11 ways to use images poorly in slides

Slides As digital cameras have become ubiquitous, and cheap (or free) photo websites plentiful, more people than ever are using images in presentations. Images are not appropriate for every kind of talk, but even when images are appropriate (such as keynote/ballroom style presentations), people are still making the same common mistakes. So here are some things to keep in mind if you use images in your next talk. (Get a larger version of the "slides" image here.)

Case study: a single slide
Let's imagine you are preparing a presentation for a large audience on current issues in Japanese education. One issue facing schools and universities in Japan today is the decreasing number of potential students due to fewer children being born. So our sample slide touches on the low fertility rate in Japan in this context. You could either use a full-bleed image like the one on the left below or a smaller image of a photograph of a school yard in Japan as seen on the slide on the right below. If you chose the slide on the right you could also have a simple line chart fade in as you talk about the declining rate as a long-term trend.

Poorexample.005   Poorexample.017

The common mistakes
For our sample here we'll use the photo on the left above as a starting point. How many different ways could we use the same image (at different resolutions) inappropriately or use a different image in a way that is less effective than the one on the left?  Here are eleven common mistakes:

(1) Image is too small
You do not have to go full bleed with an image, but this particular image does not work at a such a small size (The slide is 800x600, this image is 183x152.)


(2) Image is placed randomly on slide
The image may be large enough now to be seen easily, but it's put willy-nilly on the slide. Usually this results in the text getting lost in the background (though in this case the text is still legible). Looks accidental.


(3) Image is almost full-screen but not quite
Again, nothing should look accidental. This looks like they were going for the full-bleed background image effect but just missed. Now the software background template can be seen just enough to become a bit of noise


(4) Image is of poor quality (pixelated)
This is all too common. This happens when you take a low-rez jpeg (from a website, for example) and stretch it out. Oh, the humanity!


(5) Image is of poor quality & contains watermark
Even worse is to take a free comp from a photo website and stretch it out. This introduces distracting visual noise (and says you are either cheap, lazy, or both). If you cannot afford images (or do not have a camera, etc.), then it's better to use none at all.


(6) Image is stretched horizontally & distorted
This is all too common. This occurs when people stretch out an image to make it "fit."


(7) Image is stretched vertically & distorted
This becomes a distraction and looks odd. Are young Japanese students really 8-feet tall these days?


(8) Presenter tiles image
Just because the software lets you tile an image, does not mean you should use this feature. Now the background image has too much salience (even if it did not have watermarks).


(9) Clip art is chosen
Avoid off-the-shelf clip art (though your own sketches & drawings can be a refreshing change if used consistently throughout the visuals).


(10) Image is lame & has nothing to do with content
Not sure what two guys shaking hands in front of a globe has to do with the fertility rate in Japan. Yet even if we were talking about "international partnership" the image is still a cliché.


(11) Background image has too much salience (text hard to see)
Sometimes the image is actually a pretty good one but it just needs a bit of editing so that the text will pop out more. The slide on the left below is not horrible but the balance is off and the text does not pop out as much as it could. For the slide on the right below, the image is cropped for better balance, giving more space for the text to breath (and a transparent box is added to help the text pop out a bit more, though there are other ways to do this).

Poorexample.018   Poorexample.019

Text & images
Text within images is but one way to use text/data and images harmoniously. As always, much depends on the topic and the context. Images can be very powerful and effective if used with careful intention. The question is not do you have too many? or too few? but rather what's your intention? You can give a good presentation without any images at all, but if you do use images in slides, try to keep these eleven tips in mind.

There are clearly more than eleven ways to use images inappropriately, what are some of the ones that you have observed over the years? Would love to hear your stories.

Update: Here are a few different (though similar) ways to use images in a slide featuring a quote on my personal blog.

