Inspiration and story: living the message (redux)
Simple & Visual: Using paper and digital video to bring clarity to complexity

The Story of Stuff (and the stuff of story)

217x188_sos_banner005Here is a good example of a passionate presenter giving a fast-paced overview of an important topic that is greatly enhanced with the integration of simple visuals in harmony with the narration. The visuals are a wonderful example of "amplification through simplification." This 20-minute talk by Annie Leonard, an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, is informative and provocative. Her style is informal and casual, but also passionate, and with just a touch of urgency in her voice. The aim of the presentation (from the website) is to "...expose the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues and call for all of us to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something. It'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever." The presentation is illuminating, and it raises as many questions as it answers. Therefore, this is also a good example of a tight, well-structured presentation that would greatly benefit in a live setting from a lengthy discussion session after the 20-minute opening so that both the presenter and audience can go deeper.


The Story of Stuff website is very well done. The presentation does raise questions so they have made it possible to explore and go a little deeper. For example, if you mouse over the images above Annie's head, you'll see that there are links to more info in each of the five categories she touches upon: Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption, and Disposal.

You may have issues concerning some of the specifics of the content, but I think she does a great job of telling the story of the problem as she sees it. The visuals in this case are not something "over there" off to the side. Here the presenter and the simple visuals work in harmony and are integrated to form a compelling and engaging narrative. Something similar can indeed be done in a live talk with PowerPoint or Keynote.

For the best viewing, watch the Flash version at the top of The Story of Stuff homepage. Parts of the presentation are on YouTube. (Below is a short clip of one of my favorite parts of her talk.)

Take some time and explore the site. You can download a QT version and Flash version of the presentation here.

H/T Mauricio


Michael Sporer

Very compelling! The visuals tie in perfectly...


I love how they keep zooming out to this "big picture overview" whenever they finish a point. Works very well, even though I don't agree on all of her points.

Wish all good causes were communicating like this - it sure would "help the help"..


Thanks Garr. I did enjoy the presentation and it was engaging. I loved the different approach to the typical "template" that has been used for years.


Very simple and hits the point home. I will share this with my friends and family. Thanks Garr

Charles Martineau

Excellent! It gave me ideas for a futur presentation. It was my first time to hear from this person...very compelling.

Don Campbell

I really enjoyed this one. Another compelling presentation style, and great analysis - thanks Garr.

Jason Yip

Uncomfortable with this one because her approach to making her case is overwhelming the cleverness of the presentation technique for me.

the Weir

Hey Garr, this is a great example of interaction between presenter and their visuals. Good to share with a wider audience.

Interestingly the story is compelling enough to keep you with it, however as previous people have pointed out it's maybe not as balanced as it could be!


At 6:20 she wants us to believe that the most toxic thing in the world is breast milk ! .. and in (literally) the next breath says (in an unspoken craven fashion) that it's "still the best thing to give your kids, so don't stop breast feeding" ... WTF ?

I value the reference to this clip as a good, fresh example of how to present online ... and a new take on flash/green-screen/animation presentations.

However, as much as I agree with the overall tone of the presentation (raping and pillaging of the 3rd world to support our first world past sins) the extent to which logic and reality go out the window, undercuts the important message.

My lesson from this clip ?

Credibility is crucial. Don't pi$$ it away with hyperbole.

This presentation could have been well served by widespread peer review before posting.

- D

the Weir

So that's weird.

Someone has hijacked my comment - the previous words were not mine....


And your comments show up my name ! A little server weirdness there .... for the record, the comments on peer review are mine. - Dean


OK, now I see ... the keyline under the comments and the name that follows are for the preceding post above. Very poor and confusing layout ... how ironic ! ;-)

- D

Jay Ehret

The presentation is excellent and the style is admirable. However, the viewer is drawn in to the presentation by misrepresentation.

This is a political presentation dressed up to look like a business/economics presentation.

When will presenters have to start backing up their claims with sources? Also, I'd like to know which organization funded Annie's 10 years of traveling and studying. It can be found no where on the site.


an exellent example of style over substance. Almost every point is factually wrong.

Rather typical of the green movement. Lots of hype, very little accuracy, and ultimatly undermining an extremly important issue.

Andy Hengst

The website does contain an annotated script with references, in the Resources section. (I'd like to see more of that on the web in general). That helps support the facts being presented.

The one I questioned on the first pass was "99% of stuff (material) becomes trash in 6 months", but I was ignoring packaging, newpaper, food, upstream waste... so it's plausible. To add emphasis: "...20 tons of mine waste created to make one gold wedding ring...". Yikes!
As participants in a resource-hungry system this is the quantity that matters, not just how much we bring into our homes.

The answer to the question about 10 years of travel is in there too.



I love both the treadmill and the golden arrow - very powerful. My concern is that the over politicized nature of the presentation is more polarizing than is neccessary or perhaps even ultimately effective.

Padded nursing bras

This is really very interesting, i quite liked reading it, keep posting like this, will be back for more.

nursing specialties

The one I questioned on the first pass was "99% of stuff (material) becomes trash in 6 months", but I was ignoring packaging, newpaper, food, upstream waste...

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)