Protect your lists against gunk!

There is nothing wrong with using lists (with or without bullets), unless of course anything about the list is wrong, as is too often the case on presentation slides… and in commercial advertising. A bullet list at a Shell gas station in California exhibits everything that can go wrong.

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Don’t overdo it (no kidding?)

I have mixed feelings about this Microsoft SlideFest. Certainly, I salute any initiative that helps presenters create better slides; today’s average slideshow is so awful that every little tip helps. At the same time, I have my doubts about both the approach
adopted for the SlideFest and the examples of improved slides.

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Make room(s) for the speaker

As if giving an oral presentation was not challenging enough, speakers must face one additional obstacle: suboptimal rooms. Whether recent or older, in conference centers or on campuses, rooms are seldom designed or set up in a way that encourages
effective speaking.

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Wrong research, conducted in the wrong way

A short article from The Economist claims that “making something hard to read means it is more likely to be remembered”. Being someone who goes to great lengths to make every piece of text easy to read, I had reasons to be distressed. Alas, the only bad news to me was how the article exemplifies yet again all that is wrong with empirical research into learning and communication.

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You must use the table microphone

Pictures can have literal, metaphorical, or conventional meaning. This picture, taken in a light-rail station in Seattle, exemplifies some of the issues with a picture’s “literalness” (or lack thereof). Must I interpret it as meaning “you must use the table microphone”?

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Warning: watch for warning signs ahead

Santiago de Chile’s Metro gets a little more crowded every year, not just with the many travelers converging on it as a result of the Transantiago grand plan, but also with warning messages. Are warning signs necessary? If so, are they reaching their purpose? Too often, I feel the warnings are not there to protect the users from physical harm but to protect the companies from litigation.

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Eye-popping bubbles

Representing quantitative information meaningfully raises two fundamental questions: how are the data encoded visually, and how is this encoding perceived—quantitatively, that is—by the audience? As a rule, encoding a quantitative variable by the size of a circle is ineffective, for at least two reasons.

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We have met the enemy, or have we?

Several participants of past workshops on oral presentations pointed me to an April 26 article from the New York Times, boldly titled “We have met the enemy and he is PowerPoint.” The article does trigger two observations in my mind.

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Lies, damned lies, and visual lies

In Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, I recently spotted yet another perfect example of a visual lie, in an ad for United’s Economy Plus. The illustration represents as 45% an actual difference of 15% only—a threefold exaggeration.

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Don’t guess; ask

Don’t you hate it when software applications pretend to read your mind and to know what it is that you want to do next—especially when they get it wrong?

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