Tag Archives: presentation design

Visual Thinking, an undeniable reality

After much deliberation and anxiety about overloading Slideshare.net with yet another presentation about presentation design, I’ve debuted by deck for March, Simple Design:

My decision to share this deck with others was difficult. I yearn for new conversations in the field of presentation design and visual communication and I want to be a part of these new conversations. However, I want to share something that is a stronger example of design with users than my previous deck on design, Tweak Your Slides.

The subject of visual thinking and cinematic visual aids is inevitable as we move further and further towards a society that yearns to connect with experience/brand/individual beyond the textual. In class, we devote a significant amount of time to designing a visual story, but more than this, we consider how inherent visuals have become in the conveying of our ideas and brands. Outside of class, I spend my time defending the post-clip art, post-1987 PowerPoint approach to presentation design against what I can only classify as a lizard brain-driven anxiety that comes with doing something different or non-traditional. Many of my colleagues accept how I approach teaching and see that it works, but cannot believe it could work outside of the vacuum of “fluffy” subjects like public speaking (this is of course not true in any respect). Alex Rister discussed this resistance on her blog, and lists this as one reason why this approach “won’t work” we often hear. But, then there are times when the visual thinking bug takes hold. One of our colleagues created a dynamic and immersive GoTo training complete with zombies and sound effects, and this month, super student Chris Martignago completed his month’s work of homework using visual thinking:


Assigning reading homework is the bane of my existence--Resonate is an awesome book, but forcing students to read it means some of its impact is lost in the miasma of routine and compulsory action. Chris's solution, which was to make the outline something immersive and kinesthetic is brilliant!

Assigning reading homework is the bane of my existence–Resonate is an awesome book, but forcing students to read it means some of its impact is lost in the miasma of routine and compulsory action. Chris’s solution, which was to make the outline something immersive and kinesthetic, is brilliant!

In the past few weeks, several new decks focused on the topic of visual thinking have debuted on Slideshare. The first I’ll share with you today is Duarte Design’s #IllustraTED, which is a project developed by Duarte Design that gathers amazing illustrators and artists together to visualize and draw out some of this year’s talks:

(My favorite of course is Andrew McAfee’s talk on scifi and jobs.)

I also want to share with you two decks on visual storytelling and marketing that really give us a glimpse into where visual communication can take us in the future.  The first, created by Column Five Media, “Visual Content Marketing: Capture and Engage your Audience,” is an impeccably organized presentation that blends the essential ingredients–text, color, shape, layout, line, texture, and image–to communicate a core idea–we consume, communicate through, and are engaged by visuals, but succeeding with this in mind is not just about slapping a picture on a site and calling it a day.

The second deck, “Instabrand: The Rise of Visual Storytelling in a Content Marketing World,” an e-book by Christian Adams, isolates the same six communication media as the previous deck (photos, infographics, memes, videos, comics, visual note-taking), but focuses less on the how and more on the why this has happened and what the future will hold. This deck works less as a stand alone than Column Five’s, but I found the exposure to future forms of visual marketing/visual communication to be very enlightening.

What do you think? Do we still have room to grow this conversation? Have we said all there is to say about visual communication? If so, why is there still so much resistance?

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Tweaks of the week: pushing design beyond images and embracing the acronym

Last week was incredibly productive although exhausting. Some of this exhaustion is self-induced: I’ve hit an incredible creative streak and I want to let this tweak take me to places previously unexplored. I finally feel like I am designing, as opposed to just scratching the surface of presentation design. I happy to report that I’ve made significant strides with several major projects:

1. Revamped part one of the Storytelling as a Presentation Tool deck (still working on a new title)

One way I've begun pushing my design is to rely less on images and text as the primary means of conveying ideas.

One way I’ve begun pushing my design is to rely less on images and text as the primary means of conveying ideas.

