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Presentation Quality Levels

I had a request to give people some ideas on how to demo to clients video stuff on a shoe string.  Now, that’s kind of been a theme for the last few blogs so I’m guessing that “shoe string” means that a lot of people out there are looking to start small businesses on the side to help pay some bills.  🙂  A wise choice in this economy, and it’s always a good one.

Years ago I had my own business and I’ll never forget how hard it was to get clients to sit down and listen to your pitch.  What I found is that you keep it short and sweet.  Bullet points.  And when it comes to looking like a professional outfit and the use of Bullet Points … PowerPoint is your buddy. 

So first – understand that it doesn’t matter how good your presentation is – if there’s no facts.  The one I’m showing here – has no real facts.  Just flashy looks that I pulled together in about an hour or so, using existing work.  So – first know what makes your product a good buy.  You need to be able to show your customers how it’s going to benefit them. 

imageSince the request was for a video business – let’s look at what you can do for them.  Video isn’t just about making movies – it’s about making a business look good.  Start with their brand – and understand it.  As a video company you have the ability to bring a brand to the next level.  Make a nice quality demo reel – and make sure it includes their logo.  Keep it short – 15 to 60 seconds – no more.  You’re going to give them a taste – not a meal. 

Begin with your presentation slide – which just has their name on it, and the ad campaign or purpose of the presentation.

image

Next – open with that 15 Second clip.  Let them see it – make it big.  Since you can put the Video right into the PowerPoint – yes, it allows you to put the video on a slide.  Do that with whatever logo, text or other info you want.

You’ll probably want to go back to this slide from time to time after the presentation so they can see it for themselves.  And don’t be afraid to say – this is what you came up with on your own,  you’d really want to tailor this to their ideas and expectations.  In fact – ask for those suggestions directly, and make sure you take notes when they speak but keep the conversation going.  You need them to become involved in the production, even though they aren’t yet. 

Initial impressions from a client often give you a lot of valuable information.   Even if they hate it.  In some cases negative feedback is better than positive feedback.  With negative feedback you can put together a list of what they want.  With positive feedback it’s harder to get that list.   This isn’t the time to let them bog you down though – show them how you came to those conclusions that this was a direction.  Show them why they need your product.  If you have numbers showing cost effectiveness, or increased views – or anything like that to support you – now is when you bring them up. 

 imageSo get those numbers or facts – and distill them down to the top 3-5 reasons.  Memorize these.  Include them in your verbal pitch.  Show them you have some idea how their business currently can benefit and that you actually looked into their business?

How?  How do you get this info… Well, by doing a bit of research on the internet.  Almost every business has a web site – and if they don’t their competitors do.  Find out all you can about their business, and find out what it is they make money off of – cars, houses, coffee houses, hotels – know their business enough to list 3-5 ways they can benefit from what you’re offering them.

This also helps by knowing that most small businesses imagedo not have… a brand.  Branding is something big businesses talk about and small to medium businesses have but don’t know they have usually.  So put up a slide that shows that you understand their brand.  But make sure that you do.  Are they a very small homey business?  Well – then probably going with a very big uber clean steel and chrome look won’t work.  But there is always something about a business that makes it that business.  That’s their identity.  Sometimes the problem is – they have no identity.  So you need to provide them with one.  Show them you understand where they’re coming from – and if possible where they want to go. 

image Next… do a little footwork.  Go out and ask people what they think – or get some statistics that prove your point.  Show your customer that what you provide or how you provide what they currently have can work for them. 

By doing that footwork and research – you show that you actually did do the home work of trying to understand their business.  Whatever you can get is helpful – just not too much.  So use statistics, can use man-on-the-street interviews or surveys, you can do this many ways. 

But don’t just say, “Hey I think your business needs…” – back it up.  Show them you’re not alone in your thinking – and that you have a valid reason for it.  Now – some business will tell you straight up that’s not the look, the feel, the way they want to do things. 

