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Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Joyce Bao in Uncategorized.


This is definitely not a PowerPoint for Dummies that merely lists a bunch of “How-to’s” on slide-making. Instead, it is an extremely rich and powerful book filled with practical tools and techniques that will transform average presentations way beyond their audiences’ expectations. A closer look at the title shows how it really captures the main message that the author is trying to convey, which is the importance of linking slides with ideology. This book critically challenges the readers to think of presentations not as simple slides, but as a powerful means of inspiring change in people’s ideologies.


Nancy guides the readers through her book by starting out with a broad overview of the history of visual aids and importance of building better presentations. She then delves into the nitty-gritty details of using different tools and techniques to frame information, rearranging individual elements of a presentation, and ultimately bringing different components together to create a movement. Lastly, she discusses presentations at a corporate level and also introduces alternatives to using PowerPoint presentations, such as flip charts, props, and gestures. Throughout the book, Nancy constantly shines spotlight on the personal and multidimensional aspect of slides as she brings visual presentations to life. By the end, the readers learn how to create ideas, translate them into pictures, display them effectively, and deliver them in a way that is natural to them.

If you don’t want to bother reading the entire book, the last chapter summarizes Nancy Duarte’s main points into 5 timeless principles that the readers and ingest and apply to their new approach of communicating and presenting information:

  1. Treat your audience as king.
  2. Spread ideas and move people.
  3. Help them see what you’re saying by thinking like a designer and guiding your audience through ideas.
  4. Practice design, not decoration. It’s an intricate and complex process that requires 36-90 hours of extensive brainstorming, revisions, refinement, and practice.
  5. Cultivate a healthy and meaningful relationship between you, your slides, and your audience. Connect with people rather than focusing on what you need as a visual aid.

Critical Analysis

Despite the fact that the author considers this book a reference book, I find it to be well-designed because there is a logical flow that weaves all the different chapters together. It’s almost as if the book itself is a perfect example of many of the points about presentation that the author is trying to illustrate. The presentation style is both visual and informative. The author used a consistent color scheme throughout the book so that readers can easily pick out important points on each page.  The actual content in the book is also interesting to read because various quotes, graphs, images, slide illustrations from influential presenters and well-known corporations, such as HP and Cisco, are incorporated to support and validate the book’s main points.


One of the interesting points I found in the book was the idea of the presentation ecosystem. I find this to be the crux of the author’s main argument for the way we should approach presentations because it really shows the complexity and delicacy within the process of designing a great presentation. The ecosystem diagram that Nancy illustrated includes 3 primary components – message, visual story, and delivery. It’s clear that the issue with many presentations we see is that they don’t fully address all of the components and fail to use visual story to properly deliver the main message. Thinking back to how I typically approach my presentations, I realized that I often skip the message section entirely and just straight into dumping information onto my slides. The ecosystem framework navigates the readers through the complexity of a presentation by keeping in mind what is important.


Another great point Nancy raised throughout the book is the presenters’ over-dependence on slides as a crutch.  Nancy stressed that presentation is just a tool that helps the presenter better convey the message they want to deliver to the audience. I noticed that during many class presentations, students tend to read directly from their slides and fail to engage with the audience. Nancy urged the readers to try to let go of texts as much as possible and use her Three R’s of Letting Go approach, which is to Reduce, Record, and Repeat, so that they can de-clutter presentation slides and make them more meaningful.

Lastly, I find the following tools very useful and will recommend readers to try them for their future presentations:

  • 10/20/30 Rule: presentation with 10 slides, lasts no more than 20 minutes, and has font size no smaller than 30 points
  • Lessig method: a fast-paced delivery method of using a lot of slides but each with only 1 big idea
  • Create powerful pauses in presentations by inserting white or black blank slides
  • Use Pecha Kucha format of 20 slides and 20-second each to force the presenter to work with constraints

Bottom line: This is definitely a book worth keeping because it is great reference book that you will want to revisit regularly in order improve and master the techniques illustrated in the book.

