by Adam Noar
We are kicking off a new series here at Panda called “This is how I work” – where we interview presentation experts to understand their routines, tools, hacks, resources and more.
Our first guest is Lea Pica, a presentation hero who has a TON of experience creating awesome presentations.
Lea is an accomplished speaker, writer and podcaster having spoken at industry and company events including eMetrics, Analytics Demystified, ConversionXL, and ForeSee. Her podcast, “The Present Beyond Measure Show”, helps listeners learn how to tell compelling stories with data, as she interviews the leading minds in digital analytics. The show has become one of the most popular analytics podcasts in less than a year.
So without further ado, here’s how Lea works. You are going to love the presentation tips, tools, and resources she has to share!
Location: Home office in beautiful Bucks County, PA
Current Gig: Director of Data Visualization and Storytelling, Search Discovery and Host of the Present Beyond Measure Podcast
One word that best describes how you work: Passionately
Current computer: Custom-built PC and Apple Macbook Pro
Preferred program for creating presentations: PowerPoint
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today?
After deciding not to pursue my musical theater aspirations, I spent the first 12 years of my career in various roles in the digital marketing space. I managed search marketing and web analytics programs for the likes of Scholastic, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works and Prudential. Somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with presenting my data to stakeholders and decision-makers. I had my big eureka moment when asked to present in Prezi for grad school, and I realized I had to completely rethink my approach.
I picked up Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds on a lark, and was totally hooked. I voraciously consumed every resource on presentation and data visualization I could find. I began to study the work of Edward Tufte, Nancy Duarte, Stephen Few, Guy Kawasaki, and Seth Godin. I began incorporating these principles into my work, and the results amazed me: I was earning more budget for analytics capabilities for my team, getting invited to kickoff projects, and reactivating dormant optimization projects. My presentations were finally beginning to inspire action.
When I attended a digital analytics conference later that year, I realized that these same mistakes were being made everywhere I turned. No one was being empowered with the right toolset for delivering information in an impactful way. I vowed that one day I would take that same stage to spread the message that there was a better way.
Four years later, I was invited by a software vendor to present at their annual status. I decided this would be my inaugural platform to spread the word about effective data presentation. Despite my no-name status, lack of polish and severe stage fright, it ended being one of the summit’s highest rated sessions to date. This reaffirmed to me the importance of tackling this issue in the analytics space head-on. Folks in the industry caught wind, and I was invited to a number of conferences and seminars in the years to follow. I finally decided to go rogue two years ago and leave the corporate world to pursue my dream of training, blogging, and podcasting about all things data presentation.
And here I am!
What presentation tools can’t you live without? Why?
One of my favorite finds is a suite of tools by Veodin. The first tool is KeyRocket, which is a little productivity app that acts as a keyboard shortcut training coach for your entire computer, including PowerPoint. Every time I use my mouse to perform an action, KeyRocket pops up a little prompt with a time-saving keyboard shortcut. Shortcuts are essential to finishing that slide deck in the 11th hour and creating more time for planning and prep!
The second tool is SlideProof, which acts as a majorly anal-retentive editor for your PowerPoint presentations. Through an 80-point check, it hunts down every rogue misaligned object, inconsistent spacing, and grammatical error. It’s saved me from more than one potentially mortifying slide flub! SlideProof also boasts a huge shape library, pulls together an agenda on the fly using site sections, and conveniently surfaces the program’s most powerful features.
Last, I can’t live without the Voice Memos app on my iPhone. Listening to myself speak was a game-changing practice for identifying and refining my weak points in diction and intonation. And, I listen to my recordings while traveling to speaking engagements as a method of preparation.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have a whole lot of workspace stuffed into an itty bitty living space! My monster custom-built PC monitor sits next to my amazing Audio-Technica ATR2100 podcast microphone on a vintage gray desk. I have a filing cabinet to my left which houses my DBX 286s Mic Pre-Amp and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface. My microphone plus those two bad boys make my podcast voices sound silky smooth with resonant depth. Atop my monitor sits a Logitech 720p HD webcam for video tutorials and interviews.
While working I’m able to view my sprawling backyard from my little cottage. I absolutely love mentally stepping into a vision of nature and stillness while in my peak creative zone.
What’s is a trend you see in presentations right now?
One of my favorite trends is a dimmed photo behind a bold statement or quote in white text, or a background using bokeh lights. I love seeing fresh interplays of thin and think font families to emphasize key words in content.
I also look forward to playing more with the Morph and Push animations in PowerPoint to represent a flow through my story that simple fades can’t achieve. Nolan Haims of Present Your Story recorded a fascinating tutorial on using PowerPoint Morph to simulate the animated Trendalyzer bubble chart effect made famous by the late, great Hans Rosling
What’s your process/method for creating presentations?
I always start with a presentation planning method I discovered some time ago from Olivia Mitchell called Presenting By Boxes. It is a super practical approach for distilling and organizing your content into a clear framework that always keeps your audience and objective front and center. I love how it emphasizes succinctly supporting your key message and prompting your audience to action.
