpoint is knowing what razzle to add and which dazzle to leave out!

Here are some tips for designing your slides:

  • Creating Master Slides Master slides are very useful. I usually recommend that the master slide is as close to blank as possible and that logos should not distract from the overall slide content and they should be kept as small as possible. Any other objects should be semi-transparent and photos or other graphics should be set to washout (watermark). (You’ll find both these settings by right-clicking on the object and choosing Format Picture or Format Autoshape. Change the transparency of an autoshape move the transparency slider along or type in a percentage. To washout and image click on the Picture tab and click the Color dropdown and select the Washout option.)
  • Stick to one or two fonts. Fonts without serifs (that's the little ticks at the top and bottom of letters) are best.
  • Avoid too many colors. Stick to one or two colors that match.
  • Avoid eye candy, especially if it adds nothing to the content of the presentation. Also avoid clipart - everyone's seen it before. If you really must use it, try getting it off a CD, or download some new ones from the clipart gallery or from another reputable source (watch out some sites offering free clipart are actually peddling viruses and spyware!)
  • Remember, less is more! Once you’ve learnt how to use all the bells and all the whistles, it’s time to learn how not to use them! Transitions, sound effects, things whizzing across the screen are all cool, but they distract and very quickly irritate. And the get real old real fast - anyone who sits through presentations regularly will tell you they've seen them all before! So as much fun as they are - don't! (If you really want to go to town, save it for the office christmas party or your child's birthday!)
  • Consider the size of video and images within your presentation. Although it may be easy to see while you're creating the presentation on your desktop computer, it may be too small to see well when it's on a big screen or from the back of the room. Consider making the video or image into a single slide, as large as possible.
  • Color and contrast Monitors and projectors in theaters and conference rooms can be badly calibrated. Sometimes you're projecting onto a wall that's not white. There can be many problems which are related to where your presentation will be shown - and you won't know how that's going to affect your work until the command performance (or at least your dress rehearsal!). So it's best to plan ahead for these possibilities. For example when creating graphs and charts that use color to represent information always use vivid colors and avoid ’subtle’ colors that might bleach out in this way. Maybe consider avoiding the use of color altogether if you are trying to graphically illustrate something which requires many colors or where colors get hard to differentiate. Consider using shading or patterns instead.

  • PowerPoint Presentation Tips

    October 9th, 2006

    Here are some presentation tips (in no particular order!)

    • Breathe! This is the key to beating any anxiety about your presentation. Take some slow deep breaths (try taking a slow in-breath, followed by a pause, and then a slow out-breath and try to breathe out for as long as you took to breathe in. This has an amazing calming effect.
    • Nervous before speaking? Spend a few minutes in the lead up to your presentation (days or hours as you see fit) practising your breathing and visualizing your presentation going well. Make a clear picture of yourself, up there and it's going great! Just doing this simple thing will really make a huge difference, both to how you feel AND to how smoothly everything goes. Magic! :mrgreen:

      Visualizing your presentation going smoothly is a very effective way to ensure success! Not only does it help to keep the presenter calm but it also creates a better rapport with an audience if you've visualized them giving you positive responses to your presentation. And even if their reactions turn out to be negative, a presenter is more likely to handle it in a positive way! :mrgreen:

    • Stand still! Pacing the floor or swaying from side to side are very distracting for the audience. So plant your feet and take a deep breath! Don't be afraid to move your arms or point as you need to. If after a little while you want to move to a new spot just to add emphasis or to create rapport, go ahead - just don't give the audience the impression that you're a caged tiger and you're waiting to pounce! 😉
    • Where do you look when you're presenting? Well, it really depends on the size of the audience. Individual eye contact is always best if you want to create rapport, but if there are a lot of people and they are far away, this can be difficult. (Actors generally speak to the back of the room slightly above the audience.) If you can see your audience however, allow your eyes to sweep the entire room and make eye contact with a few people along the way. (Although try not to look at just one person as this can make them -and you - feel nervous!)
    • Relax, speak clearly and confidently at a normal pace! Public speaking is one of the major phobias that the vast majority of the public fears most. One of the worries that bothers people most is fear of the dreaded 'um'. Um is a big problem I know. And it's catching too. If you listen to someone that ums and erms a lot, you may well find yourself doing it. I even know someone who types um when they're instant messaging. (And that's catching too!)