  • Added a diagram of Freytag’s pyramid and Syd Field’s paradigm.
  • A diagram of the hero’s cycle is next

2. Completely overhauled the delivery lesson. It’s new title (an agonizing process, choosing this name) is REAL Delivery. Many of my mentors and sources of inspiration use the acronym as a way to help audiences remember key ideas. So, after some painstaking work with Alex Rister, I landed on REAL delivery in a flash of tweak inspiration. REAL delivery is:




Lasting Impression

Real Delivery is the deck that will likely take the longest as I look for ways to combine Garr Reynolds' Naked Presenter with Nancy Duarte, Malcolm Gladwell, and Nick Morgan

Real Delivery is the deck that will likely take the longest as I look for ways to combine Garr Reynolds’ Naked Presenter with Nancy Duarte, Malcolm Gladwell, and Nick Morgan

3. Finally, and most exhaustively, I revised my entire visual design lesson and reduced the material from nine tips to 6 basic principles I coin SIMPLE Design:

Simplicity takes work

Ideally, one idea per slide

Make unity a priority

Pictures are superior

Lose the signal, lose the audience

Eliminate fluff

In Simple Design, I'll cover the basics of presentation design as well as revealing some important lessons I've learned along the way.

In Simple Design, I’ll cover the basics of presentation design as well as revealing some important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Incidentally, this deck saw the death of the Venn diagram as a permitted diagram in my decks. I really need to find a new visualization….

These decks are still a few weeks away from show ready, and I’d like to spend a bit of time blogging about aspects of each that warrant further expansion beyond the visual medium. 2013 is the year of the tweak!

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Slideshare of the Year….I mean the Day



If you read this blog, you know of my undying admiration and affection for my superteacher best friend, the very talented Alex Rister. This month, Alex debuted her brand new visual design lesson for her class and also featured shots from this deck on her blog. Well, today, her latest Slideshare offering went live. Check out an “Introduction to Slide Design.” This deck has also become an integral part of our latest faculty development endeavor, The Presentation Revolution.

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The Rhetoric of Presentation Design, Revisited

Rhetoric of pres design.001

Monday marks the first on campus class of the year for me. As it’s been two months since I taught in a classroom (aside from faculty development workshops), I have been devoting the past week to preparing my class by revising assignments, creating a new 2-page max layout for all instruction sheets, and revamping my 15 decks for the month. In preparing for the rhetoric 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 necessary to persuading an audience–ethos, pathos, and logos. I have been working to integrate this aspect of rhetoric a bit more explicitly since then, primarily because we devote so much time to slide design in class and because as presenters, we must continue to work to ensure slides are accompaniment, enhancement, proof of concept, and motivators towards action–not crutches or teleprompters.  Several months ago, super student Travis Ockerman created the video below as an extra credit activity in the online iteration of Professional Communication and Presentation.

Rhetoric & Persuasion Summary from Travis Ockerman on Vimeo.

In the video, Travis summarizes not only the course’s basic lessons on persuasion, in particular ethos, pathos, and logos, but he also beautifully integrates what he’s learned about visual design by creating a well-designed presentation and discussing how presenters can use visuals to help strengthen the three appeals. I added this video as a required viewing in my online classes, and now that my on campus course is web enhanced, I’ll be adding this to the list of assets available to students beyond their require text, Resonate. It’s back to grading and preparing for next month. Happy Friday!


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Slideshare of the Day: Ten Wise Lessons I’ve Learnt from Freelancing


Today’s deck is for all of us aspiring frelancers out there. I recently chatted with budding presentation designer and maverick Eugene Cheng about his struggle with death-by-powerpoint and my struggle with getting a handle on how to start this freelance designing thing I’ve had in the back of my mind for years. Currently work keeps me pretty busy, but I also need to stretch and grow my tweak muscles by taking on non-educational projects.

For those of you who are like me and don’t have a clue where to start and what to watch out for, take a moment to check out today’s Slideshare presentation by Illiya Vjestica, better known as The Presentation Designer on Slideshare.net.  The deck is lovely–wonderful unity through type, color, and layout. I appreciate Illiya’s use of shape and type to convey the lessons, and the peppering in of relevant quotes and sticky images to go along with them. The lesson I found most immediately applicable was “Give Three Days Grace” for actionable tasks. Giving oneself a realistic three day window will help one not bite off more than one can chew in taking on a project, and can keep one from breaking a promise to a client (which I’d imagine is not too good for the client/designer relationship).

