Monday, May 21, 2007

Anything You Say Can (and Will) Be Used Against You

Update: Read the latest story on the Wal-Mart worker who got fired for posting a joke on MySpace

With the latest explosion of social networking sites such as MySpace, FaceBook, and Friendster, loads of people are publishing lots of information about themselves for the entire world to see. Social networking sites have shrunk the size of the world because the information is visible to anyone that has access to the Internet. The positive is it introduces the person to people that one would never have the chance to meet otherwise. The negative is that anything that is posted on that page can haunt that person. It can affect the person's ability to get the job that they want, or worse, it can attract the wrong kind of person.

We can talk about the dangers of posting inappropriate material on a social networking site, but I think that the majority understand those dangers. However, many people don't understand how this can affect a future career. The focus of this post is going to be on how what you have posted on the Internet can affect your future career.

When you apply for a job, nearly all companies have you sign a release that permits the company to do a background check on you. While they are mainly performing criminal background checks on you, they are also scanning the Internet to find out about you as well. As many people are discovering, what they are publishing about themselves on the Internet may cost them a dream career or a spot in a prestigious school. Recently, there was a case where a young teacher who just finished her studies for her Master's degree was looking for a dream job in education. When the education board found a racy photo of her in a pirate's costume published on MySpace, the education board rejected her as someone who was "not appropriate" for the school environment. So, while the picture of you doing something silly while you're drunk or high may be funny to your peers, some person who makes decisions on who will work for a company may think that you are "irresponsible" and "not a good fit to the company".

It's not just social networking sites that people are searching - they are also searching blogs, viral video sites (like YouTube), and review sites to see what you are like. For example, a person who interviewed me about a year ago struck up a conversation about Doctor Who with me. I was puzzled - how did he know that I liked Doctor Who? Simple - he did a little research on me on the Internet and found that I wrote a review for a particular Doctor Who DVD that was published on numerous sites on the Internet!

Because of the power of the Internet, people need to be careful with what they say and do. You may be careful with what you publish on the Internet about yourself, but what about what others publish about you? For example, a tape or photos featuring you in a compromising position may find its way on YouTube or another web site. Don't believe me that someone can post things about you? Just ask former American Idol contestant Antonella Barba. Granted, it got her publicity, but I don't she really appreciated someone posting a picture of her sitting on a toilet bowl looking like she is "doing her business".

The bottom line - you need to be aware of what you say and do. If you don't want the world to see it or hear it, don't do it. If you don't publish it, someone else will. Just ask Antonella Barba or the kid who made a film of himself pretending to be a Jedi Knight.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Things to Note When Creating Training Presentations

Regardless of the role that you play in IT, you will have to create training presentations.

  • If the publisher of a textbook hasn't created these for the instructor as material to use when teaching information from the book, IT instructors create training presentations all the time.

  • With US post-secondary institutions putting more emphasis on enhancing students' communications skills, IT students will need to do this for their coursework.

  • Unless the IT professional works for a very large company who has its own training department, the IT professional has this responsibility as well as his/her other duties.

Training presentations are very useful tools to have to help the listener engage other senses while you are lecturing on a subject. However, a number of people still miss the mark when creating presentations. There are a number of reasons why:

  • Wrong Color Scheme

  • Too Much Information

  • Font that's difficult to read

  • Distracting animations and music

  • No animation and activity

How should you create a good training presentation? Here are some tips that I've learned based on my own experience as a student and an instructor:

  • Don't use white or a very dark color for the entire background color if you are presenting from a projector on a screen.

    kiosk-style: A presentation that will be viewed on a person's own machine, rather than presented through a projector on a screen.

    While white as an entire background is perfectly acceptable for "kiosk-style" presentations, a white background has a tendency to "glare" when presenting from a projector on a screen, and some people think that a pure white background is harder on the eyes. On the other hand, using a very dark color as a background (such as black) causes problems for visually impaired audience members (see the point "Be aware of your audience's restrictions" for details). Use a softer white or a softer light color as the background.

  • Use complementary colors (Colors that are opposite on the color wheel)

    Using complementary colors in your presentation helps the material stand out better. If you are not aware of the color wheel, see this site or this site for an illustration and a general explanation of the color wheel.

  • Don't write your whole script on a slide; use "headlines" to highlight the important points of the topic

    If you write your whole script on a slide, your presentation loses its impact. The first thing your audience will say is, "I know how to read! I don't need you to read it for me!". "Headlines" or "bullet points" highlight the important points of what you are saying. The audience will see the point, and listen to you for more details.

