Tag Archives: presentations

The Science Behind Good Presentations

We know that cluttered present­a­tions and those with para­graphs of text per slide aren’t good and that the 10/20/30 rule is a guideline gen­er­ally worth adher­ing to, but why? Could there be a sci­entif­ic basis for why some present­a­tions are bet­ter than oth­ers?

Chris Ather­ton, an applied cog­nit­ive psy­cho­lo­gist at the UK’s Uni­ver­sity of Cent­ral Lan­cashire, stud­ied the influ­ence of dif­fer­ent present­a­tion styles on learn­ing and reten­tion by con­duct­ing the fol­low­ing exper­i­ment:

Stu­dents were ran­domly assigned to two groups. One group atten­ded a present­a­tion with tra­di­tion­al bul­let-point slides (with the occa­sion­al dia­gram) and the second group atten­ded a present­a­tion with what Chris calls “sparse slides”, which con­tained the same dia­grams, but min­im­ized the amount of text, and broke up the inform­a­tion over sev­er­al dif­fer­ent slides. Both present­a­tions were accom­pan­ied by the same spoken nar­rat­ive.

When both groups were later tested on the present­a­tion’s themes, it was the group shown the sparse slides that per­formed “much bet­ter”. Ather­ton sug­gests that well-designed present­a­tions are super­i­or teach­ing tools and improve recall and learn­ing for a num­ber of reas­ons:

  • The lim­it­a­tions of work­ing memory: even the stu­dents who did well in recall­ing themes, remembered only 6–7 themes out of a pos­sible 30.
  • The visu­al and aud­it­ory cor­texes are not being used as effect­ively as they could: the cluttered slides over­load the aud­it­ory cor­tex as it is used for writ­ten and spoken lan­guage pro­cessing.
  • Extraneous cog­nit­ive load is min­im­ised: the sparse slides may min­im­ise extraneous cog­nit­ive load by cre­at­ing few­er com­pet­ing demands on atten­tion
  • Bet­ter encod­ing of inform­a­tion (into memory): hav­ing to work a little bit harder to integ­rate the speak­er­’s nar­rat­ive with the pic­tures might actu­ally improve our stor­age of the inform­a­tion (up to a point).

via @finiteattention

Steve Jobs and Circular Visualisations (Not Just Pie Charts)

Pie charts have been hav­ing a bad time of it lately* and I can­’t see things improv­ing any­time soon.

In one of the bet­ter art­icles look­ing at this humble chart, Bri­an Suda notes not only at what you can do instead, but what improve­ments you can make if you’re forced to use the pie chart.

The ori­gin­al idea behind a pie chart is that it rep­res­ents parts of a whole, each sliv­er or wedge is a sec­tion, when totaled gives you the over­all pic­ture. Over the years pie charts have morph­ed purely into eye-candy, exem­pli­fied by their sis­ter graph the dough­nut chart, which offers zero addi­tion­al inform­a­tion.

If we look at a few examples, you will quickly see the fail­ings in the cir­cu­lar design along with how easy it can be used to mis­rep­res­ent data.

One such example of how a pie chart can be used to mis­rep­res­ent data was Steve Jobs’ key­note at Mac­world 2008–as dis­cussed in Suda’s art­icle and over at The Guard­i­an.

* Seth God­in called pie charts “spec­tac­u­larly over­rated” and Seed said we need to “get past the pie chart”.

TED Speaking Guide

Now that TEDG­lob­al 2009 has drawn to a close and the videos are slowly mak­ing their way online, the latest Nature has an edit­or­i­al on the TED phe­nomen­on, sug­gest­ing that “those wish­ing to reveal sci­entif­ic ideas should learn from the enga­ging style of TED con­fer­ence talks”.

TED suc­ceeds in part because par­ti­cipants are encour­aged to talk about the unex­pec­ted. […] But per­haps the most crit­ic­al key to suc­cess is the style of the talks. […]

The talks have a strict time lim­it of 18 minutes — no inter­ac­tion with the audi­ence, and no ques­tions except the inform­al ones asked in the exten­ded con­ver­sa­tion breaks. […] For a gen­er­al audi­ence, 18 minutes is plenty for get­ting across con­text and key issues, while still for­cing each speak­er to focus on a mes­sage — wheth­er it be advocacy or the cel­eb­ra­tion of new know­ledge.

There is also a wel­come absence of Power­Point present­a­tions. Instead there are plenty of images — but pre­cious few pro­fes­sion­al sci­entif­ic dia­grams, which can quickly lose the audi­ence’s atten­tion. This forces speak­ers to craft talks that can engage soph­ist­ic­ated but sci­en­tific­ally untutored listen­ers at their level. And it also encour­ages speak­ers to try for a freely flow­ing, relaxed present­a­tion style, without notes. […]

Sci­ent­ists wish­ing to inspire non-sci­ent­ists should look at a few of these talks online and learn a thing or two.

I would go one fur­ther: non-sci­ent­ists wish­ing to inspire oth­ers should look to TED to learn a thing or two.

Making Graphs That Work

Seth God­in offers some advice on cre­at­ing qual­ity, legible, graphs.  Short and sweet.

  • Don’t let pop­u­lar spread­sheets be in charge of the way you look.
  • Tell a story. The only 4 stor­ies per­miss­ible:
    • Things are going great, look!
    • Things are a dis­aster, help!
    • Noth­ing much is hap­pen­ing.
    • We need to work togeth­er to fig­ure out what the data means.
  • Fol­low some simple rules:
    • Time on the bot­tom, from left to right
    • Good res­ults go up on the Y axis.
    • Don’t con­nect unre­lated events.
    • Pie charts are spec­tac­u­larly over­rated.
  • Break some oth­er rules (but not too many)

Seth­’s writ­ten pre­vi­ously on this top­ic, spe­cific­ally to pro­claim the three laws of great graphs (one story, no bar charts, move­ment) and then later to defend his pos­i­tion on bar graphs and pie charts.

As Dan says, “It’s not exactly Tufte, but it cov­ers the basics”.

Presentation Masterclass

Life­Hack has just star­ted what I hope will become an inform­at­ive and use­ful series entitled Present­a­tion Mas­ter­class, cour­tesy of Row­an Man­a­han.

Audi­ences are so deluged with advert­ising mes­sages and radio jingles, with phone calls, voice­mail, email, SMS and IM, with… stuff in their per­son­al lives that unless you, the presenter, are wow­ing them with every word, you will lose their atten­tion in a mat­ter of seconds.

I am always striv­ing to improve my pub­lic speak­ing and my present­a­tion style, so this series is a wel­come addi­tion. I just hope it con­tin­ues to be as good as the intro­duct­ory art­icle.

As a start­ing point, I recom­mend some detox to clear your body and mind from a life­time of expos­ure to sucky present­a­tions. I strongly recom­mend that you expose your­self to some great presenters:

  • Check out Seth God­in, Tom Peters, Guy Kawa­saki, Steve Jobs, and Dick Hardt on You­Tube.
  • Have a look at some of the wiz­ards on TED.com – Rives, Hans Rosling, Barnett Thomas, Lawrence Lessig and Ken Robin­son all stand out, but there are reams more on this invalu­able resource.
  • Go over to Com­mon Craft and have a look at their ‘plain Eng­lish’ tutori­als on aspects of Web 2.0

The one com­mon theme that emerges from this tre­mend­ous diversity of presenters, top­ics and styles is RESPECT. By every word and deed, they demon­strate abso­lute respect for both their audi­ences and them­selves.