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resonate by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Matt Lopez in Uncategorized, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.

Resonant is defined by Merriam-Webster as “continuing to sound”.

Nancy Duarte’s book resonate provides the reader with tools to create presentations that will “continue to sound” with their audience and ultimately lead to the acceptance of your idea. Duarte recognizes that the majority of presentations are full of too much information, poorly structured and downright boring. She presents nine rules throughout the book that should be taken into account when creating your next presentation. These rules range from storytelling to getting to know your audience to designing your presentation around one big idea. The big idea in resonate is that people do not take enough time to develop a presentation to ensure that it will creating a lasting impression on the audience. The lack of preparation could be determining the main idea of the presentation, the structure of the presentation, understanding the target audience, rehearsing the presentation and soliciting feedback or in a number of other areas. The book was written to help people transform their presentations that typical consistent of a PowerPoint slide show with charts and bullet points to an actual presentation with a balance of credibility, emotion and analytics.

Below I have summarized my key takeaways from Duarte’s book:

  • The power of story. Stories have been told to teach lessons since the beginning of time, so why not use them in your presentations? Stories tend to remain with audiences far longer than bullet points on a slide and have the ability to evoke emotions from your audience which can be used to adopt your idea. Additionally, stories bring contrast and conflict into the picture and people want to see how it is resolved or how they can be a part of the solution.
  • Understand your audience before you present. Before an interview, you try and learn as much as possible about the company and the person you will be meeting so that you can connect with them and show why you are the right person to fill their need. Your presentation should be the same way. If you head into a presentation without knowing your audience, it will be very difficult for them to buy into your idea, so do your homework.
  • Show the audience the way. People in general are resistant to change unless they can clearly see the benefit of the new idea that is being proposed. When you propose your new idea people can either accept that idea or make a conscious decision to not accept it. To increase the chance of acceptance, you need to show them the reason why they should, the path to acceptance and the troubles that they may encounter along the way. Ignoring the problems that they may come across will only hurt your credibility as people may believe that you did not think the idea all the way through.
  • One big idea, not many. Duarte emphasizes that not only should your presentation have one big idea, but each slide in your presentation should only have one idea. Having one clear and concise idea in your presentation makes it much easier for the audience to follow and it will ensure that they key message they take away from your presentation is the right one. The material that winds up in your presentation should support this idea. Having only one idea per slide is also helpful for the audience because it is clear to them what you are trying to convey. Breaking a slide into two or three does not cost any more money and changing slides frequently will actually keep the audience’s interest better.

While none of Duarte’s insights are earth-shattering, I think that she does a nice job of compiling and presenting key ideas on how to engage the audience and increasing the chance of adoption of your idea. Duarte references her own personal experiences, as well as the experiences of other effective presenters which reinforce the points that she is trying to make. Based on my own experience of presenting and watching presentations, I fully agree with Duarte in that most people do not spend enough time developing their presentations and as a result they are less impactful and engaging. She also hammers home the point about the power of storytelling through the many stories that are told in the book. The most memorable parts of the book for me are in fact the stories and because of where they were placed, it is easy to recall the main points of the book purely through the stories. Where I do have some slight disagreement is around the rehearsal of the speech. Duarte recommends having a screening that is around three times as long as your presentation to get feedback on all aspects of your presentation. While this sounds nice in theory, it is much harder in reality. Finding a group of people to listen to your presentation and provide you feedback can be challenging enough and to ask them to do it for three hours (assuming a one hour speech) seems impossible. I don’t agree that this would be helpful, but it does not seem realistic.

This book is valuable, not only to people that have given a limited number of presentations, but also to people that have given many presentations over the course of their life. It provides the reader with key ideas to keep in mind when developing their next presentation and ways to improve their next presentation using their previous one. The book examines in detail the process of designing presentations in the same way that a company would look at the process of designing a new product or service offering. Duarte comments in the book that presentations are broken and she provides the groundwork to fix them so that they are more effective, clear and concise. During one’s education, many classes are taken on mathematics, history and science, but often times that person may only be exposed to one class on communication/presentation. For this reason, I would recommend this book to anyone that has not had extensive training in the art form of the presentation. I found the book to be helpful and even if I had heard some of the arguments before, it served as a good reminder and I will be sure to use the book as a reference when I design my next presentation.

For me the book was highly relevant as I give both internal and external presentations at work, as well as at school. While reading the book, I related to a lot of the problems that Duarte raised about presentations and immediately started thinking about how I can improve my presentations with a little more effort. The book also made me reflect on the times that I have been an audience member and counted down the seconds until I could leave because they were so poor. I found it encouraging that Duarte emphasized storytelling in presentations so much because I enjoy telling stories to friends and family and see the emotional impact that stories can have on the audience. I think that it will be challenging to design a presentation that has all of the elements that Duarte mentions and it will take a number of presentations before getting most of them, but even if I can add a few right away, I have no doubt that my presentations will be more effective.