Most lawyers that I know give presentations from time to time, whether they be formal opening statements or closing arguments to a jury, teaching a CLE, client presentations or even just running a small meeting. Considering this, you would think that most lawyers should be pretty good at it. But I am amazed at the number of presentations I see in which lawyers use PowerPoint slides with almost every word of the presentation typed, typically in a small font to fit all of those words on the slide (so the audience can barely read them anyway), and then the presentation consists of little more than reading those slides. Last week, California attorney David Sparks released his fifth book in the MacSparky Field Guide series, an ebook called Presentations. It is a $10 book in the iBookStore that you read on an iPad. I bought it when it was released last week so that I could write a review for iPhone J.D., and I assumed that the main value of the book would be to teach those PowerPoint-reading speakers how to do a better job with their presentations. It certainly does that, but to my pleasant surprise, the book is packed with tips that even the most seasoned public speaker would find useful. I learned so much reading this book, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I'm not sure if I would have purchased this book but for my intention of writing this review. Thank goodness I did; I'll be using the skills I learned in this book in all of my future presentations. If you own an iPad or a Mac and you are an attorney or other professional who gives presentations, this book is easily worth $10 and I encourage you to get it.
The book is divided into five chapters but it has two main parts. First, this is an excellent manual for using Keynote, Apple's software for creating and presenting slides on either an iPad or a Mac. (It works on an iPhone too, but that screen is too small for me to recommend using it to create presentations, although I have used my iPhone to make quick edits to a presentation when my iPad wasn't close by.) Second, this book gives advice on being a better public speaker. Both parts of this book are excellent.
For me, the best part of the book was the extensive and well-presented guide for using Keynote. Sparks prefers to create slides on his Mac and that is the focus of this book. I more often create slides on my iPad, in part because I use a PC in my office and thus can only use the Mac version of Keynote when I am at my house, and in part because I always use my iPad to run my presentations and it just seems more natural to me to create slides using the same hardware that I will use to present the slides to an audience. But fortunately, almost everything that you can do in Keynote on a Mac you can also do in Keynote on the iPad, and Sparks also includes lots of iPad-specific advice in this book. Thus, whether you use Keynote on a Mac, an iPad, or both, this book is for you. And by the way, if you do own both an iPad and a Mac, Keynote makes it easy to go back and forth between the two when you are working on your slides.
Like all of the ebooks that Sparks has created for the iPad, this book is far more than just a book with words that you read. Almost every time that Sparks tells you how (and why) to do something, he then includes a video that you can tap to watch a screencast. This lets you listen to Sparks tell you what you need to do while you watch him do the task in Keynote. It is a great way to learn the features of Keynote.
The Keynote portion of the book starts with the very basics — how to create a file, pick a template, etc. — so that even if you have never before used Keynote, this book will get you up and running. But before long, the book shows how to do sophisticated things in Keynote such as complex animations, and includes lots of tips that were new to me. For example, Sparks explains, in words and video, how to quickly make two objects the same size using Keynote on the iPad — a tip that I'll now be using all of the time.
Of course Keynote lets you insert simple objects like squares, circles, etc. on a slide. Sparks shows you how to create those, but then goes on to show you how to manipulate those objects to change and skew their characteristics, combine objects, and group them to create sophisticated graphics that not that long ago would require you to hire a graphics professional. At one point in the book he groups together a bunch of shapes to make a lightsaber that would make Obi-Wan Kenobi proud. It had never before occurred to me how much you can do with shapes in Keynote.
The book also includes great advice for creating a graphical representation of an object, a scene, etc. Start with a picture or a PDF file, then place your shapes on top of that to reproduce the image using simple shapes, then remove the image so that you are left with a simple, clean graphic with perfect proportions to represent an item that is important to your presentation, whether it be the product at issue in a products liability trial or the accident scene. What a great idea.
Here's another simple tip I learned (on page 175). When you are editing text in a text field using Keynote on an iPad, you can move the cursor/insertion point by swiping left or right. That is such a simple and effective replacement for arrow keys on the iPad. I hope that Microsoft copies this shortcut and adds it to Microsoft Word for iPad. There are countless tips like this in the book, and even if you are like me and you already know most of them, you will appreciate learning the rest of them. And if you are a novice Keynote user, you'll be a pro after you learn everything in this book.
Although this book isn't written specifically for lawyers, the fact that Sparks is a lawyer and has used Keynote in the courtroom results in his book being full of great advice for lawyers who use Keynote. For example, he has sections that provide tips for presenting and annotating documents in a presentation, creating timelines, and zooming in on a location on a map — all of which I will be using in the future.
Public Speaking Tips
No matter how good your slides are, to be an effective public speaker you need to do a good job using those slides with your audience. That is the other main focus of this book.
Some of what he teaches is strictly utilitarian, such as a useful section on everything that you might want to bring to your a presentation in a toolbox. As Sparks says, you may never need some of these items, and most of them you can just leave in the trunk of your car, but having them available eliminates any possible hiccups. When Tampa attorney Katie Floyd, Sparks's co-host on the Mac Power Users podcast, interviewed Sparks about this book, she suggested that he actually sell a tookbox that contains all of these items; she may have been joking but it actually isn't a bad idea. I already own and use most of these items that Sparks recommends, but there are a few more that I plan to pick up after reading this book. Here is a fun graphic from two pages of the book that shows some of the items mentioned by Sparks; you can tap any plus sign for specific info on what the item is and how it can be used.
But Sparks goes further and offers specific tips on how to give your presentation, everything from what to do before your presentation, what to do with your hands during the presentation, how to handle questions from the audience, the importance of ending on time, etc. While I happen to agree with Sparks on most of the advice that he offers in this part of the book, some of them are subject to debate. Even so, reading this part of the book will definitely make you think about your own presentation style and what you can do to be an even better speaker.
While I focused above on the content, one of the best parts of this book is that the content is a joy to read because it is well-written, clear and quite often funny. (For example, in a section providing lots of useful tips on using graphics in a presentation, I couldn't help but smile when I read on page 206: "Using pixelated, sad clip art in your presentation makes perfect sense so long as you live in 1993.") It's also nice that the layout of this book is beautiful. The book is over 400 pages, but I read it in just a few nights because I enjoyed reading it so much — including one night that I stayed up way too late thanks to Sparks and his interesting videos.
I frequently link to posts by David Sparks in my Friday In the news roundup, I listen to Mac Power Users, I've watched presentations given by Sparks at the ABA TECHSHOW conference held in Chicago every Spring, and I've read just about every book that he has ever written (and reviewed many of them on iPhone J.D.: iPad at Work, Paperless, Email). Suffice it to say that I am no stranger to his body of work. But even considering all of it, I suspect that most iPad-using lawyers would agree with me that this is the best, most helpful publication that Sparks has ever produced. If you ever have, or ever will, give a presentation, I strongly encourage you to get this book. You will appreciate the videos just as much as the words, and you will learn a ton.