Sept. 11: Visual Presentations

Displaying information visually is required in almost all of our professional communications. From PowerPoint presentations to technical reports to brochures to resumes, we often use visual tools to represent ourselves and our work.

This week, we will explore three facets of visual communications. First, we will consider basic design principles for documents. Second, we will learn how to avoid “Death by PowerPoint”. Finally, we will explore ways of displaying data visually so as to draw your audience’s attention to the main point or “take away” from the information.

Let’s start with basic design principles. I recommend that you purchase Robin Williams’ The Non-Designers Design Book. (A used 2nd edition costs around $5 and is worth the investment!).

Design principles also apply to PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote and other visual presentation tools. Many tips for using these tools involve what not to do. Take “Death by PowerPoint” as an example. This comedy routine went viral in 2008 and was updated in 2010 – you’ll recognize many of the faux pas. But don’t think Prezi is the answer (it can lead to “Death by Prezi“). However, there are some clear rules for creating a compelling presentation too. Check out this short video for a great set of tips. The NSOE Communications Studio has collated some useful resources from around Duke as well.

As an environmental professional, you will likely be presenting the results of studies or arguing for a particular policy or pitching a new business idea, in addition to many other presentations. Many of these will require you to show… data. Lists of numbers, pie charts, complicated scatterplots – you may be tempted to use all of them. But, how do we visually present data so that our audience can interpret it easily?

A Duke alum, Mike Dickson, has put together a great set of info graphics, including some “Before and Afters” that you may find interesting.

Hans Rosling is a guru of gap minder and has great tips for visualizing data.

For a succinct overview of how to present data, read over these tips from Chad Orzel from the Union College. And, if you start to get discouraged about science communication, read over this lively blog post from Presentation Zen (this is a great blog for professional presentation tips).

There are many other resources available to help you create visually appealing and effective presentations. Our Tarheel neighbors have a great list of links that are updated regularly, including links for how to create an effective poster.

Now that we’ve explored some of the do’s and don’t’s of visual communications, let’s put our skills to work:

Find a graphic (e.g., table, chart, bar graph, scatterplot, etc.) and give it a “makeover”. You can use any program you’d like to make your new graphic. Then, create a 3 slide PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi presentation. After your title page, use the old graphic and new graphic to show the “before” and “after”. You will give this presentation to a group of your peers, who may not know anything about the information you are presenting. You will have 5 minutes to present during class on Friday, September 11 and should upload your presentation as a pdf (or link if it’s a Prezi) by class time on 9/11 to Sakai (link under “Assignments”). Your team will provide feedback on your presentation and suggest other ways, if applicable, of presenting the same information to other audiences.




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