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Nancy Duarte on "slide:ology"

By Mary Rotman
August 12, 2008 | Comments: 1

nancy_duarte.jpgOur Digital Media division here at O'Reilly just released a book that's a bit different from our typical style. Subtitled "The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations," slide:ology focuses on practical approaches that combine conceptual thinking and inspirational design, with insightful case studies from the world's leading brands.

This highly anticipated resource was written by Nancy Duarte, President and CEO of Duarte Design in Mountain View, CA, the firm that created the presentation for "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's Oscar-winning film. In a recent Q&A with Nancy, I was able to shed a bit of light on this new book.

Why did your name your book, "slide:ology?"

I picked the name because the word ideology is embedded in the title and my new book will challenge your current ideology about slides.

And what is so intriguing about slides that they deserves a whole book written about them?

We moan when we have to attend a meeting where the slides are the star. Yet millions of slides are created every year. So we compiled 20 years of insights into "slide:ology" to help professionals learn how to transmit their ideas through this medium. Just look at the tipping point that "An Inconvenient Truth" made for climate change, Mr. Gore had a slideshow and enormous passion and tenacity and changed the world.

Speaking of "An Inconvenient Truth," what is the secret of its success? In my experience, so many slideshows are boring.

A slideshow's impact is only as powerful as the skills of the presenter and how deeply the message resonates with the audience. Mr. Gore's content and delivery were timely and powerful-and the visuals we created supported his message with rich meaning, instead of being distracting. Some of the success of the slideshow should be credited to Mr. Gore's personal transformation. He relentlessly pursued his genuine calling and along the journey, elevated his communication style to become more authentic.

The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations

slide:ologyslide:ology — "Any presenter will savor this encyclopedia of slide design, filled with page after page of theory, principles, anecdotes, examples and real-world case studies." — Cliff Atkinson, Author, Beyond Bullet Points

Learn more from Nancy Duarte. Get a copy of her book today!

So typically, the person makes the slideshow better, but besides Mr. Gore's charisma, what makes a slideshow compelling?

Presentations are best when the slides serve as a mnemonic device for the audience to remember the message, not for the presenter to use as a crutch. Great slideshows are dependent on the type of relationship they have with their presenter. Is the relationship that of actor and stage? Or drug and dealer? If the presenter is addicted to bullet points, then everyone in the room suffers. When they do that, it makes the slides all about the presenter's lack of commitment to learning the material and not about the audience's needs. If a presenter has genuinely internalized the key messages and is supported by distilled visual themes and emotional evidence, lightning strikes. Amazing things happen. It's cinematic and interactive.

I'm assuming that since there are specific things an individual can do correctly, there are things that should be avoided, correct? What are some obvious "don'ts" while giving a presentation?

  • Don't make it all about you.
  • Don't read your slides.
  • Don't present documents as slides.
  • Don't turn your back to the audience.
  • Don't use type under 24pt.
  • Don't use cheesy clipart.
  • Don't ignore image rights.
  • Are there times to use presentations and times to use other media?

    Presentations are the most powerful media we currently have at our disposal for communicating visually and verbally to live audiences. Advertising and marketing help build awareness but there usually isn't a human element in the mix. Ironically, inserting a poor slideshow in the mix can make us seem robotic. Good presentations can facilitate a moving experience and connect people with ideas they have never seen or realized before. [Also], a slideshow is very different than a document yet we use presentation software to create both. So before you stand up to present, ask yourself "did I just create a slideshow or a document?" That's okay if it's a document; there isn't anything wrong with creating documents in a presentation tool. But if you have, you should use the document like a document and distribute it to be read. Then book a meeting to discuss the contents.

    You've convinced me that there can be good presentations and slideshows, but if there hasn't been a book on slides or presentations until now, why is it needed?

    We're rapidly moving into a global economy where there will be clear winners and some surprised losers. We have more riveting stories and innovations to share than any other preceding generation and it's important that these messages are shared well. Presentations are a wonderful opportunity to connect deeply with a group in a very human and convincing way. Yet, when presenters insert slides into the mix it jacks-up the cognitive connections by transforming the presenter into a monotonous robot with their backs to the audience. My book fixes that.

    What separates your book from other books about public speaking?

    Many books have been written about presentations but they are written solely in prose. But presentations have a very important visual component (slides) that haven't been had best-practices explained in a visually arresting way. This book has beautiful examples and each spread covers an important principle that will set presenters up to be successful

    What presentation software or web applications do you prefer?

    At Duarte Design, we're agnostic about the tools. To us, they're just a container for other assets. There are two primary presentation applications: PowerPoint and Keynote. PowerPoint has stronger animation features, whereas Keynote typically handles video and Flash better, so it depends on what you need. There are some cool developments happening in the online application space. Google Docs, Slide Rocket, 280Slides and others are developing web-based presentation applications so multiple people can collaborate to build a presentation online. Another phenomenon occurring is in the social networking space. Slideshare.net has become the YouTube for presentations where some presentations have been viewed over a half million times. There are new presentation form-factors emerging like the one Garr Reynolds of presentationzen.com made about the book Brain Rules (slideshare.net/garr/brain-rules-for-presenters). Another great presentation resource was just launched earlier this month and has become very popular already--Guy Kawasaki's site that combines all the best content on presenting (speaking.alltop.com).

    What about presentations given over the phone? Do things need to be formatted differently?

    When presenting over the phone, you're talking to an audience that is usually multi-tasking. They'll catch the gist of what you're saying and will listen for what nugget to take away. So the primary objective is to have bursts of interesting insights. It's essential to build in ways to pique their auditory interest over and over. I keep joking that we need laugh tracks for phone presentation -just so the multitaskers will feel like they're missing something.

    Finally, if your readers are still looking for more information when they finish reading your book, do you have any suggestions of where they can turn?

    Our blog at slideology.com is building a community where presenters can have an ongoing dialog with slide:ologists who contribute topics such as content development, visual thinking, and design. We're [also] producing two e-books that will go viral soon. One is on how to translate scientific/medical figures into slides and the other is on how to start a slide revolution in your organization.

    For more information about Nancy's book, slide:ology, see the catalog page and the press release.

    For a sneak peek at the book, see: http://slideology.com/files/slideology_Book_Spreads.pdf.

    For tips, tricks, and more information regarding presentations, see the slide:ology blog: http://slideology.com.

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    Is it only me that finds it amusing that part of the answer to one question is partly a snide reference to the use of bullet points, but that the answer to the VERY NEXT QUESTION is a list of bullet points ?


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