Typography: Going back to the future

Type For the past twenty years or so many software companies have oversold "quick & easy" design, just as late-night TV informercials today oversell the idea of losing weight without having to workout or change your lifestyle. Why use your brain (or work hard)? — just follow our easy template for success, they say. Now, I am not suggesting that software templates are by their nature bad things. They can be very useful. But a template without knowledge and understanding can also be a dangerous thing. In the world of software apps such as presentation tools, we often rely too much on templates and shortcuts. Instead, we should spend more time in our professional development exploring and understanding deeply the art of design in all its myriad forms before we even turn on the computer. As technology gets more advanced and more complex, much of it actually gets easier to use, yet most of the discussion is still on tips and tricks of using the features of the tool itself.  What's needed — now more then ever — is better content creation, better stories, greater creativity, and the ability to think and apply a deeper knowledge of both the art and science of visual design.

Can we learn from the past?
Choosing_type Type is a wonderful thing. And while I don't recommend that we all become professional typographers, it is in our interest to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the rich art of typography. Printing with letterpress or movable type in the West goes back to at least the 1400s (the Chinese were doing it even before that with woodblock printing). The history is deep and wide, yet most people only have a cursory understanding of typefaces or fonts. It's possible to learn much about the power of typography with a computer and books—and most importantly—a good instructor. But can we benefit in the here and now by looking to the past and even using tools of the past to get a good grounding in design and type? If you could study type while learning to produce good work with a letterpress, would it make a difference? The video below called Typography School features veteran graphic design/typography and letterpress instructor David Dabner from the London College of Printing.

Slowing down and deleting the non-essential
Probably the greatest advantage to learning letterpress is simply that it forces you to slow down. When you slow down you can think. When you slow down, sometimes — not always, but often —you get smarter. Or as David Dabner said in the clip above:

"Computers make students sloppy. It makes for sloppy thinking. Good typographers can think. If you can't think you produce a lot of nonsense. Because in thinking you can delete the non-essential."

                                           —David Dabner

Type3This does not mean that computers necessarily make students sloppy — computers are just tools after all — but there is no denying that a PC with all it's great power can indeed make users sloppy if they have no clue about the rules and reasons of the art. It's fine to break rules — but first you must know the rules and the traditions and the conventions. A computer is wonderful, but as Dabner says, "It won't teach you to think." Dabner here says there is nothing wrong with the computer but that it's often better to go analog and just use a pencil and paper sometimes. "They stop actually using pencil and paper and they work directly on the computer," Dabner says,  "which in itself is OK, but I think the computer inhibits their ability to develop." Dabner likens applying the art of typography in today's world to playing jazz. That is: "You've got to learn the instrument first."

Using type today
Office_pc The tools of today are fantastic. No one is suggesting we abandon them and return to the past. But we need to learn from the past traditions and the proven rules of the art as well. And learning the art with the tools of the past, with all the constraints they impose, can be an enlightening, educational experience. Today, when people say "you have to know how to use the tool" too often they mean the features of the software. Using software features is important too, but these tools are ever-changing, ephemeral ones. What is much slower to change and far more grounded is the actual art itself. Here are a couple of good books to help you learn about type. These are not the only ones, but one of these will get you started.

More Typography
Here are a couple of short videos just for fun.



Helvetica (the film)

Bill Gates "rocks" CES

OK, this is getting weird. Two days in a row that I am praising a Bill Gates presentation. Yesterday his June Harvard speech, and now today his annual keynote presentation at CES. Bill Gates's various presentations over the years (those supported by a multimedia background or PowerPoint at least) have usually been pretty dull affairs, often including bouts of "death-by-PowerPoint" visuals. But today I thought I'd give Bill another shot, and I am happy to say that Bill did a very good job *and* his visuals augmented his spoken word well and were used quite smoothly. I also loved the way he used self-deprecating humor throughout the keynote. I won't long remember much of the content of his CES 08 keynote, but I will remember this important lesson by Bill Gates on leadership and communication: Take your message, your job, and your cause very seriously, but do not take yourself so seriously. I respect a leader tremendously who can laugh at himself (or herself).

One example of Bill poking fun at himself was this video below which was part of the keynote. It takes a confident leader to put himself in such ridiculous situations. My favorite part was Bill in the gym—hysterical!

