Authors Background

NPD Framework

Slide Design

Slide Objects


I have been giving presentations for a very long time and in fact my first presentation was in 1974 for a very large company on Long Island called Grumman Aerospace Corporation. Grumman was a military defense contractor; it also developed the lunar landing module and was an extremely well-known corporation that has subsequently merged with Northrup to now become Northrup Grumman. During that first presentation I faced a number of really interesting aspects most importantly there was no formal presentation software available. We had a creative art department whose sole objective was to create overheads or 35mm slides to be used in our presentation. Even though we didn't the technology nor software capabilities that exist today we did understand the concepts and the importance of a good presentation.

This very first presentation was sort of a surprise, one of the senior vice presidents was not going to be able to make the conference and I was asked if I would be willing to prepare a presentation for a ‘small group’ of engineers and engineering managers in California, Laguna Beach for that matter which by the way was a very beautiful location so I agreed. It sounded interesting having had been a teacher for three years I felt my communication skills were well defined and that I could prepare a presentation of the concepts we were presenting. The topic had something to do with spares, replenishment modeling and the logistics aboard an aircraft carrier. I proceeded to prepare my storyboard and in doing so eventually got to the Art Department and they began preparing my overheads for me. Eventually they did, it took at least one week, and I had what appeared to be my finish presentation.

As was policy at Grumman Aerospace Corporation the individual who was going to give the presentation would normally do so in front of five or six other individuals typical or peers of the intended audience. In this case, this specific presentation was for middle and senior level managers thus my audience was a group of middle and senior managers. Since this was my first presentation, I was unaware of how and what they did to prepare you. My trial run was scheduled, the presentation room was booked and eventually the day came to present. I had an overhead projector and to my surprise approximately 15 senior managers in attendance. As a reference point, I had just started working about six months prior to that trial run and here I was in a room with individuals all of which were my superiors. Standing in front of them, I started to flip my overheads and as I started to go through my presentation slowly but surely, they started to individually get up and leave the room. At first I tried to ignore this activity but by the time the room was half filled I became annoyed and thought to myself well it's their misfortune they're missing out on a wonderful presentation, their missing out on an excellent set of graphics and professional prepared art work. They were also missing the informative knowledge that I was communicating; the fact that they are either were not interested or didn't want to listen really was their problem not mine, so I continued with even more gusto in my delivery. At the end of the presentation the group of individuals that had left came walking back into the room all laughing, this was one way Grumman management was able to perceive how the presenter would react to unflattering activity from the audience, would they get flustered, would the individual become disconcerted when the audience left or seemed disinterested what would be the presenters response. Would they slowdown, lose their concentration, become upset, and so forth. In my case what happened was what they wanted to occur, I became even more assured that what I was delivering was necessary and important. That I was doing a good job and it was the audience who either did not understand or appreciate my efforts.

This is the first lesson in delivering a great presentation, confidence in your content and delivery. You need to be extremely confident in your subject matter, you need to be extremely confident with the material being discussed, you need to have a systemic understanding of the presentation flow and the belief that your presentation, your slides, your content is entertaining, informative and important. If individuals who may not be interested in your content get up and leave or other individuals who may not like your presentation form or slide format leave or for that matter anyone who appears disinterested should not in any way shake your confidence. You must have the depth of confidence in your skills to continue without hesitation, concern or apprehension ignoring all distractions until completion. This was my first and most important lesson in giving presentations, having confidence in my ability to present the material no matter the audience reaction. At that first trail run, when all these managers came back in laughing, I was a bit taken aback wondering what had actually happened during the presentation, what had just transpired? They said this was their normal policy with someone who was giving a presentation for the very first-time and so they just wanted to see if I would become flustered and obviously I did not in fact as I stated I became angry and in that anger I delivered a more robust forceful presentation than I would have originally. This first lesson was confidence building.

