Visual Communication Condensed
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Visual Communication Condensed



This is a somewhat condensed version of Visual Communication That Works. How to imagine your story, build your presentation, and design your slides. Encouragement to use presentation software as it's ...

This is a somewhat condensed version of Visual Communication That Works. How to imagine your story, build your presentation, and design your slides. Encouragement to use presentation software as it's meant to be used and to be creative and effective with it.



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  • You’re brave to come out to a PowerPoint presentation of a Sunday morning! I’m sure you’ve heard of “Death by PowerPoint.” There are millions of victims of “cognitive asphyxiation,” a disease that strikes without warning, is debilitating, and is contagious. More often than not, the very victims of the disease perpetrate it on others—as soon as they can. This is what Edward Tufte says about PowerPoint. . . .[read]. Tufte is probably the leading expert on the visual display of quantitative information—incidentally, the title of his famous book on the subject. Edward Tufte despises PowerPoint.
  • Many people think that if they use presentational software, like PowerPoint or Keynote, to create a report, they’ve created a presentation. But they haven’t! A document in PowerPoint is a slideument. As Nancy Duarte says. “Reports should be distributed; presentations should be presented.”
  • So what’s in a report? Reports are informational, factual, and hierarchical. They are for conveying information. They are exhaustive, precise, and take time to examine. They are for text-heavy material and for that they do the job very well.
  • But the three elements we’ve got to work with are words, numbers, and images. That’s all. And here we have this marvelous medium of presentation software that makes possible the visual play of all three elements—and we load it up with bullet points and line after line of text!
  • But research shows that we learn better from words and pictures together than from either words or pictures alone. Visual and verbal data are processed in different parts of the brain—so they don’t compete with each other. [Cook, M. P. “Visual Representations in Science Education: The Influence of Prior Knowledge and Cognitive Load Theory on Instructional Design Principles.” Science Education, 90(6) 1073-1091, 2006.].
  • Our visual systems and our brains instinctively and instantly process and act upon images. . .
  • For visual learners the image gives rise to the thought. For others, those with a more verbal learning style. . .
  • — the creative spark might jump from thought to image.
  • However we learn, the goal is to move from idea to story. . .
  • And what is a story? A story is dramatic, with rising and falling action. It’s emotive, evocative, and it creates an experience. But many people are afraid to use the power of story when they build their presentations. It takes time and energy and reflection. So they hit the default button and load the slides with bullet points.
  • The good news is that presentations fall somewhere between a report and a story. It takes the best from each and creates a new form.
  • It alternates between facts and storytelling. It simplifies, clarifies, interprets, and illuminates. It engages the audience and motivates it to take action. So the question is not ‘Have you stopped killing people with PowerPoint yet?” but rather, “Why not use its power to really tell your story?” And that’s what we’re going to do today.
  • So. . . . what’s your story?
  • This is the secret I want to share with you today. . . [read]. The alternative is that we maintain the status quo and continue killing people with PowerPoint.
  • So let’s begin by looking at. . . Imagining the story, which involves finding your message, building your presentation (researching, outlining, and structuring), and designing your slides (composing words, numbers, and images on the slide).
  • Cast your net wide for ideas. Keep a notebook for jotting down great things people say or that you read. Then sit down and begin researching. Work from your central idea. Develop the steps toward your goal. Get coffee.
  • Work the idea down to its simplest, clearest form.
  • Stay analog rather than digital. Use a notepad for brainstorming and then use Post-It Notes. Its quicker and more versatile than trying to work in PowerPoint. And it’s more tactile—you can touch your ideas and move them around.
  • Post-It notes are bright, they’re small, and they can be moved easily. Keep it simple. If you can’t get one idea on a note it’s probably too complicated. Find a wall and slap them up. . .
  • Then begin to work in KeyNote or PowerPoint. Follow your outline and draw together the words and images.
  • A structure that persuasive speakers often use is this: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Grab their attention, focus the interest, create a desire for change, and provide a way to act on the desire.
  • We try to move the audience from apathy to interest, from chaos to clarity, from passivity to action. And this is where the arc of the story can move people.
  • All good stories — and presentations — have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • A simple way to describe the structure of a story is situation, complication, and resolution. (Duarte, Resonate, 29)
  • We describe the way things are, the way they could be, and the reward at the end of the journey (Duarte, Resonate, 29). That’s the basic structure. But there are two critical points that we also need to introduce.
  • The first is the gap between the way things are and the way they could be. That’s the first turning point, the call to adventure, as Nancy Duarte calls it. And the second turning point comes after we’ve answered the objections, worked them through their resistance to change, showed the reasons to change, and arrive at the call to action.
  • This is the threshold we’re asking our audience to cross at this second turning point. We ask them to take action. Why should they do this?