Presentations like today’s deck are another reason Slideshare has become one of the most powerful tools for presenters and companies today. Happy Freelancing, Happy Slidesharing, and Happy Tweaking!

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Data Display of the Day: Two views on Online Privacy

Infographic of the day.001

All infographics by GDS Infographics

After seeing this beautiful video by Michael Rigley’s Network via an Ethos 3 Motion Design analysis, I was both fascinated and terrified.

Network from Michael Rigley on Vimeo.

Rigley’s approach to explaining data networks, a topic that most of us (including me) would find much too abstract and puzzling if presented in report-form, is beautifully illustrated and animated–it’s also understandable and impacting. Rigley doesn’t just lay out a series of facts, he interweaves them with a visual representation. It’s the approach to presenting this information that makes it that much more impacting. The information comes to life in a way the audience can understand; one cannot ignore the ramifications of our networked world. I found myself surprised and shocked at what I didn’t know about my digital footprint, and of course wanted to know more.

I ran across this infographic created by Abine, an online privacy company,  from Daily Infographic, and it only confirms what Rigley explains in Network.


Through our activities, our private information and habits, from shopping and liking someone’s status to making travel plans, are being mined and sold to advertising and tracking companies. This may seem innocuous when a site raises a price because an individual looks up a certain item, but when it can cost a person his or her job of affects his or her credit, the need to stand up for privacy becomes greater. Today’s examples amplify their important messages through design, so what design lessons can we draw from today’s examples?

Lessons from Today’s Examples

  1. Use simple shapes and icons to convey complex ideas.
  2. Organize information so it sequentially builds towards a solution.
  3. Infographics in print do not necessarily follow the glance media rule; they are meant to be absorbed over time.
  4. Video motion display should have a cohesive theme that helps further clarify the complex concept being animated.

Consider these four lessons, and remember, there is always room to…

Infographic of the day.002

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Sneak Peek: Tweak your Resume

One of my favorite parts of teaching visual design is the visual resume project. While my visual resume continues to be a source of frustration for me (I recently ditched the old one completely and started from scratch), I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned about this dynamic form of professional persona building. This afternoon, I will be holding a GoTo Training for my online students as they prepare to submit their visual resumes. In preparation, the students study among other resources, Jesse Dee’s Really Ugly Resumes, Emiland’s How I Landed a Job with Slideshare, and my deck, Visualizing Resumes.

For this session, I want to draw attention to the examples they already have on hand and take this opportunity to rework my original deck on visual resumes. So, I have developed a new set of slides for this mini-workshop that I hope to continue building on and developing. Here is a sneak peek of my new approach to teaching visual resumes, Tweak Your Resume:

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 2.43.30 PM


Update: I’ve made a few changes based on some critique. On my way!

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 7.18.12 PM


What are your thoughts? I am not sold on the color scheme so far, but I am enjoying the process of laying out my type in a different way!

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5 Simple Tweaks for PechaKucha Presenters

This Friday, I attended PechaKucha Night Orlando Volume 5. If you are not already aware (and you are if you’ve heard me speak for more than five minutes or taken my class), I love PechaKucha! I look forward to the PechaKucha day in my class each month. My students work diligently over two weeks to put together a presentation many run from. They work to find a topic outside of their standard realm of experience, let go of their dependency on bullet-riddled outlines disguised as slideshows, actually devote sufficient time to preparation and rehearsal, and then…most of the time…magic happens! So, I was stoked for PK Night. These presenters shared amazing ideas–from the hilarious Mark Baratelli of The Daily City and Patrick Greene of Urban ReThink to the inspirational and adorably geeky father and son team Ian and Adam Cole and superteacher Amy Selikoff, who uses energy, empowerment, and engagement to get 7th graders fired up about civics. I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed though, not by a lack of interesting ideas, but by the appearance of a few old school presentation design practices. Presenters used pixelated images, pre-made templates, bullets, and a bit more noise than signal at times. I believe the habits stem from slide anxiety. A PK is a beast of a presentation, primarily because it is difficult for us to let go, to get over our lizard brains. Some of it is really just lack of experience with this medium, with its true possibilities.

