Jon Schwabish is an economist, writer, teacher, and creator of policy-relevant data visualizations. He is considered a leading voice for clarity and accessibility in how researchers communicate their findings. His Twitter handle is @JSschwabish.
In this conversation, Jon discusses his new book, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks that helps people improve the way they prepare, design, and deliver data-rich content.
Geetesh: Jon, can you tell us what motivated you to write your book, Better Presentations? Was this a gradual decision or did you have a moment that made this decision for you?
Jon: The short version of the story is that Columbia University Press contacted me to write a book about data visualization, following the publication of my article in the Journal of Economics Perspectives in the early part of 2014. But I was resistant to writing a book strictly about data visualization, mostly because I thought it was a hard topic to cover thoroughly, from data extraction to exploration/analysis to visualization/communication (but it turns out that others--such as Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic and Andy Kirk--have covered different chunks of those processes to great success).
By that time, however, I had developed a keen interest in presentation design and techniques, and knew there was an opportunity to write a book on presentations for people who deliver data-rich content. The book is written for that audience—researchers, scholars, analysts—anyone who works with data and who needs to present it to an audience. In my experience, many people who work with data and conduct research simply take their written reports and convert them to presentations—they copy their graphs and tables and paste them into a slide, and turn their text into bullet points. But there is a better way and it starts with recognizing that a written report and a presentation are two fundamentally different forms of communication. The goal of the book is to help presenters all the way through the process: From presentation construction and design to building the presentation, to ultimately delivering the presentation.
Geetesh: People have different perspectives when they present, or when they attend someone else’s presentation. How will your book help presenters understand that they need to look at their presentations from the eye of the audience?
Jon: Throughout the book, I try to make the case that there is only so much information our audience can absorb at the same time. It’s very difficult for an audience to absorb the information you want them to when you are asking them to read 5 dense bullet points and listen to you talk simultaneously. We’ve all sat through these terrible presentations, so we know there is a better way to communicate our work, and this book is hopefully a step in that direction.
I admit right at the front of the book that you don’t need to have a background in graphic design to deliver a great presentation. You may not have the time to create a custom color palette, scour the Web for the perfect image, or learn a whole new set of design skills. The book is not meant to turn people into graphic designers; however, if you can learn to recognize good, smart design (and utilize things you like and things you don’t like), then you can become familiar with some basic aspects of great design such as color, font, and layout, and use these approaches in your presentations. What the book is meant to do is show you why you should create more effective slides, and how to do so in easier and faster ways.
So I take the reader through the entire process of planning, designing, and delivering a presentation. I start by demonstrating how outlining and sketching can help you cut to the core of your ideas and figure out the best way to communicate your ideas to your audience (I’ve put a downloadable version of the worksheet I use in my own process on my website). I then walk you through how to choose and use colors, fonts, layouts, and good data good data visualization principles in your slides. Finally, I talk about the actual act of presenting—what supplies you may or may not need when you speak, why you should smile, why not to pace, and so on.
Overall, I pull the book together by encouraging presenters to follow three guiding principles:
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 | January 2017 | February 2017 | March 2017 |
Microsoft and the Office logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.