One idea per slide. It’s not that complicated


I wrote this post in 2009, I published it in March 2020, and am republishing it again


A lot of texts that talk about presentation design cite a very clear rule: each slide has to contain only one idea. Here’s a slide from a presentation deck that says just that.

And here’s the next slide in the same presentation

Can you count how many ideas there are on this slide? I see four of them.

Can we do better?

First of all, we need to remember that most of the time, the slides accompany the presenters and not replace them. This means that you don’t have to put everything you say as a slide. In our case, you can simply show the first slide and give more details orally. On the other hand, let’s face it, the presenters often use slides to remined themselves of what they want to say. 

So, if you need to expand your idea, split the sub-ideas into slides.

You can add some nice illustrations to connect the information and emotion. 

Making it more technical

“Yo!”, I can hear you saying, “Motivational slides are one thing, and technical presentation is a completely different thing! Also,” you continue, “We have things to do, we don’t have time searching the net for cute pics”. I hear you. So let me try improving a fairly technical slide, a slide that presents different types of machine learning.
Does slide like this look familiar to you?

First of all, the easiest solution is to split the ideas into individual slides.

It was simple, wasn’t it. The result is so much more digestible! Plus, the frequent changes of slides help your audience stay awake.

Here’s another, more graphical attempt

When I show the first slide in the deck above, I tell my audience that I am about to talk about different machine learning algorithms. Then, I switch to the next slide, talk about the first algorithm, then about the next one, and then mention the “others”. In this approach, each slide has only one idea. Notice also how the titles in these last slides are smaller than the contents. In these slides, they are used for navigation and are therefore less important.  In the last slide, I got a bit crazy and added so much information that everybody understands that this information isn’t meant to be read but rather serves as an illustration. This is a risky approach, I admit, but it’s worth testing.

To sum up

“One idea per slide” means one idea per slide. The simplest way to enforce this rule is to devote one slide per a sentence. Remember, adding slides is free, the audience attention is not.

How to suck less in data visualization and professional communication

In technical communication, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. There are multiple ways to ensure this principle. Some of these ways require careful chart fine-tuning. However, there is one tool that is easy to master, fast to apply, and that provides a high return on the investment rate. I refer to chart titles. In this talk, I had two main theses. My first thesis is that most of you suck in communication (and not only data visualization).

My second thesis is that you can quickly improve your graphs by merely adding a good title. The importance of good titles is not new to my preaching, but I thought it was an excellent thing to formalize this thesis a bit, and I’m thankful to the NDR organizers for giving me this opportunity.

Following is the slide stack from my NDR presentation.

Tips for making remote presentations

Before becoming a freelancer data scientist, I used to work in a distributed company. Remote communication, including remote presentations were the norm for me, long before the remote work experiment no one asked for. In this post, I share some tips for delivering better presentations remotely.

Me presenting in front of the computer

  • Stand up! Usually, we stand up when we present in front of live audience. For some reason, when presenting remotely, people tend to sit. A sitting person is less dynamic and looks less engaging. I have a standing desk which allows me to stand up and to raise the camera to my face level.
  • If you can’t raise the camera, stay sitting. You don’t want your audience staring at your groin.
  • I always use a presentation remote control. It frees me up and lets me move more naturally. My remote is almost ten years old and I have a strong emotional attachment to it
  • When presenting, it is very important to see your audience. Use two monitors. Use one monitor for screen sharing, and the other one to see the audience.
  • Put the Skype/Zoom/whatever window that shows your audience under the camera. This way you’ll look most natural on the other side of the teleconference.
  • Starting a presentation in Powerpoint or Keynote “kidnaps” all the displays. You will not be able to see the audience when that happens. I export the presentation to a PDF file and use Acrobat Reader in full-screen mode. The up- and down- buttons in my presentation remote control work with the Reader. The “make screen black” button doesn’t.
  • I open a “lightable view” of my presentation and put it next to the audience screen. It’s not as useful as seeing the presenter’s notes using a “real” presentation program, but it is good enough.

Auditorium in Chisinau showing me on their screen

  • Make a dry run. Ideally, the try run should be a day or two before the event, to make sure all the technical problems are fixed.
  • Go online at least five minutes before the schedule. Be in front of the camera, don’t let the audience stare at your empty room
  • Make sure nothing in your background will embarrass you. This risk is especially high if you present from home or a hotel. Nobody needs to see your bed during a business meeting.

One idea per slide. It’s not that complicated

A lot of texts that talk about presentation design cite a very clear rule: each slide has to contain only one idea. Here’s a slide from a presentation deck that says just that.

And here’s the next slide in the same presentation

Can you count how many ideas there are on this slide? I see four of them.

Can we do better?

First of all, we need to remember that most of the time, the slides accompany the presenters and not replace them. This means that you don’t have to put everything you say as a slide. In our case, you can simply show the first slide and give more details orally. On the other hand, let’s face it, the presenters often use slides to remined themselves of what they want to say. 

So, if you need to expand your idea, split the sub-ideas into slides.

You can add some nice illustrations to connect the information and emotion. 

