Book review - "Resonate"

Anyone interested in presentation design will have heard about or bought Nancy Duarte's latest book: Resonate. I managed to read it over the weekend, here are my impressions.

While her previous book slide:ology was mostly about slide design, Resonate is about stories, stories that get your audience to change their perspective, and take action, do something, change something. It is actually the right order of learning how to become a good presentation designer: first acquire the skills to visualize a single concept in a chart, then focus on weaving those charts together to build a powerful story.

This is what I see happening around me. The current Slideshare presentation of the year competition shows that thousands of people have acquired the skill to make "stunning visuals" using images. But most story lines are still relatively simple: sequences of chars showing how big something is, or sequences of images that show emotions/feelings that we all recognize. Great movie directors or authors posses the art to take you along a more complex path  that will change you and the perspectives you have of the world. This is what Resonate is trying to get to.

Slide:ology is a reference book that I still use when designing slides, Resonate is different. It is a book with an idea, looking at the cover on the book shelf will remind you to check whether this is the best story line you could come up with

Large parts of the book are written using reverse engineering, analyzing great presentation and speeches and see why they had so much impact on their audiences. But on top of that, Nancy threw in her own presentation design experience, and embarked on a significant research effort in areas such as movie scrip writing and classic rhetoric. A few of the interesting points that were highlighted in the book (just random examples, not a MECE (what's this?) summary of the book's contents):
  • Humility. The presentation is not about you, but about the audience, and audiences do not connect with arrogant speakers. Nancy is giving the example herself throughout the book, it is written in a very personal, understated style, admitting some personal mistakes, all of this given her impressive background in presentation design.
  • Contrast keeps the audience interested: constantly move between the "what is now" to the "what could be". Change pace, change the type of slides, change, change, change to prevent boredom.
  • Add emotion to the cold facts. Go back into your own memory to find your own stories to add a personal touch to your presentation
  • Micro-segment the audience. Really understand who's in it. (I liked the observation that analytical audiences are suspicious).
Slide design you can learn/teach with a bunch of practical tricks to fix the basic mistakes. Story weaving is something different. Books such as Resonate remind us how important it is, and give use some idea where to get started, but story telling is impossible to "automate" using a prescribed process. It is an art.

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