UPDATED: MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — It may be the most famous slide show of all time. “An Inconvenient
Truth,” the movie starring environmental activist and former Vice
President Al Gore, is at its heart a slide show, hardly the format for a box
The movie’s popularity was not the only surprise; it’s also
generated $23 million in DVD sales and 1.8 million DVDs sold.
So how did a slide show garner millions of viewers? Duarte Design provided some of the answers
in an event at its headquarters titled “Think Outside the Slide.” Gore had
worked with Duarte years before the film idea came out to develop a
presentation on the dangers of global warming.
Gore’s been shown the resulting presentation more than 1,800 times; it’s also reportedly been delivered some 30,000 times worldwide by volunteers in the environmental movement. *(For the record, Gore, who is on Apple’s board of directors, uses Apple’s Keynote program on a Mac for his presentations. The presentation was converted to PowerPoint for use by the volunteers).
Gore initially came to Duarte with a standard presentation using a slide
carousel and 35mm slides from the 1970s, recalled company founder Nancy
Duarte. “We scanned a lot of them and updated the presentation with others,”
Duarte told InternetNews.com. “Now it’s been translated to multiple
languages, and he’s found additional images to add in that are relevant to
the region where he speaks.”
As for the movie, “We never imagined it would be made into a movie,” Duarte recalled in her presentation. “Who would see a movie about a slide show?” She credits Gore’s public appearances for planting the seeds that led to interest in the movie as well as his passion.
And passion can be a key to any presentation. “You need to be comfortable
on stage, passionate and vulnerable,” said Duarte.
Michael Moon, Duarte’s creative director of content, said a great
presentation is all about telling a great story. “Clients get nervous when
we say ‘tell a story’ because they think we’re talking about fiction, but
story-telling dates back to the early cave paintings.”
He counsels clients to start by telling their story, the presentation, in
their own words. “People think they won’t remember everything so they use
PowerPoint slides like a teleprompter,” he said.
It’s all about you
Rick Altman, author of
“Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better,”
agrees the popular presentation package is often misused.
“People will speak to slides as a safety net,” Altman told
InternetNews.com. “And it’s often the case they’ll put too much text
on the screen. It then becomes extremely difficult not to read it all while
the audience becomes drones. You have to remember you are the
presentation, not your slide deck. Your ideas come first, and the slides
support those ideas.”
A common problem, Moon said, is that people often use PowerPoint to
structure a ‘safe’ presentation. For example, a typical business
presentation starts with something about the company, its history, its
location, a vision statement, something about its value proposition “and if
you’re lucky, a call to action,” said Moon.
“Inspire your audience, persuade and inform them,” he added.
One example was a Duarte client that wanted to convey the benefits of
open source — typically a fairly technical undertaking. Duarte helped
develop a presentation that used slides of dinosaurs and other creations
built using parts from a Lego set designed for making pirate ships. The
point was to show how open source offers more flexibility than traditional
solutions that are more rigidly structured.
Doug Neff, content developer at Duarte, said presentations should be “an
experience” for the audience and a value to have you, the presenter, there.
“Would you go to a Madonna concert without Madonna, or a Steve Jobs keynote
without Steve Jobs?” Neff asked rhetorically. He said slides should be
merely a point of reference to underscore or embellish the message the
presenter is making. If there’s no reason for you to give the
presentation, “just e-mail the information,” he said.
Duarte suggests limiting information to one point per slide for the
greatest impact. Even if you have to convey complex information, she said
it’s more appropriate and effective to highlight results or the payoff of,
say, a research project, than the nitty-gritty details, which can be
distributed in handouts or at a Web site when audience members have more
*Update adds Gore’s use of Keynote presentation program.