After careers in theatre and the circus, Nolan Haims moved into the world of presentation, designing presentations for Fortune 500 CEOs, leading financial institutions and all the major television networks. Currently Nolan is Presentation Director for Edelman, the world's largest independent PR company. He writes about visual communication at PresentYourStory.com.
In this interview, Nolan discusses his career move to presentation design, and what factors influence the creation of successful presentations.
Geetesh: You moved from being a magician and writer to the sphere of presentation design – what motivated this change, and how satisfying has this been for you?
Nolan: When I sat down a few years ago to find the common denominator in my rather eclectic work history (professional magician & juggler, then theatre director and playwright and now presentation designer and director), it was easy: It was all about storytelling. That’s one reason why my website is PresentYourStory.com.
Since I had always done graphic design in between my magic and theatre gigs, it was a natural progression to focus on the area of design that is perhaps most about telling stories. So presentation has been a very good and rewarding fit for me. And I actually do draw upon a lot of my experiences when working on presentations and with speakers.
Magic is partly about manipulating an audience's focus and ensuring they look where you want them to. With presentation, you have to positively control your audience's attention and gaze on the information that is most important at any given moment.
As a theatre director, my job was to identify the story being told and then to strip away everything that was extraneous to that narrative. And just as I wouldn't let a character wear a certain costume that didn't address the play's story, I won't now let a presentation use a silly stock image that doesn't help tell the story. It's still communication over decoration.
One of my favorite presentation lessons learned in theatre was from a lighting designer who explained to me that often it's not about making the light on an actor brighter ("make it pop!"), but rather making everything else darker (de-emphasis.) As with presentation, if you highlight everything, you highlight nothing.
Geetesh: Tell us about what sets a successful presentation apart from the ordinary. Also what can presentation designers do to contribute to a positive presentation?
Nolan: There are many components to a successful presentation, but clarity of message is probably the most important for me. In terms of design, clarity can most strongly be achieved by simplifying and eliminating visual clutter that carries no meaning. This means everything from eliminating chart junk, to reducing text to avoiding over-designed graphics. Of course, all of this means nothing if there isn’t a clear story to begin with, and so it’s terribly important to understand, and whenever possible, to work with a presenter or client on the message in addition to the messaging.
There are two big things a designer can do to contribute to a positive presentation. The first is to completely understand the story, format and goals of a presentation. If you’re designing a pitch, you need to read the RFP and background material. If you’re presenting financial information, you need to understand the data. And in all cases, you need to understand the purpose of the presentation and the situation in which it is being presented. This can require asking a lot of questions which clients may at first see as irrelevant: "What difference does it make if I’m printing this to give to one person or presenting it live to 1,000 people...?" Or, "What do you mean ‘impressing them with a killer deck’ isn’t really a goal?"
The second thing a designer can do not just to contribute to a single presentation, but to presentation as a whole, is to push the envelope and counsel their clients on best practices for clarity of design and message. But that said, one has to avoid being overly dogmatic. Much of my experience has been with large organizations. These are battleships that take a long time to change course, so if you barge right in insisting that slides can only have one big image and three words, you may not help them and you may not get hired again. You always want to recommend what is ideal, but you have to make an effort to understand the environment your client is working in.
When I was hired by Edelman, I was told that the company was really good at communicating with words (probably one of the best corporate communicators there is), but needed help communicating without them. Since then, I’ve been most proud of watching my colleagues slowly become better visual storytellers and presenters. At first my phone would ring, and I would hear, "Just give me a template." But now I am now asked consistently for advice on reducing text on slides; senior leadership now often presents internally in a Pecha Kucha style; and one division has even created a visual thinking working group.
With regard to pushing the envelope and advancing good presentation, I think a designer needs to have an open and active mind. When the iPad came out, for example, I immediately bought one for my department and started working out ways to present with it. We did create an iPad app as part of new business pitch, and we've used it in other ways. But it wasn't about solving presentation on the iPad, but rather just being out front experimenting. The last thing I ever want to hear from one of my colleagues is, "Our competitor just won a pitch and used an iPad (or Keynote, or Prezi)—why aren't we doing that?" We've been creating some presentations lately in Prezi and have been trying to formulate best practices and usage of it. We're not quite there yet, but I'm not yet willing to dismiss it.
A good presentation designer is one that reads a lot, stays current on trends and technologies, and always is informed by good graphic design and storytelling principles.
Categories: design, interviews, powerpoint, presentation_skills
April 2003 | May 2003 | December 2003 | January 2004 | February 2004 | March 2004 | April 2004 | May 2004 | June 2004 | July 2004 | August 2004 | September 2004 | October 2004 | November 2004 | December 2004 | January 2005 | February 2005 | March 2005 | April 2005 | May 2005 | June 2005 | July 2005 | August 2005 | September 2005 | October 2005 | November 2005 | December 2005 | January 2006 | February 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | May 2006 | June 2006 | July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | January 2007 | February 2007 | March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 | July 2007 | August 2007 | September 2007 | October 2007 | November 2007 | December 2007 | January 2008 | February 2008 | March 2008 | April 2008 | May 2008 | June 2008 | July 2008 | August 2008 | September 2008 | October 2008 | November 2008 | December 2008 | January 2009 | February 2009 | March 2009 | April 2009 | May 2009 | June 2009 | July 2009 | August 2009 | September 2009 | October 2009 | November 2009 | December 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 | March 2010 | April 2010 | May 2010 | June 2010 | July 2010 | August 2010 | September 2010 | October 2010 | November 2010 | December 2010 | January 2011 | February 2011 | March 2011 | April 2011 | May 2011 | June 2011 | July 2011 | August 2011 | September 2011 | October 2011 | November 2011 | December 2011 | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | April 2012 | May 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | November 2012 | December 2012 | January 2013 | February 2013 | March 2013 | April 2013 | May 2013 | June 2013 | July 2013 | August 2013 | September 2013 | October 2013 | November 2013 | December 2013 | January 2014 | February 2014 | March 2014 | April 2014 | May 2014 | June 2014 | July 2014 | August 2014 | September 2014 | October 2014 | November 2014 | December 2014 | January 2015 | February 2015 | March 2015 | April 2015 | May 2015 | June 2015 | July 2015 | August 2015 | September 2015 | October 2015 | November 2015 | December 2015 | January 2016 | February 2016 | March 2016 | April 2016 | May 2016 | June 2016 | July 2016 | August 2016 | September 2016 | October 2016 | November 2016 | December 2016 |
Microsoft and the Office logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.