Interesting enough, if you remember, as I started before my manager had said this was going to be a small group of engineers, engineering managers, technical writers, etc. from all the major defense contractors. Well when we get to the venue in Laguna Beach, it escapes me where the conference was being held in Laguna Beach, but it was large. When we walked into the facility there must have been between 1,200 to 1,400 attendees in the audience. So, what was stated to be a ‘small group’ was again another faux pa on the part of my management team to not get me to be apprehensive or concerned. My travel companion happened to be the senior vice president from Grumman in charge of the logistics division it was decided he was going to turn my overheads for me however I was not allowed to introduce him because it would be too embarrassing for him to be turning someone’s overheads even though almost everyone in the audience knew who he was. We had not practiced a ‘team’ effort, so we had to quickly come up with a signal directing him to change the overhead. We agreed, it was my hand coming towards my ear. By the way, after that presentation, I teased him whenever I saw him, and he was a real gentleman about it.

Another interesting aspect about this presentation, remember it was my first, was that I was the last presenter since the original individual who was going to give the presentation was a senior vice president for naval logistics at Grumman and he was going to be ending the symposium.

So, it happened that I was going on last. As we were going through this full-day event most of the speakers were traditional engineers, with ten pens in their shirt pocket, speaking in a monotone voice with boring mostly non-graphical, textual, formulaic slides. As the conference progressed that day, as each of the speakers proceeding me presented, I became more and more confident (first-timer ignorance) that I was going to go up there and be the wing-bang presenter of this conference. With my tone, my animated presentation style, by moving around the stage and not standing behind a podium, with my typical animation gestures towards the overheads and so on that this seminar could not have been proceeding any better. The speakers continued until we stopped for lunch and to mingle with the audience. After lunch the conference continued and then right before my turn to present, I remember vividly the speaker before gets up on stage. A very well-known individual in the industry who worked for McDonnell Douglas in California; he was a gentleman in his late 50s early 60s very distinguished, well-tanned, excellently groomed and attired. An individual who, unfortunately for me, turned out to be a superb speaker and I might add, I subsequently found out later one of the best speakers in the industry as well. So this whole time as I'm sitting through this conference and these presentations my confidence is building that I'm going to be the ‘star’ of the show in terms of at least my narrative, my presentation style, my tone, actions and so on. Then to my dismay up comes this individual, with movie star quality who proceeds to give this superb presentation, absolutely fascinating slides, articulated narrative and as I am listening to his presentation I elbow the senior VP who is with me and asked him why did this have to happen to me? I remember his response, to paraphrase he said “Art remember what we did back in Bethpage when you did your presentation we all got up, we were walking out individually and as pairs yet you kept going so what you need to do is remember you are presenting you shouldn’t be comparing yourself. Your objective here is to provide information and knowledge to the best of your ability to the audience. You are sending and they are receiving and the fact that “John” (that was the presenters name) is so good at sending and having his audience enjoy and understand his material should not distract you from your presentation. You may not necessarily be as good as John, have his experience and so forth.” I listened to his comments and thanked him for his encouragement, but still I thought why couldn’t I have just followed one of the other individuals then by comparison I would've looked better irrespective of whether I was better. This wasn’t just my ego; I wanted to make my company look good through me. It was my first presentation, a presentation to a group of individuals who were far more experienced in the industry that I was. I wanted to make a good impression. My thoughts were now defeatist, no matter how well I did I was not going to be anywhere as good as John. As John completed his presentation and proceeded with the question-and-answer phase I got ready for my ‘failure’. Upon completion of the Q&A the room erupts with applause or at least to me it seemed to and John thanks the audience and returns to his seat. Finally, it's my turn to get up there and I am introduced by the moderator. To calm my own apprehension, I ad lib a joke, and say something to the effect that Grumman always has the last word with respect to McDonald Douglas. Which alluded to the ‘friendly’ competition between the Grumman Navy F-14 and the McDonald Air Force F-15. It was my feeble attempt to build confidence by setting a humorous tone. By the way, that was one of things that I learned early on in giving presentations you need to embed humor into your presentations to break the pattern of a monotone content narration. Going back to my presentation that day, John was sitting in the very first row and here he was this well known, movie star quality individual sitting there. As I start to go through the presentation all my confidence had been deflated, I felt down and just sort of not on target, not focused, not ready to hit a home run. Basically, I had psyched myself into a defeated attitude. I just felt, my goodness here I am following this superstar and after presenting the second or third overhead, I looked down and made eye contact with John, and he then did a wonderful thing. He gave me a smile; he winked and nodded his head and mouthed ‘You’re doing great’. All of sudden with that simple gesture of support I started to get back on track. My confidence immediately jumped a thousand-fold and I realized that when you are presenting, you should not be interested in comparisons, give the best possible presentation you can and if deserved the accolades will come. Interesting enough John and I went on a road trip, for the Society of Logistic Engineers, to a host a series of conferences over a six month period giving various versions of the presentations. John would go first, and I would follow and from that very first conference John and I became very good friends. From this my very first presentation I learned two important lessons. First and foremost, you must be prepared and second you must have confidence. Confidence in your delivery, confidence in the flow of your content, confidence in your understanding of the material, confidence in your audience and most importantly confidence in yourself.

Obviously, the more prepared you are the more confidence you will have. If you have planned a storyboard, prepared and practiced your presentation then you will have the confidence to deliver an outstanding presentation. You will be successful irrespective of the other speakers. These two very important lessons, learned more than forty plus years ago when multimedia presentations were not as common as today and where graphics designers created the ‘slides’ rather than software packages have stood the test of time and are still the most important components of a great presentation. This implies that narrative models are still effective in interpreting our thoughts and crafting multimedia formatted presentations. The communications world could not envision what is available today yet these two lessons, used over the last 40 years in delivering all my presentations are as important today as they were for my very first presentation. Planning, preparation and practice have evolved into the NPD Framework. A methodical approach to crafting the specifications for a great presentation. A good presenter is a fascinating mix of planning and practice that uses both your right and left-brain hemispheres. Like a good entrepreneur being a great presenter requires you use your ‘left’ side to sequential plan your presentation but simultaneously employ your ‘right’ side to systemically think of the overall communiqué. The stage, scene, audience, and so forth.

After that six-month period, I continued to work at Grumman for another three years. During that time I averaged at least one or two presentations a month, some nationwide and each presentation needed professional materials to be developed. I was very fortunate to be able to use the resources of Grumman Aerospace Corporation’s graphic artist, graphic designers, the painters who did spectacular wonderful work in preparing overheads, etc. I truly developed an appreciation for the skills required in preparing presentation media, hence the Design phase of the NPD Framework. Eventually I left Grumman to form my first company in 1978, a simulation modeling firm. Then I subsequently formed my second company in 1980 which I went on to manage for approximately 20 years or so and during that that period I gave many presentations and saw the transformation from overheads to 35mm Kodak slides in carousels. These 35mm slides still needed to be designed by a Graphics Department however, my companies did not have one therefore we used several marketing firms who did. This meant we needed to develop a specification for them to use and to make it easier, for them, to identify the content and objects on each 35mm. This eventually evolved into the Planning phase of the NPD Framework and in particular the storyboard component. We storyboarded the presentation and then went to the marketing firm to create the artwork, the graphics and the 35mm slides. Believe it or not, there was animation back then created with multiple slides. If you quickly clicked to rotate the carousel changing the slide it gave the impression of animation.

My first such presentation, using this ‘animation’ was given at the very first Comdex show (1980 NYC) which was the first show for personal computers or microcomputers ever held. My topic was on “a user’s language”. My thoughts, during this introductory life cycle phase of microcomputers, was that small businesses and individuals who would start using these microcomputers for business transactions or word processing would require a new language. One that users would employ to interface with these new personal computers. Even though this original concept was created on 35MM slides almost 40 years ago for an audience of individuals who did not have any idea what a computer was, I have used that same premise since then whenever I discuss computer systems and user interactions with new technology. It is a simple yet very powerful idea that has bridged a tremendous revolution in technology from those early microcomputers to the ubiquitous systems of today. Interestingly, the concept was a systemic approach to integrating a new idea into an existing environment. Like converting to the NPD Framework from ‘todays’ jump in and start working approach. Fundamentally, the concept was a computer system is more than hardware, that it is more than software, it promoted the idea that a computer system included those components, hardware and software but also people (the users) and the data (the information stored in files). However, I added one more layer to the mix the idea that these systems were designed for specific applications (vertical usage); hence the user language concept.

