Thursday, September 29, 2011

Using quotes in presentations

Following the using text in slides spirit of the past weeks, in this post I share some of quotes  I have gathered over the past year

I learned about the use of quotes in presentations reading Guy Reynold's Presentation Zen.  There are many reasons why you would like to use quotes in your presentations. Here are a few:
  • They can summarize a point in a couple of words. 
  • They can add credibility to your point. 
  • Somebody said it better.
  • They can help you transition to your next point.
  • They make you look smart. 
  • They capsule high amount of knowledge in few words.
As a tip, I would suggest to read the quote to your audience. It is one of those few times where reading a slide is a good thing. Also remember that the shorter the quote, the better. And as James Humes writes, try to use quotes of famous people as much as possible. 

I have seen some people using quotes in scientific and academic fields.  Here are some of the ones I have collected.
"Innovation proceeds more rapidly when different parties can build on each others work and avoid going down the same dead end that others have gone down."
Bill Gates
"The most successful scientists in the history of the world are those who pose the right questions."
Neil deGrasse Tyson
"Some numbers are meaningless or even misleading unless we explain the underlying trend or the big picture."
Philip B. Corbett
 "Much wisdom was, and still is, buried in computer codes..."
Germund Dahlquist
"In retrospect(...) trajectory methods brought more questions than answers."
Joel Phillips
The tough thing about using scientific quotes is to know where to find them. My advice is to  keep your eyes open when reading books, and scientific articles and journals. Another idea is to ask your professor or adviser for good writers in your field and read some of their work. Another source are specialized newspapers like the SIAM Review in the case of applied math.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A word on visuals: Using text in slides part II

In part I I talked about the shape of the text in slides. In part II I want to address the content. There are two basic questions. One is, when is the use of words better than the use of pictures? And the other, how to effectively use words in pictures?

Let me kick off with the diagram below that I found in Wikipedia and remixed.

On question that putting the information shown here into a written form would take more time to process. This is the point that the director of the Data Visualization at the University of New Hampshire, Colin Ware, makes. According to Mr. Ware, hierarchical relationships are most effective presented in a structured diagram (Graphics 1, Text 0). Now take a look at the diagram below. It is called a flowchart, and it is used to graphical display an algorithm. In this case computing the factorial of n, n!. In case you wonder n! = 1 x 2 x ... x n.

The pseudocode of this flowchart would be something like this: 

read n
f = 1, m = 1

mark: f = f*m
if(m == n)
   print f
   jump to mark

In this case text performances better than graphics.

Here are some guidelines, from Mr. Ware's book Information Visualization,  when text works better than images and vice versa. In general images are better for spatial structures, location, and detail, whereas words are better for procedural information, local conditions, and abstract verbal concepts.

  • Images are best for showing structural relationships, such as links between entities and group of entities.
  • Tasks involving localization information are better convey using images. 
  • Words work better for abstract images. That is, visual information ought to be meaningful and capable of incorporation into into a cognitive framework. If visual information is new and represented abstractly and presented out of context, image memory cannot rely into it. 
  • Images are best for providing detail and appearance . The amount of information shown in a picture should be related to the amount of time available to study it. 
  • Text is better than graphics for conveying abstract concepts, such as freedom or efficiency. 
  • Procedural information is best provided using text or spoken language. 
  • Information that specifies conditions under which something should or shouldn't be done is better provided using text.
A final thought. Words are extremely versatile, cheap, and ubiquitous. That's part of their strength. But sometimes we forget how cheap and ubiquitous words are, and we fill one slide after the other with no other than text. Let us fight laziness and think critically about the text - its quality and quantity - that goes into our slides.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Presentation Gurus: Julian Treasure

    Once again a presentation Guru from TED! Though I start to have mixed feelings about TED, I have to admit there are great presenters. Julian Treasure is one of them. His job description is exotic, he is a Sound Consultant. Enjoy watching!

    Sunday, September 4, 2011

    Lessons I learned from The King's Speech

    In February 2011, I mentioned the film The King's Speech. Finally, yesterday I had the chance to see it. Here are three things I learned.  

    Two days ago the DVD of The King's Speech was released here in Germany. I got the 2-DVD edition yesterday and watched it. It is a good film and Colin Firth, who plays King George VI, together with Geoffrey Rush (The King's speech therapist) are superb. The film focuses on the unlikely friendship between these two characters rather than in the King's speech problem. Still, I think the film touches an important point: Communication is important, but without character is superfluous.

    Some historical background. George VI is the father of Queen Elizabeth II and brother of King Edward VIII. Their father, King George V, dies in early 1936 as the World War II is breaking. The elder son of King George V, David, becomes King Edward VIII but abdicates in less than a year in favor of a woman. His younger bother, Albert, becomes King George VI and dies in 1952.

    King George VI, Albert,  suffers from stammering impeding him to be a good public speaker. Some years before he assumes the throne, Albert starts to get treated by Lionel Logue for this stammering. The two men become close friends, an unlikely friendship between a royal and a common.

    The issue here is that already by that time the role of the King of England is to appear in public and speak, that is the King of England's role was one of a public speaker.  George VI worked hard to become his stammering. Click here to see a 1938 video clip of George VI on a public appearance.

    There are though three things about the movie that are directly related to the topic of this blog. Becoming a good public speaker requires hard work, practice and (honest) feedback from others. Another is that silence creates drama, and  the right use of pauses create emphasis.

    The last one is a more of a cinematographic lesson I learned watching the film a second time with the director's audio commentary. The canvas size changes the emphasis of the message. Let me illustrate. A typical presentation canvas has a size of 1024 x 768 pixel. This size yields a width:height ratio of 4:3, also known as full screen format. A slide in this format would look like this

    A more cinematographic canvas ratio is the wide format of 16:9. The same content would look like this
    If you want to change the canvas format without changing your original screen resolution you can do this by resizing or cropping your background keeping the width constant. Here is a quick nano tutorial.

    Finally, after playing a bit with lighting and optical distortion I came up with this

    Unfortunately to see the effect you have to download images and view them in slideshow or presentation mode. Applying the optical distortion gives enhances the depth of the canvas. The idea of bringing cinematographic into slides is not mine. I got it from Nancy Duarte's reading list.

    Let me close by saying that if you haven't seen the film, I recommend you rent it. It is worth it.