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Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Joyce Bao in Uncategorized.
9 comments

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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.

Summary

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.

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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.

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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.