      One trick that I've found for dealing with the dreaded ums is to play a game. Kids are great for this. Take turns to talkfor one minute about a subject of your choosing (something you know well or make up a story for example). The trick is that it must be without saying um or erm or any other kind of vocalized hesitation. Unvocalized (silent) hesitations are fine (although usually we set a 3 second limit) - but no sounds! Everyone listens intently to catch each other out and as soon as someone says um they lose their go and the next speaker has a turn. This game works really well at eliminating the vocal hesitations. Sometimes people develop other ways to deal with it, such as replacing the vocalization with a hand gesture or a breath, which works fine as long as it's unobtrusive and doesn't interrupt the flow of your speech. Give it a try!

    • Don't read your PowerPoint slides. They are there to support your speech, not vice versa. Keep the tone of your voice energetic. Let it rise and fall. This keeps your audience's attentionand helps get your message across.
    • Give out handouts at the end to avoid paper shuffle. (If you must give out some data, try to keep it to one sheet, go double sided if necessary.) Remind people in your final slide to pick up their handout before they go.
    • Don't be afraid to pause. OK, so some stony silences can be deafening, but not all of them. Taking a moment to let something sink in can be very effective. And just as you alter the tone of your voice to keep attention, altering the speed of what your say can really create impact and lead to greater rapport.
    • Make them feel good! There's a saying in sales 'Sell the sizzle, not the sausage!' and this applies to presentations too. The audience ultimately want to feel positive about your presentation. They want to feel that they have been informed and maybe even entertained. So the secret to a great presentation (as opposed to just an ok one) is making the audience feel good! Thoughtfully designed slides, clear concise wording, to-the-point speaking, creating rapport with the audience and a little bit of humor thrown in for good measure can give them that feeling. So, smile (take a deep breath) and go get 'em! 😉

    Planning your PowerPoint

    October 9th, 2006

    Today I’m starting a series of posts that I’ve put together from an online class that I recently taught for CNETBetter Presentations with PowerPoint 2003 .

    If you're planning your presentation it's best to start with your content.

    I know it's easy to think that designing a pretty slide background or a template is a good start but the trouble with that approach is that you end up staring at a blank page (albeit a nicely designed one! ;-)) but it's still blank nonetheless! So start by thinking about what you want to say.

    For big subjects I create a mind map to help me visualise how it breaks down. You can either use a big sheet of paper or software (I find Mind Manager invaluable for this!)

    I then take my major subject headings and those become the major sections of my presentation. Bullet points under the subject headings become slides within that section (or bullet points, depending on how many there are). What will your major sections and subject headings be?

    If I'm speaking (and using the Powerpoint presentation as notes for this) my approach is to plan what I'm going to say, rather than what my audience will see. If I'm creating a Powerpoint presentation that will speak for itself (either with a recorded soundtrack or purely using text) I start by trying to get wording that is as clear and concise as possible for each slide.

    Some Tips for Planning your Powerpoint!

    • Decide whether you will be speaking alongside your Powerpoint or whether it has to standalone (either with text on the screen or a recorded narration).
    • Think about who your audience will be. This will help you decide where to pitch your presentation as well as deciding what multimedia elements can be included.
    • If you are speaking, then your content will only be notes to summarize, illustrate or otherwise aid what you are presenting. It shouldn't be exactly what you're going to say!
    • Keep points short and to the point. Ideally no more than 3 points. Preferably no more than 2 words each.
    • Although having said that, don't make a whole slide out of 3 bullet points that you will cover in a few seconds as you will find it difficult to change slides quick enough to keep up with the flow of your speech. Instead, can you use a single word to summarize all three?
    • Think about the size of the screen and or the room where you will be presenting. This will affect how much content you can put onto one slide (Adjust your font sizes accordingly if necessary but bear in mind what's the smallest font size you can see from the back of the room!)
    • Remember! The most important function of your PowerPoint is to give your audience somewhere to look while you speak and to focus their attention! So concentrate on keeping text to a minimum. Use an image, graph or diagram if you can to replace a lot of text.
    • If you want to keep their attention on what you're saying consider placing a single emotive image that will capture their attention and help to create empathy with what you're saying.

    Do you agree or disagree with my comments? Have you got any tips of your own to add?

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