My last book review was a pan, so I’m happy to restore the karmic balance by giving a hearty and glowing recommendation to Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences.
This is not a beginner’s book about how to craft a presentation—readers who can deliver a solid, workmanlike presentation but who want to add more impact and pizzazz will get the most benefit from it. If you want more on logos, including forms of evidence and logical structures, I would recommend Advanced Presentations by Design, by Andrew Abela.
But this is not a weakness of the book, just a difference in focus. Duarte does not discount the importance of the analytical appeal, but as she says: “Many pages in this book have been devoted to creating emotional appeal—not because it’s more important but because it’s underused or nonexistent and should be incorporated.” (p. 180)
Paradoxically, while the book focuses on the elements that are required to resonate emotionally with the audience, many of her points are backed up with solid research. For example, her treatment of the importance of contrast is supported by a scholarly paper which analyzed the applause generated in 476 political speeches, and her discussion about the over-wordiness of slides draws on the solid research of Richard Mayer.
As many other presentation books do, Resonate emphasizes the importance and power of story, but it does so in greater and more instructive detail. Using story templates from myths and movies, you learn the proper form and structure of a story, so you can apply conscious competence to the creation of your presentations.
As is fitting for a book that is about presenting visual stories, Resonate uses a tool called sparklines, which are graphical analyses of the structure and delivery of presentations, so that you can see what works, when and why in a presentation. You can see how well it works by watching a wonderful TED talk given by conductor Benjamin Zander while following the sparkline on pages 50-51.
I especially liked the idea of using contrast to move the presentation along and hold the audience’s interest. In your content, contrast is used to compare what is to what could be, which is the essence of persuasion. Contrast is also used to offset and balance the appropriate application of logic and emotion. Finally, contrast in delivery keeps things fresh and introduces enough variety to fit within today’s shorter attention spans.
Many of the photos and graphic illustrations are striking and very effective. In fact, the only thing wrong with Resonate is that I could not bring myself to highlight or write in it as I do with most of my books. The book is just too beautifully put together to deface it, with excellent design and attention-grabbing photos.
There is much more to Resonate than this brief review has covered. I strongly recommend it to anyone who would like to make their presentations more engaging, powerful and memorable.
 His book, by the way, is well-worth reading if you would like to understand the cognitive impact of slides and give scientific justification for why you should make your slides cleaner and less wordy. (Multimedia Learning, by Richard E. Mayer.)