One idea to make slides better
"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" (No. 63)
This week’s toy: a webcam that turns the input of your camera into checkboxes. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our virtual presence more lifelike - this is a way to make it more fun (Max Headroom filter, anyone?). Edition No. 63 of this newsletter is here - it’s October 11, 2021.
The Big Idea
Recently, an image about data went viral on Linkedin. This grouping of LEGOs, organized by Mónica Rosales Ascencio, uses these colorful bricks to remind us that data itself is not all that useful until we explain it.
That Lego meme has been going around as a way to explain why data or story alone do not tell a good data-driven story. Here’s another version from Reddit that reminds us that the story itself needs to have a hook or a reason for the reader to believe to make it meaningful.
Designing your story so that it conveys a “why” is even more important than writing the story. Who’s the intended audience? What do they want to learn? Why should they be paying attention to what you have to offer?
Where is this evident almost every day? In slides, visuals, decks, presentations, and whatever we call them these days.
What you want to do in slides
In slides that you are building to share ideas, have one idea per slide. Really. That it’s it. Everything should flow from the idea and be immediately obvious to the person you’re asking to review it.
One way to do this is to have a single thought accompanied by a beautiful image. Yes, a great image is worth a thousand words, partly because we process visual information so much faster than hearing or reading and translating words into feeling and action.
For your next slide presentation, think very mechanically at first on every slide about the following:
What’s the point of this slide (the one thing you need them to take away
What is your supporting evidence (yes, the #data.)
How are you illustrating that data to prove your point?
Now, think of a one line elevator pitch you would give if you were in the room with someone reviewing your slide. That’s probably your title.
Next, think of any reasons the person reading the title of your slide might see something else on that slide and not feel the information is congruent. Fix those things.
Of course excellent grammar and consistent tone and voice are important. But also avoid font crimes (you only need one or two fonts and two or three point settings in most illustrations).
(A bonus pet peeve: align your objects. Left aligning, center aligning, horizontal or vertical - just make it all align to a grid. Future you will thank you.)
Need some great examples?
What you don’t want to do in slides
There are many negative examples of what not to do in Powerpoint. This is one of my favorites, exhibiting what Lincoln might have used to share the Gettysburg Address.
Here are a few rules to avoid in your slides.
Don’t tell everything in a single slide. Don’t provide endless detail in a slide. Don’t use a million fonts, colors, and sizes in a slide. Just the facts, presented in a clear and concise way, with one idea per slide.
Telling the story of your data
What’s the one thing you want someone to get from your slide? Does your data back that up and bolster it, while staying easy to understand?
Telling the story of your data is not always straightforward, even if the data seems like it makes sense to you at the time. Start with the idea, then point to the information.
If your data is contradictory, lead with questions that you want to resolve to move forward. Ultimately, the goal of using data in a story is to drive a decision.
What’s the takeaway? Stay simple when you make slides. Focus on one idea that you want to bring home, and align your data (or call out inconsistencies in your data) to bolster that idea.
A Thread from This Week
Twitter is an amazing source of long-form writing, and it’s easy to miss the threads people are talking about.
This week’s thread: on “getting it” as a product practitioner, not just being a product person.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ Slack time - No, not that kind of Slack. The process of building lists of interesting things to work on is a key component to making work better. If you work in an Agile motion, think of a “Slack list” as “the list of things we would work on if we had time to ponder possible solutions.” Too much time spent on things on a Slack list could be wasted, but spend no time on a list like this and you’ll end up with product that doesn’t consider edge cases, wacky solutions, and possible genius.
2/ Why aren’t we more productive? - Noah Smith dives in to why productivity has stagnated in the construction industry. One reason for this change is the change to both the cost and pace of the building. It’s more expensive and slower to get things, so it’s not surprising that the overall productivity level of housing has dipped. Add to this the fact that many workers left the industry after 2008 and you have multiple factors working against that commercial (or home improvement) project.
3/ How can we share insights better? - I love this graphic (below) on actionable analytics. We often stop at describing what and considering why before we get to understanding what will happen and how to nudge in that direction.
One thing this graphic doesn’t show is the likelihood of being able to make a predictive model. Comparing a small number of outliers doesn’t make a good predictive guess.
On the Reading/Watching List
Watching: If you’re in the mood for a fun musical, check out this version of Legally Blond. Great songs, cast, and story, and good fun.
Reading: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, a coming of age story featuring a spacefaring extraterrestrial hedgehog. I’m not really sure what to expect - this one just got me from the cover.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
I’m grateful you read this far. Thank you. If you found this useful, consider sharing with a friend.
Want more essays? Read on Data Operations or other writings at gregmeyer.com.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon