Review – Slide:ology: The art and science of creating great presentations

Every so often, I post a short book review on my linkedin profile on some good books that I’ve come across. The last review was actually quite a while back, then work took over and I went on book review-hiatus for a while. Most recently, however, I did manage to read Slide:ology. As a book espousing good design and placement of elements, this book is superb. However, I feel that this should primarily be a book geared towards business executives and on this count, Slide:ology fails terribly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen way too many budding presenters deliver monologues during my school days, and read off slides with entire paragraphs of text. It’s gotten to the point where I truly believe that Powerpoint presentation skills should be mandatory teaching for high school students, because I’m seeing my peers transition to varsity and beyond, carrying with them this instrument of death – death by absolute boredom. Good presentation should be sparse with words and speaker-centric, not slide-centric. A little know-how in design is an added bonus, so what could go wrong with this book?

As it turns out, plenty. Slide:ology starts out fine, pointing out all these annoying things that drive people to sleep, such as squeezing too many words (we can read the text faster than the speaker than cover them), too many bullet points and poorly designed slide layouts that eats away useful space by cluttering it with nondescript images. Their images of good presentation and how data should be presented looked quite impressive, so I was looking forward to how to actually create graphics (or at least, where to get them). Instead, I had a long treatise ahead on such matters as sketching fanciful diagrams and turning them into beautiful CG(without explaining how), sourcing for royalty-free images (which you have to pay a premium for) and the theory of typography, kerning and all.

There is a fundamental disconnect between its goals and our objectives. Sure, we could use a bit more time to plan, and ruminate on where to place a certain image, but we’re executives. We have a high-powered presentation to deliver to senior management with the attention span of a hyperactive 10-year old (except with Blackberries) and short on time, but it doesn’t mean we have all the time in the world either to beautifully kern the font and select the correct one just so your designer eyes are not stabbed by a apostrophe that doesn’t curve the right way. There is very little consideration to the fact that we’re all under tight budgets – allocating resources for yearly subscription to iStock photos is probably the last thing on finance’s budget, if it ever made it there in the first place.

That said, all is not lost with the book. It would make for a good coffee table book where we can refer to on a leisure sunday afternoon, when we are hopefully not rushing to create the next powerpoint in an hour, in time for the management meeting the next morning. The graphics are nice, for sure, and possibly even inspirational in helping you think about how to think of the slide as a 3-dimensional plane and place elements in creative ways or selecting a good background etc. But that’s only if you’ve had the misfortune to spend your hard-earned dollars on the book in the first place

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