Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields


A complete road map to creating successful technical presentations

Planning a technical presentation can be tricky. Does the audience know your subject area? Will you need to translate concepts into terms they understand? What sort of visuals should you use? Will this set of bullets truly convey the information? What will your slides communicate to future users? Questions like these and countless others can overwhelm even the most savvy ...

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A complete road map to creating successful technical presentations

Planning a technical presentation can be tricky. Does the audience know your subject area? Will you need to translate concepts into terms they understand? What sort of visuals should you use? Will this set of bullets truly convey the information? What will your slides communicate to future users? Questions like these and countless others can overwhelm even the most savvy technical professionals.

This full-color, highly visual work addresses the unique needs of technical communicators looking to break free of the bulleted slide paradigm. For those seeking to improve their presentations, the authors provide guidance on how to plan, organize, develop, and archive technical presentations. Drawing upon the latest research in cognitive science as well as years of experience teaching seasoned technical professionals, the authors cover a myriad of issues involved in the design of presentations, clearly explaining how to create slide decks that communicate critical technical information. Key features include:

  • Innovative methods for archiving and documenting work through slides in the technical workplace
  • Guidance on how to tailor presentations to diverse audiences, technical and nontechnical alike
  • A plethora of color slides and visual examples illustrating various strategies and best practices
  • Links to additional resources as well as slide examples to inspire on-the-job changes in presentation practices

Slide Rules is a first-rate guide for practicing engineers, scientists, and technical specialists as well as anyone wishing to develop useful, engaging, and informative technical presentations in order to become an expert communicator. Find the authors at or on Facebook at: SlideRulesTAC

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Product Details

Meet the Author

TRACI NATHANS-KELLY, PhD, teaches engineering communication at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

CHRISTINE G. NICOMETO, MS, teaches technical communication in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's College of Engineering.

Both authors work with practicing engineers from such organizations as 3M, Federal Express, GE Healthcare Systems, General Motors, Google, Harley-Davidson, IBM, John Deere, Kraft, Lockheed Martin, Micron Technology, NASA, Qualcomm, Rockwell Automation, The Boeing Company, Toyota, U.S. Department of Defense, and UTC Aerospace.

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Table of Contents

A Note from the Series Editor xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Foreword xv

Introduction 1

Understand our path to these techniques 1

Witness the change 2

Feel confident about these techniques 3

References 3

1 Heed the Pleas for Better Presentations 5

Know the enemy 6

Be an agent of change 8

Call a meeting instead of summoning a slide deck 8

Destroy the decks of drudgery 8

Learn communication lessons from past tragedies 9

Confront conventional poor practices 10

Consider slides as a two-part deliverable 11

Implement your own continuous improvement 12

References 12

Slide Rule #1 Revisit Presentation Assumptions

2 Apply Cognitive Science and Tell a Story 17

Change presentation practices using grounded research 17

Stay open to change 18

Revisit how a slide works 19

Design slides for audience’s cognitive load 20

Lessen cognitive load with storytelling 24

Apply science and storytelling 27

References 27

3 Understand Audience Needs 29

Scope content toward identified purpose 29

Learn about your audience first 30

Determine the presentation’s purpose 32

Examine the goals for a talk 33

Elevate the moment 33

Assess the audience 34

Prepare for a familiar audience 34

Prepare for an unfamiliar audience 35

Coping when your talk gets hijacked 37

Ditch the “dumb it down” attitude 38

Think of audience needs, not yours 42

Think about logistics 45

References 48

4 Challenge Your Organization’s Culture of Text-Heavy Slides 49

Understand the patterns’ origin 50

Stop assuming they want to read 50

Work toward fewer bullets, less text 51

Avoid using slides as teleprompters 53

Build information deliberately 54

Move beyond “How many slides should I use?” 54

Encourage better presentation practices 56

Create, compile, organize, and stabilize team presentations 58

Work towards a change 60

References 60

Slide Rule #2 Write Sentence Headers

5 Clarify Topics with Full-Sentence Headers 65

Write full sentences for headers, avoiding fragments 65

Consider the case against fragmented headers 66

Deploy best practices for sentence headers 70

Expect immediate results 71

Write targeted headers 73

State a fact or explain a concept 74

Showcase an analysis 80

Transition to new information 84

Influence outcomes with headers 88

Frequently asked questions about sentence headers 88

References 91

Slide Rule #3 Use Targeted Visuals

6 Build Information Incrementally 95

Build something better than bullets 95

Devise methods that build information 97

Design with words to make bullet lovers happy 98

Solidify complex topics with refrains 99

Use refrain slides for meeting agendas 100

Create visuals for directed comprehension 103

Build out to drill down 107

7 Generate Quality Graphs 109

Portray complexity simply 110

Determine the right visual 111

Design reasonable pie charts 112

Design impactful bar charts and histograms 117

Design scatter XY charts and scatter plots 121

Craft line charts 127

Map out area graphs 128

Think through flow or process charts130

Address assorted other visual outputs 132

Graph ethically 133

Create accessible graphics 136

Frequently asked questions about graphs 138

References 139

Further reading 140

8 Picture the Possibilities 141

Center yourself 143

Manage image interpretation 143

Model accurately 143

Be ethical with visuals 149

Frequently asked questions about using pictures 150

References 151

9 Temper the Templates 153

See the possibilities in a template, branded or otherwise 153

Discover and assess a branded template 154

Work with company templates 156

Devise solutions for problematic templates 156

Fix the template 162

Provide template guidance 164

Refine quad slides 165

Establish brand when there is no template 166

Slide Rule #4 Archive Details for Future Use

10 Make Slide Decks with Archival and Legacy Value 175

Understand that slides have two lives 175

Start new best practices 177

Document ideas efficiently 178

Use the Notes or Presenter Notes feature 179

Get others to see your notes 180

Use hidden slides 181

Keep hidden slides ready 183

Make retrieval easy for everyone else 184

Embrace full documentation as part of workflow 187

References 188

11 Include More Than One Language 189

Know when English is not enough 189

Start with audience analysis 192

Anticipate formatting for translations 192

Deploy plain language 192

Write in one language and talk in another 195

Design split slides 195

Capture translation in notes 197

Translate toward clarity 197

Find resources 198

References 198

Slide Rule #5 Keep Looking Forward

12 Enact Organizational Change 203

Listen to the studies 203

Anticipate the stages of acceptance 204

Tally the results 207

Look for the opportunities 208

References 208

13 Thinking Through the Next Big Thing 209

See ahead 209

Play with Prezi 210

Use caution 211

Amaze with Autodesk 211

Apply apps 213

Remain diligent in your best practices 214

Index 215

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