For example, Retailers were a general category; within retail we had apparel, shoe, electronics, bakeries, etc. each required their own “vertical users’ language” with some common components within the category. The presentation ended up with a series of 35mm slides, which by the way I still have, that showed hardware, software, people and data for a specific application. Those slides allowed us to experiment and emulated animation. However, I had to rotate the carousel quickly without hesitation to produce the desired effect. It required practice and counting, how many slides for each effect and roughly 2 seconds of spacing before the next click. At the time, to that audience, it seemed to be animated but showing it to users today they would notice the delay. In today's technologically advanced presentation tools this can all be done on a single slide with animation for each and every one of those objects. In 1980 when this presentation was given we really needed to have, in this case, five or six 35mm slides for each object’s animation with each layer or image embedded on the subsequent slide. Developing that presentation today we would have the same story and the same storyboard crafting process (NP or the NPD Framework). The objective would be the same, to convey to the audience an understanding that they are going to be buying a computer system that would require them to learn a new language. The language of the application system being purchased and that as with any new language an effort was going to have to be made to become proficient in conversing in that language. The point of the presentation, in 1980, was computers were not intuitive you essentially were learning a new language therefore if you were interested in purchasing a micro or minicomputers, (on a side note most microcomputers at that time were more hobbyist then business robust), you needed to understand that you would have to learn a new language to be successful and so the objective of the presentation or the close (take away) was for individuals to understand that if they did go ahead and purchase a ‘non-service bureau’ supported systems they would have to develop expertise in-house to maintain and utilize these systems.

Let me digress for a moment and review the process in preparing and conceiving that first Comdex presentation. In fact, it has a lot of similarities with topics in today's academia and business world that deal with distance-learning. At that time many individuals in business including small business owners were aware of computers and the larger and midsize businesses were using a variety of minicomputers. However, regardless of size, it was well understood that these sophisticated systems needed technical expertise to maintain and, in many cases, to operate them. Yet with the advent of the microcomputer the breadth and scope of the potential population of users was expanded to include firms that would previously have never been able to afford computerization. The software that was going to become available, we felt would be creating a new world environment, yet the mindset of the business community was still firmly emplaced in the older environment. So, another objective of this presentation was simultaneously convey the benefits of these new systems while not minimizing the responsibility associated with owning them. The dilemma we faced was how to get this concept across without intimidating the new customer base. Many of these small businesses had been using some form of electronic device, for example electronic POS stations, now they could integrate these electronic registers into a back-office inventory control system obviously providing tremendous control. The issue; however was could we convince them of the benefits while also stressing the additional skills their business would require. We also needed to explain that unlike the manual systems being employed, these new computer systems would require considerable upfront effort to enhance and optimize their subsequent usage. Our concern was using common business transactions to explain the benefits would lead many into incorrectly extrapolating the initial level of complexity with a general concern about feasibility. A great example of one of these important transaction types was the creation of new inventory items and then their subsequent control. In a manual system creating a new item was very easy. After a new inventory item was ordered, the typical controlling element was an index card handwritten with the item information, price paid, vendor and so forth. The difficulty in these manual systems was in attempting to maintain sold to information, units on hand, sales information and so on. In the new systems that we were introducing via the presentation, the creation of a new inventory item in the software required considerable effort and when just that aspect was compared to a creating an index card obviously appeared far more complex and costly. Our concern was that many individuals would look upon this level of complexity and state that if it was this difficult to create a new inventory item in the computer system imagine how difficult it would be to maintain and extract sales information from this system. Their rationale was based on comparing one element of the process from a manual system to that in the computerized system without examining or fully understanding the overall environment a non-systemic purview. This was a natural human reaction, start with a complex set of processes and then try to convince the attendee that it will get easier is not the best format for a presentation. As we will see, if you don’t capture their interest immediately (The Gotcha Moment) then they are lost. What we had to do was introduce the user to a new way of thinking, we had to introduce the user to a new set of terminologies, and we had to introduce the user to a new set of processes. Now this was decades before the concept of business process automation (BPA) became a common business term in fact when we talked about software everyone heard ‘softwear’ so our objective was to somehow present a systemic perspective as a single point. We considered many approaches and then realized drawing an analogy would give us the best opening to capturing their attention without overwhelming them. We finally hit upon the idea of travelling to a foreign country, there were a number of ways in which one could enjoy the local culture and we decided to craft an analogy between visiting a foreign land and introducing a foreign systems concept into one's business. We asked what was the best way to appreciate the culture and environment of this land? It was obvious that the best possible methodology was to learn the language of the land. And so we decided that was also the best way to introduce our new concept to the business community. That they would need to learn a new language, just as they would need to learn a language if they were going to a non-English speaking country, just as they needed to learn the language if there were going to begin selling a specialized product line and so our objective in the Comdex presentation was to convince the user that purchasing these new systems would require merely learning a new language. We thus were able to convey in terms they understood what was going to be needed on the part of their organization in embedding this new technology into their operations. Once we had developed the storyline that would be used throughout the presentation our next objective was to convey this to the viewer or attendees via the 35mm slides. And this is where the idea was crafted to depict these computer systems not as complex electronic brains but rather as common components that integrated into effective system; composed of four primary elements hardware, software, people and data for a specific application. Having come from an engineering world I viewed these components not as independent systems but rather from a systemic perspective as one and that was how we ended up conveying the idea of a user language. As I mentioned I have used that concept over the almost last 40 years in many different presentations and venues because it is important to remember that all of our ‘systems’ incorporate components and the tasks can be classified into various elements. In fact, creating and giving presentations takes into consideration these very elements – systemic thinking. It also employs the same set of components, hardware represents the type of projection or display device that our presentation is going to be given on or transmitted through, software represents the tool we can use to create the presentation as well as to convey it, people represent the designers as well as the audience of the presentation and data is obviously the content for a specific application namely the purpose. As you can see by forcing our presentation to take into consideration all of these elements, we have the NPD Framework methodology to craft a great presentation.

