Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Assertion-Evidence PowerPoint slides are a visual alternative to bullet point lists

Sunday’s Dilbert cartoon had his pointy-haired boss proclaiming that:

“Experts say your slides should tell a story in pictures”

and then meddling as usual, without any understanding of how to accomplish that goal.

There is an alternative assertion-evidence slide design developed by Michael Alley and his co-workers which does that. The slide shown is an example I created.

It was described back in November 2005 in a magazine article titled Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: A Case for Sentence Headlines and Visual Evidence that was written by Michael Alley and Kathryn A. Neely and published in the obscure Technical Communication magazine, (V52 N4, p 417 to 426). You can download it either here or here

This design is described on the Penn State web site on Speaking Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students. You also can download a handout from a workshop for STEM faculty at Penn State. This design has gradually spread from engineering and science to business and general use. In 2009 Olivia Mitchell blogged about Here’s a quick way to make over a bullet-point slide.

There is a six-minute YouTube video of Michael Alley discussing Improve Your PowerPoint. Robert Yale made a 22-minute video on The Assertion-Evidence Structure that you can see on YouTube.

The Amazon Malaria Initiative web site at USAID has four downloadable documents about making presentations using assertion-evidence slides:

Tips for developing effective presentations
Selecting the Most Effective Design Style for Your Presentation
Outlining a Presentation Using the Assertion-Evidence Slide Design
Examples of Makeover Slides

There also is a detailed description of this design in Michael Alley’s book, The Craft of Scientific Presentations (2nd edition 2013). His guidelines for this style are:

His guidelines for this format are:

Try  the assertion-evidence design. I think you’ll like it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the links Richard – very useful.

The 2nd of Michael’s green slides above says “project no more than 20 words per minute”. I’ve not heard that stat before, but it sounds helpful.

Based on advice by Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds and others, I use a limit of around 15 words per slide.

Michael Alley said...

Richard: Thank you for such a thoughtful summary of my work and the work of others. Through efforts such as your website, we can significantly raise the quality of presentations at our work places and in our schools. You might add one more link to your collection: This site is designed to help presenters learn and practice the assertion-evidence approach. Michael Alley

Charles Crawford said...

It all seems heavily over-prescriptive. Why such small fonts? Why so many fiddly rules or guidlines?

A presentation full of laboured Assertion/Evidence slides will be boring. Why not do Evidence/Assertion?

The point is that each slide is a picture: either an actual picture of a thing or a diagram, or a picture of words.

Every micro-second they spend 'reading' a slide is time lost from listening to the speaker. So if the slide is not graspable at-a-glance it's failed.

Avoid 'bullet-points' by omitting the bullets! They add distracting clutter. If you want to show a short list, simply indent the list to show that it's list.

Bottom line: PPTs are a bad way to convey information, but they are fine for conveying wisdom - why the information matters.

Give them the core information on a paper hand-out to glance at for a couple of minutes, then give a PPT that's bold and brassy and unexpected and sets that information in context