All posts by tracink

How slides diminish your power

Nobody thinks it’s a good use of time to sit in a room and read slides together.

If slides are ill-conceived, if they contain too many words, if they are a sea of bullets, if they overwhelm your colleagues, then you have given up your chance to be a change-maker.  You have given power to the software and the templates, rather than claiming the power position in the room.

If you use slides, they should be backdrop, not center stage. As a content expert, people gather in a room to hear YOU talk. They never gather for a slide-reading exercise.

Christine and I talk quite a bit about retooling slide use because we know it is ubiquitous in engineering and technical fields as a tool for information sharing. There’s very little point for us to talk about eschewing slides altogether, because we know from working with our practicing engineering colleagues that slides are the expected norm.

So, let’s work with what we have and claim our voices again. If we are asked to give a talk, focus on the talk. Use the slides as backdrops, not as the center show. YOU should be the centerpiece, and all attention should be on you, not your slides. People should not be trying to read your slides rather than listening to your words.

And if your slides have to do double duty (support for the live talk + archival use for future teams), see our extensive advice on how to do this effectively (Chapter 10). There are also shorter how-to pieces on this site in Case Study 3 and Case Study 4. More can also be found at the Assertion/Evidence site, where we also contribute.

–Traci Nathans-Kelly

(crossposted at tracink.com)

Case Study 4: Headers, visuals, notes

Complicated work can lead people to believe that complicated slides are necessary. In truth, the opposite will work better.  Keep complicated technical or scientific content simple when on the screen.  Here’s a great example.

For a course titles “Computer-Aided Engineering: Applications to Biological Processes,” the student team of Taha Ahmad, Karann Putrevu, Remy Walk,  and Cher (Xuexiang) Zhang performed some amazing work for their project titled Optimization of reversible electroporation for the destruction of an irregular brain tumor.  When it came time to showcase their work, they worked hard to make the findings accessible in an efficient manner.

This is a strong example of a sentence header plus visual evidence.

This example shows one of their typical slides that follows our recommended assertion+evidence approach.  There is a complete thought at the top, with powerful visual information in the center acreage.

Next, let’s look at how the team deployed the notes to their advantage.  During the talk, the slide does just what it needs to do: support  the speaker.  Then, because notes are used, the slide deck can go on to provide help and information later because of the notes.

Good slide with notes
When researchers and technical experts provide full talking points, the functionality of any slide deck increases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking carefully about what it *is* that your audience needs at the moment of the presentation versus what information they might need in two or three months is a key shift that you should make. Using notes allows your slide deck to offload wordiness while supporting the larger technical endeavor.


Permission to use this slide example was granted from the authoring team. Reports from this class (not slides) can be found here, starting in 1999: http://4530.bee.cornell.edu/ .

Case Study 3: Headers, visuals, notes

In rethinking your strategies for slides and how they can support your technical work better, be willing to consider using sentence headers for even the most mundane of tasks.  This set of Before-and-After slides are modeled after those from a colleague’s efforts to re-invent information sharing at his engineering firm. (Identifying information has been scrubbed due to proprietary considerations, but the structure of the template is intact.)

In this Before slide, we see a “traditional” approach to slide design.

Here, fragmented thoughts rule the day. There is room for improvement!
Here, fragmented thoughts rule the day. There is room for improvement!

It is a fragmented affair.  In truth, the content probably made perfect sense to the speaker when he created it; this kind of slide is working more as a speech aid (a teleprompter) rather than a useful visual for the audience members. The header is a fragment, and so is everything else. As well, there is quite a bit of cross-referencing to do: each section + each indicator + form + sample. If engineering is about elegance and efficiency, let’s put those principles to work on the structure of information.

Upon considering the  methods that we recommend in the Slide Rules book, his approach changed and dramatically improved the delivery method. The sentence header now conveys the ONE main idea that he wanted his audience to hear, and it includes persuasive language, targeted for that audience. (See Chapter 5.)

A targeted sentence header and a clean visual will convey technical points strongly.
A targeted sentence header and a clean visual will convey technical points strongly.

 

As well, the improved visual cleanly outlines the parts number scheme for his colleagues.  (We cover strategies for visuals in chapters 6-9 in the Slide Rules book.)

