Avoiding death by PowerPoint

TED Talks feature some of the best presentations—and use of slides—ever given on this planet. The TED blog provides us with 10 good tips to creating better slide decks.

all-hands-preparing-to-fail-140715112322-phpapp01_Page_01My favorite tip is No. 1: Think about your slides last. This is absolutely critical for any presentation, no matter how short or unimportant. I like to start with an even simpler question: Do I even need slides at all? Believe it or not, most presentations do not need slides. Period.

People attending your presentation are there to see and hear you. They are not there to see your slides. If all they cared about were the slides, they’d wait for them to show up on a web site and just download them.

The other tips on the TED blog post are excellent. Go read and do your part to make deadly PowerPoint extinct.

TED comes to Notre Dame

TED is an annual conference held in California (although the 2014 event will be held in Vancouver). Each year, 1200  or so people gather to hear inspiring, thought-provoking, sometimes controversial ideas—all in the form of 20-minute presentations held over four days. TED presenters range from the famous (Al Gore, Bill Gates, Peter Gabriel) to the not-so-well known. To attend TED, you not only have to be willing to pay the hefty fee (I think it’s up to $6,000, not including your travel costs), but you have to apply and persuade the conference organizers that you have something valuable to contribute to the conversation.

Thankfully, for us mere mortals, TED talks are available online. They are a great source of what I like to call “brain food.” The talks range from particle physics (for the non-scientist) to virtual choirs to using video cameras to capture human rights violations. There’s also a bit of fun along the way, including music.

Yesterday, TED came to the University of Notre Dame. TED has become such a powerful brand that people all around the country began holding their own local TED-style events. To foster these programs, TED licenses its brand and marks, which is how TEDxUND came into being. I was lucky enough to be selected in a lottery process for a seat at the event’s morning session, and it was terrific. Some of the highlights from the day:

  • An anthropologist who explains that humans are not genetically wired for aggression.
  • A computer science professor showing how easily social media can manipulate what shows up on CNN, Fox News, and other mainstream media source.
  • A freshman who revealed that in her fourth week on campus, she was sexually assaulted and photographed during the assault—yet she continues to use photography as a therapeutic tool. (This was probably the most powerful talk of all.)

One talk in particular, given by senior Peter Keon Yoo, took the wraps off of the payday loan industry. Many of us lawyers know the facts: payday loan operations are little more than legalized loan sharks charging interest rates that work out to over 500% per year. The prey upon the working poor who need a few hundred bucks for immediate needs, like a car that has broken down. The industry is so lucrative that there are more payday loan storefronts in the U.S. than the number of Starbucks and McDonalds restaurants combined. And when I say lucrative, I mean lucrative.

Here’s a simple example. A person takes out a loan for $300, to be repaid on his or her next payday, with $45 paid on top as the cost of borrowing the $300. But when payday comes around on Friday, the person finds that she can’t repay the entire loan. But it’s no problem: for another $45 paid then and there, she can extend the repayment date until her next paycheck and pay the $345 then. Of course, by the next pay day, our consumer can’t afford to repay the loan, so she extends it for another $45 payment on that date. This can go on for week after week, each Friday bringing a $45 payment that pays nothing toward the principal amount. By the time our sample person can actually pay the loan off a few months later, she’s paid over $500 in interest on a loan of $300.

Statistics reveal that in my community there are approximately 7,000 people who use the “services” of payday loan shops. On average, these individuals pay $500 a year in interest alone, meaning $3,500,000 are being siphoned out of this community each year—from the working poor. As Peter Keon Yoon remarked, it’s expensive to be poor in this country.

The TEDxUND talk on this topic was not merely a well-deserved attack on predatory lending. Peter Keon Yoon and a good number of his colleagues are doing something to attack the problem: JIFFI, the Jubilee Initiative For Financial Inclusion. JIFFI uses the principle of micro lending to give local residents an alternative to the payday loan industry. JIFFI’s philosophy is that a loan should help people get out of a hole, not be pushed deeper into a hole.

JIFFI is not merely a low-interest lender. People approved for a JIFFI loan are given financial education as well so that they can avoid being in a crisis situation again.

During my career as an attorney, I handled a number of consumer bankruptcies. Some of them involved debtors whose entrepreneurial idea didn’t pan out. Others had huge medical bills that the insurance company decided to reject. But most of them had credit card debt that was staggering. In the late 1990s I began an annual informal experiment with my entertainment law students. I would ask the class how many of them had credit cards, and most hands would go up. I then asked how many carried a balance from month to month. Typically, all but one or two hands would stay up. I then walked students through an example to show them how paying the $40 monthly minimum on a $1,000 credit card balance with 18% interest (APR) would take them six years to pay off and cost them over $500 in interest. Students appeared to be shell shocked by this information.

If Notre Dame students, with their premier high school educations, aren’t getting this kind of financial education, it’s no surprise that thousands of people are being sucked into the payday loan quagmire.

JIFFI is a worthwhile effort by Notre Dame students to solve this problem on a local scale. JIFFI accepts donations, and I’m pleased to support their work. If you can, look for a similar program in your community and give it your support. You’ll be glad you did. (Yes, I recognize the irony of the fact that the donations are by credit card, but such is the way of modern commerce.)

Another 5 iPad apps for lawyers

There are so many apps lawyers might find useful, it can be hard to pick and choose which ones to highlight. Following the pattern I hope I established with my previous two posts on this topic, here are four useful apps and one “fun” app for your consideration.

  • SpiderOak is an alternative to DropBox that also boasts 2 GB of free storage space. While it is not as well known as DropBox, there are a number of lawyers who feel our obligations of confidentiality render DropBox a poor choice. The Hytech Lawyer offers his thoughts on the subject in a number of posts. Given the security features of SpiderOak, I’ve adopted it as my files-in-the-cloud tool.
  • Atomic Web is a web browser that runs circles around Safari. Tom Mighell has written an article explaining why Atomic Web wins in the iPad web browser shootout, which I recommend. Consider it’s only $.99, there’s virtually nothing to lose by giving it a try.
  • Court Days helps lawyers calculate deadlines based on the various procedural rules. More than one lawyer has had to notify his or her carrier because of a blown filing deadline. Court Days can help you stay out of that group.
  • UPAD is a wonderful note-taking application. I’ve already written a review.
  • TED is short for Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED began as an annual conference in Monterey, California. Due to its increasing popularity, it has relocated to Long Beach, California. Additional TED events have sprouted around the world. People who want to attend TED have to apply and be willing to cough up $6,000. The TED app lets you view all the conference presentations for free (the app is also free), even if delayed a bit. Fortunately, the entire library of presentations going back many years is available. The presentations are among the best you will ever see. With rare exception, every presenter is limited to 20 minutes or less. Only at TED will you see a scientist open her presentation about her stroke by showing a real human brain and spinal cord or watch musician Peter Gabriel describe how he was abused by school bullies and how that incident led to an international human rights program. The ideas at TED are often inspiring and then some (search for Majora Carter’s presentation on greening parts of the Bronx). Whenever you feel the need to take a short break and feed your brain, a TED presentation will do the trick.