  • What are the benefits to them, to the people they influence, and to the world? Does it meet their basic needs? Does it provide a feeling of security? Maybe it gives them a good return on their investment of time and energy in your message. Perhaps it will strengthen their relationships with others. Identify the reward! Years ago. . .[Summer of 72 in Coventry]
  • Having found our story and discovered our message we begin to organize it and give it a structure. As we found with stories, there is a natural flow and organization to stories that everyone recognizes, even if they can’t always explain it.
  • We look for patterns in a presentation, something that will let us know we’re headed to a destination.
  • So think back to Public Speaking class when your teacher gave you some common patterns to use when organizing your presentation. The most common used in presentations is the topical approach, where you cluster similar themes under a common umbrella.
  • These structures have a flow that works well in a story format. The Chronological sequence works in a time progression, either forward or backward.
  • A sequential approach works best for a process or a step-by-step sequence. . .
  • The Spatial arrangement clusters elements together as they relate in physical space. . .
  • Then there’s the climatic, which arranges elements in order of importance, usually, from least to greatest
  • Persuasive presentations often use these four which have contrast built into them.
  • Once you’ve generated your ideas, filtered out the best ones, focused the message, and organized the structure, its time to turn your words into pictures and design your slides.
  • I’m going to give you three design principles that will work for any presentation. Simplicity. . . the use of empty space. . . and contrast—of all different kinds. But first some facts about perception!
  • So the first design principle I want to share with you is to simplify.
  • We’re in a visual culture that constantly showers us with images. Cutting through the clutter helps to reduce our attention deficit, raise our interest, and step up our comprehension.
  • One way to create simplicity is through the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). The goal is to have the highest signal-to-noise ratio possible. The stronger the signal the weaker the noise; the less noise the clearer the signal. Noise is anything that detracts or distorts the signal. So cut the non-essentials from the background.
  • Here’s a chart with all the bells and whistles—full 3-D images, a grid of numbers, shadows, reflections, a fancy piece of work. And confusing. Lots of noise, not much signal. And this is the default option. This is what Tufte is talking about: increasing the clutter without adding to our understanding.
  • We’ve simplified it by using 2-D bars, dropping the grid, highlighting the title and bringing out the numbers. A lot more signal, a lot less noise. . . But there’s still something confusing about this slide. What is it? There’s no discernible order. It doesn’t descend from greater to lesser nor is it alphabetical by country. We try to find a pattern that makes sense and we can’t. And that introduces subtle noise into the slide.
  • Here is more clarity, more signal, less noise. We want to highlight Japan’s low rate of obesity: why not descend from greater to lesser and bring the low rate to our attention by using color and shading to distinguish between the best and the others? High signal, lower noise. . .
  • Finally, if we want to emphasize Japan’s advantage, we can highlight just the number and make that the transition into HOW and WHY Japan has such low obesity rates.
  • Numbers that simply numb. There’s nothing here to draw our attention, everything is of equal value and thus nothing is of value. Edward Tufte says that a table like this has everything we need—but it doesn’t work in a slide presentation. He’s absolutely right! Tables are for examining, comparing, drawing inferences, taking the time we need. Up on a slide we can’t do any of that. So. . . .
  • At the very least we can pop the number we want out of the background. The table becomes a visual backdrop for the number that we’re focusing on.
  • Here’s an even better way. We create a visual that uses contrasts of size, shading, and color.
  • And as we do so we create a story by lifting the essentials out of the clutter, reducing the noise and raising the signal. Our first general principle in action — simplify.
  • Our second general principle is the use of empty space, also called negative space or white space. The urge to fill all the space on a slide with information may be overwhelming—but resist! Empty space in a design is not “nothing.” It’s a “something” that gives your slides elegance and power. Think of it as your conscious canvas for the imagination. The main problem with PowerPoint is that the default templates make it easy to produce death-dealing slides. Don’t use them! Just begin with a blank slide. All we’ve got, after all, are words, numbers, and images. Three elements arranged creatively on a blank canvas.
  • An example of the use of white space and contrast through color. This fact is taken from Harper’s Index, Harpers Magazine. February, 2009, 13.
  • So with two general principles in mind—simplicity and the use of empty space, let’s turn to our last one—contrast.
  • Drawing contrasts is one of the most effective design principles we can use. We notice contrasts even when we miss details or see patterns that aren’t there.
  • These are the major elements in slide composition and design. We’re focusing on contrast today. Contrast simply means difference. And we notice differences, even the smallest ones. Contrast is one of the most powerful design elements because almost anything can be contrasted with something else.
  • So . . . here are some of the ways we can draw contrast in our slides.
  • And another using color, size, and shade.
  • Here’s an example of contrast using size and shade.
  • When you build your next presentation imagine yourself moving from a wide shot of all your ideas. . . .
  • and then in for the closeup as you find your big idea. . .
  • Or you can move from the forest. . .
  • to the tree. . . .
  • to the leaf.
  • This the Big Idea I want you to carry with you today [read]. This is your canvas! What will you paint today? Thank you very much. . .

