Dr. Andrew Abela is the Dean of the School of Business & Economics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In addition to co-authoring The Encyclopedia of Slide Layouts, with Paul Radich, he has written Advanced Presentations by Design, currently in its second edition, The Presentation: A Story About Successful Communication with Very Few Slides, and co-edited A Catechism for Business, with Dr. Joe Capizzi. His academic research has been published in the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, the Journal of Business Ethics, and several other journals. He provides consulting and training to major global corporations, including JPMorganChase and Microsoft.
In this conversation, Andrew discusses his new book, The Encyclopedia of Slide Layouts.
Geetesh: Your new book, The Encyclopedia of Slide Layouts is a comprehensive resource, but it is also a reference to explore that will help create better slides. This is not something that you can write in a moderate amount of time — so what prompted you to take up such a huge challenge?
Andrew: The Extreme Presentation workshop, which both Paul (Radich, my coauthor) and I teach, always receives strongly positive reviews whenever we deliver it. But there was one question that did come up often. In the workshop, we draw a distinction between what we call “Ballroom Style” presentations, with pictures and very few words, and “Conference Room Style” presentations, which are more graphical but have a lot more detail on them. We make a very strong case that when you’re trying to sell an idea or product, or persuade someone, then a Conference Room Style presentation is more effective. Participants agree, but then they ask us for more examples of Conference Room Style presentations – which is why we came up with the idea of the book.
Frankly, if someone had told us that it would take us five years to gather all the examples in the book, and collect all the necessary permissions to publish them, we might not have been so enthusiastic…! But we’re glad we did it.
Geetesh: For all layouts that you explain, you also provide links to resources through which readers can get a ready-to-use sample that they can use as a starting point. Tell us about this feature and other interesting nuances – or you can share a behind-the-scenes anecdote?
Andrew: Yes, we wanted to make it easy for readers to create slides like the ones we profile in the book, so each chapter contains recommended sources for free and subscription sources of slide templates. One of our readers then wrote to us and said “couldn’t you make all those links available electronically?” So we created the “electronic slide chooser” in Prezi:
What people tell us about the book is that it’s great for flipping through to get good ideas for how to lay out a slide so that it passes the “squint test” (the layout of the slide reinforces the main message of the slide, so that your audience immediately grasps the main message). Slide layout is your single most powerful design feature, but most people ignore it, using instead an undifferentiated list of bullets.