Presentation design for the rest of us


Slide:ology: The art and science of creating great presentations.
By Nancy Duarte
O’Reilly, 2008. 274 p.

A great slide can facilitate epiphanies.

When a presentation is developed and delivered well, it is one of our most powerful communication tools.

But alas. Most of us are not trained graphic artists. We don’t really know how to produce or deliver effective visual presentations. It’s not our fault. Our teachers emphasized reading and writing, not drawing or public speaking.

Nancy Duarte says we could keep blaming our presentation software, but as communicators we need to learn how to create visual stories that connect with our audience.

Duarte is Principal of Duarte Design. Her book Slide:ology shows how to translate ideas into pictures, to display them well, and to deliver them in your own way.

She emphasizes that this is *not* a PowerPoint manual. Instead, Duarte explains principles. She aims to teach you the “why” of good design. Notice that the word “ideology” is embedded in the book name. Duarte hopes we will change our presentation approaches and ideologies.

Duarte agrees with Cliff Atkinson (Beyond Bullet Points) that presentations all too often reflect the presenter’s agenda, rather than building a connection with the audience. That’s unfortunate because presentations serve as part of your branding.

As members of an audience, we naturally pay attention to both verbal and visual communication. Effective visuals reinforces a speaker’s message because they support the narrated message. Expressing intangible ideas visually, so that they can be acted on, is an art form.

Duarte makes the seemingly counter-intuitive observation that data slides are not really about the data. They are about the meaning of the data. But most presenters, she says, don’t understand this distinction. A speaker can refer to one complicated (read: ineffective) chart for 5 minutes, and the audience still can’t figure out the point.

To put it another way, a slide’s value is determined not by the amount of information it contains but by how clearly it communicates conclusions and insights. Save the dense data for your handouts.

Duarte helps us non-designers by devoting several chapters to design principles we can use when we face “the empty expanse of a virgin slide.” I can’t do justice to all this good material in this brief space, but here are a few tips.

Tip 1: Whitespace 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. Putting an enormous amount of text on each slide transforms the slide into a document, rather than a visual aid.

Tip 2: Design your presentation thinking in terms of cinematic story telling.

Tip 3: About all those custom animation features in PowerPoint: Pretend they aren’t there.

Tip 4: If you need a script for a crutch, that’s fine. Just don’t use your slides as a Teleprompter. Instead, use the software setting that lets you alone see the ‘Notes view’ on your computer. Use your computer screen as the teleprompter.


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