If I were to pick the one-in-a-lifetime book on how to create presentations, with no option to get hold of any other book on the subject ever, I would not hesitate. This book would be slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte. In our work life, as software development people, we do need to sell ideas, at one point or another. It’s not the prerogative of sales and marketing people only. Have you ever struggled with bringing a point across to the rest of the team? Have you ever thought: “How could they miss this clue, why?” If you ever asked yourself such questions, then this book is for you.
It delivers tons of smart right-to-the-point tips on how to intermix visuals, text and concepts. There’s a major warning, though: slide:ology is mostly about presenting ideas. If you’re looking for the ways to visualize data nicely, I’d refer you to some other books (see Data Visualization 101: A Basic Guidance). Nancy’s book goes far beyond “visualizing all that moves”. She provides smart ideas backed by years of experience and the sound knowledge of cognitive science, design and typography. Data visualization is just one component of a good presentation, and slide:ology does not provide that much detail about it as Tufte’s books do. If you’re looking for the ways to visualize some corporate data, then this book alone probably would not work.
Without going into too much detail, I will cite just one meta-idea from the slide:ology book: reduce the cognitive burden. Make it easy for the audience to focus on your main point in a limited time frame, and steer them in your tunnel vision, for that matter. Presentations are not about giving wide options and taking final decisions, but about raising the awareness. I remember the ending keynote presentation on UX delivered by Jared Spool at the Agile 2009 conference in Chicago. It did have a significant impact on our CEO, and we’ve started some strong internal movement toward interlacing a better user experience with our product. It didn’t happen overnight. But this one presentation sparkled the awareness. It took some time for us to digest it, and come up with a better UX. In the same fashion, if some issues in your team lack mutual understanding, there’s no better persuasion tool than a smart internal presentation. By smart presentation I mean:
a great idea wrapped in carefully chosen words and carefully chosen visuals
.. and there’s no better companion in this job than the slide:ology book by Nancy Duarte. There are a few other great books about presenting ideas. Probably, I’ll write about them later. But this one is a sure win. And I’m not promoting slide:ology for the sake of promotion, it’s based on personal experience. Once, I’ve listened to an internal presentation, and it appealed to me a lot. Then I asked the person who delivered this presentation: “How did you do it?” Then she told me about the book, and that’s how I ended up reading it, and sharing my opinion with all of you.