Making it more technical

“Yo!”, I can hear you saying, “Motivational slides are one thing, and technical presentation is a completely different thing! Also,” you continue, “We have things to do, we don’t have time searching the net for cute pics”. I hear you. So let me try improving a fairly technical slide, a slide that presents different types of machine learning.
Does slide like this look familiar to you?

First of all, the easiest solution is to split the ideas into individual slides.

It was simple, wasn’t it. The result is so much more digestible! Plus, the frequent changes of slides help your audience stay awake.

Here’s another, more graphical attempt

When I show the first slide in the deck above, I tell my audience that I am about to talk about different machine learning algorithms. Then, I switch to the next slide, talk about the first algorithm, then about the next one, and then mention the “others”. In this approach, each slide has only one idea. Notice also how the titles in these last slides are smaller than the contents. In these slides, they are used for navigation and are therefore less important.  In the last slide, I got a bit crazy and added so much information that everybody understands that this information isn’t meant to be read but rather serves as an illustration. This is a risky approach, I admit, but it’s worth testing.

To sum up

“One idea per slide” means one idea per slide. The simplest way to enforce this rule is to devote one slide per a sentence. Remember, adding slides is free, the audience attention is not.

Why you should speak at conferences?

In this post, I will try to convince you that speaking at a conference is an essential tool for professional development.

Many people are afraid of public speaking, they avoid the need to speak in front of an audience and only do that when someone forces them to. This fear has deep evolutional origins (thousands of years ago, if dozens of people were staring at you that would probably mean that you were about to become their meal). However, if you work in a knowledge-based industry, your professional career can gain a lot if you force yourself to speak.

Two days ago, I spoke at NDR, a machine learning/AI conference in Iași, Romania. That was a very interesting conference, with a diverse panel of speakers from different branches of the data-related industry. However, the talk that I enjoyed the most was mine. Not because I’m a narcist self-loving egoist. What I enjoyed the most were the questions that the attendees asked me during the talk, and in the coffee breaks after it. First of all, these questions were a clear signal that my message resonated with the audience, and they cared about what I had to say. This is a nice touch to one’s ego. But more importantly, these questions pointed out that there are several topics that I need to learn to become more professional in what I’m doing. Since most of the time, we don’t know what we don’t know, such an insight is almost priceless.

That is why even (and especially) if you are afraid of public speaking, you should jump into the cold water and do it. Find a call for presentations and submit a proposal TODAY.

And if you are afraid of that awkward silence when you ask “are there any questions” and nobody reacts, you should read my post “Any Questions? How to fight the awkward silence at the end of the presentation“.

“Any questions?” How to fight the awkward silence at the end of a presentation?

If you ever gave or attended a presentation, you are familiar with this situation: the presenter asks whether there are any questions and … nobody asks anything. This is an awkward situation. Why aren’t there any questions? Is it because everything is clear? Not likely. Everything is never clear. Is it because nobody cares? Well, maybe. There are certainly many people that don’t care. It’s a fact of life. Study your audience, work hard to make the presentation relevant and exciting but still, some people won’t care. Deal with it.

However, the bigger reasons for lack of the questions are human laziness and the fear of being stupid. Nobody likes asking a question that someone will perceive as a stupid one. Sometimes, some people don’t mind asking a question but are embarrassed and prefer not being the first one to break the silence.

What can you do? Usually, I prepare one or two questions by myself. In this case, if nobody asks anything, I say something like “Some people, when they see these results ask me whether it is possible to scale this method to larger sets.”. Then, depending on how confident you are, you may provide the answer or ask “What do you think?”.

You can even prepare a slide that answers your question. In the screenshot below, you may see the slide deck of the presentation I gave in Trento. The blue slide at the end of the deck is the final slide, where I thank the audience for the attention and ask whether there are any questions.

My plan was that if nobody asks me anything, I would say “Thank you again. If you want to learn more practical advises about data visualization, watch the recording of my tutorial, where I present this method  <SLIDE TRANSFER, show the mockup of the “book”>. Also, many people ask me about reading suggestions, this is what I suggest you read: <SLIDE TRANSFER, show the reading pointers>

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.10.21

Luckily for me, there were questions after my talk. Luckily, one of these questions was about practical advice so I had a perfect excuse to show the next, pre-prepared, slide. Watch this moment on YouTube here.

Sometimes, less is better than more

Today, during the EuroSciPy conference, I gave a presentation titled “Three most common mistakes in data visualization and how to avoid them”. The title of this presentation is identical to the title of the presentation that I gave in Barcelona earlier this year. The original presentation was approximately one and a half hours long. I knew that EuroSciPy presentations were expected to be shorter, so I was prepared to shorten my talk to half an hour. At some point, a couple of days before departing to Trento, I realized that I was only allocated 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes! Instead of ninety.

