How to Get Microsoft to Grant Your PowerPoint Wishes

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For many years, Microsoft had the reputation of being a lumbering, deaf giant when it came to improving its products. Long-time PowerPoint users can look back and wonder why it took so long to add no-brainer features and fix glitches. It was one thing to have to wait three years in between product cycles, but it was in some ways more frustrating to feel as though your voice as a user was just not being listened to. If you had a great idea for PowerPoint, would anyone in Redmond even care? Further, could you even contact the product team?

UserVoice

That was the old Microsoft, and the new more nimble Microsoft, believe it or not, is actively listening to the average user and making changes based on user input. For real.

See that picture above? That is an always-on screen in the main hallway of the PowerPoint product development team. On the right-hand side is Twitter—yes, hashtag #PowerPoint and the engineers are going to see your post. But even better is the left-hand side which is a feed of powerpoint.uservoice.com, a site dedicated to wishlist features for PowerPoint that allows anyone to vote on proposed additions and to add your own requests for others to vote on.

Okay, but is this just a feel-good marketing ploy? No, it’s real, and the product development team is actively listening. I was reminded of this the other day when I dashed off a feature request to the product team directly (as a Microsoft MVP, I can get a little closer than the average user), and was gently reminded to post requests on uservoice. While Microsoft will always have final say, there is a legitimate sense of democracy afoot these days. Case in point is the just introduced game-changing feature called Morph. After years of begging for a PowerPoint answer to Keynote’s Magic Move, Microsoft finally instituted a similar feature that promises to ultimately trump Apple’s. Here’s the uservoice post on Morph.

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The dev team not only actively reads requests, but often provides updates and comments. Notice the “completed” badge on the Morph request and the “Started” one on the below request.
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 7.28.10 AMIn every presentation training I give, I always ask people to tell me their PowerPoint gripes, wishes and things that take longer than they feel they should. In some cases, I can show them a little-known feature to fix their problems, but other times, it will be up to Microsoft to make life easier for them. And uservoice is how to make that happen.

Oh, and always send crash reports to Microsoft. It helps everyone!

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Categories: PowerPoint.

Generating Ideas With SmartStormer Online Training

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If there’s one thing drives me crazy, it’s seeing people putting together and designing a presentation before they even know what they’re trying to say. Often, this cart-before-the-horse approach is the result of laziness and simply not wanting to outline a story first. But I also see cases where presenters are literally trying to generate business ideas and solutions at the same time they’re deciding what font color to use. This couldn’t be more counterproductive to successful ideation, and it shows me yet again that idea generation is a vanishing art.

“Innovation” is what leaders say time and again is most important to their businesses, and yet few of us know how to actually generate and select innovative ideas—be it an iPhone or a better way for signing up for the office softball team.

So, how do you successfully ideate?

I’ve written before about the book SmartStorming which I still consider the single best book I have ever seen on this topic. The authors, Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie (good friends and former colleagues, full disclosure) are simply the best in the business when it comes to helping others generate new ideas and innovate.

Until now, the only way to learn their secret sauce was through their book or by attending a private corporate training. That changes with the introduction of their new SmartStormer online training available to all. Adapted from their in-person trainings, the 5 1/2 hour course contains interactive exercises, quizzes and 70 high-quality videos. It is essentially the online version of the full day SmartStorming training. And yes, it definitely contains their secret sauce to ideation. If you feel like you struggle with coming up with “good ideas” and wonder how others can brainstorm 20 ideas vs your three, I highly encourage you to take a look. The course is modular and can be accessed for up to a year, so you can definitely go through it at your own pace.

The cost to the public is $299, but use the special Present Your Story code of PYS50, and you’ll receive a $50 discount. And if you’re interested in a group discount for your office, just give them a holler—I’m sure they’ll cut you a good deal.

Find out more here and even try a free sample.

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And if you need more convincing, head over to 3 Questions with Keith.

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3 Questions with Keith Harmeyer of “SmartStorming”

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Keith Harmeyer is one of the two principals of SmartStorming, one of the best ideation consultancies there is. I talked to Keith upon the launch of their new online SmartStormer training to ask how ideation figures into presentation.

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1. What does ideation have to do with the making of better presentations?

One of the key objectives for anyone sitting down to create a presentation, is to make that presentation as engaging and persuasive as possible, right? Well in order to accomplish that, you need ideas. Ideas for how to most effectively structure your content. Ideas for how to visualize it, and present it. There are tens of thousands of people sitting at a computer right now, working on their next presentation. What’s going to make YOURS stand out? What will make your audience say, “That’s one of the best presentations I’ve seen.” I believe the first, and possibly most crucial step in the presentation design process is to generate fresh, innovative ways of approaching your work.

In other words – take the time to come up with some great ideas.

2. How can SmartStorming help the average person who is not looking to create the next iPhone, but has more basic responsibilities at work?

One of our missions at SmartStorming is to “demystify” the innovative thinking process, and make it relevant to everyone. Lots of people get hung up on the term “innovation.” They think being innovative requires that you come up with something ground-breaking that no one’s ever seen before. But in fact, the most common type of innovation is simply taking something that already exists (a product, service, process, idea, whatever) and making it better. Simple. And anyone can do it, at any time – and in the process, deliver greater value and benefits to their employer, customers, clients, etc.

At SmartStorming we give people the basic understanding, skills and confidence necessary to approach any type of work more innovatively.