If that’s not the direction the business wants – then dig in and find out what direction they DO want to go into.  What do they think the challenges are?  Where are their customers?  Let them know you’d like to put something together to reflect that – that you’re really sincere about making sure you’re giving them the best you can – and making them look the best they can.

 imageWords are great.  But back it up.  A lot of times people have no idea how to use a product.  So show them how.  Give them an idea of how you see this being used.  Web Videos, TV Commercials, Word of mouth – however you see the product being used… put together a game plan because a lot of small businesses don’t have an idea how, who, what or why.  They just know they need something.  You’re the professional – so give them the info they need.  You’re not saying’, “go do this…”, you’re just suggesting these as uses.  The final decision is always up to the customer. 

It’s not a bad idea – to even have a demo set up.  Maybe a web based player like this showing the demo you previewed….

If you have an alternate – or more – include a couple (no more than 3 if possible) to show other ways you can play it out and that you have the flexibility to really shine for them. 

Like I say, keep it short – 15-60 second blips and only a few of them.  I can almost 100% guarantee they will assume that your showing them the final product.  Make sure they understand you’ve gone in a direction – and you want them to really help and direct you to the right direction for their business. 

Sometimes they’ll suggest stuff that just… isn’t good. Find out out strongly they feel about this –  see if you can compromise, but as a rule even if it’s not good… do it.

Because – and this is very hard for creative type people to understand sometimes… the customer is always right. Even when they’re wrong – the customer is always right. 

 image

Last but not least… always close with a way for them to ask for more information and give them a copy of the presentation. 

I like to put all of this on a CD or a USB stick – with an Autorun file so it runs whenever it’s plugged in.  To do this copy your completed PowerPoint  and compile it using the PowerPoint viewer so in case they don’t have a copy of PowerPoint it will work.  (Make sure you include all the videos you need on the USB.)  Test it a few times on different machines to make sure it works… and you’re ready. 

 

Now… one final point.  If you’re like my friend Shelly (who asked for this) you may not have a big portfolio yet – and that is hard to over come.  A good way I learned in my business when I was starting out, to get business was to offer to do it for free.  Explain to them you’re starting out – you need a portfolio built, and you’re willing to do the job for free (or cost) so that you can include it in your portfolio of professional work.

Almost no business ever turns down free.  So use them to build up your profile.  You’d be surprised how many times I’d done work pro-bono that later they came back and asked for updates – or completely new work.   Often they would show it off to other businesses – and generate work for you.

Hey … it’s worth a shot, and for a business like Shelly’s, her own effort is the biggest cost.  Once you have done a “pro-bono” – a freebie.  Never do them again unless it’s a charity.  Remember, regardless of how it may seem somedays – you are a business.


You can download the PowerPoint Presentation above (although I’m not sure why you’d want to…) at:
PowerPoint Presentation for CoffeeCup


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Posted by on October 20, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Streaming Media on a Budget

Okay … so the last time I blogged… it was to show the differences between Silverlight and Flash for video made a difference even for someone who say … didn’t have the resources of MSNBC or a big name video production. 

I did a high def video – posted it to “free” website and just let the video load into the silverlight player directly from the web.  Very high quality – very low cost – very little time.

David Sayed, from the Microsoft Expression Encoder sent me a very nice ping pointing out that Microsoft actually offers Silverlight developers (and actually anyone) the ability to steam your video also – and it is also free. 

So in the spirit of free (since we all like free) let’s say you’ve created a really cool video, and you want to put this out there for everyone.  Go to silverlight.live.com – and sign up for an account if you don’t have one.  It’ll probably take all of 5 minutes of your life.

Next – click on the handy links – upload your file… (or if you have MS Expression Encoder 2 – use the cool plug in for uploading right to the silverlight.live.com site) and you’re ready to go. 

 

And… as you can see the results are shown above.    Or you can provide a link to other applications or tools:  http://silverlight.services.live.com/18150/Silverlight%20Downtown%20Demo/video.wmv

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Does Silverlight make a difference?

 
A lot is being said about Silverlight.  Is it as good as Adobe Flash, is it all hype, what’s the difference, and all those great questions.  Now one of the things that’s been hyped (a lot) is that Silverlight really allows sites like NBC or CBS to stream very high levels of quality.  It’s generally assumed by many critics that the standard user can’t make use of this level of quality. 
 
