Why presentations become bullet list deserts

Now wheres that banana icon?

I assume that many of you are familiar with Edward Tufte and his indictment of current presentation practices: “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint“.  If not, you should read the essay.  For me, it was like looking at a personal “worst of”.  But while Tufte tells me what’s wrong, I don’t get much insight on how to make it right.  In particular, I wonder why so many default to bullet lists when the point could have been made so much more effectively with a simple graphic.

Nancy Duarte post’s title says it all: “It Used to Take Three Highly-Trained Professionals to Make a Presentation.”  A single person has all these wonderful tools, but none of the skills and experience needed to convey the information.  It’s safer to dump it into lists or into a overly-detailed graphic.  There’s no cure, but per Duarte:

Next time you have an important presentation that uses charts or data of any kind, at least meet with someone else to get another perspective on whether you’re using the data in the most effective way.

Let me tell you a story…

That’s the way my strategy professor at business school introduced us to vision and mission.  And that’s what the most effective presentations do, IMO: tell a story.  However, many of us technical and semi-technical folks feel nothing but fear and trembling when we’re asked to “put together a deck.”

To that end, Jonathan Becher here passes along some great tips on creating compelling presentations from Nancy Duarte.  Duarte makes three points that Jonathan summarizes neatly. We too often:

  1. Try to make presentations serve as documentation.
  2. Skimp on preparation.
  3. Misuse or ignore visual design principles.

While I haven’t read the book, the post’s summary and the video clip sure make it sound appealing.  In particular, I like the practical guidance — e.g., the “Post It” approach — that Jonathan passes along.  I can testify to this method’s effectiveness in condensing thoughts into single points, which can then be moved around into a coherent story.

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