Clear and to the Point (Stephen Kosslyn) Book Review

Clear and to the Point, by Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn, is one of the better books on how to use PowerPoint effectively. This is not water-cooler advice, or guidance on how to make pretty slides, but a smart book on what brain science says about how your audience’s mind works and what makes a slide effective.

Says Dr. Kosslyn, there are 8 principles to attend to when building PowerPoint slides:

1. Principle of Relevance. Slides should contain as much information as your audience needs, but not more.

2. Principle of Appropriate Knowledge. Speak to your audience’s level of knowledge, which means: avoid jargon, use the words your audience uses.

3. Principle of Salience. Attention goes toward the things with the greatest contrast. So big bold letters stand out well on a simple background, but less so on a background with distracting swirling lines.

4. Principle of Distinguishability. Items must have enough contrast, or they will not look different. So blue text next to greenish-blue text may not have enough contrast to stand apart from each other.

5. Principle of Perceptual Organization. This is a set of Gestalt principles which says the eye tries to “chunk” things into groups. For instance, four red circles in a straight line will be seen as one thing. If that’s not your goal, give each circle a different color.

6. Principle of Compatibility. We draw meaning from the form of things, so be careful you don’t choose images that convey the wrong meaning. For instance, don’t have text saying “Things are going great” in alarming red font color. Don’t use a 3-D pie chart because the slice tilted toward the audience will show the top as well as the side of the pie slice and look larger than the slices that only show the top.

7. Principle of Informative Changes. When we see something change, we expect it to mean something. So don’t use motion paths, animations or transitions just for novelty. It confused the audience.

8. Principle of Capacity Limitations. People have a limited capacity to search for and retain information. Complex slides that are poorly organized become such a chore that audiences simply give up trying to understand.

Although many of these principles appear straightforward, most PowerPoint slides could be improved if more people actually FOLLOWED these principles.

Clear and to the Point is not a breezy read; it’s definitely written for the serious student. For instance, some of these principles could have more playful names. But it’s wonderful foundational stuff and when you turn these principles into habits, your PowerPoints will be more effective.

Dr. Kosslyn’s book is one of the few that takes a scientific look at how to use PowerPoint effectively, rather than depending on rule-of-thumb advice or enthusiastic but baseless rhetoric. Other books that also look at PowerPoint with a scientific lens include my own (Speaking PowerPoint), Advanced Presentations by Design by Dr. Andrew Abela and (to a lesser extent) Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

The Visual Slide Revolution (Dave Paradi) Book Review

Dave Paradi’s book The Visual Slide Revolution is the first book I’ve seen that correctly diagnosed the business shift toward visual communications. Rather than focusing on design principles, Paradi goes directly to work telling business persons how to design slides that are clear and persuasive.

His KWICK method is easy to learn, practical enough to apply right away, and you’ll see instant results.

Key Point – every slide needs a key message. If you aren’t clear on your key message, it’s pretty sure your audience won’t be any clearer.

Words that Suggest the Visual – look for keywords in the slide headline that suggest what visual you should use. For instance, “increasing” suggests a line chart, “causes” suggests a cause-effect diagram.

In Context – consider your audience, their level of knowledge, and customize the slide to their level of knowledge.

Crystal Clear – double-check your slide for anything that’s not immediately clear. Use callouts (small boxes of text) as appropriate to clarify the slide’s message

Keep Focus – use visuals to support the slide’s message, not for decoration.

Paradi uses visuals extensively, showing before and after slides to bring the concepts to life. Visual Slide Revolution is a quick read, in part because each visual is worth a thousand words and in part because it isn’t full of extra pages that aft heft to the book but not useful content. I finished the book in about two hours and the message was 100% clear. We need more books like this.

You don’t have to be an artist to create slides the Visual Slide Revolution way. Paradi’s slides are not pretty, but they are clear, showing that even for the most left-brain artistically-challenged business person, you too can create clear PowerPoint slides.

My only criticism is the book is self-published and is not attractively formatted. That’s a shame because the humble appearance does not give this book the stage it deserves. But don’t let that fool you; Paradi has absolutely captured the key elements of clear PowerPoint slides. This deserves a spot on your bookshelf.

Also check out Paradi’s YouTube channel for a gold mine of before and after slide makeovers.

The Visual Slide Revolution is available on Amazon, and is also available at the author’s website. Highly recommended and an important foundation for all kinds of visual communications.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.