In Defense of slide:ology

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While doing a little last-minute research on slide:ology in preparation for my upcoming Professional Communication and Presentation class, I noticed many negative reviews on Amazon.  A negative review of a book I love doesn’t typically bother me.  I usually shrug it off and just chalk it up to the reviewer not getting it.  However, the comments I saw on Amazon really made me sick to my stomach.  I’d like to address each crazy comment because I do think slide:oloy is any modern presenter’s visual design Bible.

Comment #1: “If I gave a presentation in the style of this book I’d be laughed out of the office. I’m an analyst, and the warm and fuzzy slides would not be good” (Source).  Let’s look at David McCandless.  He is an analyst.  He takes enormous quantities of data and turns that dense information into something we can all understand: an image.  People are visual.  We learn better when we can see what you are saying.  Learn more about McCandless here and here.

Comment #2: “You’ll see plenty to interest you, but unless you’re a full-fledged graphic designer you’ll never recreate these slides. Imagine putting this book (and the Reynold’s book) into a room with some of your worst slide creators, or even yourself. Would you see an improvement in their skills? I doubt it.” (Source).  I know firsthand the power of slide:ology because I have put it in a room with the worst slide creators and seen drastic improvement.  In fact, I’ve put these concepts in a room with 40-60 students every single month for nearly two years now.  When the students walk in on the first day of class, they use death-by-bulletpoint.  When they leave my classroom, most (easily 75%) grasp Duarte’s reasoning and understand why bullet points do not work.  They apply the picture superiority effect and minimize text on their slides.  Are they graphic designers?  No.  Do they understand that “visual presentation” should be “visual?”  Definitely!

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Comment #3: “But the true content is very thin, includes a load of chart junk (the anti-Tufte – I guess the true cue is in the title, this is a PowerPoint book) and page after page of abstract diagrams demonstrating “flow” – much like the woeful second half of “Say it with Charts” which is about 50 pages of arrows” (Source).  This sounds like a comment I’ve heard from students… students who haven’t actually read the text.  When I sit down with a student like this and go over Duarte’s concepts on diagrams, they totally get it.  For many people, including the reviewer who wrote Comment #3, reading doesn’t work.  Words on a page will never be a medium that resonates with them.  This is precisely why Duarte’s method works so well… because we all understand the power of simple visual aids combined with spoken word delivery.

Comment #4: “I look for things I can take away from a book and apply to my own situation. In this book I really didn’t get any specific take aways just fuzzy considerations” (Source).  No, there isn’t a template in Duarte’s book.  In fact, the point of the book is that templates do not work.  If you’re looking for a shortcut to creating a strong presentation, please listen carefully: there isn’t one!  You must actually work a little harder than usual to create a strong presentation.  Learn more about why templates do not work here.  Dr. Nick Morgan has a wealth of wonderful information on visual presentation on his website: Public Words.  Check it out here.

slide:ology is the textbook we use for the Professional Communication and Presentation course that I teach under Chiara Ojeda.  When I was first introduced to the text, I had an “Ah ha!” moment that changed my life.  The pre-slide:ology period is a time I refer to as “The Dark Ages,” but, thankfully, I now live in enlightenment.

Because I am a teacher, because I present on a daily basis, and because I’ve seen the difference Duarte’s practices have on over 1,000 students, I know this method works.  When I compare it to the method the reviewers above seem to be grasping at and holding onto so tightly, I see – clear as day – that Duarte’s method is more effective.

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Sure, we can continue to give presentations in the typical death-by-bulletpoint fashion.  And people will continue to immediately tune out and to choose to do something else.  Take the AJLI ODI Conference I attended earlier this month.  All but one presenter had us on our iPhones and tuning out because we could read her bulleted slides faster than she could talk.  We read the material and then stopped listening.  Our time was wasted because the presenter never spoke anything that we hadn’t already read on her slides; she was constantly playing catch-up in a game she would never, ever win.

Another example: teachers kill their students one bullet at a time at my school each and every day.  These instructors have similar attitudes as the reviewers above.  When confronted for the first time with Duarte’s method, students say, “Yeah. Teachers X and Y use bullets, and everyone falls asleep within 10 minutes.”

The proof that slide:ology works isn’t in the reviewers who don’t get it or who don’t have enough time to design slides or who want a template for everything.  The proof is in the audience.  Is your audience awake?  Does your audience lean forward to listen to you?  Is your audience engaged?  Does your audience stay after your presentation is over because they were so inspired that they want to know more?  If the answers to these questions are all “Yes,” then you’ve been following slide:ology‘s principles, and you’re creating great presentations that are changing the world.

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of slide:ology

  1. Hi Alex, Thanks for writing this. I really don’t “get” how Amazon’s comments work. If you notice, the negative comments have hundreds of people who say they are useful whereas the positive comments have a handful of people that say the comment is useful. I would love to believe that the negative reviewers go up there and somehow get people to say it’s a helpful review. I’ve been really discouraged by it and have my marketing gal checking in with Amazon on how this works. Having someone else like you defend my work sure has lifted my spirits. Thank you!

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and to post a comment on my blog, Nancy. I am floored. It is an honor. Hopefully your marketing department will be able to more clearly understand why more people “like” the negative reviews… I do find it strange, as you have – far and away – more positive reviews on slide:ology than you do negative. And don’t worry! The people who are leaving negative reviews clearly just don’t understand the concepts in your book yet. Let’s work on changing their minds!

  2. Do not be discouraged, Nancy! Alex and I talk so often about resistance to the ideas champions like yourself espouse and proclaim to the masses. I first discovered slide:ology while seeking a new book for the course Alex is referring to. I first sought out Presentation Zen, having been exposed to it through a bit of perusing in alltop, but because another course was already using that text, I was asked to expand my search. I am so glad that I did, that I chose this as the primary text for my course, and I am forever grateful for all I have gleaned from this text. I too have seen the remarkable change design-centered thinking combined with respect for and nurturing of the presentation process can actually create. This has not only been the case for my personal pedagogy and design-aesthetic, but also it has been the case for my students, whose applications of slide:ology’s principles amaze me. None of them are designers by trade, but then again, neither am I. I have seen my visual aids go from crutches and detriments to worthwhile enhancements of our in-class lessons, discussions, and activities. I even see my colleagues taking up the call and “tweaking their slides.” The 21st century model of presenting, as I’ve learned from you and my other super heroes of presenting, is about resonance, the reclamation of the true power of speech, and the liberation from all those nasty habits we picked up along the way after the inclusion of Power Point. Don’t stop the new slide ideology!

    • You’re awesome, Chiara. Thank you so much for introducing me to Duarte and the other presentation masters. Without you, I’d still be making death-by-PowerPoint slideshows, and my students would still be hating me for wasting their time :)

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