Tag Archives: content

Slides Don’t Matter

At least not as much as we think…

June marked my last month teaching the current campus iteration of PCP. In July, Alex Rister will be tackling the new iteration on campus; and in August, the new online course launches. The focus of the reboots as I’ve discussed before is on helping students develop a personal and professional brand. The courses minimizes the focus on visual design and slides and places more emphasis on process, strong content, and natural delivery. Why this shift? Well, frankly, it’s because slides don’t matter. That’s right–this is me, the presentation designer and Slideshare.net contributor telling you slides don’t matter, at least not as much as what’s at the core of the 21st century model of presenting–conversation, connection, and engagement. Slides and technology, regardless of how flashy, beautifully designed, interesting, or relevant just aren’t a substitute for consistent and thorough preparation, impacting content, and engaging delivery.

What do when our technology fails or our slides don’t function the way they did on our screens? Most of us freak out, begin an elaborate struggle with the computer, and create an awkward waiting period for our audiences while we set that technology right. My students and their teachers often reduce what they learn in PCP to “making better slides,” but this disregards the most important lesson I hope my students learn–that detaching from technology as a crutch or replacement for preparation and engagement is what will ultimately lead them to not only learn when or how to use slides properly but also learn that sometimes, it’s best to go without. To help illustrate, I’ll share with you this brief but excellent talk from Improv Everywhere, “A TED Speaker’s Worst Nightmare.” This talk, while in reality an elaborate part flash mob, part improv, part prank performance, illustrates just what can happen when we rely too much on technology and a flashy concept and not enough on solid content and connection.

What do you think? Do slides matter? How can we use slides responsibly and ensure they don’t overwhelm or derail our talks?

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Design Smarter: Find the best blend for text and image

The picture superiority effect occurs when you combine visuals and text together to increase audience retention of your message. The picture superiority effect is what allows you to create one of Nancy Duarte’s STAR Moments, evocative visuals. Not every visual needs to utilize text; Lisa Kristine in her amazing TED talk uses no text on her images; using text over her haunting and beautiful images of human slaves would have diminished their impact. However, text, especially in stand-alone presentations can help enhance a slide, communicate a more impacting message, and add to that cohesive look we want from original slide decks.

There are a few ways to blend text and image together on a slide. What you do depends on what you want to accomplish, the nature of your image and the amount of text on your slide. Your choice depends on what your main focus is in displaying the word with the image. Are they equally important? Is one more important than another? Here are a few variations to get you started.Below, I’ll cover a few of the more common combinations I see from designers and students. There are several ways to combine a bit of text with an image. Here are a few variations to get you started.

One idea, one image with empty space

One way to combine an image with an idea is to look for an image that has empty space. Often, images that employ the rule of thirds  include enough space for text. You know there’s enough space when there is little to no overlap between image and text. In this example, the original image by Flickr user Photoco. was licensed for commercial use with adaptations or remixes allowed. I was able to fill the slide with the image (which was large enough to display without pixelation) and use the empty space to the left of the figure to add my idea.

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One idea, one image without empty space

In other situations, you might have a fairly busy image you’d like to use on your slide; there is no one specific detail in the image that is more important than another that must be visible as in the example above. So, you can use a few strategies to blend image and text. The first is to adjust the brightness and exposure of the original image and place one large word over the picture (fig. a); note that this works well with a typeface like Intro, but might not work well with a typeface that has a thinner weight. In the first two examples (fig. a, fig. b), I adjusted the brightness and exposure of the image. In the next, I added a shadow to differentiate the text from the background (fig. c). In the final example, I adjusted the opacity of the text (this sometimes improves readability) (fig. d). Notice that the color changes depending on the option.

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After tweaking colors, shadows, and image settings, I chose this variation:

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Now, let’s assume you want to use a font with a thinner weight, like District Pro. Notice that without a bit of help, the text here is difficult to read. This is where a supporting shape comes in. Placing a shape behind the text (as long as it doesn’t make an important element on the image impossible to see) can be an option when blending text and image. In the example below, I’ve used several shapes to emphasize the text.

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One quote, one image with empty space

So, what if you want to place a quote or a lengthier idea (keep words to a minimum on a slide; 5-8 words is enough) on a slide with an image? Your first and best bet is to seek out an image with empty space, like the one above. Using an image with empty space and a readable typeface will help you maximize the impact of the quote by providing simple, clean visual support.

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One quote, one image without empty space a quote

At times, it’s possible to place a quote on a slide that has is busier–again, as long as the quote does not interfere with important parts of the image. However, this is the option I would advise the least. Placing a quote on a slide with a busy image will increase your chances of creating noise and it could minimize signal. In the case below, the quote on the slide combined with the image creates noise.

