Article Category: Book Reviews, Visual Aids

Book Review – slide:ology by Nancy Duarte

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations

If you want to master visual communication, this book is for you.

If you want to impress your audience with eye-popping slides, this book is for you.

If you want to break free from the Death By PowerPoint pandemic, this book is for you.

Nancy Duarte has written slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. (Learn more about Nancy Duarte in a Six Minutes interview!)

Ever since my copy arrived, I can’t put it down. I’ve carried it to and from work every day so that I can read a few pages on breaks. It’s that good.

I highly recommend slide:ology. It is destined to become a classic reference text for presentation skills.

Slide Design Series

What’s In slide:ology?

slide:ology covers the whole visual presentation process, from concept generation to delivery. Examples and case studies abound throughout. The twelve chapters are:

  1. Creating a new slide ideology.
  2. Creating ideas, not slides.
  3. Creating Diagrams.
  4. Displaying Data.
  5. Thinking like a designer.
  6. Arranging elements.
  7. Using visual elements: background, color, and text.
  8. Using visual images.
  9. Creating movement.
  10. Governing with templates.
  11. Interacting with slides.
  12. Manifesto: The five theses of the power of a presentation.

7 Things I Love About slide:ology

There’s a lot to love about this book, and even more to learn. On top of the many presentation design lessons, slide:ology teaches many lessons that apply to all speeches and presentations.

1. Stories

I counted 20 case studies spritzed through the book, joining countless other anecdotes taken from Duarte’s personal or professional experiences.

Key Lesson: Tell a story. Make a point. Tell another story. Make another point…

2. Humbleness

slide:ology is written in a humble, respectful tone throughout. This makes it seem like the lessons are coming from a wise village elder rather than a stodgy industry expert.

Consider the case study of Al Gore in slide:ology. Although Duarte Design worked intimately with Gore on An Inconvenient Truth, Nancy takes no credit for this in the book. Instead, she hands all the praise to the former U.S. Vice President.

Al Gore has done more than any other individual to legitimize multimedia presentations as one of the most compelling communication vehicles on the planet.

Key Lesson: Making yourself the hero of your stories rarely works.

3. Generosity

Some books written by industry rock stars are filled with empty pages which ultimately amounts to “If you want to do X, hire an industry rock star.” This is not the case with slide:ology. Duarte reveals plenty of insider information in this book. And the giving doesn’t end there. Throughout the book, [www] icons refer the reader to extended multimedia content available online.

Key Lesson: Understand that every member of your audience wants to know what’s in it for them. It’s not about you.

4. Honesty

Walk the aisles in the technical books section of your local bookstore, and you’ll find dozens of titles making outrageous claims such as Teach Yourself X in 24 Hours.

Duarte is honest in pointing out the effort required for superior presentations. (36-90 hours to create a 30-slide one-hour presentation) There’s no smoke and mirrors here.

Key Lesson: Be authentic with your audience first, and tell them what they need to know.

5. Personal Connection

I’ve haven’t met Nancy Duarte yet (unless you count email), but reading this book makes me feel like I have. She shares intimate stories about her family and her psyche.

  • The foreword is written by her husband, and features a mock presentation from her daughter.
  • Page 44 tells the story of a day spent on her office floor categorizing diagrams, complete with a photograph from her youth which illustrates this personality trait.
  • Page 84 discusses how she sought out her life mission.

Key Lesson: The best presentations (and books) make a personal connection.

6. Beauty

Every two-page spread in the entire book except the first (Introduction) and the last (A Call to Relate) has a visual element complementing the text. Whether a photograph, a drawing, a table, or an example slide, every design element in the book must have been labored over for hours or days. The design quality reflects the expertise of the entire Duarte Design team, but the decision to pour this quality effort into the book is key.

Key Lesson: Pay attention to the details. They matter.

7. Fun

What else can you say about a book which features:

  • A quote comparing Tolstoy’s War and Peace to Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
  • Pie graphs made with real slices of pie!
  • A photo of Salvador Dali sketching in his bathtub

Key Lesson: People learn better when they are having fun. Make them smile.

How could it be better?

There are three things I’d like to see done differently in slide:ology.

1. Follow a Single Example Presentation from Concept to Completion

From chapter to chapter, Duarte covers the full lifecycle of a presentation from concept generation, through sketches on Post-It notes, to slide design, and on to delivery. Examples abound for each of these individual steps.

I’d like to see one example to which the entire slide:ology methodology would be applied. Start by setting the context, and then show the steps to the final presentation. This might add significant length, so perhaps that explains the absence. Maybe the platform for this extended case study could be a companion e-book downloadable on demand. Whatever the format, I’d like to see it.

2. More Flexibility in the Two-page Spread Format

Earlier in this review, I praised the visual elements present on nearly every two-page spread, and I was sincere. I love this style. It reminds me of the STOP method for document creation which is common for proposals and reports.

However, the challenge with this format is that every concept you want to cover needs to be massaged into two-page spreads. Continuity can suffer. I would like to see a little more in the way of chapter introductions and summaries, even if they spill onto three or four pages. Metaphorically, I’d like to zoom out once in a while and reset the big picture. (Something that’s good to do in a long presentation too.)

3. More Comprehensive Table of Contents

With only chapter titles given, it isn’t as easy as I’d like to jump back to a specific topic. Sure, the index is there, but that doesn’t help me if I’m looking for a case study, but don’t remember the organization profiled. This is a pretty minor thing, but I plan to reference slide:ology often; better navigation would help me find the topic I need sooner.


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What Other Presentation Experts are Saying About slide:ology

Andrew Abela — The Extreme Presentation Method:

It’s a beautiful and useful book.  I recommend it highly.

Richard Bretschneider — Presentations Roundtable:

I know I’ve said this before, but this is a book you need.

Garr Reynolds — Presentation Zen:

My favorite presentation book of all time.

This is high praise, considering that Garr authored his own bestseller earlier this year. [Garr’s Presentation Zen is reviewed here.]

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte Andrew Dlugan 5 August 27, 2008 The book on effective visual presentations from the expert whose design firm created the graphics for Al Gore's Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth.

This article is one of a series of public speaking book reviews featured on Six Minutes.
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