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December 1, 2009

How to Achieve Presentation Zen: A NeboWeb Book Club Summary

Bad habits are hard to break, and the practice of bad presentations is not only a nearly unbreakable habit but is sadly considered the norm. Ever heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint?” Most of us have, and we’ve all been forced to sit quietly, asking ourselves “when the heck is this presentation going to be over so I can get back to something important?”

Presentations don’t have to be terrible, they just mostly are. This month, you’ll be glad to find there is a better way.

The Beginning: Preparation

It starts with clearing your mind and letting go of all your preconceived notions of what a presentation should be like. Of course, we are all busy, and sometimes it’s hard to shut down your mind for long enough to focus on the task at hand. That’s why in Presentation Zen, this month’s book club choice, Garr Reynolds advocates going analog; stepping away from your computer, Blackberry, and other gadgets and using pencils or markers, paper, and your creativity to sketch out your presentation.

Now, you might feel silly to be sprawled out with markers and paper. In fact, you might even feel like a child who’s about to draw something for arts and crafts – that’s the point! In order to achieve greatness, you need to approach your presentation with a “child’s mind”. Remember when you would spend hours playing with crayons and construction paper? And you weren’t worried about what you were producing, or how people would perceive it? You were just happy to be hanging out and creating some art. That’s the first step in achieving “Presentation Zen”; approach your presentation with a child’s mind and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

So, you have your child’s mind, and your materials. Now you need to start thinking about what the point of your presentation is. What is the message of the story? You should have one solid point that you want people to learn and remember from your presentation. Everything you put into your presentation should support that point. Great presentations present information efficiently and gracefully by eliminating the non-essential. Anything that doesn’t support your point is not needed. Keep it simple, clear, and brief.

Everyone knows the point of this story:


No one ever knew the point of this one:

Making it Pretty: The Design

Here’s where people get stressed. It’s easy to “prepare” your presentation, but not everyone is convinced of their design skills. Well, what happened to your child’s mind? You’re not afraid to make a mistake, remember! You don’t have to be a designer to create a great presentation. Continue on your path of efficiency and grace. In this case, design means making your main message as clear for the viewer as possible.

Some practical advice: focus on the essential and use visuals. You can always give a handout to explain the non-essential, and visuals are much easier to digest than bullet points. For example:

A thousand words:


A picture:


Don’t be afraid of empty space. Think “what can I subtract?” instead of “what else can I add?” Avoid clutter and use the graphic design principles of contrast, proximity, alignment and repetition to drive your message home.

Breathe Deep, It’s Time for: The Delivery

You’ve prepared, you’ve got your awesome design, and now comes the moment of truth: the delivery. There’s a reason public speaking is feared by more people than death; because, well, it can be scary. The way to make it not scary is to practice, practice, practice. The only way to build confidence in your presentation is to be fully prepared. Prepare like mad and you’ll be more at ease in delivery.

As you give your presentation, be fully in the moment. Give your audience your full and undivided attention. Be passionate about the subject! If you aren’t passionate, why should you expect the audience to be? Give your presentation, tell your story, and always leave the audience satisfied, but wanting more.

In Conclusion:

Presentations don’t have to be a dreaded thing; in fact, they can be fun and entertaining. This book has a ton of examples and more information which can be helpful to reference as you are creating your next presentation. The best way to learn is to get out there and do it. Go forth and create your own Presentation Zen!

November 25, 2009

Social Media Should Stop Being So Damn Tactical

The reason there are a lot of self-labeled social media experts and gurus is that people continually confuse tactics for strategy. Tactics are easy. A book on best practices will teach you 80% of what you need to know. Strategy, on the other hand, requires a blend of creativity and a ruthless determination for finding insights.

There's a place for social media best practices, and there's a place for individuals who can setup a social profile in the blink of an eye. But it's a small place. It's not an exciting place.

The real value of social media is that it gets people to think about their business problems differently. It makes companies think about their interactions with their customers and puts more emphasis on the customer experience. It provides an outlet for creative thinking, and sometimes even fosters solutions that make things better.

The reality is you don't need a social media expert teaching you tactics. Chances are you might not need a blog, a Flickr account, or even a Twitter feed. What you do need are more strategic ideas.

Use this current social media frenzy as an opportunity to rethink your interactions with your customers and gain insight on your brand. Sometimes you'll find an answer in social media, but just sometimes.

November 24, 2009

5 Simple Ways to Get Better at Creative Tasks Faster

You are less limited by your innate abilities than you think. Design, music, and writing are all skills that people view as creative, but in reality the only thing they require is practice.

But, how do you get better, faster? All you have to do is follow a few simple guidelines.

Practice at your practice.

When you first start practicing a new skill, you're tolerance for practice will be low. You probably won't be able to stand more than 30 minutes to an hour of practice. The first step to gaining a new skill is learning to practice. By increasing your tolerance for practice, you'll be able to improve faster.

Set process goals, not outcome goals.

Outcome goals (eg. we will win the superbowl) are easy to set, but they're misleading because they teach you to focus on things outside of your control. The only area in which you have complete control is the process. So set goals related to the process itself, and give yourself a time frame to work off.

Don't blame anyone, but yourself.

