Over the past few weeks we’ve enjoyed collaborating with Nolan Haims, VP and Presentation Director at Edelman and author of the excellent blog Present Your Story, a fantastic resource for presentation inspiration and best practices. Nolan has been keeping us on our toes to make sure we’re not unleashing the wrong kind of zen presentation style into the world. We are grateful.

Q&A with Nolan Haims

Haiku Deck: What’s your presentation design philosophy in a nutshell? (Or, for super bonus extra credit, in a haiku?)


Design content

Not just frames 

Around that content

[Haiku Deck note: This is technically more of a lune. But if we’ve learned anything from Nolan, it’s that there’s always a way to further simplify. Why have 17 syllables when 12 will suffice?]

Back to Nolan: The majority of presentation design continues to be focused on templates and unintegrated elements like clipart and random rectangles of imagery thrown on slides. Presentation design is too often thought of as template design, but a heavily designed template is just a frame around your actual message. I would love to see more people spend their energies and talents laying out and designing content, focusing on information design and a visual communication of the actual messages on a slide by slide basis.

Haiku Deck: What most makes you cringe in a poorly designed presentation?

Nolan: Too much content in on-screen presentations. Simply stated: the more that is on your slide, the less your audience will absorb—or even read in the first place. Studies have shown that students learn more when presented with less. It should be the same for presenters’ audiences. This means ruthless editing and often separate, more detailed print documents. Both of these things take time, which is why I think most people simply avoid them.

But, know when your presentation is actually a print document. There’s nothing wrong with creating a detailed textual document using PowerPoint—just know the difference between that and an on-screen presentation.

Haiku Deck: It’s not every presentation expert that recommends making your presentation like a Twinkie. Could you elaborate on that a bit?

Nolan: Oh, the Twinkie bit! When I train and coach, I tell people that they should have only two goals when creating presentations: 1) clarity and 2) stickiness. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you or your message is, if an audience doesn’t clearly understand your message and then remember it, your efforts are all for naught.

Much of presentation design is rightfully focused on the clarity part, but when it comes to stickiness, the most effective way to get your audience to remember your messages is to wrap them in stories. Charts, graphs, text, and pictures don’t last. Stories can live forever.

So, think of an idea as a Twinkie’s filling: on its own, it might be delicious, but it’s hard to digest, and it won’t last. But wrap that idea in a delicious cake wrapper—a story—and it will last forever. Just like a Twinkie…

Make Your Presentation Like a Twinkie – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

A fantastic book on the stickiness of stories is Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick.

Haiku Deck: What’s the best presentation you’ve ever seen, and what did you love about it?

Nolan: I love Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel pitch from Season 1 of Mad Men. He makes use of many techniques that business presenters are hesitant to employ, but would be smart to incorporate:

  • Brevity: The pitch lasts just a few minutes.
  • Emotion: A good presentation should be a healthy mix of the analytical and emotional. While Don’s almost 100% emotional presentation style is probably too much for most non-fictional presenters, I think most presentations would be aided by more emotion.
  • The Personal: Every picture is a personal one of Don’s family—no stock handshakes, no guys climbing mountains; as with the emotional, most presentations would benefit from more personal touches.
  • Stories: Don tells a personal, visual story of his own life; it not only leaves his audience literally speechless, but will no doubt be remembered for years—only a story can do that.
  • Limited Text: “Kodak Introduces Carousel” is the only text on screen…

Haiku Deck: What advice do you have for Haiku Deck users who want to create strong presentations?

Nolan: Well, you could create a great Don Draper-like presentation with it, for sure. I think that Haiku Deck can be a good tool for creating a highly distilled presentation and in many ways keeping the focus on the presenter rather than the slides. Slides should always just be the backup singers—the presenter should be main attraction. But avoid the temptation of randomness and incessant metaphor in choosing imagery. If you’re selling widgets, but all your audience remembers are pictures of lemonade stands, handshakes and relay races (“teamwork!”), you haven’t created anything very sticky. Consider literal imagery when possible: How about a picture of your widget’s manufacturing process instead of one of a Swiss watchmaker?

More Presentation Inspiration

For more presentation inspiration, be sure to take a spin through our Presentation Pointers Pinterest board and our Featured and Popular Galleries, which highlight new awesome examples every week. You can also access the Gallery any time, right from the app.