The PK was the brainchild of two designers, Astrid Kline and Mark Dytham. The envisioned a presentation that featured 20 images–20 images that reinforce and enhance the presenter’s message, 20 images that cement the speaker’s message in the minds of the audience. Sometimes we see what others do and get what Duarte calls slide envy. But, in my experience, the best PKs are the ones that blend highly impacting images with a bit of relevant typography in the service of advancing the speaker’s main point and engaging the audience to understanding and internalization. Above all, the best PK slides are simple and call little attention to themselves.

Lessons to apply:

Use high quality images

So, what’s my beef with pixelated images? Well, they frankly suck. A pixelated image is a really great thumbnail, but it will make for an instant credibility killer when stretched to the size of a slide.

Not sure what size to look for? The size of a slide is 1024 x 768, so look for images that are this size.

Compfight.com, a great resource for Flickr lovers lets users know just how big an image is. We’ll cover what to do when you have several smaller pictures you’d like to display.

Don’t use a template

If you’ve used the same template before, chances are millions of other PowerPoint and Keynote users have chosen the same template.

Would you choose or purchase a prepackaged outfit you’d seen a thousand people were before simply because it was classified as “professional” or “trendy” or “whimsical” or “classic”? No, probably not. Then, why use a template? Get out of sheep street. Ditch the template.

Create one of your own by selecting core colors, layouts, image types, and or big ideas, as this excellent example by Empowered Presentation does.

Use grids to organize images

The collage look only looks good, well, in an actual collage. Designers know that people need grids and some sense of alignment to process information quickly and effortlessly. Think of your images as fitting into the jigsaw puzzle that is a rectangular 1024 x 768 slide. Fit them together by combining vertical and horizontal images, using cropping or masking tools, and aligning images along a clear grid. I am currently revising my visual resume, and this is a slide I am thinking of incorporating. It allows me to display many sides of my home island of Puerto Rico in a seamless and beautiful way.

Don’t use bullets

Seriously. Bullets kills. It has been proven that people remember information when it is presented in both textual and visual ways.

From my first deck on developing a persuasive speech.

Using bullets alone only hits one of these, which means your audience is likely to retain less information. Couple this with the fact that we have been killed for years by bullet-riddled slides; when we see them, we expect something boring, dry, forgettable, and frankly we assume the presenter is pretty much useless.

Much better!

Keep it simple

I advise my students to stay away from too much animation and completely forget about wacky animations like anvil, fire, sparkle, orbital, and typewriter and useless transitions like cube, page flip, doorway, blinds, and random. If you don’t need it to convey your message. Don’t use it. If transitions and animations aren’t absolutely necessary to your delivery, and if you can’t use them without wanting to constantly turn around and check on your slides, don’t use them. Keep your slides simple. No one will be as impressed by 72 frenetic and distracting animations as they will by a confident, carefully crafted, and polished message that is supported by impacting images.

This deck was created by superstudent, Ben Greger. Ben paired this masterful deck with a simple and moving story about how photography can change one's perspective.

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Tweak of the Day: Don’t Blame PowerPoint

One of the best ways for online learners of presentation design to really see the difference that good design can make is to ask them to analyze a great deck from Slideshare.net. While there are definitely some forgettable examples on Slideshare, all in all, not only is Slideshare a great way to share your content, projects, and ideas, but it’s also a storehouse of design inspiration. Today’s first selection comes from Clear Presentation Design (whom I am now following). I’m definitely a fan of this users ideas, and I truly appreciate his attention to contrast and unity. I’d love to see a bit more variety between decks. Nevertheless, this is an excellent common sense approach to why laziness is the real cause of horrifically bad PowerPoint.

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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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