Yes, Your Hand Drawings Can Overpower PowerPoint for Successful Presentations

back of the napkin home page Dan Roam in “The Back of the Napkin’ makes a convincing case for a simpler and better approach to communicating based on visual thinking.

There’s a reason that school rooms and conference rooms have whiteboards.  We all tend to learn better when we combine what we hear with what we see.  That’s why presentations can be more powerful when they integrate appropriate visual imagery. 

That was probably what the creators of PowerPoint had in mind rather than the bevy of bullet point, text-heavy monster presentations it has unleashed upon the world.

There is a better way and it’s all about visual thinking. Dan Rowe makes a powerful case for building on basic visual imagery as the best way to share information, solve problems, and sell ideas.

Although the pictures that he suggests we draw are as basic as can be, his concepts are pretty sophisticated.  Why?  It is almost always hard to make things easy.  For example, this is true of software, which may be incredibly complex behind the scenes.  But, for the developers, the real challenge is making that software easy to use for unsophisticated customers.

So it is with Dan’s approach in "The Back of the Napkin".  Basic drawings are just the beginning.   Visual images are part of a very sophisticated approach to presenting information persuasively.  You will learn to share information or sell ideas with visual representations that will be easy to explain and easy to grasp. The hard part comes in deciding exactly how best to represent what visual images you will show and how you’ll show them.

Thus, learning to use his methodology will require some effort.  but, it will be time well spent because communicating both verbally and visually using Dan’s approach really works.

To give you an idea of what Dan has in store for you, here are the primary concepts to grasp:

  • He says that there are six ways of seeing things.  This applies literally to a scene we might observe outdoors or virtually to a problem or challenge we might want to describe. As we think about the ideas we need to convey, these are the vital questions to ask and answer about the visual elements to be shown:
    • Who or what?
    • How many?
    • Where?
    • When? 
    • How?
    • Why?
  • It’s essential to decide on the kind of visual message we want to present before we worry about the actual image.  He creates an acronym called,SQVID as a mnemonic to organize these concepts. For example if our topic involved an apple pie we would want to decide between the vision of a completed pie vs. the execution of actually creating the pie. That’s  the ‘V’ in SQVID. Here are all of the visual variations:
    • Simple versus elaborate
    • Quality versus quantity
    • Vision versus execution
    • Individual attributes versus comparison
    • Delta (or change) versus status quo

In the spirit of visual presentation, here is his core conceptual construct the way Dan envisions it as a Swiss Army knife metaphor:

back of napkin swiss army knife

Here’s a more elaborate diagram that lays out Dan’s complete set of elements you will need to evaluate and employ when you create your visual thinking-based presentation:

back of the napkin visual codex

Read Dan’s book so that you can become a better visual thinker–and so that you can do a dramatically better job of presenting and persuading every audience from large to small. 

If I haven’t convinced you, be sure to visit his extraordinarily visual and persuasive website: The Back of the Napkin.

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  1. Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I remember years ago, my economics teacher said one of the most important things every good business person should be able to do is explain a concept by drawing it out on the back of a cocktail napkin. Dan’s book looks like a good one to check out. Thanks for the review and taste of his book.

  2. Newt Barrett
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the feedback. Yes, in fact, a very cool example is the launch of SW Airlines with an incredibly simple diagram on a cocktail napkin. But you’ll have to buy the book to see it!

  3. DDrickhamer
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Looks like a classic example of popularizing and refining some well-tested concepts. Manufacturers and others have been applying these ideas for years in a more textbook way. See Gwendolyn D. Galsworth’s Visual Systems: Harnessing the Power of a Visual Workplace,

  4. Newt Barrett
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    David, I think that Back of the Napkin was textbook enough for me. It’s actually pretty challenging to translate all of the principles of visual thinking into a coherent and compelling presentation. I’m still working on it.