The Rhetoric of Presentation Design: An Introduction and More

This month is my first solid month off from 16 hours of active classroom teaching time each week in three years. I have put this small break (I still sit in on class, though my monkey dance time has decreased significantly) off for a while, partly because I am a complete control freak, and partly because if I am perfectly honest, interaction with my students is the closest I get to a meaningful exchange of ideas outside of chatting up my friends on the weekends. I live in a slightly more rural area than I am comfortable with right now (there are roosters in my backyard), and teaching is also my excuse to leave the farms of Apopka and venture into the big city. On top of all that, I also just really love teaching, and the thought of spending the month away from discussions on the subjects I love most is just not that appealing. However, I’ve seen the difference a bit of a break has made in fellow superteacher Alex Rister’s personal and professional endeavors, so I figured I owed myself the chance to work on projects of my own choosing.

This bit of time has given me a chance to explore the place of slides and slide decks in 21st century presentation rhetoric. I had a small “aha moment” when I realized that one way I can punch through that decades-old wall that prevents many teachers, professionals, and individuals from making their way into the realm of simple, clean, design-driven visual aids is to emphasize that whether we realize it or not, a slide deck’s ubiquitousness makes it a powerful, yet often misused tool of rhetoric and persuasion.

Not sure how Aristotle would feel about slides. He might think them a lazy man’s approach to public speech. Then again, show him what they can do in the right hands and he’d be sold.

Image: Brett Jordan

For Aristotle, rhetoric is the ability to find the best available means for persuading an audience  in a given situation. This best available means often comes in the form of the three affective rhetorical appeals, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic. Like it or not, our slides have become one of the most powerfully effective means of developing these three appeals. But, with such great power and possibility comes responsibility. As presenters, whether we are trained designers or not, we have a responsibility to good slide stewardship. Disregarding the rhetorical power of your slides to be conveyors of your ethos, pathos, and logos is poor stewardship and can damage your audience’s perception of you, your message, and their connection to your topic. So, what exactly is the role of your slides in developing a strong persuasive message?

The Ethos of Your Slides

Image: AlphaChimpStudio

Ethos is a blend of trustworthiness, empathy, and authority (I mesh reputation in here with authority and trustworthiness).  Most important to me is empathy, and here, I can only point presenters to one idea, The Golden Rule: Never give a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself. Great slides are a breath of fresh air in the forest of slideuments because they illustrate a concern for the audience and the audience’s experience.

How long would you pay attention to a speaker whose presentation featured 10 slides just like this? 20? 30? What does this say about this speaker's command of subject? Whether the view or judgment is accurate, how would you as an audience member view the presenter?

Image: labanex

Your slides are a powerful conveyor of ethos, but they can also be an ethos killer. A well designed set of slides contains information that is accurate and displayed in a clean and understandable way. A poorly design set of slides illustrates that you either don’t know your subject or don’t care about engaging your audience. This is especially important in terms of information and data display. Nancy Duarte establishes a very useful set of guidelines for data slides. A great data slide follows these five rules; a great slide also follows these basic principles:

1. Tell the truth

Image: arimoore

If you have to skew your information to get your audience to believe in your message, then your message is not very strong to begin with. Good ethos is illustrated by command of subject.

2. Get to the point

Why is your slide on the screen? If you can't answer that in one sentence, neither can your audience.

3. Use the right tool for the job

Most people assume I place slides first in the presentation landscape because I devote so much time to them, but designing slides has also taught me to use them only when I need them.

Image: NFS-974

4. Highlight what’s important

Contrast and hierarchy are not just fancy design words--they are principles to live by. Show your audience you see things from their perspective by following the glance media rule--information should be processed quickly and easily.

Image: blackham

5. Keep it simple

Great design may be simple and straightforward, but that doesn't make it easy. Reduce your text, reduce your attachment to slides, and reduce the chances your audience will view your credibility in a poor light.

Image: mr • p

As designers, we can use this as a guide for the ethos of our slide deck. These rules help reinforce the importance of trustworthiness and transparency; they can also help establish authority. Authority is a subtle element in slides, and one that many individuals and organizations fail to maximize. Good design lends a presenter authority. Good design indicates confidence (if you don’t rely on bullets, that also means you know your stuff) as well as proof of knowledge and support for the speaker’s ideas, not repetition of the speaker’s ideas. A well executed presentation also shows your audience you bothered to practice and rehearse. Your presentation and your idea matters to you, so it will matter to them.

Look for two more installments in this series–the pathos and logos of presentation design.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

3 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of Presentation Design: An Introduction and More

  1. […] just wrote an amazing blog series on The Rhetoric of Presentation Design.  Click here for the Introduction and Ethos of Presentation Design; the Pathos of Presentation Design; and the Logos of Presentation […]

  2. […] and persuasion portion of the class, I have begun revisiting my writing/research on persuasion. In 2011, I wrote a series of articles discussing how we as presenters can use our visual aids to develop the three rhetorical appeals […]

  3. […] will share with you a metaphor that helped me understand how rhetoric and the means of persuasion (ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic) work. An argument is like the Starship Enterprise, flagship […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Creating Communication

21st Century Presentation and Communication Tips

An Ethical Island

How to Teach Without a Lecture and other fun

CREATIVE GRAPHIC DESIGNER

An Artist A Graphic / Web Designer / Blog Designer An Art dealer

Metscher's Musings

My musings in Marketing Communications, Social Media, and Public Relations

hovercraftdoggy

A curated glimpse into a world of infinite beauty and creativity.

Moving People to Action

Conor writes about Intentional Leadership and Building Self Belief in those around you

Margaret Moon

Ideas about clarity, simplicity and design

Remote Possibilities

Here’s to better presenting!

Jitesh's Domain

Game Designer. Producer. Gamer.

Simply Presentation

better presenting through simplicity

Homes by Helene Delgado

Your Neighborhood Real Estate Expert

The Validated Hypochondriac

It turns out there was something wrong after all...

Y Generation Presentation

Present yourself! // Mutasd meg, ki vagy!

SLIDES THAT ROCK

Stand Out, Connect, Sell Your Idea!

%d bloggers like this: