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Honesty is the best poetry

I’ve written elsewhere about “PowerPoint Best Practices” and why slide design can make the world a happier place. Images are like poems: their economy is such that they immediately engage our affective (versus cognitive) domain – and affect is hugely influential in learning and knowledge retention. I was briefly obsessed with imagist poetry as a teenager: “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”.  (It left its mark.)

The same disciplined simplicity is at the heart of the best and most effective use of beautiful/disturbing/thought-provoking/unexpected visuals accompanying a presentation. (PS: Check out this anthology if you want to learn more about imagism)

“Sounds good, but how can I visually translate MY ideas?”  (especially an image that is compelling, novel and adds value)

It’s a fair question. Most academics are trained to frame our ideas and concepts in words, not pictures. Yet words and pictures are both just symbols. For example, this slide deck for a full day workshop on advanced practice in Motivational Interviewing is approximately 80% images – used as placeholders for each of the practice-based activities I facilitated throughout the day.

In short: think about how you would define or translate the one key idea behind what you are trying to communicate. It is more than an excercise in finding pretty pictures – ruthless simplification forces us to reflect on the essential. That which we intend to be most memorable. This can only be a good thing for both presenter and audience!

Major Caveat: Visual communication is especially critical in relation to numeric data. Twenty years ago I never thought of data visualization as a career path, yet these modern-day dowsers are crucial to our understanding of the digital ocean. And that’s a whole other conversation: check out Big Data Science on Twitter. I am a rank amateur compared to what these people do.

If I were presenting this article to you, here is my slide:

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(Honesty is the best poetry, Queen St West, Toronto, Canada )

nest blue eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slideware 101: Tips and Resources

 

We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable chairs, the slightly darkened room, and slide after slide after slide. Each one identically bullet-ed, punctuated by the occasional graph and the speaker stating, “I know that you can’t read this, but…”.

 

The almost ubiquitous use of slideware has rigidified knowledge communication, and the sad part is that somewhere buried in the bullet points and boredom is someone’s singular message, lost. Not only that, sometimes the consequences of information presented poorly can be devastating.

 

Edward Tufte, a Yale University Professor Emeritus and visionary in information design and data visualization, wrote an influential essay – posted online – pointing to the use of PowerPoint slide decks in NASA engineering briefings as a contributing factor in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. In their report, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that the distinct cognitive style of PowerPoint reinforced the hierarchical filtering and biases of the NASA bureaucracy during the crucial period when the Columbia was injured but still alive”. The take-away? Templates that structure information into bullet points can obscure nuance and interrelationships within and between knowledge domains.

 

The way I see it, it’s not slideware that’s the problem, it’s how it is used. Done well, visuals (whether video or static images) can add impact and interest to a presentation. But the design tools and templates of PowerPoint et al. are generally used by folks who have never learned design. Thus we end up with…

 

PC World Article: Worst PPT Presentations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PC World: Worst PPT Presentations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can check out the full article with more examples here.

 

I too have been guilty of multitudinous slideware sins, and found redemption in Garr ReynoldsPresentation Zen, and accompanying resources and slide decks. I especially like the PowerPoint “Before and After” demos to illustrate how good design can transform our visual communication.

 

In a nutshell: 

Simplicity is key to good design. Images trump words. Fewer words are better than a lot of words.

 

Here a couple of my own PowerPoint makeovers, inspired by Reynolds’ work.

 

This slide attempts to summarize (via text) the information and context that should be delivered in a narrative elaboration of the simplified (after) slide

Motivational Interviewing Processes: Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Interviewing Processes: After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was from a slide deck on presentation skills, and offers a good example of how slides and handouts should be two different things

Presentation Skills: Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presentation Skills: After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was quite proud of this next slide, which had lots of text animations (shudder). The second slide conveys the “ACE” acronym via the image

Motivational Interviewing "Spirit": Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Interviewing "Spirit": After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow this link for more examples of PowerPoint Makeovers.

 

 

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