3. If someone could take away just a single specific teaching from the SmartStorming training, what would you want it to be?

In terms of a practical tip that will instantly help someone generate bigger, better, more innovative ideas, simply this: never judge your own (or others’) ideas prematurely. When you’re engaged in the process of generating ideas, anything goes. Don’t reject anything; allow even “bad” ideas to survive, for awhile, to see where they might lead. There is a time to judge and eliminate ideas, but later, during the evaluation and selection process. Keep the two processes separate, and your creative problem solving ability will improve exponentially.

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Categories: Creativity, Interviews.

Obama’s 2016 Enhanced SOTU Was Also “Big Picture”

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President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union last night was more “big picture” than is typical, and so was the traditional Enhanced State of the Union. Fewer charts and graphs and numbers overall and more imagery and singular statement “slides.” I also liked that they didn’t feel the need to fill every moment with a visual.

Watch it here:

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Categories: Presenting Live.

Different Audiences, Different Process Graphics

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I came across a simple, but excellent example of process graphics in Michael Bierut’s new book, How To. Above are two pages from the printed brand guidelines for the design of United Airline’s once low cost sub-brand called TED.

As part of the design and branding work, Michael’s firm Pentagram wanted to show how the different divisions of United Airlines all fit together. Instead of a single visual (“process graphic”), they created two: one for internal audiences (on the left) and one for external audiences (on the right.)

This is a great reminder for me that one story does not always mean one single graphic. Think about your audience, think about their level of knowledge, think about what you want them to take away from your graphic.

Below is the full page from Michael’s new book.

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PowerPoint: New Direction, Major New Features

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I recently returned from the annual Microsoft MVP Summit at Redmond HQ. Over the course of 3 days of intimate sessions with the PowerPoint and Office development teams, I got a preview of where Microsoft is headed in the coming years with their Office products including PowerPoint. And it’s very exciting.

More Frequent Updates

The largest shift is the one to a more nimble product improvement schedule. As users transition to the Office 365 subscription model, gone will be the days of major product releases every 3 years. Instead, subscription users will see frequent software updates. In fact, frequent and rapid product improvement is now a corporate mandate for the development teams, in addition to convergence of user experiences across all platforms and hardwares. The goal for the latter is for users to have the exact same experience using PowerPoint on the Mac, PC, tablet, mobile, online, etc. In terms of frequent product improvements, many of these will be small and often invisible (security patches, bug fixes), but some will be rather ground-breaking new features that promise to dramatically improve user efficiency and in the case of PowerPoint, the quality of user-created presentations.

Case in point is the news of two brand-new features due to be released in the next few weeks:

Morph

PowerPoint finally has an answer to Keynote’s Magic Move! The new feature called “Morph” does away with the need to actually animate objects by letting the user create a pair of slides with the desired beginning and end states of layout and design. By applying Morph as a slide transition, PowerPoint does the incredibly heavy lifting of interpolating the two states and applying an animation that morphs the beginning state into the next. The simplest example of this would be a title slide with a large centered logo. Starting on slide 2, that same logo is placed much smaller and in the corner. Simply apply the Morph transition and you’ll see that large logo shrink down and move to the corner. That’s it!

This really is a game changer that can not only save hours of animation time, but will also open up endless possibilities for creating more fluid, interactive and even Prezi-like slides that zoom in and out of content.

Designer

The second feature aims to put me and other professional presentation designers out of business. Well, not really, but it does attempt to provide automatic layout and design help for the average user. Designer takes user content (imagery and text) on a slide that has been placed into a Microsoft theme, and then based on that content, gives a number of layout suggestions that instantly turn lame slides into professionally designed ones. It’s much more than just applying different master layouts as it takes into account the actual image and text themselves and intelligently creates an entirely composed slide.

It seems as though Microsoft has been looking at the work of professional presentation designers over the years and has been actively thinking about how to provide that level of quality to the average user from within the program itself. Watch the demo video above and read more about these new features at the Microsoft Blog.

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Office Insider & Providing Feedback to Microsoft

Both Morph and Designer will, like many complex software features, arrive as first generations. Over time, I have no doubt that they will improve in functionality and depth of use. And with Microsoft’s new release philosophy, you most certainly will not have to wait three years to see those improvements. To get on the most inside of tracks with new releases, sign up for the new Office Insider Program which will give you the earliest access to new features. This is available only to Office 365 users.

And if you have feature requests and are interested in providing feeback directly to Microsoft, check in regularly at PowerPoint.uservoice.com where you request and vote on new features. Trust me, Microsoft actively monitors user feedback and as we can now see from Morph, does eventually listen!

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Categories: PowerPoint.

Michael Bierut’s How To

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Just sitting here reading, watching and playing with 3 wonderful new things:

  1. My new puppy, Banksy
  2. The 2nd Season of Fargo
  3. Michael Bierut’s How To

I had the great fortune of working with Michael for a short period on a joint pitch, and he’s as about down to earth as his work is at the vanguard of contemporary graphic design.

Michael has written a great deal over the years including a touching tribute to his mentor Massimo Vignelli, this collection of essays on design and much more. But this is his first monograph, and it’s an excellent look into the work and way of working of one of the world’s top graphic designers. It definitely belongs on every designer’s shelf.

Cole, your new book is up next…

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Categories: Visual Thinking.
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