Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review: "slide:ology"

When I attended PDC in November one of the booths I visited in the exposition hall was O'Reilly Media. They have been, and continue to be, supporters of the VT .NET user group and the VT Code Camp - so I wanted to drop by and thank them for that. It turns out Marsee Henon was there. Marsee's job is to reach out to user group leaders on behalf of O'Reilly - so she was the perfect person to run into. Knowing that I have done presentations for the VT .NET user group she was kind enough to give me a copy of "slide:ology" by Nancy Duarte.

Nancy Duarte is CEO of Duarte Design, one of the largest design firms in Silicon Valley, which focuses exclusively on presentations. She has poured her expertise into "slide:ology" (subtitled "The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations"). The book sets out to liberate presenters, and their audiences, from the tedium of presentations which are little more than documents shown through a projector. We've all attended such presentations, of course. Slide after slide loaded with bullet points with the speaker reading each one in turn.

The early parts of "slide:ology" takes the reader by the hand and reviews with him/her how bullet points can be distilled down to ideas to be communicated. Additionally, by considering the audience those ideas can be delivered in the most appropriate manner. Those practices alone can help presenters be more effective.

Much of the remainder of the book is focused on moving your presentation from merely effective to compelling. Examples of effectively visualizing data (using graphs, images, diagrams, etc.). Guidance on the impact of color and font choices to communicate and to best represent yourself and/or organization are offered. Incorporating movement and animations was a topic I had not considered before, but was a section I found particularly useful. Finally, there is a section on how templates can be defined to provide a uniformity for an organization with several presentations.

I've prepared two presentations since reading "slide:ology" and both were better as a result.

The book itself is a fairly quick read and presented in a clear, concise manner. The size of the book is reminicent of a slide show, too, with the layout of each page following many of the same guidelines for design and communication. I found some of the early sections a little pretentious - but that might be due to the fact I'm not preparing presentations designed to save the world or provide clean drinking water to the third world. If you read "slide:ology" and start to feel that way just power through... there is more than enough content to justify reading the whole book.

This book belongs on the shelf of anyone who prepares presentations - especially if they lack a design background.