Book Review: resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte has done it again.

resonate cover Her new book, resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, is a prequel to the best-selling slide:ology, which set a new standard for excellence in PowerPoint design. Resonate is the book to read before you read slide:ology, because it explains how to understand audiences, create persuasive content and structure a talk before firing up PowerPoint.

The book equals slide:ology’s beauty, sharing the same high production standards and stunning graphics. But don’t be seduced by its design or the misled by the subtitle. My one complaint with resonate is that the subtitle is too limiting. It’s far more than a book on how to “present visual stories”; rather, it’s an extensive listing of the secrets and essential truths of the best storytellers and public speakers, whether they use visuals or not.

Whereas Duarte’s first book explored the intricacies of design and the contrasts of the color wheel, resonate explores the intricacies of storytelling and effective ways to build emotional contrasts into the core of the speakers’ message.

The book not only opposes the cultural norm that presentations are nothing more than written reports, filled with mind-numbing detail; it also stands firmly on the side of the speaker who tells a story, crafted to produce an emotional response and deliver a memorable experience. Stories, Duarte explains, have conveyed meaning to audiences through the ages. They’ve been a tool of persuasion since the earliest myths were told around campfires.

Hearts and minds

The fundamental secret of changing the audience’s minds, Duarte tells us, is to tell a story that resonates with them:

The audience does not need to tune themselves to you—you need to tune your message to them. Skilled presenting requires you understand their hearts and minds and create a message to resonate with what’s already there.

The strength of the book is the clarity with which Duarte explains, step by step, how to change the minds of an audience. From the screenwriter who opens a movie with an inciting incident to an understanding of the stages of the hero’s journey in a novel, Duarte explains how to deliver presentations where something magical happens. Of course, that means her suggestions can be used for good or evil; for example, she explains how Enron executives used presentations as a propaganda device to spread lies and defraud thousands. Fortunately, her other case studies describe presentations which change the world for the better, with inspirational messages that convey feeling, emotion and meaning.


Duarte has invented a powerful analytical tool she calls a “sparkline” to map the structure of any speech. A sparkline is a graphical representation of a presentation that shows the points at which it moves between describing “what is” to describing “what could be.” Color-coding and text-positioning on the sparkline reveal the “shape” of a particular presentation and map the audience response by noting laughter and applause. No two sparklines are alike, because no two presentations are alike.

Sparklines offer communications professionals a way to make an impact in the C-Suite. Anyone with the time (and courage) to create a sparkline analyzing executive speeches in your own organization will now be able to deliver a report on the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation that can be grasped at a glance.

Turning information into stories

If you are responsible for executive communications in the corporate world, you’ll appreciate the practical steps Duarte shares that turn abstract information into emotionally appealing stories. Her case study on how her company—Duarte Design—transformed a single high-tech product slide into a story with a “hero” who faces conflicts and challenges that the product then solves, shows what can be achieved with a little creative effort.

The creative process that Duarte Design uses with clients such as Cisco Systems, Google, Adobe and Microsoft is outlined for all of us to learn and apply as we grow in our careers. As Dan Post, the President of Duarte Design, says in the foreword:

If great presentations were easy to build and deliver, they wouldn’t be such an extraordinary form of communication. Resonate is intended for people with ambition, purpose, and an uncommon work ethic. Applied with passion and purpose, the concepts in this book will accelerate your career trajectory or propel your social cause …. Few pursuits in professional self-improvement have as much professional leverage.

Changing the world

Duarte’s real heroes are those people who give speeches that change the world, none more so than Dr. Martin Luther King. Her sparkline analysis of his I Have a Dream speech is worth the price of the book. She analyses the “shape” of King’s speech as it moves from what is to what could be, highlighting the use of repetition, dramatic pauses and metaphor to change the minds of his audience and ultimately change the world.

This review was originally published in

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Nancy is interviewed by Rob Cottingham on his social speech podcast

Nancy highlights her sparkline of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech in this wonderful blog posting on the anniversary of his birth.

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