I’ve written about Duarte before, and in particular about her books Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations and Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. I came across Slide:ology when it was first published in 2008 and immediately introduced her ideas to the students in my second-year writing class, who were preparing presentations. Her advice about slides was contrary to the usual “no more than five bullet points per slide,” arguing that slides should be visually powerful and engaging on their own terms and that one word or one striking image can enhance a presentation much more than three bullet points. Since then I’ve watched a number of TED Talks that use Duarte’s principles and have seen students take them up to great effect.
Then in Resonate I learned about the extensive research Duarte has done on the structure of effective presentations. She looked at hundreds of speeches—from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” to Steve Jobs’s iPhone launch speech—and found that they all shared a similar structure. Each moved from “what is” or the status quo to “what could or should be,” often moving back and forth between the two before building up to a peroration about what should be. I then started looking at speeches myself and found this same structure at work in many of them.
So I’ve learned a lot from Duarte about how to help students make increasingly powerful presentations. Since Duarte uses slides so frequently, I was especially interested to read that she recommends that speakers NOT begin with slides. Rather, she prefers to use 3 x 5 cards or sticky notes and put one idea on each one, then put them all up on a wall and study them. In other words, she wants to have the arc of her argument—the story she is telling—very, very clear before she starts creating slides that will embody that story. More good advice.
While I’ve read most of her books, I only recently discovered Duarte’s blog, which I am now reading regularly. The most recent one, dated August 21, 2015, is entitled “Tough Audience? 5 Ways to Stay Calm, Cool, and Collected.” In it she confesses to looking forward to the next season of Downton Abbey but says that she keeps herself occupied during the wait for it by watching the British Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons.
So Duarte is doing more research, studying how the PM handles tough questions and “wrangles” members of the British Parliament. She gives us a good example of the kind of research a successful rhetor needs to do, and it’s the kind of research our students can also carry out. I can imagine students doing terrific analyses of how the PM handles audiences—or of doing the same thing for current Presidential candidates. Great food for thought in class. I am also now going to recommend Duarte’s blog to students so they can follow her as well. While she has not to my knowledge studied rhetoric formally, she knows a lot about it through practice!
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