on presentations…

This graphic on the US trade surplus/deficits at Visual Ephiphanies is quite cool. I love how large a amount of data is captured in a single image.

It reminded me of the bane of our work here– ineffective presentations (…of which I’m guilty of occasionally as well!). Speakers’ points are buried so deep in useless images, graphics and meandering bullet points that oftentimes at the end victi– err, participants— spend the precious little time allotted to questions trying to hash out exactly what the point is rather than actually brainstorming solutions. Imagine our conferences with back-to-back powerpoint presentations and simultaneous translations to French and English…

The above statistician is an advocate for effective data visualisation, much like Edward Tufte. I was introduced to the Tufte principles for data visualisation a couple of years ago (by Leslie? Bill?). He’s a passionate champion for good information design for practical, actionable presentations. One of his more famous examples is the Shuttle Columbia disaster, where crucial information was presented ineffectually, leading to a disastrous management decision.

Barring needing to graphically depict large amounts of data competently, his tips are useful at any level of data / message complexity, even for tech-unsavvy folks like me! Here are at least some key points I try to stick with for simplifying presentations for effectiveness:
* Frame your presentations: What’s the problem; who cares; and what’s your proposed solution
* When presenting, show up early and finish early
* Don’t use bulletpoints (though I must disagree with this for some of the less-sophisticated audience here)
* 1+1=3… Two elements in close proximity can create a third “ghost image” from the negative space between the two elements
* Put your name on things — it shows you care about the content and take responsibility for its validity
* “It’s better to be approximately right than exactly wrong”
* The resolution of good old paper is higher than the most advanced computer monitors
* Never harm the content — the design should be based on the content, not the other way around
* If a chart, table or object needs a label, do it inline — don’t use legends/keys that require “back-and-forths”
* Don’t use footnotes, use sidenotes — they’ll be closer to the content you’re referencing
* Reduce clutter by clarifying the design and then adding information
* The power of the Smallest Effective Difference — make all visual distinctions as subtle as possible, but still clear and effective
* Good design is clear thinking made visible, bad design is stupidity made visible

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