July 19, 2008
Book Short: Stick Figures That Matter
I have read a bunch of books lately to try to improve my presentation skills. The latest one, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, by Dan Roam, was good, and quite different from some of the others I’ve read recently like Presentation Zen and Beyond Bullet Points, both of which are much more focused on effective use of Powerpoint.
The Back of the Napkin takes a different approach. The focus is much more on creating compelling visuals. It’s not about Powerpoint so much as it is about teaching how to crystallize concepts into tight and compelling schematics. Roam creates two pretty good frameworks for thinking about this: one that breaks down the message of a given slide into its most simple element — are you describing a who (use a portrait), what (chart), when (timeline), where (map), why (plot), or how (flowchart)? And a second that takes that element and asks five questions about the best way to convey the information — simple vs. elaborate, quality vs. quantity, vision vs. execution, individual vs. comparison, or change state vs. as-is.
Both frameworks are good, and if you’re already doing really good presentations, this will help improve them. In short, I’d say The Back of the Napkin is a good read if you’re obsessed with creating compelling visuals, but it’s more of a deeper drill than the two books I noted above. I’d read and master the material from Presentation Zen for 101, then dive into this topic for the 201 course.