Frankly speaking, I was in a panic. I even considered contacting EuroSciPy organizers and asking them to remove my talk from the program. But I was too embarrassed, so I decided to take the risk and started throwing slides away. Overall, I think that I spent eight to ten working hours shortening my presentation. Today, I finally presented it. Based on the result, and on the feedback that I got from the conference audience, I now know that the 15-minutes version is better than the original, longer one. Video recording of my talk is available on Youtube and is embedded below. Below is my slide deck

 

 

Illustration image credit: Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

Today’s workshop material

Today, I hosted a data visualization workshop, as a part of the workshop day adjacent to the fourth Israeli Data Science Summit. I really enjoyed this workshop, especially the follow-up questions. These questions are  the reason I volunteer talking about data visualization every time I can. It may sound strange, but I learn a lot from the questions people ask me.

If you want to see the code, you may find it on GitHub. The slide deck is available on Slideshare

Me in front of an audience

 

 

Three most common mistakes in data visualization 
and how to avoid them. Now, the slides

Yesterday, I talked in front of the Barcelona Data Science and Machine Learning Meetup about the most common mistakes in data visualization. I enjoyed talking with the local community very much. Judging by the feedback I received during and after the talk, they too, enjoyed my presentation. I uploaded my slides to Slideshare.

Me in front of a screen that shows a bar chart

Enjoy!

Live in Barcelona. Three most common mistakes in data visualization.

On Thursday, March 20, I will give a talk titled “Three most common mistakes in data visualization and how to avoid them.” I will be a guest of the Barcelona Data Science and Machine Learning Meetup Group. Right now, less than twenty-four hours after the lecture announcement, there are already seventeen people on the waiting list. I feel a lot of responsibility and am very excited.

 

Tips on making remote presentations

Today, I made a presentation to the faculty of the Chisinau
Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science. The audience gathered in a conference room in Chisinau, and I was in my home office in Israel.

Me presenting in front of the computer

Following is a list of useful tips for this kind of presentations.

  • When presenting, it is very important to see your audience. Thus, use two monitors. Use one monitor for screen sharing, and the other one to see the audience
  • Put the (Skype) window that shows your audience under the camera. This way you’ll look most natural on the other side of the teleconference.
  • Starting a presentation in Powerpoint or Keynote “kidnaps” all the displays. You will not be able to see the audience when that happens. I export the presentation to a PDF file and use Acrobat Reader in full-screen mode. The up- and down- buttons in my presentation remote control work with the Reader. The “make screen black” button doesn’t.
  • I open a “lightable view” of my presentation and put it next to the audience screen. It’s not as useful as seeing the presenter’s notes using a “real” presentation program, but it is good enough.
  • Stand up! Usually, we stand up when we present in front of live audience. For some reason, when presenting remotely, people tend to sit. A sitting person is less dynamic and looks less engaging. I have a standing desk which allows me to stand up and to raise the camera to my face level. If you can’t raise the camera, stay sitting. You don’t want your audience staring at your groin.

Auditorium in Chisinau showing me on their screen

 

What is the best way to collect feedback after a lecture or a presentation?

I consider teaching and presenting an integral part of my job as a data scientist. One way to become better at teaching is to collect feedback from the learners. I tried different ways of collecting feedback: passing a questionnaire, Polldaddy surveys or Google forms, or simply asking (no, begging) the learners to send me an e-mail with the feedback. Nothing really worked.  The response rate was pretty low. Moreover, most of the feedback was a useless set of responses such as “it was OK”, “thank you for your time”, “really enjoyed”. You can’t translate this kind of feedback to any action.

Recently, I figured out how to collect the feedback correctly. My recipe consists of three simple ingredients.

Collecting feedback. The recipe.

working time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • Open-ended mandatory questions: 1 or 2
  • Post-it notes: 1 – 2 per a learner
  • Preventive amnesty: to taste

Procedure

Our goal is to collect constructive feedback. We want to improve and thus, are mainly interested in aspects that didn’t work well. In other words, we want the learners to provide constructive criticism. Sometimes, we may learn from things that worked well. You should decide whether you have enough time to ask for positive feedback. If your time is limited, skip it. Criticism is more valuable than praises.

Pass post-it notes to your learners.

Next, start with preventive amnesty, followed by mandatory questions, followed by another portion of preventive amnesty. This is what I say to my learners.

[Preventive amnesty] Criticising isn’t easy. We all tend to see criticism as an attack and to react accordingly. Nobody likes to be attacked, and nobody likes to attack. I know that you mean well. I know that you don’t want to attack me. However, I need to improve.

[Mandatory question] Please, write at least two things you would improve about this lecture/class. You cannot pass on this task. You are not allowed to say “everything is OK”. You will not leave this room unless you handle me a post-it with two things you liked the less about this class/lecture.

[Preventive amnesty] I promise that I know that you mean good. You are not attacking me, you are giving me a chance to improve.

That’s it.

When I teach using the Data Carpentry methods, each of my learners already has two post-it notes that they use to signal whether they are done with an assignment (green) or are stuck with it (red). In these cases, I ask them to use these notes to fill in their responses — one post-it note for the positive feedback, and another one for the criticism. It always works like a charm.

A pile of green and red post-it notes with feedback on them

 

Одна голова хорошо, а две лучше; или как не забросить свой блог

Запись моего доклада на WordCamp Moscow (август 2017г.) доступна онлайн.

The recording of my presentation at WordCamp Moscow (Aug 2017) is finally available online: Two Heads are Better Than One – on blogging persistence (Russian)