Wednesday, March 30, 2011

5 Questions with Nancy Duarte

If you are a presenter, then you should already know Nancy Duarte.

If you don't. Go to her website. ... Now!

Well, after you read our interview. ;)

Nancy Duarte, is a presentation expert and she has the portfolio—as well as the books (Slide:ology and Resonate) and a successful company—to prove it. She is the CEO of Duarte, a presentation company that goes beyond typical PowerPoint fare, designing high-end presentations for Executive Keynotes (Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth) to Launches (Palm Pre) to so much more and boasts clients such as Apple, Facebook, Ford, Twitter, and Wells Fargo among many other big name players. I encourage you to check out Duarte's website and be inspired by the amazing—and widely creative–presentations her team has created. She even offers presentation training, so you can learn how to create your own inspiring presentations through meaningful visuals and thoughtful content.

Recently, Nancy was kind enough to take time to answer five questions for our readers.

1. You started making "presentations" as a child. Why are you so passionate about presentations?
A child eh? I’m older than you think! When I was young, I did have signs I was a visual communicator. I loved to fire up the film strip projector and usually chose homework assignments that included drawing over those that required prose. Since I’m heavily weighted toward being a visual learner coupled with the fact that the primary visuals we use in business involve a presentation is what drew me to the field. I love communications that are clear, so taking a muddled mess and making it clear is like solving a puzzle to me.

2. Do you believe presentations can change the world? Why?
You can point to an oratory moment that has been the flashpoint for almost every historic movement. If you think about it, some companies today are larger than historic kingdoms have ever been. So even within a company there needs to be presentations that spark change to ensure survival and competitive advantage. Consider the small shifts companies have to make to be at the right place in the future. A well communicated presentation is the way to get them there.

3. What is one common mistake that presenters make in their PowerPoint presentations and how can presenters avoid it?
Most people cut too many corners of the creative process when creating a presentation. There are times when throwing together a deck for a quick meeting is okay. But when trying to persuade an audience, nothing should be just thrown together. It’s a cop out to Frankenstein a deck together instead of thinking through the nuances of an audience. First, move out of the linear trap of the slide application itself. Try to look at the entire presentation as a whole by working in outline mode or by moving sticky notes around on a surface. Make sure that each slide supports the main idea but also creates a compelling storyline.

4. In your latest book, Resonate, you focus on creating compelling presentation content by applying the rules of great storytelling to affect your audience. The title is referenced in your first rule, "Resonance causes change." Can you elaborate on what this means for presenters?
When someone says “that resonated with me” what they are saying is “that rings true” or that they are “in agreement with you.” That’s the kind of result you want from a presentation every time. I decided to title my book Resonate when I saw this physics experiment online.

I had my son recreate this by pouring salt on a steel plate and running an audio frequency through the plate. Something magic happens when we resonate at the right frequency. It’s like the pieces of sand just know where to move. It’s as if the grains of sand are all part of a grand plan that they choose to align to. When you resonate deeply, an audience can make something collectively beautiful.

5. Do you believe presenters—and presentation graphics—have improved in recent years?
There is definitely unrest among audiences right now. Great unrest. It’s almost as if an unprepared presenter is stepping unwittingly into a trap because the audience knows the principles of a great presentation and they have a voice via social media channels now. With my work and that of Garr Reynolds, Stephen Few, Dave Sibbet, Nick Morgan, Dan Roam and others, best practices have emerged. Audiences feel that the presenter undervalues them and their time when the presenter doesn’t take time to communicate in an engaging manner. There’s been some improvement but we have a long way to go!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

5 Questions with Connie Malamed

Last year, I had the pleasure to attend a graphics workshop by Connie Malamed at the Presentation Summit. Connie is the author of Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, author of two blogs—The eLearning Coach and Understanding Graphics—and is a consultant and public speaker, teaching individuals and organizations to use cognitive psychology to create better visual communication.

In her workshop, Your Brain on Graphics, Connie reiterated again and again the importance of communicating with visuals. She taught basic rules for how people perceive and interpret pictures based on psychological research. By knowing and applying these guidelines when creating graphics, our visual messages would be more effective and lead to our greater success.

I had found a kindred spirit!

Since that workshop, I have been recommending Connie to anyone who wants to learn more about how your audience responds to graphics and the psychology behind effective visuals. Her book, Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, expands upon research I discuss in Billion Dollar Graphics and goes into more depth about basic cognitive principles and how to use them to reach your audience.

Connie took time out of her busy schedule to answer 5 questions about visual communication for our readers:
  1. What is your visual communication background?
    I’ve been interested in the visual arts since childhood. My mother was an interior designer and our house was filled with artwork propped against the walls for her clients. In that environment, I almost didn’t have a choice but to become hyper-visual. I studied fine arts and art education as an undergraduate. On a day-to-day basis, I now work in several fields that involve visual communication: eLearning, website design and information design.

  2. What led you to write Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand and to dedicate yourself to promoting the design principles detailed in the book?
    I’m fascinated with cognition how we think, learn and solve problems. My graduate studies focused on instructional design, which is based on cognitive psychology. So it was natural for me to synthesize visual communication and cognitive psychology … to wonder how we process visual information and to ask how we can improve visual design based on our cognitive architecture.

    I didn’t see many books out there discussing this, so I’ve been researching these questions for years. When the time was right, I found a publisher so I could share what I’ve learned.

  3. Your book provides six design principles, based on cognitive science, to "align graphics with our cognitive architecture." Can you give us a brief overview of one of those principles?
    In today’s world, where we are bombarded with information of all kinds, it helps to understand how to get your message across quickly and efficiently. The Reduce Realism principle explains how “low fidelity” graphics get processed more easily than complex graphics. Designers can reduce realism by removing shadows and detail and limiting color.

    Examples of graphics with reduced realism include line drawings, silhouettes and icons. These types of graphics get recognized and understood quickly and the mind fills in any the missing information.

  4. What are the common mistakes most people make in visual communication?
    A common mistake is that people don’t realize how our brains are hard wired for visual communication. In presentations and in eLearning, you’ll find screens of text where the ideas could be communicated through visuals. Graphics help gain attention, they are memorable and audiences understand them. Designers should always consider whether verbal or visual communication would be best for a particular message. Many times, both are needed.

  5. Your blog, Understanding Graphics, offers a variety of well-researched guidelines on information design. Can you leave our audience with one guideline you find most essential for visual communication?
    One of the most important things to remember is that people can only process around four bits of visual information at one time. So designers should keep their visuals clean, clear and easy to understand. They can help viewers focus on the most important information by creating a visual hierarchy. Research shows that when people find information easy to process, they feel more positive about it.
To learn more about Connie and her book and services, visit her website at