An Interview with Nancy Duarte
Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj
Date Created: September 29th 2010
Last Updated: September 29th 2010
Nancy Duarte has been a Principal of Duarte Design since 1990. Her firm is in the heart of the Silicon Valley and the client list is loaded with Fortune 500 companies. Her passion for business communications that are clear, meaningful and attractive has opened doors for her in a business world full of cluttered and complex visual communications.
Nancy's much awaited book Resonate has just been released, and is a prequel to her best selling book, Slide:ology -- in Resonate, Nancy looks at the concept of creating better stories so that you can end up with more effective presentations. In this Indezine exclusive interview, Nancy discusses Resonate and more.
Geetesh: What does Resonate signify to you as a concept, as an experiment, and as a story?
Nancy: It’s common to hear in a conversation “wow, that resonates with me”. It’s a term we use today to express that what someone has said aligns with what we think is true. When presenting, we are persuading. This means you’re asking an audience to move from their perspective and adopt your idea. To do that, you need to resonate deeply with them at such a level of conviction that they will latch on to your idea and even spread it. I love this video of resonating that my son put together for me. As the frequency goes up and the sine waves get tighter, the pattern changes. It’s as if the grains of sand understand where they need to move to. The signal resonates so deeply within the plate that it moves the sand to its next destination by sending a clear resonant signal. That’s what a great presentation should do. If the grains of sand are our audience and we want to move them to a new place, we need our signal to be clear and resonate to the point that they willing snap and pop to this new state we want them to be in.
Geetesh: Anyone who has read a few pages of Resonate will find it is a result of observation, trial, and research – how did the book evolve?
Nancy: I knew I wanted to write a book about effective content development for presentations. Presentations get a bad rap for being awful, yet I believe it’s the most powerful communication medium we have. So why are exceptional presentations so rare? After studying great communicators, timeless literature, powerful cinema, and reading hundreds of speeches a pattern emerged. I was relieved that my thesis was right when I decided to overlay the pattern over famous speeches and it worked! One of the greatest challenges was that the book itself needed to follow the concepts in the book. So there are tons of facts and research but also emotional appeal. I would say that Slide:ology came from my head and Resonate came from my heart.
Geetesh: Placing the "presentation" between a "story" and a "report" – is that the thin dividing line between what audiences want against the slides that presenters show?
Nancy: There are two polar extremes in writing. On one end is report writing. People use applications like PowerPoint to write reports all the time. They are dense, exhaustive summaries of topically organized information and details. These should not be projected as a slide, they should be distributed like a document and read. On the other extreme you have Story. A story has a narrative structure with that creates a dramatic experience that expresses emotion and transformation. I contend that great presentations fall in between report and story. They are a lovely blend between factual information and dramatic story. Presentations are an explanatory form of communication that unfolds your perspective with both analytical and emotional appeal.
Geetesh: How important is change within any story, and how does the change show itself on a story that will live as a PowerPoint slide?
Nancy: Transformation is the most important part of any story. The best stories have a character that due to the journey they go on, by the end of the story, they are changed and transformed. People love to gain personal insights from story and have for thousands of years. Story can play a dual role in presentations. Presentations can either adopt a narrative framework as a structure or you can use micro-stories sprinkled throughout as emotional appeal. Visuals simply support the story. A story can be told to one image or several, it depends on what will give the story the most impoact.
Geetesh: Stories are often used to teach morals. Yet many of the stories that teach a moral are fiction or even fables. Do you think it is okay to use fiction stories?
Nancy: Stories are such a unique communication form. Whether they are a personal recollection or a fiction story, they usually have the same effect on an audience. I personally feel that true stories told passionately from the first person perspective can be told with more passion and conviction. But any stories used that persuade the audience toward your objective are considered effective.