Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ten Golden Rules to Make a Kick-Ass Power Point Presentation

As a follow-up on my Golden Rules to a Kick-ass Presentation and with the upcoming Conference on Honduras in mind, here some tips on how to make that Power Point Presentation a mind blowing visual instead of a pain in the butt…

Those of you who remember working with slideshows and overhead projectors probably agree that Power Point Presentations (PPT) are quite an improvement. They’re easy to make even with a minimum of computer skills; the technical possibilities are endless; and it all fits on a memory stick or even in an email attachment. 

But…  Who hasn’t attended a conference with PPTs that just went on and on, hundreds of pictures tumbling over each other thanks to the use of every animation feature in the program? Or worse even, a PPT existing of text only, often so big that it falls of the screen, read out loud by the speaker?

A PPT can be an incredible powerful tool. It can lighten up your presentation; highlight the main points; and the combination of visuals with your spoken presentation make it easier to process and remember. Just make sure your PPT doesn’t undermine your message by presenting a badly composed collection of random text and images. Here a few tips:

1. It’s a visual AID!
Unless your images are the subject of your presentation (such as a presentation about Religious Paintings in the Middle Ages), realize that your PPT is supposed to support your presentation, not to overwhelm or repeat it. Use a limited amount of good images that illustrate your words, or better, give additional visual value or information, rather than a downpour of pictures you happened to have anyway.  Try not to be patronizing with your images (or text): if you write about you’re a water project, use a picture of the actual project rather than one of just a faucet. We all know what a faucet looks like. Avoid repetition and redundancy.

As for text, use only a few keywords that link your spoken text to the images and that help the audience to keep track of the main points. Realize that if you put text in a PPT, people will read it. And if they read, they won’t listen to what you have to say. 

2. Quality over quantity
A picture can tell a thousand words. That’s great, that’s why we use visuals in the first place. However, a bad picture also tells a thousand words! There is no need to use professional photos only, just make sure the image is to the point, in focus and of a reasonable resolution. Images taken from the internet are often too grainy to put in a PPT and are often subject to copyright (more about that in the next paragraph). For PPTs, “less is more” is usually a good guideline to keep. You don’t want to visually over-impose your audience. Quality over quantity, always!

3. Respect author’s rights
It’s so easy these days to find a picture of just anything through Google or Bing, but be careful… It’s not only that these pictures might be subject to copyright (but who would find out anyway?), it is often obvious that the pictures are not originals and that might harm your own integrity. You might think that if you talk about building schools in the dessert, it might be fun to illustrate it with a picture of some random people laying bricks, but keep in mind that your audience will assume the photo is of your specific project. Besides, it often doesn’t look professional. Avoid misunderstandings: For the good of your own project’s transparency and reputation, use your own pictures only. (And if you use other people’s pictures, just be nice and ask permission and/or give credit if desired by writing their name in small letters on the picture). 

Another something to keep in mind if you use pictures of people: make sure they’re dignified. If you wouldn’t like to be publicly pictured in a miserable position, half starved or sick, then don’t do that to others…

4. Don’t explain what you see
The whole idea of using images to illustrate your words is that they support what you say or put it in a context, so don’t explain what you see, that’s often redundant and patronizing. Unless you provide some additional information about the image, for example how difficult it was to take that specific picture, or under what special circumstances it was taken.

5. Keep it short and to the point
A PPT is not the same as a yearly report, a novel or a project proposal!!! Yet again, it is a visual aid to illustrate your words. So keep it short and to the point! Think out a scheme you’d like to use, for example:

  • Introduction (geographical and cultural context)
  • Explanation of the problem
  • Solution to the problem
  • Results
  • Conclusion
Don’t be too specific. A lot of people might not be interested in all your details, but by spiking the interest of your audience, people who are will contact you anyway (provided you give them the information needed to do so, see point 10.)