Is it finally the end of "really bad PowerPoint"?
From what I could see, Bill Gates's final big CES keynote address did not have a single bullet point (gasp!) and he did a pretty good job of it. This was not Bill's final presentation to be sure, but let's hope in future that he continues to either present with no slides at all or with a screen that is more visual like the one he used at CES. No more excuses for us now: If Bill Gates says it's OK to present to an audience backed by an attractive display sans bullets, clutter, and bad clip art, then what is our excuse (except habit)? Even the demos by Bill's supporting cast were pretty good. The only real weak part was the ending; I thought Bill should have been the one to thank everyone and wrap it up on a high note. But all-n-all I'd say this was the best I have seen Bill perform with a remote control in his hand on stage. Watch the entire webcast on Microsoft's site.

Who are you and what have you done with Bill Gates?
Yes, they are different occasions, but Bill's presentation in 2005 introducing Live was a real bullet-point filled snooze fest. Quite a contrast in visuals too as this small sampling below illustrates. I like the 2008 version of "Bill Gates the presenter" a lot better.

2005 ("Live" unveiling)
Live1    Live2
2008 (CES keynote)
Ces1    Ces2

Below are a few more shots to give you a feel for the visuals backing Bill's talk.





Cool iStockphoto deal

While I was in Tokyo, I spent Tuesday morning at Getty Images Japan to meet again with a few of the iStockphoto exces who were in town. We went out for lunch with the president of Getty Images to a funky restaurant near Harajuku and heard interesting stories about the history of stock photography in Japan, etc. I learned a lot. Really great people at Getty Images.

Istock_000003214434medium Before I began working on the book, I was looking for a simple way to add more value to it. I hoped that the ideas in the book would be useful to people, but I still wanted to find a way to "give something away" with each book. I approached iStock last spring with some ideas and iStockphoto has been fabulously supportive every step of the way. For my live talks iStockphoto has supplied with me with lots of cool swag to give away including bookmarks with claim codes for free images that I can give to everyone in the audience. And of course, if you buy the book you get access to a special code that will get you more free images.

Istock_page_2 In Tokyo I learned that the Presentation Zen deal is even better than I thought: the deal is not 10 free iStockphoto credits ($10 value), it is a deal for downloading 10 free images at the highest resolution (around $130 in value). By the time the book is out (Amazon still says next week: Dec 17, 2007), a special area on iStockphoto's website will be set up with 50 images from the PZ book from which you can choose your 10 free high-rez downloads. Most of the photos used in the book, and in my slides shown in the book, are from iStock. We'll select 50 for the download section. In addition to the free images, you'll get a code for 25% off on a first purchase of $65 or more. (See a brief history of iStockphoto below in the form of a short montage set to music on YouTube. Every image and video clip in the video is from iStockphoto.com).

Tokyo report
After the meeting and lunch with Getty/iStock I headed across town to the Tokyo International School. I gave a presentation there to the faculty. TIS is a fantastic school with a wonderful faculty and staff. They are doing amazing work. After TIS, I taxied over to Ginza with Patrick Newell, the TIS founder, for the Apple presentation. Below are a few pics from the night. I really enjoyed meeting all the PZ readers who came up to me afterward. Really appreciated everyone coming out (which is hard to do on a week night in Japan).

Go to my flickr site to see more images from this talk in a slideshow.

Many PZ readers in the crowd.

OK, I had to at least *mention* the book...

Thanks again to everyone in Tokyo. Fantastic time!

