Those of you who read most of my posts may have noticed a change in approach over the last few months—especially if you’re getting them by email. My weekly post, which goes up on Friday, is now more focused on user experience, design, customers, entrepreneurship.

Put another way, my weekly post is now more focused on people and ideas.

I do still post more tactical WordPress tips, complete with code samples. Some of the posts that get the most traffic here are about exporting notes from PowerPoint and downloading multiple email attachments. I’m glad I can be helpful with those, and I don’t mind the extra visitors, either.

Yet, instructional posts don’t showcase what’s unique about how I see the world.

Similarly, I enjoy giving one specific, technical WordPress talk at WordCamps, but it’s not one of my best presentations.

I want to share how I know this now. It’s not because I think I’m a “beautiful and unique snowflake” and decided I knew what I could offer the world in the form of writing and speaking.

I’ve done (and continue to do) two specific things.

Write and Speak Consistently to Find a Voice

Last November, I made a commitment to start posting at least once a week to this blog. I’d heard it before (and Chris Lema covers it here pretty well), but I knew holding myself accountable and being disciplined in my writing would help me get better. I didn’t want to just get better at tone or cadence or structure or ledes; I wanted to get better at writing. I wanted to get helpful ideas out of my head and into a readable format so they could be shared.

Too many of our best ideas lie dormant (or go unnoticed) because conveying them outside of conversation is hard.

Further, I’ve been speaking pretty consistently for almost two years now. Several of my talks start as ideas I can get across in casual conversation, but are also difficult to convey concisely. Instead of relegating it to those random chats, I use the natural constraints of public speaking—definite timeline, time boundaries, slides, abstracts—to help me get the point across. I keep iterating based on how I feel things went and the feedback I get.

Listen to Feedback

Feedback isn’t just valuable in helping me make a talk or a blog post better. Feedback has helped me start to find my voice.

It’s an odd phenomenon, because people were telling me:

  • You’re good at the big picture stuff.
  • I like that your talks are about people.
  • You don’t miss the forest for the trees.
  • I enjoy the philosophy in your talks.
  • The psychology and data you share is intriguing!
  • Your humor is refreshing during a conference.

There are all real things said to me—unsolicited—online or in conversation. And yet, I thought maybe folks were just being nice. I’d managed to set aside all the tools for achieving objectivity I employ daily as UX designer. I so desperately wanted to avoid being pompous that I neglected to hear people telling me how I can best help others. I focused so much on receiving criticism well that I let positive feedback go right through me.

Humility can coexist with the knowledge and utilization of your unique perspective. Once I accepted that I can keep my head on straight while also believing the positive things that strangers said to me, I realized I was finally starting to find my “voice”.

Even right now, as I write this, sharing this whole idea feels cheesy. Learning to push through moments just like this one has resulted in those positive statements from strangers.

So, keep trying. Keep pushing. Keep listening. You’ll find that you don’t have to think too highly of yourself to knowingly offer a helpful, unique perspective.

July 18, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Presenting

Let me begin with this: I didn’t intend to have a presentation featured on SlideShare. I put up the deck for “Fearless: Adopting Brave Experimentation” because a couple of folks requested it following my talk at an AWDG meetup. Countless talented people actually design their slides for sharing online, so, how did mine end up featured, giving me nearly 20,000 views?

Turns out, I actually followed some of SlideShare’s own suggestions for getting featured. They give seven helpful tips, and I’d like to augment them with how I did on each, and how they can also help your live audience (the most important “views”). I think it’s quite possible to design a deck for presenting and sharing online.


1. Write a powerful headline.

In this case, the headline of a slide deck should correspond to the title of a presentation. I’ve found that having an interesting and accurate title for your talk can set the proper context—it can also be the difference between a full room and an empty one. Take the time to come up with something interesting, then bounce it off others to see if it makes sense. Being clever is only awesome when it’s also helpful. Some of my recent ones include “No one cares about your content (yet)” and “Temporary Cache Assistance (The Transients API)”.

2. Create an enticing cover slide to draw in your audience.

Your cover slide is what your audience will be staring at for 2-30 minutes prior to your presentation. Don’t make them second guess their decision to hear you that quickly! 🙂

Here’re a few of mine:

3. Be well designed (no one likes looking at ugly slides).

I have the advantage of being a designer already, so that makes slide design a bit easier, obviously. If you want better looking slides, but don’t feel like you can design them well, go buy one.

Whether you design your own or not, make them easy to read, simplistic, and keep a common theme throughout. I like to use big images that I wash out with color to help with contrast.

Story Arc

4. Keep us engaged. Make your deck so captivating, the reader effortlessly clicks through to the end.

Easier said than done, am I right? I’m not even sure I would say my deck accomplished this, but it’s an important thing to strive for. Tell a story, and place the listener/viewer squarely inside of it. Narratives help explain complex concepts in small amounts of time—which sounds a lot like a presentation.

5. Fully communicate your message (keep it short, but still like a story).

I’ve struggled to end a talk well more than once—it’s tempting to throw in extra points that didn’t fit into the greater presentation, or to feel like a specific ending is a bit too dramatic. But, knowing how to end means that you’ve encapsulated a message, and that’s crucial. If you can’t fully communicate a message within a set of slides or your allotted amount of time, simplify your message.


6. Tackle a news related or trending topic (lists are good, too!).

“Fearless…” is relevant to ‘hot’ topics insofar as it’s about UX, failure, and data. I think SlideShare’s tip here should be applied in a broader context, though: talk about something people already care about, and say something unique (or say something uniquely).

7. Be trend setting in terms of design, style, or content. Be something others want to emulate.

This is more easier-said-than-done advice, and a bit of a moving target. Ultimately, thought leadership and trend-setting is done by those who have something interesting to say and are able to convey it clearly. Go for that.

December 13, 2013 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Design, Presenting

Have you ever wanted to print just the textual notes from your PowerPoint presentation? I couldn’t find much in terms of helpful instruction, so here’s how I got what I needed (a plain text file) in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac:

  1. Go to File > Print.
  2. Select ‘Notes’ under ‘Print What’.
  3. Use the PDF dropdown in the bottom left corner to ‘Save as PDF…’.
  4. Open your PDF in Adobe Acrobat (I used Pro).
  5. Go to File > Export > Text > Text (Plain).
  6. Review for odd inaccuracies.

That was all I needed to have for my speaking notes: plain text so that I could control the size of the font for printing notes and also pulling them up on the Dropbox app in iOS.

October 24, 2012 — 8 Comments — In Blog, PowerPoint, Presenting, Tutorial