Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte

This is a terrific book.  More than a primer on creating slides, it really is an introduction to visual design, and how to think like a visual designer.  It doesn’t provide technical guidance about how to operate Powerpoint; it’s all about how to communicate using visual images and words in Powerpoint.  It also practices what it preaches—it’s a visually beautiful book that communicates ideas using highly accessible language and images.  If design is a foreign land to you (like it was to me), this is a great primer and phrasebook that will help you not to get lost when you journey there.  Highly recommended for people who need a dose of professional perspective for their slides.

Here are just a few of Duarte’s many useful ideas and suggestions:

  • Everything about the visual appearance of your slides—background, text, color, and images:  it should all be intentional, and should all be used to support your message.
  • Leave whitespace on your slides–don’t overclutter them.
  •  “Ask yourself whether your message can be processed effectively within three seconds.”
  • Minimize the amount of text you put on a slide.  If a slide contains more than 75 words, it has become a document.  If a slide contains more than 50 words, it has become a teleprompter (ie, you are probably just reading from the slide). 
  • “If you use a plethora of words, your audience will read the slide more quickly than you can explain it, making you strangely irrelevant to your own presentation.”
  •   “Ask yourself, ‘What can I take away that won’t change the meaning?’ or ‘Where can I split the content into more than one slide?’  Keep in mind that a slide’s value is determined not by the amount of information it contains, but by how clearly it communicates its message.”
  • To wean yourself from text-heavy Powerpoint slides, try this:  rehearse using your slides, but for each bullet point on the slide, change the color of just one key word to red.  Rehearse a few times that way, so you have the key word highlighted, but you can still fall back on the other text, too.  Then delete all the other words, leaving only the key words.
  • On presenting data:  “When it comes to displaying data in your presentation, you must adhere to one principle above all others:  clarity.”…  “Data slides are not really about the data.  They are about the meaning of the data.”
  • San serif fonts may be easier to read on slides.  (Serifs are the little feet, like on the letter “n.”)
  • For keynotes, don’t go smaller than 28 pt font.  Or try measuring your computer screen size diagonally in inches, then stand back that many feet from the screen.  If you can’t read something on your slide from there, they can’t see it from the back of the room.
  • Assemble an image system…have a library of images you can re-use and draw on.
  • “Photos should work as a cohesive system, as if the same photographer took them all.”  Also, present photos that favor realism over staged or metaphorical approximation
  • Take your own photos.  Or, be sure you buy / own what you use.  Don’t steal.  But think about what image would really convey your meaning first—then go take a photo. 
  • Using video in a presentation isn’t as much about the quality of the the production as the creativity of the idea.  Quality just needs to be good enough to get the idea across.

I recommend this book to anyone who is serious about presenting.  Read it, own it!