This side project is actually to put that theory to the test.  Below is a demo reel I created in Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Particle Illusion.  I used a photo of a street Occidental Park, Seattle – a crater from, and did a small explosion type blast.  Okay – it’s just below the quality of an episode of Dr. Who and I’m not going to win an Academy award – but the point is – it was also done, cradle to grave, one man, two hours effort.
 
The reason I went with particle generators – which btw – in I intentionally made overly large, so you can see the polygons of the particles.  Under high definition conditions they’ll be visible clearly.  (In real footage – you’d want to tweak that down so it looks more realistic and do a better job on the blending with the actual footage.)  The idea here is to compare how well it plays, and if the quality levels are noticeable.
You’ll see right away – they are. Partially because of these massive particles actually having a nice polygon shape in the SIlverlight – and just being annoying blurs in the Flash Player.  
 
The footage was then compressed using Expression Encoder 2 – which generated a nice HD wmv file of the clip you see below.  I located a very off the side “free webhosting” company and set up an account there.  I didn’t go with a GoDaddy or a iPowerweb (which is my preference) because I wanted to see what you get… for free.
 
Here’s a demo reel of a HD 720p video in Sliverlight – run from HTML off a free web hosting site:
If you can see this, your browser doesn’t understand IFRAME. However, we’ll still link you to the file.
 
 
Now if you’re playing this the first time you’ll see the percentages of footage downloaded running it.  This allows slow connections – and btw, this is actually hosted on a standard HTML free website I’ve set up.  There’s no media server involved – it’s just a plain 15 mb wmv file downloaded through the web, and as you can see the quality doesn’t suffer.  Click on the full screen link – and compare this with the same clip that’s running through a flash based player below.  It becomes pretty obvious which offers the better quality.
 
Now there are those that are saying, “Yeah but the flash player re-encodes…” – which is precisely a big part of the problem.  When it’s re-encoded it loses a lot of the quality.  Now, mind you – I don’t have to use a HD 720 file – I could just as easily have settled for the same screen size in a high quality format that would have generated a file 1/2 or even 1/4 of the size for the Silverlight.  Even when I did this – it wasn’t a competition on visual quality.
 
 
If you’re a geek – you will also note that I’ve intentionally put together a video clip that’s got massive particle animations in it.  Something that ordinarilly would cause a lot of artifacting and you’d lose the clarity of the flames and smoke.  We could add in debris and camera shake and all the usual goodies.  To really see the quality level – scroll over the image and switch to full screen mode.  This is why you’re hearing the hype over Silverlight. 
 
Because with a bit of effort the average person can with very minimal resources and not even a streaming media server, bring a high quality (network tv level) experience to their web site, and do it very quickly.  Start to finish – this project took about two hours of my time, and most of it was on getting the flames and smoke right. 
 
Now the question is – “Do you really need that kind of quality?”.  Thats up to you.  I suspect that those businesses that want the professional look and feel are going to ask for it.  I also suspect that Flash is going to have to up it’s quality levels to match – and they should be able to do so. 
 
Personal videos, corporate films and the like – have a whole new level of play than they have had to date.  You’ll see amazing things over the next year or two coming, and I will openly predict that we’ll be seeing more and more original Web TV shows coming our way.  (Shameless plug here for Gemini Division, Dr. Horrible, and others I’ve written about recently.)
 
I’m guessing I’ll probably have to put up a nice video entry here soon to really show off what I’m talkign about by “personal” video moving up to this level of play – but that’s another project.  Yes there will probably be a “Silverlight vs. Flash” argument on the web for sometime and we, as developers and designers we will need to deal with the issue. 
 
For me – the choice is going to be clear.  I’ll provide the user the option to do both.  I’ll set up my web pages to detect if they have the plug-in installed and offer the option to the user to download the plugin if they want – or use flash if they don’t. 
 

You can view the full clip in it’s original size at:
http://jakobson.site90.net/silverlight/downtown.html 

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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