If the presentation didn't go well, it's not because the crowd was tough. It's because you weren't prepared. If you're design wasn't well received, it's not because the client didn't communicate their goals. It's because you didn't elicit them. The first step to improving is viewing your performance in a completely neutral manner and being accountable for all the outcomes. Not just the good ones.

Compare yourself to your peers, but aspire for the experts.

If you spend all your time comparing yourself to the masters in your field you'll quickly get discouraged. Instead, compare yourself with peers who more closely align to your experience. This will give you the confidence to continue your growth in the field. Your first blog post is going to be awkward, your first design will be rough, so don't compare yourself to the masters in the field right away.

Push beyond your comfort level.

Always pick goals that are slightly beyond your abilities. If you're practicing design, then push yourself to use a different style in your next concept. Your goals should always stretch your abilities just beyond your current comfort levels.

These simple concepts are the first steps to improving your creative performance. The reality is — if you're dedicated to getting better at a creative task, you will. The only thing stopping you is your existing habits, and your belief in your lack of innate creative talent. Once you change your habits and your mindset you'll be on the path to reaching your goals.

November 19, 2009

The Internet Hasn't Killed Middlemen (And It Never Will)

What's a middleman? Someone who takes your profits. Someone who stands between you and your customers. Someone who marks up the product. Yes, a middleman can be all of these things, but, more importantly, a middleman can be useful.

When the internet arrived, there was a lot of talk of no more middlemen. Well, years later, they're still here. It's true, businesses like traditional travel agents and book stores may have taken a blow, but they haven't been replaced by direct sellers. They've been replaced by other middlemen.

Amazon is a middleman.

Kayak is a middleman.

Zappos is a middleman.

Itunes is a middleman.

This new breed of middlemen combines an understanding of culture, technology, and product to bring value to both ends of the supply chain. In fact, that's what middlemen have always done, but as culture and technology change, so must the middleman.

We can bid a fond farewell to the middlemen of old, the middlemen of the old economy and not of the digital, and we can welcome new middlemen with open arms: record labels that focus on live events, e-commerce stores that thrive within e-culture, and many more middlemen who are sprouting up to take the place of their predecessors.

Sure, there are times when middlemen just get in the way, but for the most part they're a valuable part of our economy. The internet has changed a lot of things, but middlemen are here to stay.

November 11, 2009

It's a Freebie: A FedEx module for Prestashop

If you're not a web developer this probably won't interest you (seriously it's a little geeky). But if you're a developer working with the Prestashop ecommerce platform, this little module might just save you a decent bit of development time.

We're giving away a Prestashop FedEx module we created that enables shipping price calculations based on the FedEx API. This FedEx module also has a fall-back mode if the UPS shipping module is also installed. This release is compatible with Prestashop 1.2

Here's the steps you'll need to set it up:

  1. Download zip package.
  2. Upload 'blockfedex' folder to your modules directory.
  3. Upload Carrier.php to classes folder (make a backup of your copy first!)
  4. Upload fedexRate.php to classes folder
  5. Install the module through the Prestashop admin, entering in your account details from FedEx: key, account number, etc.
  6. Set your shipping (under the 'shipping' tab) to be "according to total weight" (the only way that FedEx can calculate shipping prices)

You can download the Prestashop FedEx module here:


November 3, 2009

3 Ways You Can Benefit From Social Media Without Engaging Your Customers

Customers are a great group to build your community with, but they aren't the only community you should be thinking about. In the rush to dive into social media, many businesses don't recognize all of the routes they might take or the opportunities that are actually before them. Here are three ways you can benefit from using social media without ever engaging your customers.

Improve Your Industry

Relationships are the bridges that connect us to new insights and opportunities. While customers can teach you many things about the direction your business should be headed, your competition undoubtedly has valuable insights as well. By breaking down the walls isolating you from them, you'll find that not only can you make friends within your industry, but you can actually do a lot to help each other. When you take the initiative to interact with other members of your industry, the whole industry benefits.

Bring Talent to Your Doorstep

Being known as a great company to work for can go a long ways. Fundamentally, every company relies on the people they hire. When you build a community around your employees and future employees, hiring talented, motivated, and all-around awesome employees becomes substantially easier. Despite the economic challenges lately, great employees have choices about where they want to work. Building a community around employees and recruits makes it more likely they'll choose to work with you.

But, having a reputation for being a great employer  does more than attract talent; it also enhances the image of your brand in the eyes of your customers. Most people don't like work, but when they hear that your employees are actually enjoying it, they recognize something different, valuable, and human about your brand.

Become A Publisher

If you're publishing quality content, the chances are you're building a community around it. These content-driven communities have a very distinct benefit: they bring in revenue. You may choose to sell the community's attention to advertisers, or you may choose to create a side business aimed at the community you've developed (e.g. 37 Signals or Coudal Partners). Either way, you'll often find that the effort it takes to become a publisher is well worth the benefits of the community you build.


Ultimately, the foundation for your community-building efforts should be an authentic and useful message. This way, no matter who you're building your relationships with, you'll find them helping you accomplish your objectives -- no coercion required.

Don't make the mistake of assuming your customers are the only people worth reaching out to. If you take a moment to look around, you'll likely find opportunities to benefit from communities all around you.

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