 

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The solution here is to rearrange the image to fit the frame (fig. e), find an image that allows the blend to happen naturally (fig. f), or allow the quote to stand alone.

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These are only a few of the many ways to blend text and image together.Whatever your choice, it’s important to consider these three best practices when pairing text and image:

1. The picture superiority effect is maximized when text and image are blended.

2. Create the most seamless blend possible.

3. Keep signal high and noise low.

What are your go to strategies for maximizing the picture superiority effect?

 

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Chiara Lives! And she’s been watching TED

The past few months between some big transitions in the Professional Communication and Presentation team and two moves across Orlando, September and October have been a blur! I am taking a deep breath, returning to the gym, and sharing this amazing TED talk with you tonight on Tweak Your Slides; Ash Beckham nails a particularly impacting rhetorical strategy in her TEDxBoulder talk, “Coming out of your closet.”

An impacting metaphor/comparison can take an un-relatable, complex, subjective, or polarizing idea and create a bridge of commonality that can break down barriers. In this talk, Beckham talks about coming out of the closet–but not in the way you think. Yes, Beckham shares her experience coming out to friends and family, but she says, that’s just one type of closet. We all have a closet–whether it is infidelity, bankruptcy, cancer…our closet is whatever is hard for us to be open about, what is hard for us to share with others. She introduces the closet metaphor and carries it through to her call to action, “a closet is not a place for a person to truly live.” She encourages her audience to find their closet and come out. In addition to harnessing the power of metaphor, she shares three lessons we can apply to public speaking:

Be yourself. Don’t wear armor.

Garr Reynolds says that we have to get naked to truly connect with audiences. We put on the armor of bullet-riddled slides, robotic delivery, and haphazard preparation to protect us from the judgment we feel from others in a speaking situation. That armor though, benefits neither speaker nor audience. To connect with others, you have to take off that armor!

Be direct. Just say it.

Directness and simplicity are the keys to a strong message. Filler words, fluff, irrelevant information, and decorated slides move us away from the core of our message, the idea that we want others to take on in the first place.

Be unapologetic. Speak your truth.

Like authenticity, being open as a speaker and sharing failure as well as success requires confidence in oneself. This goes for content in the form of storytelling and delivery in the form of those apologies for normal human behavior that we pepper our speech with.

Consider not only her message–what’s that difficult message you have to share with others–but also those wonderful rhetorical lessons: use relatable metaphors and be real.

 

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Content Development: Crafting a Big Idea

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Previously on Tweak Your Slides, I covered the basics of idea creation and idea generation. Once you have engaged in divergent and convergent thinking and narrowed your topic choices down to the one topic that best fits in with your experience, your passions, and your audience’s needs, it’s time to  analyze your audience, and then develop a central theme, thesis, or big idea to guide the presentation development process.

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What is a big idea?

Whether you call it a thesis, controlling idea, theme, or main point, a strong persuasive presentation begins with a clearly articulated and assertive big idea. The big idea is what forms the basis for the rest of the presentation. Without a clear sense of what your purpose is in presenting your logic, emotional points, and credibility, your presentation flounders and your audience remains confused and unsure. Presentation expert Nancy Duarte discusses a big idea in Chapter 4 of her second book, Resonate“a big idea is that one key message you want to communicate. It contains the impetus that compels the audience to set a new course with a new compass heading” (Source). So, a big idea includes not only the core of a presentation’s purpose, but it also contains the exigency or necessity of that message as it relates to the audience. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick and creators of the SUCCESs acronym (Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories) refer to this as the core of the message. The process of brainstorming and then drafting a big idea is known as “finding the core,” which “means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence” (Source). “Finding the core” is central to crafting a successful “sticky” message:

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This process, however, does not mean that a big idea needs to be dumbed down. The Heath brothers make a clear distinction between simple and simplistic. A strong big idea is about “elegance and prioritization, not about dumbing down” (Source).

What makes for a strong big idea?

In addition to ensuring a big idea is simple, elegant, and essential, Duarte provides three (really four) basic keys to crafting a strong big idea (Source). A big idea should:

1. Communicate your unique POV on a topic

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Instead of simply presenting a topic: “ways to go green”, a strong big idea provides the presenter’s unique point of view on the general topic (for instance, “using reusable bags can save the environment”). The idea doesn’t have to be outrageous to be interesting, merely unique and personal. This is so often why choosing a topic you already know lots about and that really matters to you is a good starting point for idea creation. It is easier to communicate a unique perspective on a topic you know well.

