Have Consequences by Showing Context

A number of years ago I purchased a copy of The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint by Edward Tufte. I was flipping through it today while getting ready for the DrupalCon speaker training I’m giving and found a passage that I’d like to share.

A useful paper size for handouts at presentations is 11 by 17 inches, folded in half to make 4 pages. This piece of paper can show images and up to 60,000 characters of words and numbers, the content-equivalent of 50 to 250 typical powerpoint slides and text and data. Thoughtfully planned handouts at your talk tell the audience that you are serious and precise; that you seek to leave traces and have consequences. And that you respect your audience.

My lesson plans and presentations are always drafted on a sheet of US Letter paper, folded into quarters. Each quarter represents a unit of time (1/4 day for full day workshops; 15 minutes for hour-long presentations). My single sheet typically gets reformatted into an agenda for the attendees…but it gives very little information what they’ll actually be learning…not to mention it’s entirely UNinspiring for note taking.

Using an 11×17 sheet of paper almost seems like a luxury. I’ve immediately started thinking about how this single sheet of paper could give so much more context than what I can do in 2 sheets of US Letter paper. Here are a few of the benefits I can see:

  • Requires a special printer, preventing me from making tweaks right up to the last minute (and thus forcing me to practice the delivery of the presentation).
  • Folded once you have the equivalent of four sheets to work with. Folded twice you have a very portable reference booklet of 8 pages.
  • On one full side of the sheet you could give a “map” of the main software screen with lines leading off to each of the major tasks you were going to learn. (Think of a diagram of a watershed or some other ecology diagram.)
  • You could design the page in a way that actually inspired people to add notes by leaving little boxes and empty prompts.

Do you already use non-traditional information aids? What do they look like?