John Lennon's message for peace

Lennon_peace Twenty-seven years ago today John Lennon's life was taken from him in front of his New York City apartment with his wife Yoko by his side. Like millions of others, I remember to this day exactly where I was when I heard the news (in my case, in the cold, dark parking lot of Mt. Hood Community College following a late night jazz rehearsal on campus). We were all shocked. Stunned. Deeply saddened. John Lennon was only 40. Today we are reminded what a great loss and a tragic waste his death was. And yet, in only 40 years of life, John Lennon made amazing contributions to the human race that people continue to talk about today and will still be talking about for generations to come. To paraphrase a piece of Apple ad copy (if you'll forgive me), you do not have to agree with everything John Lennon said or even everything he stood for, but there is no denying his impact and his genius...and his compassion. He changed things. And he is still changing things. He certainly saw things differently. He wasn't always fond of rules or the status quo, and he was just "insane" enough—just "crazy" enough—to think he could change the world. We all have that kind of "insanity" inside us. John Lennon's legacy is a reminder that we need to let that bit of ourselves out—that bit which others may call "crazy." Inventors, creators, explorers and all those who inspire greatness in others have always been called "crazy." And they are the ones who do indeed change the world, or at least that little slice of the world around them. In this sense, there is a little bit of "John Lennon" in all of us (if you want it).

War is Over!
On imaginepeace.com today there is a very interesting video presentation and a letter from Yoko to John that many of you will want to check out. The letter and the video (especially the Happy Christmas music video at the end) are evocative, and for many provocative perhaps. But you can not read the letter and watch the video presentation and not feel something. First I read the letter from Yoko to John. It is very simple and very beautiful. It speaks to the loss all of us have felt, (feel, or will feel) when we lose the person most important to us. For many, you'll feel something quite profound. Read the letter, then watch the video; you will surely feel something. Click on the image below to read the letter and watch the video.


Three video presentations for peace
I didn't expect to be moved so deeply while simply checking a few websites in the morning while having my first cup of coffee on this lazy, sunny Saturday in Osaka. But I was floored by this short documentary-like footage of John, Yoko, and the peace message. Then I thought I would revisit two other video presentations set to John's music that we've all seen many times before. But today it seemed like an appropriate way to remember John Lennon and his message. Below are
Give Peace a Chance, Happy Christmas (sans the interview footage), and Imagine. "Happy Christmas" may not be what you expect — no Santa, no snowmen, etc.— but it is a strong example of the power of imagery working in harmony with "voice" (in this case, a song).

Give Peace a Chance

Happy Christmas


10 links to cool, high-rez images

Slide_nasa There are many places to get free images, but here are a few that provide mostly public domain photos of a high quality (but as always, check the terms of use). Many of these sites provide very large versions of their images, much larger than you would use in your slides. But that's OK. We can always reduce the size of the image in photo-editing software to match our slide dimensions (e.g. 800x600 or 1024x768, etc. at 72dpi), but we can't make a small JPEG larger without losing quality. And with larger images you have more choices when it comes to cropping the image to focus on particular elements, etc. Bookmark these below. I think you'll find you can kill a couple of hours as you go through all the interesting photos. (Go here on the NASA site to get the full story about the image I used for the slide above.)

Earth Observatory (NASA). So much goodness here. I'm sure every teacher already has this site bookmarked.
Visible Earth (NASA). This is a new collection of earth imagery from NASA. I particularly like this photo below. Amazing! Click on the image to get a much larger size.


Great Images in NASA. A collection of about a thousand images of historical interest scanned at high-resolution in several sizes.

NASA multimedia. Includes many high-quality photos as well.
Photos by Astronauts.
A gazillion cool images from space.
NOAA Photo Library. Search the site or browse through "collections" at the top. Hundreds and hundreds of historical photos in there too.
Uncle Sam's Photos. A directory of the U.S Government's free stock photo sites.
The (US) National Archives. The National Archives has more than 30 million photos stored in several buildings in the US, many of them are available online. High-rez photos of The Constitution and The Bill of Rights, etc. as well as loads of photos from WWII in general and Japanese American Internment, and so on. I think I have seen some of the WWII images in Ken Burns' s documentary The War (highly recommended).


A young Japanese American waits with the family baggage before leaving by bus for an assembly center in the spring of 1942 (National Archive source).   

WWII posters. Not too many high-rez images here, but very interesting. Sizes may be good enough for slides.
Public Domain Pictures. A repository for free public domain photos. Easy to search. I love this one.

