Article Category: Interviews

Interview with Nancy Duarte, Author of slide:ology


Last week, I reviewed slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, an exciting new book destined to become a classic reference for presentation skills.

slide:ology is the product of Nancy Duarte and her design team at Duarte Design (the firm who designed visuals for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth).

I admire Nancy’s creative approach to business (check out the “organization” tab on the Duarte site) as much as the expertise she shares in slide:ology (the book) and slide:ology (the blog).

For these reasons, I’m delighted to feature Nancy in the first of an exciting new series here on Six Minutes: interviews revealing insights from fascinating individuals in and around the speaking industry.

Six Minutes Interview with Nancy Duarte

Question: You revealed that the verbs which you most identify with your life’s mission are “conquer and liberate.” How do these verbs connect with your goals in writing this book or with your plans for Duarte Design?

When I set out to write the book two years ago, it was like a burning passion inside me. It was difficult to explain why I felt an urgency to write the book… but I did. My family was supportive and let me write (conquer) in the evenings and weekends.

It’s a well known fact that presentations are incredibly ineffective. We can keep complaining about the putrid output or stand up and say “enough”.  I got tired of people blaming the tool and not owning the responsibility for the really bad presentations getting delivered every day. I knew that compiling years of experience could raise a new standard. The current way we use slides inhibits our ability to communicate effectively. All this is happening during an era when we have the most exciting innovation in all of history. I want those stories told well and indelibly.

I used to feel guilty about my verbs. When the verbs are combined, it makes me sound like I spend my weekends pillaging or something. I’m actually very caring about my clients and staff. At Duarte the verbs manifest in the culture and structures I put into place. I work hard at creating an environment where creative people feel supported and safe (liberated, per se).

Question: Consider a traditional organization still stuck with the Death by PowerPoint status quo. How would you recommend changing the environment so that higher presentation standards can flourish?

One of the most popular questions I’m asked is around this topic. Corporate citizens are afraid to be different and afraid to put a new stake in the ground and be different. People don’t know if they’ll be able to buck the collective system and still have a job the next day. Corporate-wide change is tough to tackle and can seem daunting. But the most important first step is to address your own presentation communication issues. Work hard on your content development and communication skills. If you can have the guts to change yourself and stand out among your peers, others will follow.

Question: I shared your preparation time estimates (36-90 hours for a 30-slide presentation) with one of my co-workers. His reaction was disbelief: “What? I don’t know anyone who has that kind of time.” What would you say to him?

Many of the principles in the book can improve many of the common run-of-the-mill presentations that people give internally every day. Your friend can apply these principles relatively easily to his next presentation, still spend the same amount of time he usually does and he will have a much better presentation than before reading slide:ology. But I guarantee that if he was gunning to win a one hundred MILLION dollar project or give the keynote address at an event with 15,000 people attending he’d kick in some hours. It’s all relative to how high the stakes are. Low stakes, low effort. High stakes, high effort. The farther folks work their way up the corporate ladder, the more care and planning needs to go into their communication and presentations. The time estimation in the book was a guide for when the communications are critical, not when they are common.

Question: One of the themes present throughout slide:ology is that of continuous refinement toward an end goal. (e.g. from idea to sketch to final image) The same process of gradual improvement over time holds true for speaking skills. As a speaker, what is one skill that you are currently working to improve?

There are two development areas I’m hyper conscious of right now. First, my gestures feel HUGE to me but are pretty wimpy. When on stage it feels like I’m as flamboyant as Dolly but in reality I’m pretty closed in. The other area I’m working on is relaxing my freakin’ forehead. When I am thinking through something, the muscles between my eyebrows contract creating a huge crevice and I look angry. My kids call it my butt head. It’s gotta go!

Question: As a final bonus for Six Minutes readers, can you share a public speaking tip that isn’t related to visual presentation skills? Perhaps a favorite delivery technique or tactic for rehearsing?

I still use 3×5 cards to practice my material. Once the content is final and slides are designed I rehearse the content using index cards. After the first run through, whatever points I miss get jotted onto a 3×5 card. I run through the presentation over and over until I don’t have any more cards in my hands and can still make all my points.  There are still times when I bring the cards with me though just in case.

Other Interviews With and Articles About Nancy Duarte

These are definitely worth listening to and reading.

In particular, the two VizThink.com podcasts below contain a great snapshot of the content in slide:ology. If you are still debating getting a copy for yourself, these two podcasts will convince you.

VizThink.com podcast — August 25, 2008

I think we’re just steeped in a culture that’s used to really crappy presentations. People that stand out spend an enormous amount of time on their presentations. I think that it becomes status quo to put out crappy slides, and when people see it well done, they’re shocked. If people want to get ahead in their career and they really want to stand out, they’ll make the kind of investment they need to make.

VizThink.com podcast — June 18, 2008

I really feel like presentation [software tools] are very powerful, compelling and emotion tools if they’re used well. We should be using them to harness our stories, instead of using them as a filter to ruin them.

The Duarte Manifesto podcast — July 27, 2008

Designing the Perfect Presentation: The design firm behind Al Gore’s Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth offers insights on improving a presentation — Carmine Gallo, BusinessWeek.com, April 10, 2007

  1. Start with a Sketch
  2. One Theme, One Slide
  3. Crunch the Data First
  4. Create a Narrative
  5. Maintain a Visual-Verbal Balance
  6. Practice Design, Not Decoration
  7. Extend the Presentation Beyond the Moment

Duarte Design helps Al Gore “go visual” — Presentation Zen, June 1, 2006

We had been working closely with him on his presentation for a while before the concept of a movie was proposed. He would call us with ideas and take us in a direction. Once we’d identified stories or images and had them animated, he would come in for a review. He was brilliant, charming and affirming.

An Interview with Nancy Duarte — Indezine, August 19, 2008

Stories can break the dullard spell that slides have. They also create a more human connection with the presenter. But if the presenter hasn’t worked at creating a strong visual story, audiences can still become frustrated when the presenter uses their slides as a teleprompter. Including stories is a good first step but many presenters aren’t able to take the time required to deliver a presentation without slides-as-crutch.

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon1 Comment

  1. Hi – I’ve done some awful presentations with slides. I once had the formatting vanish when loaded onto a new laptop and so ALL of my points appeared at once.

    argh!

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Cmty Leadership Proj @communityleadr — Sep 4th, 2009

Interview w/ author of slide:ology http://bit.ly/uKD6K

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