WWDC from a Keynote point of view

Thursday, September 21, 2006

This article was written by one of our readers, David Astling. Enjoy!

Presentation Style at WWDC

I had the great fortune to attend WWDC this year and am slowly digesting all the information given us. While many of the new features in Leopard have been discussed in detail, I thought I would share a few tips and tricks on presentation style that I picked up at WWDC. Since Powerpoint is used almost exclusively at many of the bioscience conferences I attend, it was refreshing to see Keynote used at every talk during the week. It was also great to see Apple using their own software for the presentations. I’m sure the Keynote team will get lots of great feedback from the other folks at Apple.

Overall Impressions
After the keynote address, the execs at Apple provided a general overview of the new technologies to be explained in more detail later in the week. In terms of presentation style, the talks on Monday were the best with their good use of graphics, minimized use of text and bullet points and minimized use of transitions and builds. The talks Tuesday through Friday were more serious in nature. Generally a product manager gave an overview followed by an engineer who offered more details. Almost all the talks featured a demo of some kind with frequent switching between Keynote and the demo.

All of the talks used the Gradient Black theme to maintain consistency with Steve Job’s keynote. Many of the graphics and charts used a basic color palate of the primary and secondary colors (see the Keynote file at the end of this article). The closest third-party theme that best approaches this look is the Keynote Address theme from KeynoteUser.com (Thanks for the compliment, Dave!). The only exception to the Gradient Black theme was a talk from the folks at Intel. They used a solid light-blue background with white letters with a Powerpointy feel. Come to think of it they may have been using Powerpoint. The Intel talk contained ugly slides, too many bullet points, too specific and too technical. In contrast the folks at Apple clearly spent a great deal of time rehearsing and polishing their talks in the company of presentation experts.

The animations and builds of Keynote 3 paled in comparison to the Core Animation demo. I’m excited to see what developers do with this technology. I paid close attention to the transitions and builds during the week, hoping to see something that would reveal new features in Keynote 4. Unfortunately, the transitions and builds used all seemed to have been done in the current version of Keynote. They exited from Keynote to demo Core Animation, so I have no knowledge of what the next version of Keynote will be like. In term of transitions, I liked the way Bertrand Serlet used the Fall transition as he listed the undesirable underpinnings of Windows (as seen at 27:17 in the keynote movie). Other transitions I saw: Cube, Reflection, Revolving Door, Page Flip, Droplet and Swoosh. The engineers got a kick out of some of the transitions with a slight grin as they advanced the slide.

The new 3D charts in Keynote 3 felt overused in the talks on Monday, but not so much in the other sessions that week (Phil Schiller uses them in the keynote movie around 9:26 and 11:22 and Scott Forstall uses a 3D pie chart around 32:50). I’m not a big fan of 3D charts as they generally don’t convey any additional information. I wonder if they were used as a way of showing off Keynote’s features.

Saying goodbye to my laser pointer
Thinking back on WWDC I don’t recall ever seeing a single laser pointer. Every biology talk or classroom lecture I’ve attended involves a laser pointer in some way. Most people consider them a necessary evil to highlight important features in a slide, but annoy many audiences when a nervous speaker, over-caffeinated, jiggles the dot. The talks at WWDC went smoothly without them. In fact I didn’t notice their absence until afterwards. A carefully crafted presentation using good presentation effects eliminates the need for laser pointers altogether. Here are a few tips for weaning yourself off of them (see the Keynote file for examples).

1. Eliminate clutter

If you find that you need to highlight something, first ask yourself if the rest of the stuff on the slide is necessary. If not, delete it!

2. Describe the graphics and charts in words

If your graphs and charts are well labeled and in large type, use words not visuals to refer to the important data. For example, if the audience can clearly see the “2005” label, simply say “In the graph you can see how much climate temperature has risen in 2005”. A laser pointer is not needed to point out the obvious.

3. Use builds and highlighting for text

Bullet points highlighting the current item and greying out the others helps the audience to follow along easily. See the Keynote file for a few examples. Also if you must use bullet points, spend time discussing each point. Avoid rushing though a screenful of text.

4. Use shapes to highlight features in a graphic

For those hard to see items in a graphic, use circles, arrows and custom cutouts to highlight particular features instead of relying on a laser pointer. Apple employed these techniques quite often at WWDC (see the Keynote file for examples). The shape cutouts used for highlighting in several talks surprised me. The cutout grayed out the rest of the content on the slide and drew attention to the important element. It achieved a similar result as Mouseposé, except using Keynote.

5. OmniDazzle or Mouseposé

An engineer from Omni demonstrated OmniDazzle at an after party. He had various effects mapped to different keys of his mighty mouse. It’s a pretty sweet app, a great tool for highlighting things on the fly.

The advantage of using a shape cutout instead of OmniDazzle or Mouseposé is that you can set it up ahead of time and don’t have to switch between applications. You have one less thing to worry about failing. The advantage of OmniDazzle or Mouseposé is that you save time in configuring the shape cutout and highlight things on the fly (e.g. in response to questions). Either way, both techniques are big improvements over a laser pointer.

6. Use the built-in Zoom

You can enable the built-in Zoom option found in Universal Access in the System Preference. Speakers used this technique quite often at WWDC to highlight hard to see menu options in Xcode 3 or while discussing sample code. During demos Apple engineer placed the mouse over the region of interest and pressed Command-Option-Equals to zoom in so that the folks at the back of the room could see. Very cool! The great thing about this technique is that it’s built into the OS so there’s no need to purchase additional software.

Take control of your presentation with speech recognition
I had the great fortune to see a demo of the Speech capabilities Friday morning and was completely blown away. Wow, this is one of those technologies I have overlooked. While Core Animation and iChat Theater received much attention from the Keynote community, I think Speech Recognition could be just as big.

The speaker described the current interaction as “point and grunt”. We point with the mouse and computer beeps as an errors occur. Since the 70’s, computers have always had the ability to beep, but today they are capable of much more. Speech is not just limited to folks with disabilities. It opens up a whole new world in the way that we interact.

Speech recognition is most useful for tasks buried in deeply nested menus and for hands-free activities. Will Shipley gave a demo using Delicious Library, his library organization app. Spoken commands are great for when you are organizing your library collection across the room from your Mac. By setting the internal microphone to always listen, you can ask if various books or CDs are in your collection. This way you can make a pile of stuff to scan into Delicious Library later.

As I was watched the demo I realized that Keynote presentations are a great example of a hands-free activity. For the most part, a remote control handles most of the basic functionality I need when giving a talk, such as moving forward and backward through slides. But Spoken Commands would be very useful in cases where I need to carry out a specific task. For example switching to a specific slide requires several key strokes and requires me to be in front of my laptop. Wouldn’t it be great to simply say “switch to slide 5” from across the room and have Keynote make the switch? Or while editing a Keynote presentation, click an object and say “send to back” to change the position of objects instead of hunting through the menu items?

While Speech has received a major overhaul in Leopard, much of this functionality already exists in Tiger! I’m impressed by how sophisticated this technology has become. During the demo Will Shipley used a microphone headset, but the internal microphone in most PowerBooks is sensitive enough to pick up voices from almost thirty feet away. Since returning home I have used Speech to navigate through through the OS and Keynote. For example, I can switch between slides, pause the slideshow, bring up Safari, navigate through my home page with page up/page down, and return to the presentation all without touching the keyboard, mouse or remote control. Most of the functionality is already built in and through AppleScript you can you can provide the rest.

A few important points:

1. Activate the microphone only while you speak the command

Avoid setting it to listen continuously. Even if you are alone in your office, an unexpected phone call or conversation could be interpreted as spoken commands.

which brings us to

2. Map one of the buttons on the remote to the key for activating listening

While some remotes can be configured to execute various tasks, the number of buttons is limited. Simply pressing a button to activate speech opens up infinite possible commands and tasks.

3. Calibrate the speech recognition when changing rooms

Do this by using the System Preferences > Speech panel. Click the “Calibrate” button and speak the commands in the list. Each room has a different acoustical property which can influence the way sound is interpreted. The calibration process sets more than a hundred variables behind the scenes.

I doubt I will use the speech technology in a super critical presentation like a job talk as that’s just one more thing that can go wrong. But, with some thought and with the correct configuration, I think Speech could be really useful and impress an audience.

Know your audience
While most of the talks at WWDC were excellent, a few were overly technical. One of the talks I attended was supposed to be an introduction to an underutilized technology in Cocoa. However, many of us felt lost in all the detail. The presenter spent quite some time discussing the new changes in Leopard, but these new changes meant little due to unfamiliarity with the current methodology.

Packing too much information in a talk is very easy to do especially in the sciences. Try to keep things simple and know your audience. Everyone has a slightly different background. Provide enough information so that a diverse audience can follow along.

At one of the parties, I chatted with an Apple engineer that was nervous about his upcoming presentation. (This would be his first time speaking in front of an audience). It turns out he did very well. I have a theory that nervousness is a necessary ingredient for a great talk. Or to put it in another way, if you are not nervous before a talk there’s something wrong. Nervousness has a way of pushing people to perform at their best (this is also my theory for skiing/kayaking/biking). There’s two types of fear, the bad kind of fear paralyzes people and prevents them from considering the risks. The good kind of fear causes one to plan more extensively and prepare for possible disaster. If you are worried about your demo freezing up during the Keynote, you spend time rehearsing to be sure it will work and to prepare an alternative in case something goes wrong.

So there are my thoughts on presentation style at WWDC. I had a great time at the conference and am excited about the new technologies coming out next year. I hope you found this useful and gives you some ideas for your own talk.

WWDC Presentation Ideas

-David Astling