Visualizing the Audience

July 29, 2008 § 1 Comment

Imran Sobh has a recent post where he uses wordle.net to visualize his thesis paper from Carnegie Mellon’s Interaction Design Master’s Program. While his paper was, in his words, “[E]xploring ideas of perception and the self that lingered from undergrad with the design of interactive products and the increasing context we consider as interaction designers”, my paper was a polar opposite.

For my paper, I performed a large literature review of all the writing, research, and techniques involved in slide design. Yes, hardcore practicality. Using wordle.net, I pumped about 15,000 words on this topic into their website and set it to show the top 175 words used (sans common articles). My results:

A couple interesting things pop out. The first (possibly less important) thing I see is that a handful of my sources show up very large. I attribute this to my choice of using a humanities style citation, i.e. (Author Date). So, it’s sort of like tagging the holy crap out of my paper. It’s interesting for me to see how much I relied on Cliff Atkinson and Michael Alley. Alley is a professor who’s performed some of the only experiments on how well different slide designs work for scientific presentations (both for audience and presenter). Atkinson, on the other hand, is a consultant in L.A. who bases his slide design technique on Multimedia Learning research by Richard Mayer and uses a “Hollywood-style” scriptwriting approach for the visual-verbal interaction. In some ways they are very opposite, but in certain other ways they are similar. But, that’s fodder for another post.

The second thing that really pops out at me is that the word “audience” is one of the biggest words on the visualization. Besides the topic of the paper—Presentation/Presenter and “Slide(s)”—it’s the biggest word there. More importantly, it’s bigger than the word “Information”. Which is only fitting, really. So many presenters are fixated on information, when they should be fixated on the audience. All the information in the world doesn’t matter if your audience can’t absorb it. It’s a fire hose versus a water fountain.

When considering the audience in a presentation, always look to form your presentation information and vocabulary around the person in the room who has the absolute least amount of knowledge on your subject and then give them only as much information as they need. And trust me, it’s more water fountain than fire hose.

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