From the launch of PowerPoint, this application has only grown in usage if not popularity. The initial presentation to a VC is now referred to as "a 10-15 slide deck". In fact, when was the last time you saw a presentation not done in PowerPoint? The quality of presentations has generally not kept pace with the popularity of the software. Many pundits even blame PowerPoint itself for the countless tedious and confusing presentations we all sit through. (Not only do we blame Bill Gates for the software but now also for the output from the software. Next we can blame him for having to do the presentation because the software made it possible.)
In an effort to improve their presentations, many people have studied Edward R. Tufte and his most recent book, Beautiful Evidence. My problem with Tufte is that, not being an artistic or graphical genius, I find it hard to translate his concepts into practical improvements to my presentations. However, I have now found an incredibly useful guide for to how to improve presentations (and any other type of visual communication). Stephen M. Kosslyn, a psychology professor at Harvard, has published Clear and to The Point. (It's also a bargain at $16.95.) Professor Kosslyn is an expert in visual communications and has developed 8 principles for making successful presentations, which I summarize below:
- Relevance--tell only what they need to know to get the message (hint: people rarely complain about a presentation being too short)
- Appropriate Knowledge--speak to the level of your audience (hint: when in doubt define your terms)
- Salience--our eyes are drawn to perceptible differences (hint: all the background templates in PowerPoint distract from the message
- Discriminability--we can only perceive large differences (hint: pick the graph type which draws the greatest attention to your point
- Perceptual Organization--we naturally organize visual information into units or groups (hint: using the same color makes us group objects)
- Compatibility--visual content should match the audience expectations (hint: don't use red numbers to show increasing profitability)
- Informative Change--signal changes in topic or data visually (hint: change color for forecasted results when also presenting actual)
- Capacity Limitations--we have an inherent limitation on the information we can process (hint: stage complex diagrams to increase understanding
This review may not do justice to the insight and clarity of this excellent book which is easy to read, chock full of examples and filled with illustrations of the principles. It is the best book I have found so far on how to improve presentations--especially in PowerPoint.
Hint: reading the book with one of my PowerPoint presentations in front of me was particularly helpful.