  • Choose a consistent background to use throughout the presentation

    One of the most distracting things in a presentation is a presentation that uses a different background for each slide. Using a consistent background, such as a company logo or the same border, looks cleaner and more professional.

  • If you are using transition animation, choose one style of transition animation throughout the presentation

    Another distracting thing in a presentation is different transition animations for each slide. Using one type of a transition animation, such as a "flip to next page", looks cleaner and professional.

  • Use a Sans-Serif font, and don't use anything under 16 point size (unless this presentation is "kiosk style")

    A psychology study shows that sans-serif style fonts (like Arial or Helvetica) were easier to read than non-sans-serif fonts (like Times New Roman). Try to avoid using the "graphic-type" fonts because the machine where you will be doing the presentation may not have the drivers for that font, and some of those fonts are very difficult to read.
    If you are doing a presentation where you will be projecting it to a screen for an audience, don't use a font under 16 point size. It's too difficult to read from a projection. However, if you are doing a "kiosk-style" presentation, you can use a smaller font.

  • Keep the font size consistent on each slide

    Again, this is to make the presentation look cleaner and more professional. If the font size jumps too much from screen to screen, the viewer's eyes will need time to adjust.

  • Don't have a completely static presentation; have a few multimedia types embedded in the presentation

    transition animation: An animation that happens when going from one slide to another, such as a "flipping pages" effect.

    Completely static presentations with absolutely no multimedia (pictures, graphics, animation, music, clips) are absolutely boring! Here are some ideas:

    • Have a few pieces of multimedia in the presentation that has to do with the topic at hand. For example, if you are talking about how a network architecture transmits data, you can put a small cartoon that illustrates how it works in the presentation.

    • Use the company logo on each slide in the same place.

    • Use a transition animation.

    • Use a consistent animation to help emphasise the important points of your speech, such as a point appearing when you click on the mouse button.

  • On the other hand, don't use multimedia for the sake of using multimedia

    Completely static presentations are boring, but over-the-top presentations are downright annoying and look unprofessional. Some people use multimedia for the sake of using multimedia in their presentation, such as putting in material like clip art or "cute" films and songs that have nothing to do with the presentation. While one slide with a funny picture may get a chuckle out of the audience, 10 slides with funny pictures will lose them.

  • Proofread the material

    Spelling errors, grammar errors, and sentences that don't make sense are things that can kill your presentation. Sometimes it's hard to proofread your own material because you have been viewing it for so long. Try to recruit someone, especially someone with good spelling and grammar skills, to review the material.

  • Be aware of your audience's restrictions

    Not all of your audience will be able to see colors perfectly, or have 20/20 vision, or speak your native language fluently. Create your presentation with restrictions in mind. For example:

    • According to this study from Stephen F. Austin University, elderly viewers have a difficult time viewing a light-on-dark presentation color scheme versus a dark-on-light presentation color scheme. If your audience is older, choose a dark-on-light presentation color scheme.

    • According to a guide from on accessibility, visually impaired audience members have difficutly viewing certain fonts and certain color schemes. This reference guide will give you some pointers on what color schemes and fonts to use if you have visually-impaired audience members.

    • If you have audience members that are color-blind, be aware of the schemes that you choose. That does not mean that you are not allowed to use that color, such as blue, but be aware that the color-blind person doesn't see that color the way others do.

    • Be aware that certain animations, like flashing screens, can trigger epileptic seizures in people who have photosensitive epilepsy. (Personally, I wouldn't do flashing screens anyway unless I want to annoy my audience)

    • Avoid using "slang" in your presentation.

A Note on Using Multimedia

  • Be aware of the type of multimedia that you use. For example, can the machine where you will be doing the presentation support the media type that you are using? If you embedded a fantastic QuickTime file that helps demonstrate your point, but the machine doesn't have a QuickTime player installed, it will impact your presentation.

  • Be aware of the rules of using public domain multimedia and copyrighted media.
    According to the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), "fair use" for copyrighted songs and films allows you to play up to 30 seconds of the material. However, be aware that some media hosting sites are airing on the side of caution and not allowing any publication of presentations that even use 1 second of copyrighted material.
    If a graphic or picture is copyrighted, you will need to follow the rule from the owner of the copyright. In some cases, the owner will allow you to use it as long as the owner is credited. In other cases, you may not be allowed to use the graphic or picture at all.

Here are two other links that provide more information:
The 7 Sins of Visual Presentations
Tips for Effective Visual Presentatiosn

Do you have any tips to share? Post them here!