2. Convey what’s at stake, or, pass the “so what?” test

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So, it’s great that you have a unique perspective, but why should your audience care about that perspective? The second important piece to crafting a strong big idea is what’s at stake aka necessity aka exigency aka so what? For your audience to truly adopt a perspective on a topic, they have to understand how their participation in your perspective is needed, what could be lost or gained if your perspective is put into action, and why they should act in the first place. If we return to our previous topic, what does the audience gain by using reusable bags? what happens if they don’t? why does their choice matter?

3. Be a complete sentence

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If we think of the first two parts of a big idea as an equation or formula, the third is the solution, the two parts joined and expressed as one simple, complete thought. Duarte suggests that the pronoun “you” be part of this construct. Doing this helps you ensure that the big idea is for the audience. When we take the first two pieces of of our sample big idea above, we can formulate our core, our big idea:

Part One:

I want you to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

Part Two:

Reusable bags are better for the environment because they reduce the number of plastic bags produced and used; they also save time and strain when shopping (4 plastic to 1 reusable).

The resulting big idea combines parts one and two into one complete sentence.

The resulting big idea combines parts one and two into one complete sentence.

One final important aspect of a strong big idea is emotion. According to Duarte, “[ultimately], there are only two emotions–pleasure and pain. A truly persuasive presentation plays on those emotions” to either increase pain and lower pleasure if the audience does not adopt the perspective, or to increase pleasure and lower pain if the audience adopts the big idea (Source).

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In the next content development series, we’ll explore the acronym SUCCESs further and discuss how it relates to creating strong persuasive content.

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GoTo Training Lesson: Murder Your Darlings

Yesterday, I shared with you one lesson related to slide design I put into practice in revising my slides for this week’s GoTo Training on delivery for the online environment. A second lesson to draw from my GoTo Training/REAL Delivery adaptation is the importance of cutting content and slides to fit a new purpose. In class, we discuss delivery for 6 hours, but our GoTo Training is only scheduled for an hour. That means I had to cut at least 60-70 slides from this 110-slide deck. Needless to say, this was a challenge. What is important? What isn’t? What do I think is important, and what does my audience need to know? Nancy Duarte discusses this concept in Resonate:

Although you may feel that all the ideas you generated are insightfully riveting and took a ton of time to generate, they need to be sorted and organized–and some ideas need to be killed off.

The purpose of this violent act is to keep the focus on the audience. Without the editing and shaving off of what may seem necessary to you but is not necessary to your audience’s understanding of that particular subject, you will lose your most important tool in creating an idea that spreads–the audience themselves.  As Duarte explains, we must murder our darlings because “striking a balance between withholding and communicating information is what separates the great presenters from the rest” (Source).

So, while it may be difficult and gut wrenching, a lesson I am sharing with all my students this week as they prepare to rehearse the delivery portion of their Ignite presentations is “murder your darlings.” Take the time to really hone in on the core of your message and nix anything that doesn’t communicate that core.

Murder.001.001

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Six Minutes to the Rescue: Audience Analysis 101

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been revamping my lectures in preparation for my first on campus class since November. In preparation for that, I blogged a bit about one of the areas of public speaking most often brushed over by presenters-audience analysis and audience segmentation. While students and presenters have a plethora of resources available to them, and we use Nancy Duarte’s Audience Needs Map in class as well as her audience questions in Resonate, it’s always wonderful to find succinct yet comprehensive resources that are full of practical tools and application. One of the best resources out there that fits these criteria is Six Minutes, curated, edited, and written by Andrew Dlugan. I have turned to Six Minutes for their “how to” guide on rhetoric in developing my presentations and in teaching my students how to develop theirs. Now, I can add his wonderfully practical series on audience analysis to the resources I provide to students and presenters.

Thoughtful audience analysis is one of the best habits you can develop as a speaker. It will help you understand your audience’s perspective and provide maximum value for them. If done well, your audience analysis will provide insights that will help you focus your message, select the most effective content and visuals, and tailor your delivery to suit this particular target audience. –Andrew Dlugan, Six Minutes

Dlugan begins his series with an introduction to audience analysis and follows it up with an article explaining how to conduct it. He then turns his focus to how one can use the data gathered in the audience analysis process to improve one’s speech. Through in-depth audience analysis, one can design an entire presentation that is goes beyond connection and actually reaches resonance. By creating a presentation for the audience (dress, presentation format, supporting points, vocabulary/language, etc.), speaker can move closer to true identification. As rhetorician Kenneth Burke asserted, when an audience can sense analogy or similarity with the audience, the audience is more likely to be persuaded by the speaker’s argument.

