From Business Book to Training Program (Part 1)

When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.
— Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym

Five years ago, I embraced a challenge that changed my professional life.

I received a PowerPoint deck that our friend Andréa had presented to a Professional Women's association in Brazil. She shared stories and case studies that were at the heart of her book: Valor Feminino (Published in Portuguese – translates to "Female Value").

The deck was filled with interesting insights and detailed facts; but, it took me a few views to understand what the presentation was about.

My initial assignment was to redesign the presentation, so that she could deliver it in other venues. I had been doing a lot of this kind of work, taking an "okay" presentation and making it look better. This project required a different approach – This presentation wanted to be a training program.

Structuring the presentation like a course would support the publication of the book, empower the author and give actionable life lessons to the audience.


Step 1 – Active Listening

Listening to understand is not easy. It's a skill that requires curiosity, concentration and self control. It's difficult to turn off the part of your brain that wants to interrupt, add your two cents or make a proposal.

Listening leads to good work, by reducing the time and energy that is wasted in correcting misunderstandings, especially when they are revealed late in a project and require big changes.

We made listening and exploring Andréa's needs for her program a team effort. We knew we had to align our results to her goals.

We used verbal probes to align our efforts to:

  • Her Objective: Share powerful tools for Brazilian women to succeed in business
  • Her Audience: Brazilian women

This meant boiling the message, the case studies and the stories to specific skills that she could teach and that they could make a part of their lives.


We will publish part two of "Turning your Business Book into a Training Program" Wednesday, May 20.

Five Power Tips for Presentation Designers

Five Power Tips for Presentation Designers - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Our last Haiku Deck for 2014: Five Power Tips for Presentation Designers

The tips in order:

  1. Bottom Third = Back of Head
  2. Kill Your Darlings
  3. Cut Two Slides from the End (I have two in mind)
  4. Blank Slides
  5. Know the rules = Know how to break them

We also outlined some basic principles that should be a part of every presentation.

I am also honored to be a part of Haiku Deck's The Most Inspiring Presentations of 2014

Massimo Vignelli – An appreciation for Presentation Designers

I like design to be semantically correct, syntactically consistent, and pragmatically understandable. I like it to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all timeless.
— Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli is gravely ill. His son, Luca, announced the news, and invited the world to write his father with their appreciation for his influence.

Lella and Massimo Vignelli belong to a generation of designers who formalized the language of Design and Visual Communication. They found beauty in the elegance of Swiss Design and mainstreamed it into products, images and ideas that are inseparable from our experience of life and society.

I had the privilege of taking a weeklong class at La Escuela de Diseño Altos de Chavón in 2006, delivered by Mr. and Mrs. Vignelli and by designer, Domingo Milani.

As someone who had stumbled into design (from the somewhat parallel world of illustration), and had adopted a shallow understanding of the profession, I found the course challenging. I found freedom in grids, typography and space that I had formally found restraining. Restraints became constraints that clarified and expanded my thinking.

It has taken a long time for these lessons to show up in my work.

These lessons are the backbone of the training` I teach professionals around the world to aid in improving their presentations. I quote the Vignellis' book – Design is One:

Semantically correct. In other words, search for the real meaning and the correct signs that connote the object you are working with.
Syntactically consistent. Every detail must be consistent to itself and to the whole. No borrowed elements. The language is one and every detail should speak the same language.
Pragmatically understandable. Otherwise, design is a failure, no matter how beautiful it is.Design is not art, design should express its meaning and that should be universally understandable.
Design should also be:
Visually powerful. Otherwise it has no penetrating value. There is no middle ground. Powerful or nothing. Nothingness is not perceivable; therefore it is not retainable. Period.
Intellectually elegant. Not elegant as mannerism, but intellectually sublime. The opposite of vulgar, because vulgarity is ignorance.
But, above all:
Timeless. Because we have a responsibility to our clients, ourselves and the society in general to design things that will become obsolete, because obsolescence, particularly planned obsolescence, is a social crime whose ultimate goal is only profit for the few over the masses. And designers should not be a part of this despicable conspiracy.
— Massimo Vignelli's Foreword to "Lella and Massimo Vignelli: Design is One"

Farewell, MV – Timeless.

The Vignelli Canon
By Massimo Vignelli
Starring Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Michael Bierut, Neville Brody

Buy a good symbol dictionary

When I design presentations, I sometimes imagine a pendulum swinging between two extremes – extreme clarity and extreme novelty. Trying to find the middle, an idea that's clear enough to be understood and novel enough to be interesting.

Or my minds eye goes to Raphael's excellent fresco of "The School of Athens", and how the center is anchored by Plato and Aristotle – Broadly representing Idealism and Materialism. The figure of Plato represented by Leonardo da Vinci points his right index finger to the heavens, while Giuliano da Sangallo's Aristotle faces his right palm towards the earth. Presentation is a persuasive art, it takes an idea and strives to ground it and make it real.

There are many places where my passion for communication meets with my love of studying and creating art. One area, is the generation of ideas. At Dalvero Academy, projects often involve developing a project, from scratch, in a finite amount of time, on location. It's fun and challenging. I can tell you from experience, that your mind floods with ideas, information, clues and potential – It also fills with obvious, banal solutions.

That's where the symbol dictionary comes in.

It's amazing how often we find the right explanation for future problems by looking back. Peeling back the meaning of a word or an icon, brings forth stories, ideas and insights of  how our ancestors, across cultures explained the world to each other. Like a thesaurus for your images, banal clip art can be replaced by thoughtful images and shared cultural significance.

Symbol Dictionaries help us find novel solutions in a clear, shared common language – Artfulness, rather than clip-artfulness.

Here are some excellent symbol books:

The Book Of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism)

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (Dictionary, Penguin)

Dictionary of Symbols

Dictionary of Symbols

The Watkins Dictionary of Symbols

Dictionary of Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional Images, Icons, and Emblems

Man and His Symbols


Be Clear, Start Analog

Few things will improve your presentations more than pen and paper. Writing, drawing and editing save time and clarify thinking. Clear ideas are powerful and memorable.

In preparing presentations, a lot of time is spent producing Powerpoint visuals. It's amazing how much information our participants are able to access and generate in relatively little time. There are volumes upon volumes of easily accessible, and abundant information.

The problem we face, is a matter of ordering and directing the information we have. Writing and storyboarding on paper, is an easy way to pre-edit the information you need. Focus your thinking, then ask yourself:

What do I want my audience to do when this presentation ends?

Remember, you're working back from a distinct goal. It's your job to edit in information that supports your goal and edit out distractions; maintaining a high degree of honesty and professional ethics in the data you choose to present.

With your goal in mind, take time to write down several ways to get there. Try not to fall in love with your first idea. Working with pen and paper will allow you to spend less, more productive time on your computer; while informing, entertaining and inspiring your audiences.