Additional Resources:

  • Nancy Duarte’s TED Talk: The secret of structure of great talks:
  • Resonate by Nancy Duarte: this book focuses more on the art of communication and crafting stronger and more impressionable visual stories.


1. dairui72 - April 16, 2012

On a related note, there is a communications framework called the Pyramid Principle developed by Barbara Minto at McKinsey. Her main argument is that in presentations it is not effective to simply say “there are 3 problems in this company” and make a bullet list of 3. But rather, the presenter should group ideas together and develop actual arguments.


Joyce Bao - April 19, 2012

Thanks for the interesting read. I totally agree with the paper on the note that a lot of presentations lack actual reasoning and thus, doesn’t have a logical flow or direct the audience toward any particular conclusion. And that goes back to the point Nancy was making about how people don’t dedicate enough time to making their presentations so they don’t actually think about what they are putting on the slides and dump a bunch of facts on there without making connections. It’s like writing an essay without a clear thesis, introduction, topic sentences, and conclusion. We all learned this since primary school but I think when it comes to presentations, we take it for granted and neglect the need for structure because we see ppt as a “crutch”.

2. Nancy Duarte - April 17, 2012

Hi Joyce,
Great review of slide:ology. Very comprehensive. THANKS. I get feedback all the time that people’s favorite section is the diagram section so we just launched http://www.diagrammer.com. You might want to play around with it! Thanks again, Great analysis of the book.

Joyce Bao - April 19, 2012

Thank you Nancy for your response and I thoroughly found the book to be helpful. After reading your book, I actually started noticing more and more how people are just reading off their slides and not paying the slightest attention to what they are saying. Anyway, thanks for the diagrammer 🙂

3. jhpittman - April 18, 2012

Joyce –

Good review. I appreciate that you noticed that Nancy practiced what she preached and designed the book as an illustration of her philosophy. That reinforces the points I was making on Monday that everything about how you communicates matters and should be intentionally designed rather than left to chance.


— Jon

4. Suhani N Mehta - April 18, 2012

“I noticed that during many class presentations, students tend to read directly from their slides and fail to engage with the audience.” Yes.. and the this lack of eye contact with the audience forces the audience to divert their attention to something more engaging, and to ignore what is being said. I have noticed that even top most leaders in this industry of design neglect the audience and talk to the screen. Or they get too busy trying to get the slides’ animations rightly timed during their talk. It is a disappointing scene.

Joyce Bao - April 19, 2012

You definitely make a very good point, Suhani. I think in the book, one of the key points that Nancy mentioned is to not think of Powerpoint slides as a decoration. I think that’s critical because there are those who “care” about making their slides look good and play around with all the fancy animations and smart art tools. However, at the same time, they’re missing the point or the meaning of their slides because all these decorations or distractions actually hinder the message that they are trying to get across. So I think the key is to keep in mind that ppt is only a tool and it should not overshadow the presentation itself.

5. keithgaff - April 19, 2012

Good review Joyce. I completely agree with you that often people, especially technologists, focus on the data rather than the story. I see it all the time at work. Through practice and observation I have found that identifying the storyline in the data and then simplifying the slides and structuring the presentation to present just the information that conveys the story/meaning works much better than presenting lots of data. I have a question for you though, what does it mean to spread ideas and move people?

Joyce Bao - April 19, 2012

Thanks for your feedback Keith and great question! To clarify on that point, one of Nancy’s main emphasis throughout the book (also portrayed in her title slide:ology) is to take slides one step further and use them to really empower your audience. So I think there are different levels of deliver presentation with slides:
(1) Present: simply dumping information on slides without thinking or taking the time to carefully design presentation
(2) Understand: crafting presentation comprehensively to deliver the message so your audience can better under the message
(3) Empower: actually using your slides to empower and motivate people to change their ideologies and take an active stance in your message. This part is the hardest to achieve and requires practice and time commitment to fully achieve and master.

I hope this helps 🙂

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