 

 

 

An added bonus is how he deployed concrete, additional information in the notes pane of the slide.

The notes feature, provided in presentation software, allows experts to house information inside the slide file. The slides are kept clean and focused for the talk, but now the archive of the talk is richer.
The notes feature, provided in presentation software, allows experts to house information inside the slide file. The slides are kept clean and focused for the talk, but now the archive of the talk is richer.

Here, he archived all additional information needed for someone who missed the talk or who will access the archived information later.

Using notes is a strong strategic move in organizations that use slides as legacy pieces (see Chapter 10).

 

 

 

This, and much more is covered in Slide Rules, available in paperback and e-book formats. 

Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields

Case Study 2: Sentence headers in slides

Today we start with a very typical slide from either a science or engineering Slide1sector (see the slide on the left). There is quite a bit of room for improvement here. Note the fragment header, the list of bulleted items, and the small picture.

The use of fragments for both the header and bullets does not lend itself well to comprehension OR to any sort of rich archiving for later retrieval. As a tool for communication, there isn’t much here to hang your hat on.

The revised version, on the right, shows the power of the image to frame the discussion.

This harnesses the power of the sentence header AND the visual.
This harnesses the power of the sentence header AND the visual.

Highlighting the visual evidence allows a sentence header to then shine. The header can do some pretty heavy lifting in a very efficient way. During a presentation, audience members can look at the picture but then refocus on the presenter and the information being said.

 

 

The richness of the notes only improves the usefulness of any slide for future reference.
The richness of the notes only improves the usefulness of any slide for future reference.

As well, for archival purposes, the presenter can use full notes to completely document the main points for anyone accessing the slide deck later for information.

Want to know more?  The book is here.

Image and content information generously provided by Argonne National Laboratory.  https://flic.kr/p/9T4Jbb

Case Study 1: Sentence headers in slides

In Chapter 5 of our book Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields, we spend a good amount of time discussing the reasons to get rid of fragmented slide headings in favor of sentences. Doing so allows your heading to work as a mini-executive summary, which frames the main idea fully. There’s no guessing needed by audience members, which is a plus in technical work. Look at these two examples to see, quite clearly, the advantage of using one method over the other.

This is less than optimal design.
This traditional model for slide work makes the audience guess at meaning, which is not a strong stance for the subject matter expert.
This version houses a complete thought and a larger visual for the audience's needs.
This revised version takes advantage of a single, main thought stated clearly for everyone.

Not only is the heading more useful and informative in the second version, but the visual has been maximized within the slide’s acreage, too.

Visual content graciously provided by Argonne National Laboratory.

Slide Rules–now available in paperback and e-book!

Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical FieldsTo purchase, the book Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields is now available via the Wiley-IEEE Press website or Amazon.com .

ISBN-10: 1118002962 | ISBN-13: 978-1118002964

Planning a technical presentation can be tricky. Does the audience know your subject area? Will you need to translate concepts into terms they understand? What sort of visuals should you use? Will this set of bullets truly convey the information? What will your slides communicate to future users? Questions like these and countless others can overwhelm even the most savvy technical professionals.

This full-color, highly visual work addresses the unique needs of technical communicators looking to break free of the bulleted slide paradigm. For those seeking to improve their presentations, the authors provide guidance on how to plan, organize, develop, and archive technical presentations. Drawing upon the latest research in cognitive science as well as years of experience teaching seasoned technical professionals, the authors cover a myriad of issues involved in the design of presentations, clearly explaining how to create slide decks that communicate critical technical information. Key features include:

  • Innovative methods for archiving and documenting work through slides in the technical workplace
  • Guidance on how to tailor presentations to diverse audiences, technical and nontechnical alike
  • A plethora of color slides and visual examples illustrating various strategies and best practices
  • Links to additional resources as well as slide examples to inspire on-the-job changes in presentation practices

Slide Rules is a first-rate guide for practicing engineers, scientists, and technical specialists as well as anyone wishing to develop useful, engaging, and informative technical presentations in order to become an expert communicator.

Slide Rules is available early in e-book format!

Image

Our book, Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields, is soon to be on shelves.  At the moment, it can be purchased in e-book format.  In about three weeks, hard copies will be available; you can pre-order them now at the same site.