Slide design and public speaking
I have a Slideshare account that I use to publish slides of presentations I’ve held (if it’s okay to publish them, which is the case only very occasionally). Sometimes Slideshare sends me e-mail news that I more often trash than skim.
But yesterday a post with the title Before & After: 4 Slide Makeover Tips caught my attention. You can always learn something new, thus I clicked and read. Spoiler alert: The whole post was not too interesting. The 4 tips are hardly news to anybody with some training in presenting (e.g. chose pictures and typography wisely).
But I found this interesting:
The ‘before’ design has obvious flaws: It’s an exploded 3D pie chart (a no-no, on several levels as it distorts information), has a rather ugly colour scheme, uses a legend rather than direct labelling. It’s straight from the default settings of a spreadsheet program.
However, the ‘after’ design is also really interesting. I think it’s especially dysfunctional, for several reasons:
- The pie chart has been separated into four small infographics. But it’s hard to extract the information from these infographics, as one has to first wrap one’s head around their workings. The pie chart on the other hand, with all its shortcomings, is a very familiar device for showing shares.
- The dots make it hard to precisely appreciate the shares. E.g., in the second infographic it’s not readily visible at all that the two white dots represent a quarter of all dots. In a (2D) pie chart, we can eyeball a quarter really quickly though. The infographics seemingly try to make up for this shortcoming by adding explicit coding of the percentages.
- The dots also give a (very likely untrue) impression of a discrete variable, as if the percentages of the four widgets can only vary by increments and decrements of 12.5%.
- Inexplicably, the first infographic uses a different orientation (counter-clockwise from the 9 o’clock position) from the three remaining infographics. Also, the 9 o’clock origin seems like quite an arbitrary, non-obvious choice to me. Most intuitively, you would choose 12 o’clock, probably, mathematically, 3 o’clock.
- To me, the yellow dots are far more attention-grabbing than the white ones. Thus, at first glance I thought the yellow dots are data elements and the white dots are no-data. But it’s the other way around.
- The faux-analoge printing effect is pretty but confused me at first: It tricked me into thinking if the variable appearance of the dots encodes information (I’ll have to assume it doesn’t). I think this is due to the varying size of the white dots and the arbitrary overprinting of the yellow dots into the red background. Pretty, but a bit confusing in this instance.
I won’t comment on the rest of the slide design and the trade-offs and choices made e.g. with regards to the relative size of the actual content. I think these are partly personal taste and also that these choices have to be made with respect to the overall narrative, the wider slide deck design, the audience and the event and likely a few more factors.
Advice for public speaking beyond slide design
Much (most?) about public speaking is in the actual speaking (duh!). Thus, I want to point out two good (and not nearly known-enough) pieces of advice by the German writer Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935): Advice for making a bad speech and Advice for a good speaker.
English translations of both texts can be found here. From the second:
Main clauses. Main clauses. Main clauses.
Clear concept in your head — as little as possible on paper.
Give either facts or appeal to sentiment. Use either sling or harp. A speaker shouldn’t be an encyclopaedia. People have one of those at home.
Do not strive for effects that are contradictory to your personality. A podium is an unforgiving thing — one is more naked than during a sunbath.