In the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we pause to reflect on all things for which we are truly grateful. As Roman philosopher and orator, Cicero, so aptly said long ago, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.”

The Thanksgiving Holiday is certainly a time to pause and reflect and be reminded of the importance of being thankful. Yet there is more to be thankful for than you might initially think. In the 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving, President Abraham Lincoln first declared to the nation that the last Thursday in November be set aside as a unified day of thankfulness to God for all the bounty before us.

What you may not have realized is that we also owe thanks  to a lady by the name of Sarah Hale. Mrs. Hale was a magazine editor and had lobbied for 15 years to have an annual Thanksgiving National holiday that would include both the North and the South on the same day. Before the national Thanksgiving holiday was established by President Lincoln, each state had its own Thanksgiving Day. In a letter to President Lincoln on September 28, 1863, Sarah petitioned him to hold Thanksgiving “on the same day, in all the States” in order “to become permanently, an American custom and institution.” President Lincoln responded to her letter right away.

Sarah deserves our thanks for modelling the fruits of persistence and determination, for holding the vision of a unified nation, and for never giving up on what she thought best for a country. In your Thanksgiving celebrations this year, be thankful for Mrs. Hale and her efforts on our behalf to bring a nation together under a roof of thankfulness.

Below is a partial excerpt from the October 3, 1863  Proclamation by the President of the United States of America:

” . . . It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficient Father who dwelleth in the heavens . . .”

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday full of thankfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Keeping Visuals in their Place

Back in the old days, if you wanted to use a visual aid to supplement your presentation you had to be creative. You might use a poster to display a diagram, you might bring in a prop to show your audience, or you might spend time and money creating multimedia slides the old fashioned way. Creating multimedia slides was not an easy task over thirty years ago. Sometimes it required dark room work, hand coding, and using color dyes. The process to create visuals took a lot of time and was costly. As a result, visuals were lean by design, and back then creating a visual was truly a craft and an art form.

Now flash forward to our modern world, where the affordances of today’s presentation tools today are simply stunning. We can easily craft professional and artful visuals in a matter of minutes. We have templates and SmartArt at our disposal and we have font choices and color options that our ancestors would drool over. However, there’s one catch.

With the fast pace of our digital age and the modern clutter of our lives, our visuals seem to reflect those elements as well. We find visuals full of content, loaded with text, serving as teleprompters for presenters, and potentially appearing at first glance as a better handout than supporting material.

There is a better way. In this blog, we’ll explore ways to make your visuals and presentations more effective. We’ll revisit lessons from the past and re-create the process of crafting visuals as a true art form with thoughtful, intentional design.

A simple first step is to realize that your slides are not the presenter. You are the presenter. Your visuals support your content where they need clarification, and you as a presenter do not need a slide for everything you say. When you have a blank slide because a particular content chunk is already easily understood, the audience’s attention can be focused back on the presenter. Some research shows that when slides are displayed and a presenter speaks at the same time, most audience members focus more on the visual than on what is being said in that moment. If, however, you do present content with more complexity that would be best understood by a pictorial illustration, you can reveal the visual at that time.

The bottom line is that all visuals should support your material. You, the presenter, are the feature. Your visuals are not there to take over, at least, not yet.