This may seem like an odd potpourri of links, but these are sites from which I have been gathering images lately and just thought you may be interested for future reference. If you know any other public domain sites that offer good quality in the form of historical archives, etc. please share your links in the comments section below. Much appreciated.

Where can you find good images? (PZ)


Images, narration, text: the power of the slideshow

This is a powerful example of how you can tell a story that is engaging and evocative through the art of arranging images with narration and a bit of concise text. I won't set it up for you. Just click and watch it.


Above: All the slides from Free and Uneasy: The First Year Out. Click image to see slideshow on the New York Times website.

This is very simple—nothing fancy or high-tech—and yet how powerful. Especially near the end of the slideshow, the images and narration are really well done. You can not help but feel for the guy. The fact that innocent people are jailed for crimes that they did not commit is shocking, but it is probably not news to you. We have all seen the news reports about such cases similar to this one. But when we "just hear about" such cases it is easy to forget. Statistics on wrongful convictions (or cases of HIV in Africa, etc.) are just abstractions. But when we hear the story amplified by compelling photography—the story of a particular case—the issue becomes concrete. It is emotional and it is memorable. Next time you have to give a presentation about an important but complex topic—especially if it is a social issue—see if you can illuminate the general by focusing on the particular. This is a technique that storytellers, such as documentary film makers, often use. And powerful images, plus thoughtful narration and maybe even a bit of text, can help you tell your story in ways that bullet points never could.

The Innocent Project
Details of the case
Jeff Deskovic's website
Read the official report (35-page pdf)

Learning from Bill Gates & Steve Jobs

Bill_steve It's been almost two years since I wrote this post comparing the approaches to presentation by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Since PowerPoint 2007 has been out quite a while now I wondered if Bill Gates' visuals and delivery have improved along with the software. So I watched this entire Bill Gates presentation recently (twice). Now, I like Bill Gates a lot. He's a nice guy and he's certainly a great philanthropist. My friends at Microsoft tell me he's a pleasure to talk to one-on-one. I'm sure that's true, but mastering the large keynote presentation on stage still eludes him. His keynotes are not terrible, they are just very average and unremarkable. His style is "normal" and "typical" and his presentations are largely unmemorable as a result. Bill Gates is a remarkable man, why can't his presentations be remarkable too? Every time Bill does one of these "PowerPoint presentations" he legitimizes and validates this tedious style of presenting with slides.

I am not suggesting that Bill Gates change his presentation style (though I'd pay my own way to Redmond and work for free to help Bill with his next presentation). He's been doing it "the Microsoft way" for a long time and the world keeps on spinning. The point rather is that you and I cannot present like Bill under any circumstance. I don't care if you are pitching to investors or presenting a paper at a conference filled with stuffy, pedantic anthropologists, there is no excuse for tedium. We can still learn a lot by examining the different approaches taken by Bill and Steve.

Bill needs to be stickier
Lookingahead Remember that the Heath brothers found that sticky messages have six key attributes in common: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. Bill has more credibility than you or I will ever have; he's one of the most famous people on the planet. But his presentations are usually weak in the other five areas. They are rarely simple (though the topics are not overly complex), his visuals are cluttered, he speaks in abstractions with few if any surprises and little emotion (Steve Ballmer, on the other hand, gets high marks for emotion VIDEO).

Bill & Steve redux
You may say that comparing Bill's presentations and Steve's keynotes is apples & oranges, that it's not fair to compare Bill's talk about technology trends to Steve's product introductions. If Bill were talking about the intricacies of insurance premiums and actuary tables, you may have a point. But in this May 16th presentation by Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman is talking about "technology megatrends that will shape the future of business and society." The audience included CEOs from top technology-related companies and the thousands watching on the webcast. There is no reason that this talk about "the future" and "business" and "society" had to be a bullet-point filled snoozer. (See more presentations by Bill Gates.)

Bill's "voice" vs. Steve's "voice"
Bill1 Steve's tone, pace, and the words he chooses all come together to make his "voice" conversational and natural. Steve appears comfortable, smiles, and uses humor just the right amount. He's relaxed so the audience is relaxed. Bill appears less comfortable and his speech is more vague and filled with abstractions. Bill also uses more jargon and terms like "...rich capabilities," "rich fonts," "...working together in a rich way," "...use these tools in a rich way," and "...watching something rich like learning about an election." (See the rich transcripts of Bill's May 16th CEO Summit 2007. Watch the webcast of Bill's presentation.)

Bill's slides vs. Steve's slides
SteveBoth Steve and Bill use slides to complement their talks. Steve's visuals are a big part of his talk. The visuals are necessary not decorative. The visuals do not overpower him but they are an important component of the talk not just icing on the cake. Steve uses the slides to help him tell a story and he interacts with them in a natural way, rarely turning his back on the audience (monitors in front show the same onscreen image). Steve uses the huge backlit screen behind him in the same spirit at least that George Lucas uses his screen: to help tell a story. Lucas uses actors, visuals, and effects to convey his message, Steve uses visuals and his own words and natural presence to tell his story. In Bill's case the slides are not only of low aesthetic quality (though this may be a matter of taste) they simply do not really help Bill's narrative very much.

It's not the slides, it's the way they are used
Steve_slide But the biggest difference is not the fact that Steve's slides are simpler with fewer elements and fewer bullet points, the biggest difference is in the way they are used. If you want to appreciate the difference you have to watch both presentations (Steve, Bill). The difference is that Steve's slides flow smoothly with his talk. Bill's slides aren't really necessary; they are more of an ornament or a decoration off to the side. Bill would have been better off just pulling up a stool and sharing his ideas and then answering questions that audience members could have submitted before the talk so that Bill could select which ones he'd answer.

Bill's slides
Below are most of the slides Bill used in his CEO Summit presentation.

Picture_1_3 Picture_2_3 Picture_3_2
Picture_4 Picture_5 Picture_6
Picture_7 Picture_8 Picture_12_3
Picture_10 Picture_11 Picture15

Steve's slides
Below are just a few (Steve uses far more slides) of the slides Steve used in his August Special Event keynote on the Apple campus (watch video).

Picture_16 Picture_15 Picture_2_4
Picture_23 Picture_26 Picture_27
Picture_17 Picture_18 Picture_19_2
Picture_6_2 Picture_9_3 Picture_12_2

If your ideas matter
Bill's topic/subtopic bullet point style is very common, very bland, and rarely effective. He can get away with it, but you and I can't. I am not saying that solid presentation skills will make you successful, but do not dismiss remarkable presentation skills as something soft, fluffy, and superfluous. Why aim to be successful in spite of your presentation skills? Why not allow your presentation skills to be an advantage that helps you make a difference and spread the word about your cause? If your ideas matter, then the presentation matters, right? You don't have to use slideware for every presentation, but if you do the visuals should seem part of "the show" not something "over there" off to the side.

Looking for a photo of Bill

Speaking of Bill Gates, if anyone owns the rights to a high-rez image of Bill Gates presenting at Live or CES, etc. I am still looking to get a Bill Gates image for the book. (There are some good CC ones on Flickr, but my email inquiries seeking permissions have been met with silence--I suspect people rarely check their Flickr email?) If you have an image that you took and would like to share please send me a note here with your terms and conditions. Much appreciated!

Too much clutter on the screen?

Tv_clutter Last week a reporter writing for the New York Times, Wendy Lee, contacted me to get my opinion on the issue of graphical clutter displayed in TV shows. Earlier in the week comedian Lewis Black put the issue on the front burner again by lashing out at TV executives during his three-minute rant at the Emmys. The reporter asked me if there was going to be a backlash against on-screen clutter from viewers (my comments did not make it into the online version at least of the article). I don't know about a backlash I said, but if you want to irritate or confuse people, or hide and obfuscate, then a good approach is to just keep putting all that clutter on the screen. Here's part of what Lewis Black said at the Emmys:

"Your job is to tell stories, it's not to tell us in the middle of the story what show is coming on next or which one is premiering two weeks from now! What do you want me to do, stop and get a pencil and write it down? Do you want me to stop watching and prepare myself for the next show?"

