How to become the Michelangelo of Powerpoint

4 Books That Can Help You Turn Your Presentations Into Sublime Works of Art


Maybe it’s so 10 years ago to talk about the sad state of the Powerpoint slides we see out there in the business world—in company meetings, Webex sessions, trade-shows and more. You’ve seen the kind of slides I’m talking about or (gasp) maybe you’ve made them yourself! You know, presentation slides riddled with bullet points, overflowing with text, and data, and unsightly graphs, or worse…clip art!

A while ago, Seth Godin and Steve Jobs valiantly decried bad Powerpoint but in the decade or so since, things haven’t improved much.

And what a waste this is!

When you get up in front of an audience you have a unique opportunity to connect with people; to transmit valuable information, insights, and emotions all wrapped-up in a powerful message that resonates and persuades.

But in a world besieged by artless, heartless, gutless Powerpoint, the signal is drowned out by the noise.

We can do better and it starts by going back to basics.

Here are 4 books that have helped me to create better presentations in Powerpoint, Keynote or any other software you may choose for this task. I’ve looked quite hard and these are the most helpful books I’ve found.

I encourage you to check them all out.

1. presentationzen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery 

This is one of my favorites because Garr Reynolds is the voice of calm reason; of tranquility amidst the tempest. This book is friendly, approachable and does a fantastic job of demystifying the subject matter for those of us who didn’t study at a world-class design school. There are a lot of high-level design principles discussed as well as many practical tips to help you turn your next presentation into a work of soulful art. There’s even some great material about delivering your presentation which you might find inspiring. If you can get only one book from this list, this would be it!

You may also want to check out Garr’s blog here.

2. Slide:ology The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations

Nancy Duarte is so awesome, she gets 2 spots on my list of the best books on slide presentations. She’s the principal of Duarte Design, one of the largest design firms and woman-owned businesses in Silicon Valley. Her book slide:ology is what I would call a presentation design manual for those of intermediate to advanced skill. There’s a lot of theory discussed and the science behind effective presentations gets ample coverage, but some of this may seem more than a bit intimidating to beginners or the unitiated. But the book is very attractively packaged and there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom even for the inexperienced. It’s a book well worth your consideration and study.

3. resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte

Welcome to the Holy Grail of presentations: presenting visual stories that transform your audience. Think of just how few people understand and have mastered this ability to tell wonderful stories. In resonate, Nancy Duarte takes you behind the curtains to see the masters at work and breaks down their performances into their constituent components so you can understand how to build your own impactful stories. If slide:ology was all about the building blocks of slides and presentations, resonate is all about crafting a transformational message.

This visually stunning book is a delight to just thumb through but if you go deeper, you will understand what it takes to be among the precious few with the power to hold audiences in rapt attention. This is a book that needs to to be in your Success Library. Get it. Devour it. Your presentations will never look the same again.

4. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward R. Tufte

This one’s for the truly wonky among us or for people like scientists, engineers, and researchers who must gather lots of data and represent that data graphically without “chartjunk” or other contrivances that obscure, distort or detract from the truth that should naturally emerge from the data. Mr. Tufte is the world’s expert on this and has no peer. All his books are at least worth a look so that you can understand his main lines of thinking so that you can create attractive and effective visual representations of data in your own presentations. For technical presenters, however, this is mandatory reading.

Why All This Matters

Not sure if all this is worth the trouble? Well, in the 21st century your job is to lead us, and your presentations are a critical part of your communications toolbox. Leaders who are blissfully unaware about the true purpose of presentations; who don’t understand the strict attention and short-term memory limitations of human beings; the importance of design in crafting visual messages; and the power of stories to connect with people’s hearts and minds are going to find their effectiveness lacking, at best. These books can help you avoid all these costly errors, so why not take the time to work on something so important to your success? You don’t have to be a design expert to create presentations that transmit important information in a way that is easy on the eyes, easy on the brain and easy to take to heart. These books will show you the way.