The art of writing a good slideument

The term "slideument" was coined by Garr Reynolds (his post from 2006 here): a PowerPoint file that looks more like a densely written text document than a minimalist, visually powerful sequence of slides for a presentation.

Documents and slides serve a different purpose and should be designed differently. But here is what I have been observing: the document is on its way out, and the slideument will have a bright future. Not as a presentation tool, but meant for on-screen reading, mostly for an internal audience that is very close to a subject matter. Background materials for a strategy discussion for an important board meeting would be an example. Nobody has time to plough through a dense text document anymore.

Some suggestions for creating good slideuments:

  • Create good data charts, using the exact same rules as you would for an on-screen presentation. Focus on the trend you want to show, ignore everything else. Round numbers up.
  • Use overview maps, strategic landscapes, with trends/competitors plotted against 2 axes, or lists of options with qualitative evaluation bubbles or traffic lights. One page that has the entire logic in it. Far too dense to present to a big audience, but really useful to discuss options. See the map to get a vague idea about the logic, digest the subsequent information in the deck, come back to the map to understand the full nuances. 
  • Bullet points are an essential part of a slideument, but make them useful. Make sure they are short, and say something tangible/specific. Don't just rattle down a list of 15 points on a page, but group the bullet points into meaningful categories. Put bullet points inside boxes, and use arrows to highlight the relationships between groups of bullet points.
  • Write a clear page upfront with what you want from the group you are submitting the document to.
Most of the times, you will not have time to convert the slideument into a proper presentation, and you probably do not have to. To discuss it in a group, I would select a few key slideument slides put them up the projector, but instead of discussing the content in detail, highlight the important points. You could do this by creating circles, or hand-drawn-style lines. Another approach is to project the slides on a whiteboard and circle/mark things with a pen as you go along.


Jim said...

Jan, aren't you really just arguing for more graphically rich, better formatted documents, with more carefully selected and judicially emphasized detail?

Yes, you could do all this in PowerPoint. But you could do the same thing at least as well, probably much better, and certainly more easily with a layout tool -- even Publisher, if one wishes to stay within the MS suite.

Jan Schultink said...

Yes, I am arguing that.

I think that it is easier for the average office worker to use PPT than to learn a new program. I am advocating the elimination of Word :-)

Jim said...

I agree that it probably is easier for the average office worker to use PowerPoint -- at least on the front end. But at some not-too-distant point, it's very easy for the average office worker to run smack-dab into the limitations of the tool and end up being slowed down and impeded en route to his or her goal.

Certainly, PowerPoint is better than nothing for layout. And, in some cases, it may be better than Word. By the same token, given enough time and persistence, one could probably saw through a rope with a bread knife -- but it wouldn't be much fun.

I don't advocate eliminating Word, per se. It's great for writing and editing documents. It can be used effectively and efficiently to prepare content of all sorts. It just is not the right tool for desktop publishing -- any more than it is the right tool for finalizing and polishing presentations.