Dlugan’s latest offering in the series is an Audience Analysis Worksheet. I, like Dlugan, appreciate the worksheet, checklist, and storyboard template–anything that helps presenters delve further into those often ignored parts of our presentation. A worksheet can “help focus your energy and make a seemingly complex task simple to perform” (Dlugan 2013). So, in the case of audience analysis, which one can talk about ad nauseum but never actually practice or conduct, a worksheet can help turn a theoretical best practice of public speaking into an actionable task whose data is now easier to analyze and apply. I’ll be adding this eries to the list of resources I draw from in preparing lectures and can’t wait to engage in some audience analysis in class using Dlugan’s worksheet. Check out the entire series on audience analysis at Six Minutes!

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On a side note: I’d like to thank Andrew for giving me the opportunity to guest write for Six Minutes in 2012. Andrew is a wonderful editor and pushed me to get out of my analytical zone when writing. Thanks Andrew and thanks Six Minutes!

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Calling your Audience Types to Action

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Last week, I discussed the importance of audience segmentation as a means of persuading the members of your audience to take on your big idea. This week, I want to explore how you can use the research you gleaned during audience segmentation to call your audience types to action. A great presentation ends with a strong call to action–your audience cannot take your idea and spread your message without a clear sense of what you want them to do. In this segment, I’ll be referring to one of my favorite TED talks, LZ Granderson’s “The Myth of the Gay Agenda,” so make sure to watch the talk before moving on!

In the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Nancy Duarte identifies four types of audiences to leverage in your call to action: Doers, Suppliers, Influencers, and Innovators. 

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Each subgroup in your audience has a different role in supporting your message and helping your idea come to life. Duarte’s suggestion is to focus on one call to action, but one that can incorporate the skills of each of the four groups.

What appeals to each group?

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Doers are the worker bees (Duarte 2012) in the audience. Give them workable solutions and clear steps to follow.

For doers, it’s all about a specific action. Doers are the people in your audience who are best able to spread your idea via a specific and actionable task. In Granderson’s talk he outlines specific actions his audience can take in correcting the problem of inequality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered citizens. At one point in the talk, Granderson displays a map of the United States developed by the Human Rights Campaign showing that it is legal for someone to be fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states. He asks the audience to focus on their state of Michigan, which is not shaded. He repeats this imagery several times. Our actionable point for doers–change those unshaded areas by following the super secret gay agenda aka the Constitution of the United States.

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Whether vegetarian or omnivore, cows were and are my favorite suppliers–a girl cannot live without fromage. The suppliers in your audience have a wealth of resources available. Don’t exploit them or think only in terms of tangible resources.

Suppliers, the folks with the goods and resources to propel your message forward, want to know what tangible resources you need to succeed. Granderson doesn’t ask the suppliers for money or material goods (remember, there is no selling at TED); instead, he asks his audience to donate time, effort, and respect to the cause of catching America up to the Constitution.

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Just as a strong flock follows a strong leader, others are led to take on your idea by the influencers in your audience. Change the influencer’s perception via your call to action by spinning a new perspective on an already existing problem.

Influencers help change the perceptions of others. Their status as leaders helps them mobilize others to your cause. If you can inspire an influencer, you’ve made a cheerleader for life.

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Chimpanzees have the amazing ability, like other animals, to use tools to better the daily processes of their lives.  Innovators are persuaded by the ingenious applicability of your big idea. Harness that in your closing.

Innovators are those who can use their already existing abilities to help you grow your idea (perhaps saving it, improving it, or enriching it). Innovators thrive when the call to action gives them a problem to solve through big ideas.

Granderson is in a room full of influencers and innovators–TEDsters are leaders in their industries and communities–they belong to an organization whose mission is to spread ideas. The majority of Granderson’s talk, it seems to me, is for these two final groups. He asks the audience to recall the past–when entire groups of people were treated based on what they were, not who they were, when our country systematically denied unalienable rights to its citizens for no justifiable reason. He juxtaposes the solutions we found to those problems with the problem still alive today–discrimination based on sexual orientation–and leaves his innovators and influencers with a simple message:

So when you hear the words “gay lifestyle” and “gay agenda” in the future, I encourage you to do two things: One, remember the U.S. Constitution, and then two, if you wouldn’t mind looking to your left, please. Look to your right. That person next to you is a brother, is a sister. And they should be treated with love and respect. Thank you. (Source)

By blending in actionable elements into your closing that appeal to each of these four groups–those who will work with you, those who will help supply you with needed tools, those who will influence others to join your cause, and those who will help you evolve your idea to further awesomeness–you can help motivate your entire audience to action.

