9 ways to make your presentation not suck

By: Soleil Kelley

If querying the internet for “presentation tips” you’ll most often find reference to the 10/20/30 rule, introduced by Guy Kawasaki or the famed KISS principle (keep it simple stupid). Both are excellent rules to keep in mind, but sometimes you want to dive deep into your slide content, not just how you deliver it. For just that reason, I’ve created the following list, so you might avoid “worst slide” honors.

— answer these questions before you consider your presentation “ready” —

  1. STORY In one or two sentences, what is the storyline of your presentation?
    Perhaps a challenge is solved, a business anecdote is told, or an idea is shared. Whichever it may be, neuroscientists agree that humans are more likely to be engaged by a story, than facts and figures. Ironically I’m convincing you with a fact, but that’s also the point. Tell a story, support with facts.  What makes a good story, we’ll save for another time.
  2. DESIGNIs your story supported by the graphics or images on screen?
    Our brains process visual content super, super-fast. We’re then anchored by it. The fonts and color you use, the layout and the graphic elements­—they matter more than you think. Make sure your slides are designed well. Like #1 above, what makes design great deserves its own post.
  3. AUDIENCEAre your slide contents consistently directed to the right (target) audience, and are they business or technically oriented?
    Know your audience and how the presentation will be used. Whether you’re presenting to 1, few or many people, consistently address them through the same point of view. If you have multiple targets, be sure each slide addresses each target without becoming awkward. Otherwise, make two presentations.
  4. TONE – Does the tone of voice change within or across slides?
    Be sure the words on screen don’t jump from casual to formal, or sassy to serious, otherwise presenting them is difficult. Be consistent within each slide and across the entire deck.
  1. ALTITUDEDo the slides include the appropriate level of details for the audience?
    Naturally, a CTO is concerned with different things than an app developer. Know the audience and include only relevant details they connect with.
  2. STRUCTUREDoes the audience know where they are in the storyline?
    Your story has a structure, so keep the audience oriented. Looking at the headlines and subheadings apart from the rest of the slide content is a good method for ensuring the structure flows well. Each slide should be necessary and fit in your desired structure. Use orienting slides, like an agenda, section headers, or breadcrumbs if the presentation is long.
  3. QUANTITY – Are you trying to land too many ideas on each slide?
    Remove the unnecessary by condensing your content to only the most salient points that support the slide takeaway. If you feel some audience members will desire more detail, create additional slides for the appendix.
  4. PARALLELISMIs your slide content parallel in structure?
    Mixing facts with directives with benefits with questions is hard to follow. Use the same pattern of words or clauses to show how each piece of content is related. Note how I’m organizing this list with a category, followed by a question, followed by notes or advice – that’s being parallel.
  5. ACTION – Does the audience know what they need to do next?
    Great presentations move people toward action, even if that action is feeling something. So, ensure that you weave in your desired outcome into the structure of the story.

2A tells business and brand stories all day, every day. Reach out to us anytime—we’d love to tell yours, too (see, that was my #9)!



By: Theresa Howe

There’s about to be a turkey explosion, at least if predictions around the 2A office are correct. Some people are flattening birds to speed cooking time (spatchcocking, for you experts), some are having huge gatherings and hence huge birds, others are barbequing and smoking multiple turkeys. I’m cooking a 14lb bird for 2, because it’s the smallest one I could get my hands on readily. It’s going to be awesome.

This is a time of the year when we focus on remembering to be grateful for the things, and by things I really mean people, that enrich our lives. Whether it’s colleagues and clients or family and friends, we’re feeling pretty grateful to get to do what we do every day.

So while we contemplate the good things in life, I’ll leave you with this partial gem from the Oatmeal. If you aren’t familiar, he’s a Seattle guy with an insanely popular website who writes comics online, books as well, sells merchandise and sponsors running events. He’s a colorful guy and so is his take on Thanksgiving.


Trumped-up content

By: Kelly Schermer

As proof of the moral crossroads at which we stand as marketers, Donald Trump is running for president.  Is he a man or a brand?  Does his agenda include the American public or his personal empire?  His rise in the polls proves to me how powerful even bad marketing can be.  Which begs the question how far is too far to push your brand?

