#YearInSpace

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The starmen have returned.

Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned from their One-Year Mission earlier this week, and imagine the stories they have to tell! Just like Commander Chris Hadfield’s trip before them, their post holiday slide-shows will be the envy of the neighbourhood. Face it Ted, your recent trip to Cancun just does not compare. Get over it Ted.

I like to think that I’ve achieved a thing or two over the past year, but just for fun, let’s compare:

  • Commander Kelly, in the past year, has travelled 143,826,545 miles. I, if I add my running kilometres, have travelled only 142,000,000 miles, give or take 150 million.
  • The Commander has orbited around the Earth 5,440 times. I have orbited at least that many times around various martini bars, but have come short of Earth. To be fair… I don’t get much orbit time.
  • The astronaut has been visited by nine different space vehicles. I’ve only had contact from the one… which was more of an abduction than a visit, and nobody believes me about that anyway.
  • 10,880 sunrises and sunsets! Come on! Seriously… like I’m ever up that early.

And the list goes on.

Anyway, it’s probably clear to you that I’m a bit of a space-geek, but I would challenge anyone to take a look at the photographs and video footage of the #YearInSpace and not be amazed. It’s a fascinating adventure, and a great scientific achievement. But, what do I love most about NASA?

They are great storytellers. And, what a perfect age we live in, when the stories they have to tell can come to life before our very eyes in so many spectacular ways. Their Tumblr account alone is like peering through a magical kaleidoscope, or riding in the Tardis. Using spellbinding imagery with minimal explanatory text, they are able to convey, very simply and very powerfully, the wonders of the Galaxy.

Next stop, Mars!

Simply Beautiful

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It’s not easy being beautiful.

With all the clutter, the noise, and the chaos it’s difficult to find beauty or to truly ingest it. And yet, when we do, when we really find ourselves appreciating something artful, it’s usually in moments of peace and mental solitude.

Paintings in an art gallery are hung separate from each other, often isolated on their own wall, with nothing but white behind them. White space allows us that freedom and clarity… it gives us a visual break from an oversaturated muddle of data.

When preparing for a presentation, whether you’re designing slides or writing speaking notes, this is a good principle to keep in mind. Think of how many presentations you’ve sat through, staring blankly at a screen crammed with information — as if jamming it all onto one slide will make it easier for you to understand.  The truth is, you’ll likely consume none of it, and leave the room wanting to vomit.

NOTE: I’m not suggesting you do this, but… when necessary… vomiting in the room at least, if nothing else, sends a strong signal to the presenter. 

Nancy Duarte, in her book Slideology, suggests that whitespace gives us “visual breathing room”, that it is as much an element of a slide as titles, bullets and diagrams. “In large part, the use or misuse of whitespace determines a slide’s effectiveness… it’s okay to have clear space — clutter is a failure of design.”

I also like Garr Reynolds‘ comparison to a Zen Garden – a space designed to clear your mind and give you focus and clarity. If you have a striking image that conveys a message, having it surrounded by empty space will give it prominence and lead the eye.

My advice is to pay attention to the things that strike you, that you find beautiful, that elicit an emotional response and bring you pleasure. Think about why you love them, how you see them, and what made you notice them in the first place.

If you visually ingest beautiful design, you will be able to output beauty. But it takes study and contemplation of what makes those things beautiful.

I want to avoid saying that I’m beautiful because I’m simple… because… I’m very, very complex…

But, I will say this…

Simply beautiful is beautifully simple.

Hallo Spaceboy

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There’s an astronaut saying: In space, “there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” 

These words launch Chris Hadfield’s excellent TED Talk about facing your fears and overcoming challenges to personal exploration. His description of finding himself completely blind during a spacewalk reminds us that our meagre earthling troubles aren’t so colossal after all, and maybe achievement is more within our grasp than we thought. He actually makes me think, hey, far out, I can go to space too!

This is the power of persuasion, because let’s face it, I get dizzy on a treadmill. I’m not going to space any time soon.

So, what makes this presentation, this moon-aged daydream, so powerful? Sure, he’s got a fabulous tale to tell, he’s one of the smartest people in the world, and he’s clearly an accomplished speaker — but what it comes down to is simple craftsmanship. The art of a well-structured presentation is all it takes to convince us that anything is possible.

When you watch the video below, take note of a few things:

  • Visual imagery: the use of photographs shot from the space station are awesome, they tell a story in themselves and entice an emotional response from the presenter. The reaction becomes a shared experience that the audience takes part in.
  • Connection to real experience: He knows that nobody in the audience has been to outer space, so he relates his fears to something we will understand. Yup, spiders. Not spiders from Mars, but spiders that crawl into our beds or spin webs on our doorways. This, we relate to and it makes his argument easier to follow.
  • Personal story: he not only describes the scientific facts of his journey, but all the emotions that go with it — what he thought and what he felt, and how he was able to overcome his fears in extremely trying circumstances.

These are all elements of a great presentation, and you do not have to walk among the stars to pull it off.

Granted, anytime you can wrap up your talk by singing a little David Bowie… you’re doing just fine.