Meeting Report: Nancy Duarte discusses presentation excellence with Silicon Valley Speechwriters

Nancy Duarte was the guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable. Duarte is the well-known author of slide:ology and Resonate and the founder and CEO of Duarte, Inc.

Slideology Nancy acknowledged the important role writing her books has had on the growth of her business. A few years ago, while searching for presentation blogs, she came across Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen blog. Garr encouraged her to write a book that covered “everything he left on the table” with his own draft of Presentation Zen. The result was slide:ology. She is grateful that Garr encouraged her to write her first book, since it was instrumental in helping refocus her agency on presentation-specific work.

Garr and Nancy are still good friends and she hosted him at a recent lunchtime talk about presentations at the Silicon Valley headquarters of her company.

Resonate Nancy’s second book, Resonate, was in many ways the prequel to her first. She acknowledges that writing slide:ology made the phone ring for slides, while Resonate made the phone ring for content. She sees a trend with some of her clients where she is being asked to help develop creative content and conversations that don’t need slides. She sometimes arms clients with graphics they can draw on a whiteboard while presenting.

How to work with clients

The concepts in Resonate are one model among many her company uses. When they engage with clients they first host an interactive discovery workshop. They probe for the “one big idea” that the client wishes to communicate. This can be a painful process for some clients, who might not have given their big idea any thought and might, in fact, discover they lack the focus they need to have before they present. The next step for the Duarte team is to break down and rebuild the clients’ idea, wrap it in a story and concepts and then re-propose back to the client what they think they should say. At this stage they use slide maps which match the stages of the presentation to the best supporting images, data or pictures. Once this is approved, the presentation is story-boarded.

Nancy’s advice for speechwriters who have “difficult” clients–who are not be fully invested in the need to prepare for a presentation–is to pick a high stakes presentation to request complete client involvement. Avoid getting caught up in small skirmishes. The higher the stakes, the more involvement an executive should see they need to have. That is the time to pitch the ideas on why it needs to be done right. Speechwriters need to understand most clients are not masters of the spoken word. We are the experts in storytelling who live and breathe this world. It’s advisable to give clients time to acclimate to our ways of thinking.


A Sparkline is an analysis tool Nancy introduced in Resonate that represents a presentation. She jokes that, no, Martin Luther King did not use a Sparkline to plan his “I Have a Dream” speech since she was only two-years old at the time! Indeed, a Sparkline is not something to use in preparing a speech, but in analyzing why a successful speech works.

“If you were to align on the left everything that is what is, and align on the right everything what could be, and you’ve crafted it and you know it’s right, it ends up following the form on its own. It’s a pattern that is persuasive.”

TED Talk

she gives some compelling examples OF Sparklines in her TED talk that has been seen over a million people:

Such eloquence does not come easily. Nancy mentioned that she put over 30 hours rehearsal time into her 18-minute TED talk. The TED format forces people to be concise and has, she believes, changed the presentation industry. It’s the new gold standard and audiences now know what a good presentation looks like. Audiences have low tolerance for lack of presentation and TED has played a part in that.

Among the women speakers Nancy admires are:

What’s Next?

Nancy revealed she has a new book coming in October. She also plans to release a free multimedia version of Resonate. Her team are also developing tools that allow audiences will tap into a second screen for detailed information on a presentation.

If you are interested in attending future virtual meetings of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable, open to anyone, regardless of location, please sign up on our Meetup page and you’ll be notified.

3 Comments so far
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Thanks much for your recap. I had registered, but got waylaid by … you guessed it: a speech I was writing!

Any chance of getting a link to download the teleconference?

R.L.: Good point, but unfortunately we did not record the call. Next time! Ian

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