Mini Book Review: The Non-Designers Presentation Book

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The Non-Designers Presentation Book: Principles for effective presentation design by Robin Williams

Robin Williams (not to be confused with the actor) is the author of the classic The Non-Designers Design Book that I recommend when you want to learn about the basics of design. As the name suggests, The Non-Designers Presentation Book is a variation of that book focusing on presentation design.

The book starts with the basics, even down to the question if you even need slides for your talk, followed by a quick introduction of some of the available slide software applications (even OpenOffice Impress is mentioned, which is rare in presentation books).

The role of the slides in a presentation is also made clear right from the beginning: You give the presentation, and your computer file simply helps you in that task.

The following chapters cover the basics of preparing a presentation, i.e. both the content and the design. A lot of examples, often from Williams' own presentations, are shown to explain the concepts. The second half of the book starts with the four basic design principles that she also covered in the Non-Designers Design Book: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. These principles are covered on 40 (of 155) pages.

The book closes with a few tips on settings in your presentation software that may get in the way, some words about handouts and a list of rules to ignore. The rules are worth a look, since she manages to shed some new light on some of the oft-quoted "helpful" presentation tips.

So, what's the verdict? To be honest, I'm not so sure what to make of it. The presentation tips are all fine. I happen to disagree with maybe one or two of them, especially the advice not to jump right into your topic (discussing that is worth a blog post of its own). Overall though, there's nothing wrong with the advice given here - it's not too different from the advice I give in my own courses.

There are some things that bother me. The presentation tips seem a bit unstructured, even random in places. Also, there isn't much advice on the delivery of the presentation. Obviously, this is outside of the design-oriented main topic of the book. That also means that this can't be your only book on presentations or you would miss an important part - the actual presenting. But if you have to buy another book anyway, then you don't really need the presentation tips from this book. And if you only see this book as a companion to another presentation book, then you could just as well buy the "original" Non-Designers Design Book instead.

I guess if you already have a book on presentations and presenting and you're looking for more advice on designing your slides, then The Non-Designers Presentation Book is worth a look. The presentation topics would then provide a second opinion (and shouldn't really contradict whatever else your presentation book taught you). Or you could pick The Non-Designers Design Book, which covers the same four design principles (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity) and also has some additional information on the use of colour and fonts.

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