Weeknote 6: User group and MVP events; a new smartwatch; ghost trains; and the start of Christmas (Week 48, 2017)

Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.

Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.

The week at work

My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).

Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.

On Wednesday evening, I managed to fit in a UK Azure User Group (@UKAzure) meeting in London, with Paul Andrew (@MrPaulAndrew) talking about Azure Data Factory – another opportunity to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.

The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.

Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…

Social

I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…

So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.

The weekend

No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule

It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).

Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:

My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…

New tech

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we now have a teenager in the house and my eldest son has managed to save enough birthday money to buy a smartwatch. He was thinking of a Garmin device until I reminded him how bad their software is when we sync our bike computers so he went for a Samsung Gear Sport. It looks pretty good if you have an Android phone. I have an iPhone and an Apple Watch (as you may recall from my recent tales of woe) but if I was an Android guy, I think the Gear Sport would be my choice…

Ghost trains

I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…

Checking on Realtime Trains showed me that I could have caught a direct train from Stafford, but it wasn’t on the public timetable. Indeed, although it stops at several stations, it’s listed as an empty coaching stock working (which is presumably why it is pathed on the slow lines including the Northampton loop). So, in addition to trains that stop at Milton Keynes only to set down (southbound) or pick up (northbound), it seems that Virgin run “ghost trains” too!

Listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m in the car. This week I spent a lot of time in the car. I recommend these two episodes:

Twitter highlights

I’m no GDPR expert but this looked useful:

Company branding is great until it makes the information you give out next-to-useless:

Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).

@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!

This made me smirk (I haven’t “elevated” my Mac yet…):

If you don’t get the joke, this should provide context.

I like this definition of “digital [transformation]”:

This short video looks at how we need to “debug the gender gap”:

The full film is available to stream/download from various sources… I intend to watch.

And, to wrap up with some humour, I enjoyed Chaz Hutton’s latest Post-it sketch:

(for more like this, check out InstaChaz on Instagram)

Finit

That’s it for now… more next week…

Office Remote for Windows Phone

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be attending a “presentation masterclass”.  My last formal training in this area was twenty years ago, as a graduate trainee at ICL, so I’m hoping things will have moved on considerably since then in terms of the techniques and advice on offer!

Anyway, attending the course reminded me to blog about something I was introduced to last year by my colleague, Warren Jenkins.  Those of us with Windows or Android phones can use the Office Remote app to control PowerPoint – no need for a “clicker” – just a phone (running Windows Phone 8.x with the Office Remote app – or  Android 4.0.3 or later with the Office Remote for Android app) and a Bluetooth connection to a Windows PC (Windows 7 or 8.x), with the Office Remote PC plug-in for Office 2013.

Once Office Remote PC is installed, and the PC is connected to the phone, open the Office file that you would like to present and, on the Office Remote tab, select Office Remote > Turn On.

Then, go to the phone and make sure it’s running the Office Remote app and, if all is working well, you’ll see a list of open Office files and you can pick the one to present.  For example, in PowerPoint you can see speaker notes and control the presentation, with options to view in slide sorter mode or to use a virtual laser pointer to highlight points on the slide. You can also control other Office applications (e.g. interacting with data and switching between worksheets in Excel, or jumping around between headings or up/down a document in Word), but I’ve only used it in anger with PowerPoint.

More details are available on the online help page.

Improving presentation content and style

A few weeks ago now, I attended a webcast as part of a series run by Citrix to promote GoToMeeting. Rather than saying “hey, look at our product it does x, y and z”, Citrix used the product to host others giving advice on presentation techniques.

Ironically, some of the presentations were awful – I dropped out of one on “presenting with impact” as (in my opinion) it lacked any kind of impact; suffered from poor audio on the main presenter’s line; started out with irrelevant facts (which were later suggested as an approach to make a session memorable); and then launched into a poll before even getting going.  I did later return to the recording of this session and it had some good tips around presenting with passion, preparation, body language and the need for practice/preparation – but the fact remains that it initially turned me right off… (and I was surprised to find a professional communicator who hadn’t seen Prezi – although I’m not really a fan of that tool). Sadly, those first impressions stuck with me for the same presenter’s follow-up session on “communicating with impact”, which really failed to keep my attention (if I was being charitable, I might say that was perhaps as much an indictment of the delivery method as of the content).

Thankfully, another webcast was more useful – Roger Courville from 1080 Group spoke about “eight things we can do to improve virtual presentations” and, by and large, they were good tips (for face to face presentations too) so I’m sharing my notes here:

  1. Put a complete idea in the slide title – and keep slides visual for “picture superiority” (although the brain does see a few words as an image).
  2. Create a sense of presence – paint a vision to demonstrate 1:1 attention/facilitate a common connection.
  3. Draw the audience’s eyes to your slide’s main point – direct attention visually (additive) or reduce and simplify (subtractive) – make sure the audience doesn’t have to guess what the main point is!
  4. Keep “wholes” whole… and then build it out if you want to – i.e. show the big picture and then drill down into details.
  5. Analyse (who, what, where, when, why and how), synthesise (action or relationship), visualise (consider how things might look visually or spatially). It’s possible to get a tutorial (and template) for this tip by subscribing to the 1080 Group newsletter.
  6. Pause for power – in advance of a key point for a sense of anticipation or afterwards to allow the brain time to process. Pause for effect and pause for interactions. And, to add some insight from the communicating with impact presentation, allow silence, to give time to digest information and to add gravitas.
  7. Ask your audience what or when is best. Improve things based on feedback – either “on the fly” during the presentation, or by building an understanding over time.  And, although this wasn’t one of Roger’s tips, it seems like a good point to take another cue from the communicating with impact presentation: consider the audience’s DNA (demographic, needs, and attitude) – and be ready to flex your style.
  8. Start you next presentation by “storyboarding” (see the comments on “beyond bullet points” below) – think about the flow of the presentation (content), before filling in details (think how PowerPoint leads us to step straight in and start creating bullets!) – and “design in” interactions (demo, poll, etc.).  By way of illustration, Roger also referred to Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points book which I confess I haven’t read but is structured around three core themes:
    1. Tell a story – you only have a few seconds to create an emotional impact.
    2. Distil your ideas – instead of throwing everything into the presentation, go into the minds of the audience and figure out what to communicate (with an effective structure).
    3. Create visual prompts – not just pretty slides but building out the storyboard to take the audience on a journey to an effective presentation.

Two more points I picked up that I though were worthy of note:

  • The average soundbite dropped from 43 seconds in 1968 to less than 8 in 2010 – reflecting our reduction in attention span?
  • Slides don’t equal duration – more slides do not (necessarily) equal more content. [I particularly subscribe to this one!]

And a quote:

“The act of organising information is in itself an insight” [Edward Tufte]

Even the presentations I were less enamoured with presented some insight, like:

  • Get someone you trust to review your presentation style – and let them be frank, to tell you about your style, impact, and use of filler words like um and err (which come across as lacking in confidence).
  • Direct conversations with open and closed questions, together with summaries (for example, “let me just check…”, list key points and end with a closed question).
  • Online presentations lack feedback from listening noises (like those that might be applied on the phone).

Using this information, I’m hoping to improve my future presentations and, judging by the number of “death by PowerPoint” sessions that I attend, a few other people could learn from this too. There are also a few more resources that might come in handy: