PPP#1 — Documentation slides demanded

Persistent Presentation Paradigm #1: “My company demands documentation slides, that’s just how things are being done here.”

These so called documentation slides are a combination of presentation slides and word documents. About three years ago, Garr Reynolds coined the term “slideument” for this strange kind of hybrid. One cannot say it often enough — “slideuments” are not only inept and feeble, they are worthless. Period.

People still think that although “documentation slides” might not be quite the best way of presenting information, they most certainly won’t do any harm. Wrong! They actually do harm! They block us from understanding the information presented, and retention hardly has a chance to take place. If our intention is to provide people with important information, we better make sure they remember what we tell them. That is our responsibility as presenters. We have to understand how information is being processed in order to know how best to serve it.

When learning via multimedia technology (sounds, images, text , etc.), our brain takes in information through two channels, the ear and eye. That is not done passively, rather we actively select, organize and integrate information. If presented incorrectly, the stream of information can get stuck — for example by reading out loud long sentences from the projected slide — thereby causing a bottleneck and blocking learning procedure. At that moment we lose our audience. They will not pay attention to what we say anymore, simply because they cannot process all the information they are confronted with.

Still, there are enough people around to tell us that documentation slides are company law. But that is politics not economics. That is wasteful spending of valuable resources — and we have seen where this attitude takes us… We are talking sustainability here. Since we do not only presentation seminars, but presentation design, too, we know from practical experience how essential it is to present the right amount of information so that the listeners will remember what we tell them. We simply know how highly effective simple, clear slides can be.

So, why don’t we start calling the ugly thing by its proper name? Documentation slides don’t exist. The kind of ineffective and harmful data dump is called “slideuments” — and “slideuments” are utterly and absolutely useless. Those who still think they can’t do without clutter and bling bling on their slides might take a look at the presentation below. Maybe statistics is a complex enough matter to illustrate our point. The others might just lay back and enjoy the ride…

Hans Rosling is professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. His current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world.

Paule Wendelberger