Review: “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations” by Nancy Duarte


Precision coaching for all presenters

By Peter Watts

Nancy Duarte’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a concise primer to the skills of presenting, from planning your pitch through to polished delivery.

Of particular value are the sections on how to put together high quality visuals. Some of the book’s best sound-bites are found when Duarte discusses how to create slides that work for an audience, and since reading that section I’ve found myself looking out far more in my own work for the “visual cliches” that Duarte warns about.

This focus on visual layout gives the book a cross-over to the world of blogging because if you are a presenter who also blogs, you’ll find ideas about the use of layouts, diagrams, and imagery. All valuable for an appealing web-page.

This brings us neatly to the topic of social media, and another strength of the HBR Guide. The book brings presenting right into the present day with topics about how you can blend social media resources such as Twitter into presentations, and how to make the maximum use of web-based backchannel communications.

Nancy Duarte is incredibly generous with how she shares the stage. Every chapter contains references to subject matter experts from multiple fields, and advises different books you might like to try out. Backchannel communications for example, is a relatively new topic for me, and right there on the same page that Duarte introduces the topic, she accompanies it with a recommended author from whom you can find out more.

Now for the confession: This wasn’t the Nancy Duarte book that I initially wanted to review. My target was her recent and much-discussed book “Resonate”, but sitting at London’s Heathrow Airport and trying to buy a copy for my Nook e-reader, I discovered that Duarte’s electronic coverage is surprisingly patchy.

The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is the only Duarte title Barnes & Noble have in e-book format, while Amazon do slightly better; they have the HBR guide and “Slideology” available for Kindle. No trace of Resonate at this stage however.

Still, having chosen to go with the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations as my first trip into the writing of Nancy Duarte, I’m pleased that I did. The guide gets full marks as an all round primer, with specific focus on presentation visuals. It also deserves a place on a virtual bookshelf due to it’s generosity as a resource guide to additional subject matter experts. Finally, it gets fullest marks for it’s brevity. Brilliantly concise.

Now on the look-out for “Resonate” as an e-book!

UPDATE: March 26th

Resonate on the iPad

It turns out that Resonate is available on the iPad. Thank you Nancy for dropping by the blog to share. First look is deeply impressive, and a full review will be coming shortly.

PowerPoint slide synchronisation. My interview with Indezine

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 09.58.36

By Peter Watts

This week it’s been my great pleasure to be interviewed by Geetesh Bajaj at Indezine. We discussed the level of synchronization that should take place between a presenter and their slide deck.

What happens if a presenter becomes over-synchronized, and how can you avoid this risk as you plan and prepare for your presentation?

Indezine is packed with ideas and tips for anybody who finds themselves using PowerPoint. Recognized by Microsoft as an MVP, or “Most Valuable Professional”, Geetesh advises large corporate clients on how to get the best from this most ubiquitous of presentation graphics tools.

Our interview, and Indezine itself, can be found by clicking this link.

Please do take a moment to go and visit. If you’d like to join the discussion by leaving a comment, then Geetesh and I would love to hear from you.

Seasonal variation in presentation

Seasonal variation creates variation in your presenting

by Peter Watts

We’re hardwired to think in seasons. For our ancients ancestors, there was a time to plough, a time to plant, a time to reap, and a time to party round a fireside because outside the snow was deep and crisp and even.

Think of sport: Different seasons have their different games.

Think of religion: Different religions have their different holidays and festivals.

Think of food: There are certain foods that we just have to have to at certain times of the year.

We navigate our world by the seasons. Our world, that is, except for the world in which we make presentations. Presentations happen in a sterile land free of seasons. Free of individuality.

A world without seasons is a homogenous and decidedly unsexy world of grey.

Corporate style sheets and “standard presentations” are often a constraint on what we can do with presentations, but would it be too crazy to make ourselves distinctive by thinking about how we can incorporate the season into the show?

It could be as simple as including some seasonal metaphors into your speech, or if you are fortunate enough to have some control of those style sheets you could add seasonal color shifts to the slides. It doesn’t have to be a slash of bright pumpkin orange, unless of course, you want it to. Flavor and temperature could be added by shifting elements of the palette towards warmer colors in winter, and cooler shades in summer.

We think in seasons. How can you take advantage of that thought pattern to increase both the pleasure and the memorability of presentations?

How many PowerPoint slides should I have?

by Peter Watts

When people feel they need something to be really big, you have to wonder if they’re compensating for something.

Let’s take super-sized slide-decks for example. What hidden inadequacies might all that PowerPoint be trying to hide?

If your megabytes are bulking into gigabytes, take a moment to check that you’re not compensating for something:

Inadequate preparation?
Presenting direct from an unmodified standard slide-deck of a couple of hundred catch-all slides is a sure-fire sign of a presenter who did no more preparation beyond bringing their power chord.

Inadequate confidence?
When in doubt, leave nothing out! Going into battle armed with every single slide you can possibly find is a frequent clue that you don’t know your message.

Inadequate audience understanding?
If you don’t understand the audience, it’s awful hard to meet their needs. The one-size-fits-all maxi-presentation is the inevitable response.

Inadequate product knowledge?
When you don’t know your product, the slides have to do the work for you; after all, you’re relying on them for all the information.

Inadequate skills?
Giant-sized PowerPoints are no compensation for mini-sized skills. Competent presenters tame slide-decks down to manageable proportions. Really skilled presenters hardly use slide-decks at all.

Consistently strip your slide decks down to reveal their messages, or audiences might start stripping you down to reveal what you’re hiding.

Check the amount of talk-time that each slide is giving you. Good working slides will sustain you for at least three minutes of talk-time. As you grow in experience, each slide should be capable of sustaining you for ever longer periods:

  • Beginner: Three minutes
  • Intermediate: Five minutes
  • Pro: Seven minutes
  • Über-Pro: Who needs slides?

As your confidence levels develop, try having sections of your presentation where you switch off the slides altogether and talk directly to your audience.

How many PowerPoint slides should you have? As few as possible.

K.I.S.S.’ing-off complexity

Keeping it short and simple is never stupid

by Peter Watts

This week finds me in Dubai with a balcony view of Burj Khalifa, the 163 storey spike of glass and light that is the world’s tallest building.

We erroneously associate size with status. Whatever you build, I can build bigger. The Burj might be the world’s tallest building today, but cities suffer acute architectural envy and before long it will be overtaken, becoming the world’s second tallest building.

Why do nations keep on building them bigger? Because advances in architecture mean that they can!

As architects enable more floors on towers, so PowerPoint enables more flaws in presentations:

  • The more slides the better
  • The more information the better
  • The more effects the better

We see other presenters doing flashy things and find ourselves tempted. Your colleague presents 15 slides, you present 20. You add audio, they add video. Presentation inflation sets in. The victim is clarity.

This is nothing new. A Roman orator, having tweaked a speech in order to outdo his rival was heard to admire his new prose with the words “Ah, so much the better. I can barely understand it myself!”

Message clarity is lost when it’s blurred by bling.

In Forbes magazine, the venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, describes his five second solution to this problem:

Review your presentation with a colleague. Let each slide stay up for just five seconds. If your reviewer proves unable to grasp your message in that short time, simplify the slides.

Sometimes we accidentally create the Burj Khalifa when more modest structures would prove more elegant.

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