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To succeed as a presenter, you must think like a designer.

January 28, 2011

(The title is a quote from Duarte’s book, Slide:ology)

Picture of stylized brain with wheels and gears, thinking analogy.Recently I was working on a presentation with another person in my office and I asked him what he was thinking for the design of the presentation. A puzzled look flashed across his face for a moment and he started telling me what he wanted on the slides.

It hit me that he didn’t see how ‘design’ and ‘presentation’ went together—for slides, yes, but for the whole presentation?  I could identify with that–not that long ago I wouldn’t have thought of it that way either. For me, changing that just might be the most important step I’ve taken for doing better presentations.

When you think about a presentation, does the word design leap to mind?

If you’re like I was, then probably not. But I’m now convinced it should.  If we start with the dictionary and look up design, you’ll find the word purpose used in the definitions several times and I think that’s key. Part of what I found in Webster’s:

Design, verb, to create according to a plan; to create a device or other tangible product for a specific purpose.

I also like Nancy Duarte’s definition in Slide:ology, too:

Design at its core is about solving problems… [and] to help people do so in the most  convenient, simple and elegant way.

Combine those and I think it’s pretty clear that a presentation is something that can and should be designed:  created according to a plan, for the purpose of helping people solve a problem.

I also love the fact that Duarte uses the word ‘simple’ as a way to measure the quality or effectiveness of the design. That idea of simple, elegant design has made Apple™ a lot of money via its products. Indeed, iPods™ are often the kind of thing we associate with design. Yet, David Kelley, one of the founders of IDEO and a professor at the Stanford design school, has made the observation that “everything is designed.”

So, yes, the principles of design and design thinking very much apply to doing presentations.

Seeing your presentation as more than the slides, an experience that you design for a purpose and a group of people—that’s a good start to a presentation with impact.


For more on this topic see my book list, especially Reynolds’ presentationZenDesign.
Other, online resources include: Garr Reynolds’ Why Design and Duarte’s blog.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2011 08:16

    you can probably hear my Amen from here! I’ve been training my clients for years not to *write* their presentation, but to *design* them. An opera isn’t written, it’s designed… and play isn’t written…. you get the idea.. 🙂

    • January 30, 2011 15:26

      Simon — Loud and clear! 🙂 Thanks for the comment and I love that analogy. Truthfully, that’s not how I thought about it–but thanks to folks like Garr and Nancy–‘I have seen the light.’ It’s a mindset change that influences everything else.

  2. January 30, 2011 15:28

    Thanks for the comment here, too!


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