I had the joy of working with Rodney Hopson, 2012 President of the American Evaluation Association, on the slides for his keynote talk. The transformation was so huge that I asked Rodney if I could write a blog post about it and the thinking we put into the new design. He said I could, asking me to “Pick the rudest and most unorganized slide” for the discussion. Here it is:


Most of Rodney’s slides in his original talk looked similar to this one. These slides are the sign of someone who is really steeped in the literature and research and thinking of a field. In fact, Rodney is attempting to bridge several fields here, so he’s really swimming in information.

As we know, slides like this discourage involvement because it puts the audience in a position of reading and listening at the same time. Our brains are not very good multitaskers, so the result of this situation is that we get mentally overloaded and we take a break. We don’t walk away retaining much information.

The first discussion Rodney and I had about the slide redesign was that we would break each bullet into its own slide. One idea per slide. This is the biggest bang for the buck for those with text-heavy slides. I warned him that it would make the number of slides in his deck explode, but that it would be the same amount of content, the same number of minutes talking. He was okay with that. Well, we both slipped a little into “How am I going to get through 80 slides in 45 minutes?” mentality a few times, but we emerged okay.

Here is that same slide, revised into two:


The heading font and the action color were intentional choices. I wanted to relate the conference’s keynote talk to the graphic design put in to the conference’s annual theme (and developed by my friend Chris Metzner).  So for the slides, Rodney and I snagged the design elements and used them to support the slidedeck’s theme.  To my short memory, I’ve never seen a presidential keynote talk tie so closely to the annual theme.

We also broke down the text – one idea per slide, of course. But we broke that one idea down even further so that it was visually depicted as a diagram, where each text chunk appeared one at a time. It  reads more like how we think.

We also agreed that these somewhat academic concepts might relate better with strong, real world examples. So we added in mini-stories, this one about Pittsburgh, to illustrate Rodney’s theories.

Finally, we removed the references from slide. I convinced Rodney that his references belonged in the paper each president published in the American Journal of Evaluation. And that leaving them in his slides risked asking people to copy words, read, and listen simultaneously.

All of the after slides can be viewed in AEA’s eLibrary, here. You’ll see there that we also pulled in images from the program cover, which was a swirling soup of images, all related to evaluation, complexity, and ecology (I told you Hopson was bridging fields).

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