Typefaces used: Edmondsans (James T. Edmondson) and Bebas Neue (Dharma Type)

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Melissa Marshall wants you to talk nerdy to her

Two of the biggest barriers to fresh speech are jargon and complex language. We often fall back on big words either because we want to appear “smart” (or we think our audience expects it), because they are a natural part of our vocabularies, or because they are a natural part of our discipline. However, according to Scott Schwertly of Ethos 3, a presentation design firm, what set Steve Jobs apart as a communicator was not his ability to use tech speak, but his ability to communicate at a level that was understandable and impacting to everyone (Schwertly, How to Be an Online Presentation God Webinar). TEDster Melissa Marshall, fellow communications teacher shares her experiences teaching engineers how to communicate their ideas to a general audience. These lessons are not only simple and applicable to science folks, but they are delivered in an engaging and dynamic way. Check out Marshall’s equation to incredible and meaningful interactions below:

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Colbert and Stewart Simplify PACs

I tout the phrases keep it simple, simple isn’t easy, and simple is best often in my discussion of design. But one area in which I could devote more time to these axioms is content. I think teaching for 8 hours at one time tends to make one want to pack as much information as possible into a session. The anxiety of so much time can lead to information overload (which often happens during the persuasion mega-double). In an effort to tweak my focus and narrow down my lecture time to essentials only (and make way for application), I turn to inspiration from the communicators I trust.

In Friday’s Decker Blog, Ben Decker discusses how Stephen Colbert has consistently taken the very complex issue of Political Action Committees and campaign finance and simplified it through the use of SHARPs (Stories, Humor, Analogies, References & Quotes, Pictures & Visuals). Decker refers specifically to the use of skits with fellow comedian turned social commentator Jon Stewart. The use of satire, impacting visuals, and dynamic delivery to communicate a complex idea in a simple way resonates with audiences, makes a convoluted and mystifying political practice accessible to the average viewer.

I wonder how much one of these would cost...LOVE!

Check out this infographic from the Huffington Post, which chronicles Colbert’s ongoing campaign against PACs.

For another perspective, check out this infographic from iWatch:

The stark difference between our current president and the current Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney is particularly interesting.

What do you do to keep it simple for your audience? In what areas could you simplify and streamline?

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Universal Principle of Design: Personas

Nancy Duarte encourages presenters to think like designers in her book, Slide:ology (this book changed my entire pedagogy–I found it by accident and chose it over a traditional public speaking textbook for my class, and I have never made a better decision in my educational career). One concept that I thought was entirely the realm of content and that I emphasize as important in the content-development area of class is the creation of audience needs maps or personas, which Duarte discusses in Chapter 1 of Slide:ology.

Duarte's Presentation Ecosystem divides the presentation creation process into three key areas: content, visual story, and delivery.

Perusing through my go to text for design, Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden, and Butler, I ran across the principle of personas, a technique which designers employ to help them make decisions about how user-friendly a design’s features, functions, and aesthetic elements. This design principle indicates that it is best to create detailed profiles of typical user types, who then serve to represent a subgroup of users. This is preferable, in design, to creating something that is generally acceptable to everyone; that is, personas move us away from homogenized, one size fits all design. Personas at their best come in threes (which is awesome because I love threes), are detailed enough to include a name, photograph, description, and details about specific habits and behaviors. Designers even go so far as to role play with these personas, experiencing a product, service, site, or structure from the perspective of this representational user.

Persona created for RemindMe, RWhite*'s Participatory Design Study

According to UPD, using personas, “clarifies user needs and behaviors and is an effective means of creating empathy for the user perspective”. Students and teachers alike often resist this very useful design habit, believing that it is impossible or inappropriate to create generalizations about audience groups. I ask them to use Duarte’s seven questions about audience (which correspond with the types of questions designers might ask themselves about user personas) to create in depth visualizations of their target audiences.

Duarte's take on persona, the audience needs map. Download it, use it, love it.

To me, this act moves the speaker one step closer to shared meaning, empathy, Burke’s identification, and true Duarte-style resonance. The authors of UPD suggest that three primary and four secondary, concise and accessible personas be developed early on in the design process using interviews and market research. Combining these seven questions, the design purpose of personals, and some well-structured survey questions will help you design a presentation that truly meets your audience’s needs.

Note: In an effort to not only ask students and colleagues to do as I say but also do as I do, I’m in the process of creating audience personas for my typical audience: teachers and students. Check back for the results of this latest tweak tomorrow!  

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