6. No tricks please!
It’s all too tempting to use all those great features provided by PPT: flying text blocks, flickering images, funky clipart, artsy transitions… But usually they just turn out to be annoying and delay the message you want to transmit. Not that a PPT can’t be artistic or fancy. Just keep a few ground rules in mind:

  • If you use a template, pick one that fits your theme and that isn’t too overpowering. Pink roses while talking about violence in Honduras? Maybe not.
  • It’s easy to make your own template, and often much nicer. For a background you can use a picture of your own, maybe editing it a bit in PPT or any other photo program. Just make sure there is enough contrast with the text (dark text on light, even background or the other way around). Once you’ve designed a template you like (background plus text blocks), just copy/paste the slide (in the left-hand panel) before adding text and images to the rest of the slides. 
  • Use (if any) the same slide and/or photo transitions throughout your whole presentation. It’s calmer than having different transitions and it avoids problems while going from one slide to the other.
  • If you use colored text on a colored background, keep in mind that some combinations just don’t work. Green letters on red start “swimming” and besides, they are hard to read for people who are colorblind.
  • If you use a lot of color, be aware that each color has its own meaning. Even people who know nothing about the psychology of colors tend to perceive bright red as aggressive, black as depressive or serious, yellow as happy and playful. Blues and greens are calm colors, whereas shades of terracotta and orange give a warmer impression. Use a color that underlines your theme.
7. Watch out with fonts and features
In the first place, always use a font that is easy on the eyes and easy to read. If you use an uncommon font, be aware that if you use your presentation on somebody else’s computer, it might change the font and actually the whole design of your PPT. If you insist on using a specific font, save your text (in your PPT) as an image (GIF) and insert it. This way you won’t be able to change the text anymore, but neither can anybody else(‘s computer).
The same thing goes for features such as transitions: what works right on your own computer at home might do something altogether different on someone else’s computer. 

8. Check you PTT before your presentation
It might sound like kicking in an open door, but please do check your PPT before you give your presentation! Just make sure it is lined up the way you want it and that you have all you need (pointer, remote control) at hand. Nothing is more unnerving than starting your presentation with a PPT that is at fault.

9. Spelling-spelling-spelling
A PPT can easily look very professional. But not so if your spelling sucks. That’s unprofessional, unnecessary and it looks like you don’t care. PPT has a spell check function, but even better is to write out your text first in Word. Make sure you spell foreign names correctly too. That’s just being respectful. And if you make a bilingual PPT without speaking the language (very considerate at conferences with simultaneous translation), don’t bet all your horses on Google Translate, but ask some to look it over. Also, be consistent in your spelling. ‘Copán Ruinas’ is spelled with an accent on the ‘a’, although in English it is often written without. If you do so, make sure you do so throughout the whole document.

10. Contact info
Often a presentation ends with time for questions and answers, and usually your last slide stays on during that period. So use that slide to repeat the name of your presentation, your own name or company and contact info, to give your audience the chance to write it down.

Good luck!!!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ten Golden Rules to Give a Kick-Ass Presentation at Conferences

This post is a bit different from my usual wandering thoughts on living in Honduras, but the Conference on Honduras is coming up (Sept 26-28) and I thought this might be helpful...

There wouldn’t be any conferences if networking and personal presentations weren’t as powerful as they are. It’s one thing to get a brochure in the mail asking for donations for an orphanage in a faraway country, a whole different story to have someone in front of you telling passionately about his or her own experience. A good presentation is more powerful than the fanciest business card or website. However, a bad presentation can also ruin any interest people might initially have for your topic.
Here a few tips to make your presentation funky, interesting and entertaining!

1. Know what you’re talking about
Duh… you might say. But seriously, you need to know a whole lot more about your topic than the essence you’re going to present. Most people who present are professionals in their field, and for a reason. If it was that easy to give a presentation, we could just hire somebody, anybody, hand over a Power Point Presentation and a list of things to say, and that would be it. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s impossible to present all the details of years of experience, but only someone with that experience can resume it to the bare core.  Your audience will know whether you’re knowledgeable or not, so have all you facts ready and be prepared.

2. Know your audience
Design your presentation towards your audience. If you talk about a water project in Kenya to a group of preschoolers, you might want to start pointing out Kenya on the map and use metaphors the children can relate to. Talking to a group engineers requires of course a totally different talk. This might sound as yet another point to take for granted, but speakers often come over as unprofessional or patronizing by providing their audience with too much or too little information. To play it on the safe side, give a very short general introduction (you can say for example: “As we all know, Honduras is a very poor country in Central America”) and then get into the specifics. Walking that fine line between giving too much or too little information isn’t easy, so the more you know about your audience before hand, the better. In the case of Conference in Honduras, we’re all pretty much in the same boat. However, keep in mind that the audience exists of both foreigners and Hondurans, and that certain statements might be offending for one group or the other. “Nobody ever helps Honduras” stated by a local might be a bit insulting to all those gringos trying to help out, whereas remarks from outsiders about how corrupt the country is, might offend Hondurans whom not all are corrupt.

3. Keep it personal
The reason you’re giving a presentation instead of handing out an information sheet, is because it is your presentation. Even if the topic is serious and formal, keep it personal. Start your presentation with a personal experience or anecdote. It will spark the interest but also give people an insight in your topic. The bare facts can be taken off the website of brochure. What you personally have to add to it, can’t.
If the topic calls for it, use humor in your presentation. It keeps people alert and it opens up your audience for the information you have to share. However, if you’re not a natural joker, then don’t play the clown. Nothing is worse than a joke nobody laughs at!

4. Tell your story, don’t read it out loud!
Even if you decide to write out the whole text of your presentation, don’t read it out loud! When you read, your voice is more monotone and the information sounds not half as interesting. If necessary, write out your text and start practicing by retelling each paragraph in your own words until you feel comfortable enough to do it without a the text. But keep your text nearby, even if you won’t need it. It will give you confidence and something to fall back on.

5. Use visuals
The more senses you stimulate, the more likely it is for the information to come across. Photos or illustrations are great and a Power Point Presentation can be of great help, as long as it is a good one (see: Ten Golden Rules to Make a Kick-Ass Power Point Presentation). Also consider sound (the rumble of a horrifying earthquake?) or video (kids playing and laughing?). Or smell! When talking about coffee producing, why not brining some freshly ground beans?

6. Don’t hide behind the lectern
If there’s a lectern or reading desk, avoid it! Instead, step in front of it and use the whole space available. If you walk from one side to the other, people are forced to look at you and will pay more attention. It makes the whole presentation livelier and more interesting.

7. Make eye contact
You are a human being, talking to other human beings, so make sure people won’t forget that! Make eye contact, so people feel involved. It also works miraculously if someone isn’t paying attention or twittering. Just look at that person, make eye contact, give a sly smile and you’ll have his or her attention for the rest of your presentation.

If you start speaking, open your chest, slightly raise your chin, and focus the reach of your voice at a point in the very back of the room.  Speak from your belly while keeping your shoulders back. Speak out loud, but without forcing your voice. Let your whole body transmit confidence and it will give you yourself more confidence.
 If there’s a lot of noise and people keep on talking, don’t raise your voice, but instead lower it. People will be trying to hear what you’re saying and even hush the others. Success guaranteed.

9. Make sure you’re ready

Make sure you’re on time, if not early for your presentation, so you won’t have to rush. Make sure you have all you need: microphone, pointer, Power Point Presentation, remote control and a glass of water. Even if you’re not thirsty, a glass of water is a great object to use to stall an answer or thought.

10. Be prepared for Q&A
Be as prepared as possible for the questions. If you don’t know an answer, don’t lie, but say that the question is really interesting and you’ll get back to that person shortly. Make sure you really answer the questions instead of starting another mini-speech. 

Break a leg!!!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

One of those parties…

A couple of weeks ago I ran into an old acquaintance who reminded me of a terrific party we once had in my house, years and years ago. Now, I’ve had many good parties in my house, back in the time when it seemed we all didn’t do much more than partying anyway, but this one was truly memorable.

I have no idea how it all started and what the occasion was, but there was some sort of cultural event in town that had ended way to early to our likes and somehow a whole bunch of people ended up in my house. There was Nury from San Pedro Sula, celebrating her birthday and dying to get rid of the huge birthday cake she was carrying around all over town. Guillermo Anderson, Honduras’ most famous musician was there too, as well as a bunch of people from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Looking at pictures, I also know there were some tour guides and even Nelson, a local teacher who won’t miss the opportunity to go for a swing. Also present were some close friends, an employee of mine even, but mostly people I met there and then for the first time.