What is one of your favorite presentation hacks/tips/tricks?
My favorite hack is customizing the Quick Access Toolbar (or QAT) in PowerPoint. The QAT allows you to create your own shortcuts for rote tasks like object alignment that take your hand away from the keyboard and waste precious seconds. I learned about it through my friends at Nuts & Bolts Speed Training, who offer an entire course dedicated to tapping the productivity power of the QAT. It is one of the best-kept secrets in PowerPoint!
What’s a great presentation related resource you use often?
I adore the Canva Design School for inspiration on how to design beautiful and impactful quote slides, statement slides, and an overall look and feel. Canva’s interactive lessons are simple, fun, and visually entertaining. It helps prove the point that you do NOT have to be a professional artist to design effective presentation slides.
What makes you “cringe” the most when you think about a boring/ugly presentation slide?
Rather than one element being cringe-worthy, I rather cringe when I see a slide stuffed with many missteps. I often see a typical slide where the title is a boring statement about what the slide is showing, rather than a bold observation or insight behind the visual. Then there are multiple charts or tables crammed into a small space, usually rendered with cognitive-loading, visual noise like gridlines, excessive labels, and rainbow color palettes. The final nail in the coffin is a barrage of bullet points at the bottom in tiny font, hinting at the key insight but buried in excessive wordiness.
When I witness this symphony of slide sloppiness, it makes my heart sad. It is truly a function of never being taught a better way, and that is why I am so passionate about my “No Slide Left Behind” mission!
What do you listen to while you work on your presentations? Got a favorite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence? How do you get into the creative zone?
I’m a music fiend and always have something playing during go time. I have multiple playlists on Spotify running on a continuous loop throughout the day, catering to my specific mood and concentration. My favorite productivity playlists range between Deep Focus, 90’s R&B, and the soundtrack to Interstellar. Eclectic, I know!
Another amazing find is Focus@Will, an online radio station that plays what they call “neuroergonomic” music designed to maximize productivity by helping the listener enter a flow state. I FLY through my presentations when I listen to the Focus@Will Alpha Chill station.
What are you currently reading in relation to presentations? What’s something you’d recommend for people to read?
Right now I’m finishing Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo. I’m fascinated by the storytelling mastery behind TED, and am loving learning what makes an engaged audience tick. I particularly enjoy the analysis of the common threads between the most successful TED talks, such as an engaging backstory and delivering “jaw-dropping moments”.
My first recommendation when it comes to upping your data presentation game would be Storytelling with Data by my friend Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. For me, this read distils the best of every presentation and data visualization book I’d read into a practical approach to telling your data story. Cole’s approach leverages cinematic storytelling techniques and her tone is balanced without a hint of dogma or judgment.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I’m an avid yogini and incorporate a daily yoga and affirmation practice into my day. My cottage overlooks a stunning valley so I frequently go outside to my deck for some grounding and recharging, especially during the spectacular sunsets.
What’s a good piece of advice you’ve received when it comes to creating presentations?
Exercise extreme discrimination and intention when using animation. Early in my career, I was told by my boss that while my content was great, my animations made him seasick. I’m talking checkerboard and spiral transitions while laser beaming in every single letter on the slide (yes, that was an available animation back then.) I thought that because I knew every feature, that made me an expert on how to present. Oopsie daysie.
Today, I am very judicious with animation, using nothing more than simple fades and white boxes to strategically hide and reveal information as I guide the audience through my narrative. Animation is even riskier with Prezi, and I would advise an abundance of caution when creating your animation path to avoid vertigo-inducing death spirals.
What’s the one piece of advice you would tell someone before or during public speaking (delivering a presentation)?
Do NOT walk into that room or stage without rehearsing your talk. In my professional experience, I have learned that my stage fright is inversely proportional to my amount of preparation. There is a reason behind the old theater adage of “practice, practice, practice”, and the number three is quite relevant here. I believe that when you run through your material at least three times, you begin to integrate the concepts in a way that dramatically builds confidence. At the very least, practice at least one time more than you typically do (which often means one time!)
I frequently encounter resistance from my workshop students when expressing the importance of preparation due to a lack of time. I advise my workshop students to adopt a mindset that practicing your presentation is as critical as creating a slide deck or showing up to speak. If we treat preparation with the same degree of importance, pockets of time begin to reveal themselves.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
I am a super crunchy-granola closet hippie and amateur homesteader, which means I cook almost everything I eat from scratch. I love adapting traditionally indulgent foods like muffins and pancakes to a nutrient-dense Paleo template, it’s one of my great passions. I also adore crafting fun treats like homemade gummy candy and beef jerky with my budding toddler chef!
The Presentation Panda: How I Work series asks presentation heroes, experts, and flat-out awesome people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. If you would like to be featured or have someone you want to see featured contact us here.