Continuing through the 80s we started to get some more storyboarded type of products, IBM was one of the first to start development on a storyboard software package and then around 1989 we finally started to get a series of more user friendly software packages including Microsoft PowerPoint. These software packages enabled companies and individuals to start to bring in-house the design and creation of presentations.

However, as we have discussed communicating our ideas has not changed very much what has changed is the process in creating the medium that we use to communicate. These productivity tools have also created what I like to call “the communication paradox”. What has happened is as we get more and more tools to enable us to craft and create more sophisticated presentations; we are moving more and more away from planning the story and the storyboard. In today’s world we jump in and start working on the presentation ignoring the Statement of Work, disregarding the benefits of a systemic analysis, ignoring the fact we may not be as knowledgeable in the technology as we think.

We will discuss this “communication paradox” which is effectively one of the main issues behind the creation of the NPD Framework. However, the good news, the conceptualization process, i.e. crafting the story and storyboard to achieve the presentation purpose, that I have been using to create presentations has remained relatively the same during the last 40 plus years, what has changed is the design process and support structure. Not only has the software changed dramatically during this period but the workflow environment has transitioned from a distributive labor set of tasks to more of an individual set of tasks thus discouraging the TPI/E™ Philosophy which is the primary methodology behind the NPD Framework. The formats and multiplicity of delivery modes of our presentations have also evolved over time from being strictly in person to now having many presentation venues. From Internet based standalone formats to mobile phone app’s presentations we have a variety of media files but basically what has remained unchanged throughout this period and in fact since antiquity has been the storytelling capability of the individual and that comes back to what we have just discussed and what I learned at Grumman during my very first presentation. Even though the audience delivery expectations may have changed what has not changed is the importance of the narrative and the story.

Thus, the most important aspect in creating and delivering a great presentation is understanding the material that is being presented so that you can craft a story and then have the confidence to deliver that story in a variety of different environments.