Native advertising, an emerging form of advertising, places marketing content where journalistic content has previously resided – think an article on CNN.com about the Top 10 Ways to Save Energy sponsored by GE.  Much like Donald Trump at a presidential debate, I believe native advertising poses a quandary for marketers and brand managers in that it can very easily feel slimy and wrong.

A while back, John Oliver did an exposé on native advertising from the journalist’s perspective.  In a nutshell, he postulated that consumers have proven unwilling to pay for news in its current form, so media organizations have had to find revenue streams elsewhere.

Most publications today have rules about native advertising that are supposed to help readers discern which articles are true journalism and which are trumped up ads, but I think it’s still hard to differentiate them at times.  I understand how some people might feel they’ve been purposefully deceived if they’re not aware they’re reading a new-fangled advertisement.

So where do I fit in as a marketer?  Am I contributing to the erosion of the free press and building mistrust in my audience or am I helping my brands talk to their customers?

I think the answer is that we haven’t got the answer yet.  I believe that if we want the media organizations to be responsible to the public and not the brands, the public will ultimately have to pay for journalism. But how do we create enough value to inspire people to pay for something they currently think should be free?

Now THAT sounds like the right place for good marketing.


Hey, your bullets are showing

By: Soleil Kelley

Admit it, you’ve probably had a version of the following ‘Ah, I’m naked! dream’ when you were young; you show up late to class and realize as you walk in front of your teacher and peers that you’re in your underwear, or worse, nothing at all. Frozen. While you probably don’t have that dream anymore, maybe you’ve had a similar experience as a professional. That is, standing before your colleagues presenting a slide you didn’t adequately prepare for, reading the bullets right off the screen. Close your eyes for a second…  Have you been there? Did you feel like people could read through you, right down to your underwear? Polka dots, of course.

Which brings me to my point about bullets. In all their facility, in all their brevity, bullets are pretty much the underwear of your presentation. Except they’ll never be sexy. Think about it. Underwear. Your trusty standby. The first thing you put on in the morning. They are (ahem) brief, and serve many a purpose, from comfort to support. They’re with you all day long, underneath it all, as you present yourself to the world. There are even those folks who skip the underwear and go straight to slinky shirts or skinny jeans, who must be either very self-confident, or don’t mind exposing themselves a little. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Now, before you don a bullet on a slide, ask yourself: do I want the audience to see my underwear?  Unless you’re the Naked Cowboy, or model for Fruit of the Loom for a living, that answer is probably no. Instead, use bullets when outlining your slides to ensure you have your details straight, then dress your slides with meaningful images or visuals that capture an important concept or tell a compelling story. Ultimately, what’s great is that you’ll know your bullets are there if you do have to strip down to the supporting facts.


The rise of virtual assistants

By: Renato Agrella

Facebook recently launched their virtual assistant “M”, which is only available in San Francisco. This move brings the competition to Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Baidu’s Duer, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Now. It’s funny that Google’s assistant doesn’t have a human-like name. In a world where devices and information are becoming the center of all interactions, it makes total sense for companies to reach customers in more human ways. Here’s my experience trying to communicate with some of these virtual assistants:

Siri: I have used iPhones since 2007 and when Siri came out I was super excited, but that excitement was quickly shattered by the bad experience. In full disclosure, English is not my mother tongue and my very thick accent was my initial excuse for the bad experience. However, after several years of trying and multiple updates from Apple the experience has only improved to mediocre. I’m not a big fan of someone that suggests a famous Chinese writer when I am trying to find the closest bakery.

Alexa: I have only used the Fire TV voice search which doesn’t have the full functionality of Alexa. I was impressed by her accuracy, all my queries yield the correct result and that was pleasant. At some point, I actually thought that my accent was magically gone. However, to be fair I was not using the full functionality of Alexa but only searching on a contained collection of movie titles.

