Simplicity is the elimination of the superfluous. The best speakers present key messages that are simple yet not watered down, trivialized, or compromised. Their speech and their visuals get to the essence of what's important. They know how to give proper scope and yet also are skilled at going in depth and still making it all make sense. This kind of quality is usually only the result of (1) a lot of experience presenting on the same topic or (2) with a great deal of rehearsing, critique, and editing.
Through practice and experience, we can get the essence of our talk down. Here, MIT Professor, John Maeda, recalls an example of how a great deal of experience and practice helped a lecturer perfect his presentation. Recalls Maeda, "Through focusing on the basics of basics, he was able to reduce everything that he knew to the essence of what he wished to convey. This brings me to the Ninth Law of simplicity:
"Simplification most commonly occurs through conscious reduction; the more uncommon form involves subconscious compression."
John Maeda, MIT
What can you do to consciously reduce the nonessential?
A few weeks ago I spoke for one of my favorite companies in Silicon Valley. One of the attendees, Deepak, wrote to me when I got back to Japan to share a story he heard while growing up in India. Here's what Deepak said:
When you talked about reducing the text on the slides, I was reminded of a story from my childhood in India. When Vijay opened his store he put up a sign that said "We Sell Fresh Fish Here." His father stopped by and said that the word "We" suggests an emphasis on the seller rather than the customer, and is really not needed. So the sign was changed to "Fresh Fish Sold Here." His brother came by and suggested that the word "here" could be done away with -- it was superfluous. doing?" Later, his neighbor stopped by to congratulate him. Then he mentioned that all passers-by could easily tell that the fish was really fresh. Mentioning the word fresh actually made it sound defensive as though there was room for doubt about the freshness. Now the sign just read: "FISH." As Vijay was walking back to his shop after a break he noticed that one could identify the fish from its smell from very far, at a distance from which one could barely read the sign. He knew there was no need for the word "FISH."
A presentation slide is different from a billboard or magazine ad (and very different from a document or website), but how can you apply the spirit of this story's message to the design of your visual messages?
A special thank you to Deepak for this great story. Does anyone know the origins of this tale?