The cake, that nobody was much interested in, disappeared into the kitchen and a little later disappeared quite literally when my dog Monster took advantage of the fact that we were all dancing the night away in the living room. There was little left but a huge moustache of icing around his nose. But nobody cared: we listened to live music, danced to the few salsa CD’s I had while more and more people arrived, filling every corner of my tiny house. There must have been booze, obviously, but apparently not enough. While going over the damage the next morning I realised someone had gotten into my decorative bottles of coloured water. The clear glass bottles that I had filled with tainted water to match the glass bottle stops were now half empty. Someone must have had quite a hangover that day… Well, we probably all did, but the party was well worth it…

A year or two later I visited the cultural centre Casa de los Tres Mundos in Granada, Nicaragua, were I met the Minister of Culture. When he heard I was from Copán, he told me about his last trip there, where he had had the greatest time. He told me his that his friend Angela, who happens to be one of my best friends too, even took him to some private home where they danced till the early morning. That’s when I realised why the guy looked so familiar! He had been one of my guests!
“Aha!” the Minister of Culture said. “So it was your dog that ate the cake!”

So, yes, that was a good one! But far from the only one. We seem to be pretty good at partying here in Copán. At least, we used to be, because now we’re of course much more serious and mature and go to bed a ten every night…

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Not (yet) leaving Copán after all…

In August of 2010 I decided to leave Copán. Now three years have passed and I’m still here. To stay. Well, maybe…

When I arrived in Honduras in March of 1997, I had no intention to stay very long. But a two month visit turned in to six months, then a year and before I knew it, Copán had become my home and I no longer had a return ticket. Copán is a fun place to live and I loved my work as director of the cultural NGO I had founded. But whether it was a midlife crisis, frustration with the downfall of the country or just being burned out, halfway through the year 2010, I’d had it.

So bottom-line, I wrapped up my organization, got rid of a bunch of stuff, gave up my house and moved –temporarily- into my previous office for the few months I planned to hang around in Copán. I started working independently and fulltime as an artist and designer and I must say it was a delight not to have a whole organization and number of employees to worry about, but instead doing what I like most: painting, writing, hiking and lots of yoga… I had no specific plan of what I wanted to do, but was thinking of going to Spain. It seemed a good place to go: not as Wild West as Honduras but not as over organized and chilly as my home country Holland. But then Spain’s economy went patas arriba and it didn’t look like such a good idea anymore… Not that Honduras is doing that great, or my own economic situation for that matter, but at least I have a reasonably comfortable and enjoyable life here. To give that up to go elsewhere without the back-up of a savings account??? Nah…

But… Tourism is at an all-time low, Honduras is far from being the favourite destination at the moment and the economic crisis affects everyone. And since art is not considered a primary necessity (although I don’t know why, for me it is!), it hurts my purse deeply. But worse than that, in the last few months there were moments I hadn’t much to do. Me and not having anything to do is a lethal combination, so there were only two options and one of them is not an option, so I picked the other one: keeping myself busy! So that’s why I decided to open, against all odds, a business. I didn’t have any money to invest, but I figured that with just my time and a bunch of left over paint I’d come a long way. After all, the good thing of having nothing is that there’s nothing to lose…. That was about a month ago, and I did it: Luminosa Café Gallery is now open for business!!!

This last month I had great fun turning the ugly patio and run-down living room into a colourful place where I exhibit my art and products. The courtyard is open as a small café where I sell my own favourite tapas and mixes of herbal tea. And coffee, wine and beer, of course. At night I can transform the place into a yoga studio and I even decided to take people along on my daily hikes. Not that I’m that fond of chattering my way through the mountains at dawn, but I found a perfect solution: I’m selling “silent yoga hikes”. For a fee I’m happy to take you along, but sssshhhhhh……. J

So, here I am, still in Copán! There’s still a lot to do, which only makes me very happy. I don’t see myself leave anytime soon.
And who knows, I even might make a bit of money…


....And after....(Although not yet finished)