Cortana: I’ve used this one for couple of months. The best thing about it is the ability to use it both on your mobile device and your laptop – This might apply to Google and Apple if you only use their OS and devices. The voice recognition was not that good at the beginning but rapidly evolved into a very reliable way of search things in both my devices and the web.

It seems like the success of virtual assistants will rest on their ability to adapt and learn from our requests and interactions to provide accurate results. This sounds very similar to what we do at 2A. Are virtual assistants trying to take over?


Bring on the waterworks

By: Abby Breckenridge

A few weeks ago, a good friend reached out to me and another friend about a mentoring situation she was struggling with at work. Her mentee was a young, ambitious, well-respected female developer in a mostly male company. She had recently cried in front of more senior colleagues in response to some reasonable feedback, and was feeling ashamed and regretful. She wanted advice on what she should do, not wanting to build a reputation as “the girl that cries.”

After much discussion about the pros and cons of crying at work, we basically came to this:

Shake it off.

Crying may not be the best way to get things done at work, but it happens. I’ve certainly done it, more than once. After a quick browse through the internet, it became clear that we are not alone in our advice. Apparently Sheryl Sandberg declared its ok to cry at work in 2013.

“Look, I’m not suggesting that the way to get to the corner office is to cry as much as possible. Nobody is going to publish the next Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and say that crying is one of them. But I am saying that it happens…Rather than spend all this time beating ourselves up for it, let’s accept ourselves. OK, I cried, life went on. And I think that’s part of the message of Lean In, like we are human beings, we are emotional beings and we can be our whole selves at work.”

In all of our job descriptions at 2A, we include this clause:

We like what we do, and we want to work with people who are excited to be at work, and nice to be around.  At the end of the day, work relationships are a big portion of our lives, and we want them to be rewarding and enjoyable.

To me, that means we want real whole people on our team. And if you’re a person who cries when you get emotional, bring it on.


Mile high revelations

By: Theresa Howe

Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado might be the best setting to see a show, ever. Nestled amongst the towering red rocks that give the place its name is a 9,500 seat outdoor venue, with great views of the stage and the surrounding Colorado landscape. It’s worth visiting just to see, but to see a performance there is a privilege. It’s as though playing in such a beautiful place inspires the artists to a higher level and the concertgoers to be more attentive. The thin air could play a part in that, but I like to think it’s the magic of the environment.

I had the opportunity to attend Brandi Carlile’s most recent show at Red Rocks in August. I’m a big fan, so to me, it is perfectly logical and normal to fly to another state just to go to a concert, especially at a place like Red Rocks. It was an evening with a couple of my favorite storytellers. And I happened to be sitting in the third row.

Anderson East was the first opening act and brought a bluesy charm to his set. Gregory Alan Isakov was the second opener. He’s a Colorado guy, who gardens and writes sparse-yet-lush folk songs with powerful narratives. You can see, hear, taste and feel every detail of his songs. The guys he plays with are a close-knit group of friends, including the stellar violinist Jeb Eagle Bows (great name, right?)

After the sun went down and the sky filled with stars, Brandi, the Twins (guitarist Tim Hanseroth and bass player & identical twin Phil Hanseroth), long-time collaborator and cellist Josh Newman and a drummer whose name I didn’t catch took the stage and things really kicked-off.

Carlile’s big, bell-clear voice remains the center of the band’s work, ranging from a sweet croon to a roar. Their set list moved from barn-burning to ballads and back again. She brought back Gregory and Jeb for a fun John Denver medley. She also closed with a cover of the Avett Brothers song Murder in the City, her version a poignant re-telling, considering she married her wife three years ago and their daughter is a year old.

What always impresses me is that though their songs are about the big things: love, loss, regrets – they have a way of making listeners feel like they know exactly what triggered the creative process. Brandi makes you feel all of the emotions that underpin her songs. Her stories are alternately sweet, sad and inspiring, but unbeatable when experienced live, in a gorgeous setting.

Who tops your storytelling playlist?


When parental leave gets real

By: Abby Breckenridge

My husband isn’t technically a millennial, but he’s close. That, and the fact that we’re juggling a new baby and two careers made me especially interested in Claire Cain Miller’s “Millennial Men Aren’t the Dads They Thought They’d Be” in the New York Times a few weeks back.

Miller writes that while millennial men aspire to more egalitarian relationships—more so than any other generation—as they advance in their careers, they adopt more traditional roles.  She attributes the shift to unsupportive workplace policies and a gender divide in the way workers respond to the pressures of employment.

“The research shows that when something has to give in the work-life juggle, men and women respond differently. Women are more likely to use benefits like paid leave or flexible schedules, and in the absence of those policies, they cut back on work. Men work more,” Miller writes.

My husband works for a small architecture firm, and they’ve generously let him cut his hours to accommodate spending Wednesdays with our son. Similar to what many working moms have experienced for decades, he already feels the tug of what a reduced schedule means for his opportunities and perception at work.

According to John Oliver, the US and Papua New Guinea are the only countries that require no paid maternity leave. And while there’s been some good news recently about strengthening of family workplace policies with Microsoft and Netflix expanding parental leave, we obviously have a long way to go. In the meantime, I am grateful to have an almost-millennial partner who’s committed to working through the challenges of balancing family and work, and taking advantage of modern workplace policies that allow him to prioritize parenting.

Maybe by the time my son enters the workforce, we can come up with something more useful to offer parents than a free meal at Hooter’s on Mother’s Day.


Talking to the man in the mirror

By: Kelly Schermer

Michael Jackson might have been onto more than he even knew.

His song “Man in the Mirror” talks about how we can change the world around us “starting with the man in the mirror.” According to a recent scientific study, simply talking to the man in the mirror can help us affect positive change in our lives too.

For decades, pop psychologists and motivational speakers have made millions selling new methods for talking to ourselves – to the point that the fundamental activity itself has become a ridiculed stereotype all its own (remember Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live?).  The science behind these methods has been soft at best until recently.

Ethan Kross, a psychologist from the University of Michigan, has shown that when it’s done correctly, we can use self-talk to help ourselves make better decisions, overcome our fears, and more successfully confront challenging situations. Self-talk, as described by Kross, can help us distance ourselves from the issue, reframe the situation, and gain a new level of objectivity.

Through his research, Kross has developed a simple framework to help you make a compelling case to yourself.

  • Start by calling yourself by your first name which helps to change your perspective on the problem.
  • Identify simple steps you need to take to achieve your desired result so the issue becomes surmountable.
  • Mitigate your anxiety and put the problem in larger context by reminding yourself of your good qualities.

The next time you’re feeling nervous about meeting a challenge head on or you need some help managing a situation, you can feel confident about turning to your best advisor, YOU.


Genuine with a side of snark

By: Theresa Howe

I have long enjoyed watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows. He’s a great writer and his personal story is also compelling. I occasionally find his snarkiness to be grating, but appreciate that he tends to keep it real – would you eat a recently deceased warthog’s colon, raw?

I was curious what the live version would be like, so got tickets for his stop in Seattle at the Paramount. He lived up to his reputation, cutting away at the oh-so-American obsession with fame, the elevation of food to bizarre levels of importance while people are starving in our own country, and the excesses we portray in all of their disturbing glory.

Once he settled into the heart of his talk, it became clear that beyond cooking, beyond travelling, storytelling is what drives him. Yes, he has had many madcap experiences on which to draw and his writing and visual storytelling reflect that. During the Q & A he talked extensively about his move to CNN, how much freedom he and his creative team are given, and how being a part of CNN has allowed him to go to places where he couldn’t previously, like Iran.

He kept circling back to the idea that when visiting places you don’t know and cultures you can’t possibly understand, being surprised and thrown off is exactly what you should be. He also underscored that he goes places, asks really simple questions, usually over a meal, and listens to the amazing stories people tell him. He doesn’t care what’s cooking, he cares about who is cooking it and why and what it means to them.

He remains foul-mouthed, hilarious and opinionated, but beneath snark and sneer, he’s managed to retain a curiosity about the world and the people who live in it and uses that gift to tell some amazing stories. He asks questions, and we get to see the answers.

What’s your favorite way to get people to tell you stories?