Watch Lewis Black's entire rant at the Emmys below.

What cable news can teach us?

It's the same deal for presentations in business or at conferences. Audiences need to hear someone's story not read it or try to decipher it from on-screen clutter that gets in the way of listening. We come to hear someone speak. And if they use great visuals (like Steve Jobs, etc.) then so much the better. The key is simplicity, harmony, and restraint in design, and naturalness in delivery--something cable news channels have little of.

Tv_news The cable news networks proclivity for displaying daily on-screen clutter extravaganzas do more than just make viewers irritated, the practice--which everyone is surely used to by now--has influenced a generation to believe that visual displays should necessarily have more not less elements crammed in to a small screen. This surely has influenced how people view their own PowerPoint slides (and other multimedia). When possible, put more "stuff" in there--more glitter, more boxes of info, more colors, more, more, more. Is this where "bad PowerPoint" comes from? Do we say to ourselves "Well, if CNN (FOX, MSNBC, etc.) does it I guess more text and lines and boxes, more logos and 3-D graphics in assorted colors must be how it's done. That's how serious presenters with serious tools do it," we say.

The cluttered TV displays make sense in airports and waiting rooms when the sound is off. But when we are listening to someone speak, visuals make sense only when they augment and enhance the message or illustrate the particular point the speaker is making. Graphics and effects completely unrelated to the topic are simply a distraction.

I've all but given up on cable news and instead get my information from newspapers and myriad online sources. The only "TV news" I can watch is The Daily Show. At least they are being ridiculous on purpose.


Lewis Black tells CNN to get the clutter off the screen live (video).

Hans Rosling: Don't just show the notes, play the music!

Data and information are not boring. The key is to select the appropriate (and accurate) data to support your message.  But it also matters how you bring the data alive, giving it context and meaning. One of the masters of displaying data in live talks is Swedish doctor and researcher, Hans Rosling. (You may remember Hans Rosling's 2006 TED talk which I posted here last year with some others.)

Hans wows the 2007 TED crowd
In this video below from TED 2007, the Zen master of statistics makes a simple point in a very visual and memorable way: "The seemingly impossible is possible. We can have a good world." Hans showed with stats what is possible in the world, then he closes with a big, unexpected, and memorable finish (I actually had a hard time watching the ending, but it was effective).

A visual approach


(Above) Besides his charts and graphs, Hans' slides were very visual and his delivery was engaging. Slides above are a couple of examples.

Hans pokes fun at the "typical PowerPoint" slide

(Above) Near the end he pauses and says: "But I have to get serious. And how do you get serious? You make a PowerPoint — you make bullets!" (audience laughs) The summary slide (which worked because he built it as he talked) was his "Homage to the Office package" he said.

The shape of things to come

This presentation below is amazing and is a look into the future of how we will be making and watching presentations online. Actually, it is not in the future, it is now. It is pretty easy to do this with current tools. In the very near future it will become even easier to use a "blue screen" effect like this. I do not want to see just slides, and I do not want to see just a talking head. I want the online video to be almost as good as being there. This gets close (and you can do this without expensive equipment or a production team like Steve Jobs or the TED producers use).

Hans developed the software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007.

Hans Rosling's important message (required viewing for all)

Below Hans Roslings speaks at the OECD World Forum in Istanbul earlier this summer. This video has fantastic content. Absolutely is brilliant. Stick with it and listen to Hans' message (video is not great, but the content is).

Here are a few quotes I found compelling from this talk:

    "...few people will appreciate the music if I just show them the notes. Most of us need to listen to the music to understand how beautiful it is. But often that's how we present statistics; we just show the notes we don't play the music."    

"It's an enormous force when we animate our statistics and we put it free on the net."  

"The database hugging in public institutions is hampering innovation."