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Review of slide:ology

Title: slide:ology (First Edition)
Author: Nancy Duarte
Publisher: O’Reilly
Date: September 2008
ISBN: 978-0-596-52234-6

I’ve sat through my share of presentations, and what goes through my mind all to often is “If these smart dudes can foul it up this badly, what hope do I have when presenting is unavoidable?” At those moments I pray for something to inspire and help me.

This book seems to be it. slide:ology lays it out in black and white:

Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suislide.

If you want a set of strategies and tactics to help you produce a better presentation, this is a really great book. It gives you tools to think about what an audience is looking for, and how you can effectively tell an engaging story to them. One of the core pieces of advice is:

Treat Your Audience as King

Aesthetically the book is big enough to promise lots of goodies, yet it is not intimidating. The book is visually light, airy, colourful, lavishly illustrated, and thoughtfully laid out. There are bold red pages between the chapters so it is very easy to flip through and find the right place. The pages containing content are laid out informally and effectively with considered use of colour and whitespace. As you read through the book you see that this is no accident, the book effectively uses some of the visual design principles it is describing.

If you choose to read the book from cover to cover then content unfolds logically. Should you later use the book as a reference then the sections stand by themselves. This could be the result of the author thinking carefully about the ways readers might approach the book, and how to make slide:ology useful to them.

Although the book was light and airy to look at, it is not light on ideas. slide:ology effectively uses and explains many of Edward Tufte and Stephen Few’s ideas when it comes to displaying quantitative data and diagrams.

Thinking Like a Designer and the chapters which followed have helped me start thinking more like a designer:

Every decision a designer makes is intentional. Reason and logic underpin the placement of visual elements. Meaning underscores the order and hierarchy of ideas

The chapters which address various aspects of design are full of useful principles, specific examples of “before” and “after” slides, and things as mundane as the RGB triples for some of the palettes used as illustrations. This “help in depth” eases me into trying things out. The specific examples are presented in the context of more general principles, and there is plenty of variety in the examples.

slide:ology breaks things down into small enough chunks so that I can make progress on them. The individual elements are manageable and I have no excuse to avoid raising my quality bar.

I found it refreshing that someone was prepared to give a rough estimate of how long it can take to produce a presentation, and break it down into activities. Despite my hopes that Keynote would just do it for me, it seems that good presentations are the end result of planning, hard work, reworks, and rehearsal. The presentation tool has to be used the right way. It is no substitute for good ideas and hard work.

At a more visceral level I liked the book because I have been having fun slyly practicing drawing stick figures at the office, re-awakening a sense of fun in visual expression. One last goody: I always enjoy digging through the bibliography or further reading sections of books I find useful. There are plenty of interesting books mentioned throughout the text and in the reference section of slide:ology.

Conclusion:

I found slide:ology an engaging and interesting book. It has shown me ways I can prepare and produce better presentations. These tools also give me a way to critically appreciate presentations I see.

There’s something deeply satisfying in knowing that I can improve my presentations, and many of the techniques and principles can be used in the commission of web pages and user interfaces.

In contrast to the usual cloud of resignation and despair which usually settles I think I can be optimistic and energised when preparing my next presentation.

Mike Stok – November 2008

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