No more Powerpoint! Visualize!!

Pitching

In today’s world, we’ve got lots of information to give our audience… whether it’s in school, business, science, or a crisis. But with so much information and only so little time to talk, how can we transmit this wealth of data to our audience? Can we do it better? Faster? And another question that you might not think of: Can we make our information pretty?? More easy on the eye?

On Wednesday I went to see the world’s foremost expert on visualizing data. His name is Edward Tufte, he teaches at Yale, and he’s one of the best known statistical experts on the planet. Some might even say that he’s one of the most socially intelligent people on the planet. He is an incredible teacher who has been contracted to teach audiences complex ideas, design instructional content, and create beautiful infographics.

Tufte’s seminar was six hours long. If there’s one point that I would take away from the talk, it was the need to give as much information to your audience with the highest resolution in the most efficient manner possible. In other words, ditch the powerpoint. (yes, even the CEO of Microsoft thinks the format has already become archaic)

Simple instructions and data should be exactly that… SIMPLE. For example, here’s a beautiful little graphic that shows a baseball player how to pitch! They use words and sentences instead of bullet points (contrasting with powerpoint).

The eye is naturally drawn to the top left of a page. It usually scans downward first, then to the right of the page. Websites are designed this way, tables of contents are designed this way, and you should design your graphics to do this, too.

Tufte constantly came back to great webpages that have so much accessible content in such a small space… for example, Google News, National Weather Service, and even ESPN.com’s recap of games like the SuperBowl and World Series and how baseball box scores may be one of the greatest data tables ever created. Click on those pages and take a look at the huge amount of data that comfortably hits your eyes. It’s like they’ve predicted every question you could have thought of.

Have a talk to give to an audience? When you have a powerpoint, some people in the room may really care about what’s on slide 7, and others may be looking forward to slide 21. How long are you going to make them wait to get to that information?

Here’s Tufte’s suggestion:

  1. Design a FLAT surface (not a decked, hierarchical one like powerpoint) and put all of the information for your powerpoint on that piece of paper with nice, informative, simple graphics… feature the graphs and images that are important and use SENTENCES to describe them, NOT Bullet points.
  2. Print a copy of that piece of paper for everyone in your audience. When your presentation begins, give them that piece of large paper so that THEY CAN CHOOSE what they think is the most important, interesting part of your presentation. Give them about 8 minutes to read through your work.
  3. Now take the two or three most important things that YOU want to display and describe and put those on the screen in your powerpoint format. Take 5-10 minutes to discuss this content.
  4. End early and let your audience ask you questions. Now you can refer to the paper or your small number of slides so that you’re not going all the way back to the beginning of your powerpoint, then back to the end, that 20 slides before, then 5 slides later… etc.

Your audience will be impressed with all the information you gave, in half the time it usually takes to give that information. Every single one of us can read faster than the time it takes for your powerpoint presentation to give us the same information. Give it a try.

His four books are visually incredible. They include discussions of the drawings of Galileo & Da Vinci, tips and tricks for displaying more than 5 variables simultaneously, and even ways to efficiently display modern financial instruments and currency trading charts.

Latest Tweet: @craig_kulcsar @DeyoLb @primalpoly No... the question was about PhDs, not degrees in general. HUGE difference.