slide:ology workshop

I attended a workshop today at Duarte, a local Silicon Valley design studio that specializes in presentation design (one claim to fame: they created the slides for Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth). I first became aware of this company through CEO Nancy Duarte's book, Slide:ology, on which the session I attended today was based.

Though only a small portion of the workshop was focused on communicating with data specifically, I think it makes sense to include a quick recap of my main learnings here, as many are applicable both within the storytelling with data space and beyond.

  • Audience comes first. Yes, it sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but too often we design without our audience in mind. In the words of Nancy Duarte: "Take some time to think about your audience: Who are they? What are their needs and how can you address them? How can the information you have make their lives better (or jobs easier)? What do you want them to do after the presentation is over? Questions like these are critical to developing relevant, resonant content."
  • Go analog. When it comes to storyboarding, Post-it notes are your friend. At Duarte, they call this "going analog". Write one main idea per Post-it (the mini ones work particularly well so you are forced to boil it down to a concise main message) - these will become the content of your presentation (each Post-it note becomes a slide). Rearrange until you have a flow that makes sense depending on what emotional response you want from your audience. Throw out the ones you don't need. Only after getting this part set should you actually start building slides in an application.
  • Aim for a high signal to noise ratio. Turn it up, or turn it off (or, in the language I use in my class: highlight the important stuff and strip out the clutter). The "glance test" is useful for assessing effectiveness - show someone a slide for 3 seconds and see if they get the point. If not, revisit your design to turn up the signal and reduce the noise.
  • Leave cliches for the novices. Don't show a pic of hands shaking in front of a globe to represent global partnerships - it's been done before (many, many times). Brainstorming with word diagrams can be a good way to come up with ideas for creative visuals that reinforce your point.

These are just a few highlights. If you create or give presentations, I highly recommend the session. For now, I'll leave you with one closing thought:

There is something magical that happens when you pick up a pen and put it to a piece of paper or a whiteboard.

Don't let technology get in the way of your creativity!