Raise your hand if you like sitting through slide-show presentations. How about reading dense, jargony business documents? These are the staples of modern business communication, and yet they're enjoyed by precisely no one.
Enter Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design. Duarte thinks she can redesign business communication with Slidedocs, a new concept she defines as "a visual document, developed in presentation software, that is intended to be read and referenced instead of projected." Think of it as a kind of a hybrid between slide-show presentations and prose documents—but one that eliminates the most annoying qualities of each. Duarte’s new book on Slidedocs, which she wrote entirely in PowerPoint, has just been released as a free download on her website.
"The inspiration came from being sick of presentations," Duarte tells Co.Design. An estimated 350 presentations are given every second of a day, according to Duarte—and far too many of them waste attendees' time, she says. "Often, presenters are basically hosting a readalong, not doing a presentation," she says of text-heavy slide shows. "But if you present information in chunks with a Slidedoc, readers can breeze through it and get at the heart of the ideas much more efficiently." Supplemented with visual content and broken up like this, engaging ideas don’t get lost in a sea of text.
Duarte imagines a world in which a Slidedoc would be passed around an organization and read before a presentation, and then the speaker wouldn’t waste his time reiterating what it has already covered. Instead, presentations could function more as conversations, with the presenter generating new ideas through collaboration instead of simply voicing old ones.
A Slidedoc uses a handful of design tricks to make information as visually pleasing and as easy to digest as possible. Each page of a Slidedoc has a heading that expresses the slide's main idea, and concise text in full sentences that's presented in chunks with lots of white space in between, so the page isn't smothered with words. It also makes use of color, graphs, images, and charts, offering users a visual way to consume the information.
Duarte is offering webinars on how to use Slidedocs. "Anyone can design a Slidedoc," she says. The format could be important in education, too, she says—imagine the reviled textbook and lecture format redesigned according to Slidedoc principles. "I've gotten tons of emails asking me to please transform education," Duarte says.
While banning boring presentations is a great idea, implementing the Slidedocs system could be tricky. Do people in business always want to take active roles in a presentation? Users might come to see it as just another form of homework. But Slidedocs can also serve as a way of supplying colleagues with convenient, coherent takeaways after a presentation—they certainly beat printouts of slide shows or endless PDFs of mostly irrelevant information. In some instances, circulating a Slidedoc could be enough to communicate a given idea on its own, making a presentation unnecessary.
"Too many people are hiding in dark rooms flipping through too many words on big screens," Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, once said of the loathed boardroom meeting. Maybe, with Duarte's new tool, that will soon change.