February 21, 2009

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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