The “Blank Page Approach”

When you’re asked to deliver a presentation, do you immediately use software to first create your visuals? Do you select a pre-built template? Do you populate your template with ready-made SmartArt?

The affordances of today’s tools and templates certainly can make multimedia development much easier and more efficient. However, there could be something amiss here. What happens to quality when we’re so quick to prepare presentation visuals before identifying objectives and thoughtfully thinking through flow? What is the effect on the audience when we populate a PowerPoint template before thinking through careful design? And what happens to teaching and learning, when we quickly insert images into visuals without a pedagogical rationale for how they support the instructional content?

Today’s technologies are amazing, but we could be even more effective if we first spent time in thoughtful design and creative thinking. So how do we tap into this creative design?

We need to embrace the “blank page” as a welcome starting point.

Have you ever tried beginning a project with a blank page and not rushed to the computer just yet? I call this the “Blank Page Approach.” You begin your project with thinking and sketching. When you begin with nothing, it opens the way for endless possibilities to make themselves available to you and your canvas.

You can certainly use pencil and paper to think out initial thoughts or even a tablet and digital tablet pen. The point is you’re beginning with open-ended possibilities represented by the blank page in front of you. Once initial design and ideas are sketched, then you can use technologies to bring them to fruition and the results will illustrate your careful front-end design. By engaging computers and technologies too quickly in the design stage, we can limit ourselves and our creativity with visual and technical constraints and distractions.

Interestingly enough, Entertainment Mogul, Walt Disney, worked on animations for his films by first sketching things out with pen and pencil—starting with a blank page. Peter Walsh, a renowned professional organizer, encourages clients who are de-cluttering their closets to first completely empty their closets. He advises them to take everything out, so they can begin anew with empty space. This way, new possibilities for arranging and grouping items in their closet occur to them that they never saw before through the “clutter.” Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate Global, Inc. also recommends “starting with a blank canvas in PowerPoint” when first creating visuals. In turn, when Google first created their email system, they challenged each other to think about email as if it had never existed before and to imagine that if they could completely begin from square one, what should email look like and how should it function?

True, there are writers who waste away time by cursing at the “blinking cursor” on a blank page. Yet there are also those who push through writer’s block and create initial drafts only to completely discard them, so they can begin a given project anew with creative freedom. By beginning any project with a blank canvas, pencil and paper, or a blank tablet, you better position yourself to receive limitless ideas once you’ve cleared the way for creative thinking.

So when it comes time to start on that presentation, I challenge you to experiment beginning with a blank page and see what emerges. I see the still, quiet, blank page as the beginning to endless creativity.

What say you?


The Expert Factor: To Be or Not To Be

After you watch Tom Kuhlmann create visuals in PowerPoint, you know you’re in the presence of an expert. This is not altogether surprising since Kuhlmann works for Articulate, has 20 years of experience creating visuals for training, and is author of the extremely popular Rapid E-learning Blog boasting a following of 93K e-learning developers. After witnessing his immediately apparent “tool fluency” at a recent workshop, did my own PowerPoint proficiency improve? Of course. Did Kuhlmann inspire us to work smarter and not harder? Absolutely. Did I learn practical shortcuts for creating visuals? Well, yes. But what struck me the most about this particular learning experience was the simple notion of well, . . . expertise.

Sure, you could argue expertise is a combination of experience, talent, knowledge depth, and/or good ole fashioned trial and error. I am not saying that these factors don’t play a role. In fact, one of the best technical troubleshooters I ever met encountered more technical glitches over his career than you or I could ever imagine. The reason he had developed such exemplary technical expertise, is because he had experienced all those technical challenges, and worked through them. So these factors can contribute to developing an expertise portfolio as well. However, there seems to be something else at play in Kuhlmann’s expert level.

Insatiable curiosity.

Kuhlmann has a natural appetite for figuring things out. He intentionally looks for inspiring visual images created by others in PowerPoint. This organic curiosity motivates him to try and de-construct quality images and figure out how they were created. Then he practices replicating them in PowerPoint and even improving their quality. He encourages others to do the same. Over the years, this drive to learn, practice, and create likely contribute to his uncanny ability to tell you how someone else created a quality PowerPoint visual, how to improve it, and most importantly, how to do it more efficiently.  His speed proficiency alone would put many of us to shame.

And at the end of the day . . . you can also tell he enjoys it.

Kuhlmann is passionate about helping people create quality, affordable e-learning with PowerPoint and Articulate tools regardless of whether they have a limited or abundant budget. And passion, as we know, is that priceless commodity that simply can’t be manufactured.

So what factors do you think contribute to expertise in a given discipline area . . . ?

What say you?