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Nancy Duarte on the art and science of great presentations

March 6, 2009

Today’s luncheon at Silicon Valley IABC broke all attendance records for a chapter event in recent memory, with a standing-room only crowd of 125 business communicators. Likewise, Nancy Duarte, principle and CEO of Duarte, has broken through the status quo in the field of presentations/visual communications. In case you don’t recognize her name, her firm is the brains behind Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth presentation and they work with top corporate clients including Cisco, HP, Disney, Google, etc.

Nancy gave us a snapshot of the “art and science of creating great presentations,” which is the subtitle of her book Slide:ology, a must read. Here’s a clue—the book is NOT about using PowerPoint. In fact, she enjoyed taking potshots at PowerPoint explaining that it was basically conceived as a tool to convey data. The theme of her talk and the book are focusing on storytelling: understanding the audience wants/needs, connecting with them emotionally (“what emotional state do you want to leave them in?), being authentic (“an expression of your soul”), identifying points of conflict (“where do you want conflict added?”). She also talked about taking risks (she admires Martha Graham) and being willing to face your fears of transparency and vulnerability to share more of yourself (“business is now personal”).

Her own visuals were uncluttered, visually-oriented and very impactful: a photo, a simple diagram (sometimes with annotations added), a clip from the television hit The Office, hand sketches, and case study slides. She probably showed more than 100 images, but breezed through them seamlessly as she spoke, as though the slides were an extension of her thoughts. The presentation could have been created in PowerPoint, Keynote or any other visual system—it was the images and flow that made it work so well. She also explained some of the process behind creating an effective presentation, which includes brainstorming and storyboarding up front and basically creating a whole new look, feel and positioning for the story being told.

It is great to see how her firm’s work has elevated presentations to such an art form. Her presentations flow like a well-scripted advertisement. On the other hand, the bar has been raised considerably, which means individual consultants and smaller companies with less resources are at a disadvantage. Of course, the same goes for websites, social media content and other digital content, which just gets better all the time. Good news for the those of us in the communications business.

One Comment leave one →
  1. teriost permalink
    March 6, 2009 2:37 am

    Excellent overview of an excellent presentation. Nancy Duarte is an amazing presenter and her mastery of presentation design is inspiring. Thank you for extending the invitation for me to attend!

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