Visual Communication Condensed Visual Communication Condensed Presentation Transcript

  • “ Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Edward Tufte
  • REPORT Document Slideument
  • Informational Factual Hierarchical CONVEYS INFORMATION report
  • Words Numbers Images
  • We learn better from words and pictures together than from words or pictures alone.
  • We are hardwired for understanding images. Garr Reynolds
  • The image gives rise to thought. Paul Ricoeur
  • from thought to image. . . .
  • from idea to story. . .
  • story Dramatic Emotive Experience
  • report story presentation
  • Presentation Simplifies Motivates Engages
  • What’s your story?
  • In the hands of an honest and humble mentor a presentation can become a story that changes people and their worlds.
  • Imagining the story Building your presentation Designing your slides
  • “ Most ideas you can do pretty darn well with a stick in the sand.” Alan Kay
  • AIDA Attention Interest Desire Action
  • Apathy Interest Chaos Clarity Passivity Action
  • Beginning Middle End
  • Beginning Middle End situation complication resolution
  • Beginning Middle End situation complication resolution what is what could be the reward
  • Beginning Middle End situation complication resolution what is what could be the reward gap Call to Adventure Call to Action
  • Them Influence The world
  • “ More important to culture than social fabric is the necessity of imagination.” James Hillman
  • Imagining the story Building your presentation Designing your slides
  • Topical
  • Sequential
  • Spatial
  • Climatic
  • Problem-solution Compare-contrast Cause-effect Advantage-disadvantage
  • Imagining the story Building your presentation Designing your slides
  • Simplicity Empty Space Contrast
  • Simplify
  • High Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) less noise more signal =
  • 2007 Obesity Rates by Country United States Germany Thailand Japan Australia 52% 41% 21% 15% 33%
  • 52% 41% 21% 15% 33% 2007 Obesity Rates by Country Japan United States Germany Thailand Australia
  • Japan 15% Lowest Obesity Rate, 2007
  • 52 %
  • 52 % of new office buildings That’s 85 ‘ see-throughs’ in Washington, DC are empty.
  • million $100 lost annually. . . in leases/rentals
  • empty space creates meaning
  • 49,415 stress-related hospitalizations: Australia, 2001-2002
  • 94% of Americans won’t buy a car from a bankrupt automaker.
  • “ It was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it.” Shaker furniture
  • reboot yourself
  • Simplicity Empty Space
  • Contrast
  • CONTRAST Flow Proximity Arranging the Elements Alignment Hierarchy
  • Contrast Size Shape Shade Color Proximity
  • Contrast Size Shape Shade Color Proximity
  • Contrast Size Shape Shade Color Proximity
  • Contrast Size Shape Shade Color Proximity
  • Contrast Size Shape Shade Color Proximity
  • . . . . is an act of communication . . . . a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating . Garr Reynolds Design
  • Design is about humans creating great works that help or improve the lives of other humans. Garr Reynolds
  • In the hands of an honest and humble mentor a presentation can become a story that changes people and their worlds.
  • Entelechy Productions (2011)
  • References Reynolds, Garr (2008). PresentationZen . Berkeley, CA: New Riders. Reynolds, Garr (2010). PresentationZen Design . Berkeley, CA: New Riders. Duarte, Nancy (2008). Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. Duarte, Nancy (2010). Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Few, Stephen (2004). Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten. Oakland, CA: Analytics Press. Reynolds, Garr (2011). The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides . Berkeley, CA: New Riders. Tufte, Edward (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2 nd ed. Cheshire, CT: The Graphics Press. Tufte, Edward (2003). “PowerPoint is Evil” Wired Magazine, September 2009. Whitehead, Alfred North (1929). The Aims of Education . New York: The Free Press.