Best of aea365 week: John Nash on Creating Outstanding Presentation Slides

My name is John Nash, and I am an associate professor at Iowa State University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with a joint appointment in Human Computer Interaction. I’m also a program strategist, evaluator, and design geek.

2014 Update:  I am now an associate professor at the University of Kentucky in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies and director of  the dLab (

Today I’d like to share ways to improve slide presentations.

Hot Tip: Know Your Audience – This is an oft overlooked tip from Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology, a wonderful book on the art and science of creating great presentations. Duarte suggests seven questions to ask before developing any presentation:

  1. What are they like?
  2. Why are they here?
  3. What keeps them up at night?
  4. How can you solve their problem?
  5. What do you want them to do?
  6. How can you best reach them?
  7. How might they resist?

It’s easy to see how these questions would be important to answer in a business or sales presentation. However, amongst evaluators, they are often overlooked when designing a client briefing or conference presentation. I’m especially drawn to question 5, which reminds me that every presentation should be a call to action.

Hot Tip: Let Go of Text – Text can be a crutch for the time-pressed and insecure presenter. Duarte suggests three strategies to excising text as a crutch on your slides:

REDUCE: Practice presenting your slides a few times, then highlight one keyword per bullet point. Deliver your slides from only the keywords, using the rest as notes. Eventually, consider replacing the keyword with an image.

RECORD: Read your presentation out loud and record the audio. Play it back. Once you get over the horror of hearing your own voice, you’ll be able to concentrate on your content and not focus on the slides.

REPEAT: Practice, make note cards, draw a mind map, do anything that helps you visualize or create a cheat sheet. Then, look at your slides and delete as much as possible that’s covered already on your cheat sheet.

Rad Resources: If I could recommend only two books on presenting, they would be the aforementioned slide:ology and Gary Reynold’s Presentation Zen.

Hot Tip: Ignite! Ignite-style presentations are exactly five minutes long using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Using Ignite means delivering the most salient content, from a point of passion, while remaining story-focused (and thus, I argue, more audience focused). For example, watch Molly Wright Steenson’s presentation on the otherwise arcane topic of pneumatic tube networks. Did you adsorb more information than in any other five minutes of your day? Notice how she uses minimal text, good images, and a great story to grab your attention.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Best of aea365 week. The contributions all this week are reposts of great aea365 blogs from our earlier years. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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