Aug 22, 2009

How to make your content exciting and understandable?

SlideShare is an excellent resource if you are interested in becoming a better presenter. By signing up for free, you can upload and share presentations. More importantly, you can view hundreds of presentations which get uploaded everyday. While most of them are mundane, some are really excellent. You can learn a lot from them.

I stumbled upon one such presentation from Dan Roam yesterday. He has entered it as a part of the World's Best Presentation Contest which SlideShare is running currently. Here is the presentation. Though slightly long it is worth a watch for its unique design. Even if the content does not interest you, watch it to know how content can be made exciting by taking a different creative route altogether.
This presentation might or might not win. Does not matter. I want you to see it because it is innovative. As presenters, our biggest challenge is to find new and unique ways to present information which is easy to comprehend.

Dan's presentation is interesting because of three things:

1. Unique Platform
It breaks all notions of templates. Notice that there is no template at all.
Its absence is never felt. The presentation does not need it. It has come out in a fresh new format.

Lesson for Presenters: Experiment. Be willing to break some rules. Challenge the status quo and create something unique. The next presentation you make, try breaking 1 rule of making presentations (rule which everyone follows blindly).

2. Highly Visual Representation

The most conspicuous thing about this presentation is its visuals. The sketched people, the balance swinging in someone's favor, the arrows. Information presented has been explained only through visuals. The standard way of presenting this would have been to write everything on the slide and add a few images on the space which gets left. Dan Roam has not used images to garnish his slide. For him his visual is the main course.

Lesson for Presenters:
Stop treating visuals as a filler. Something with which you fill leftover space. Something which you search at the last minute to 'jazz up' the presentation. At times you can use only visuals to convey the message. For your next presentation try this out. Take 1 slide full of text and replace it with a sketch. You can draw a rough one on MS Paint and add to the slide. You don't need to be a Picasso to draw images like the one's in Dan's presentation.

3. Design with a Purpose

This presentation is effective because it has been designed to succeed. Every presentation has three parts; Content, Design and Delivery. Presentation Design does not mean decorating a slide and making it look better. Design is not done to impress but to elucidate.

The reason this presentation has been made so visual is that it aids understanding. If you look closely you will find that the presentation has a color scheme. The doctor is always in red (his visual and his text). The Insurance guy in blue. 'Me' is always in black and so on.

The faces also have expressions which convey the meaning much better than text can ever do. An angry doctor on Slide 7 and a smiling one on Slide 8 is so easy to comprehend.

Lesson for Presenters:
Look at the challenges facing Dan Roam. A complicated content and a very long presentation. Making you sit through 51 slides and still ensuring you understand him is not an easy job. His intentional (and effective) use of visuals paves way for easy understanding.

When you create a presentation, there are many questions which needs to be answered. One of which is "How do I wish to convey the message to my audience?" If you spend some time thinking about it, you can come up with new ways to present. Dan Roam chose sketches, you can use self taken images or videos shot from your digi-cam specifically for the presentation. You can show videos of customers interviewed instead of just writing what they said. The options are limitless. You will never get these ideas if you ignore the question.

"How do I wish to convey the message to my audience? Do I use the old methods or try something new?"


  1. Thanks for the lovely post Vivek. If you liked this presentation (which BTW has become the most viewed presentation on Slideshare this week since there is so much debate in the USA right now on health care) you might enjoy my book.

    That's right, I wrote a book about my visual approach. It is called "The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures". It has become a bestseller around the world: #5 business book on Amazon for 2008 and now available in 19 languages.

    Check it out:

    - Dan Roam

  2. Thanks for showing this presentation. It combines the authenticity and immediacy of scribbling and the reach of being posted online. Of course, it's also fun and informative!

  3. @djroam: Hi Dan, I have read about your book and have seen your site as well. Quite interesting. Looking forward to reading it sometime soon. And yes, thanks for visiting my blog.

    @Ellen: You have pointed out an important aspect. This presentation is meant to be read and Dan is not there to present and explain. Hence, it become very important to be understood without being boring.