Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, responds to a request for a meta-tutorial on how to make Khan tutorials. In it he describes four guiding principles for making “KSVs,” or Khan Style Videos, as they are now called.

Maintain a Conversational Tone
Talk the way you would talk to another human being – the way you would actually have a conversation with another human being. Avoid highly scripted, highly polished, emotionless style. In Khan’s opinion this is not what human beings want to hear.

The listener is highly sensitive to what is going on in the speaker’s brain. If the speaker’s brain is not thinking in real time – if he is just reading something – the listener’s cue is why should I be thinking it through? Why should I care?”

If the speaker does not care about the topic and betrays as much through his speaking style and voice, it’s a big cue to the listener not to care as well.

In addition to a lack of affect in the presentation Khan cautions that negative affect is a danger as well. Never talk above or below the listener. Don’t be patronizing. Don’t pontificate. Be respectful of the student but don’t talk above him. Speak as though you see that the student has come to the topic for understanding and mastery and you both agree to work through it together.

Use Colors and Visuals Sparingly
Khan feels that hand-drawn pictures and diagrams (which he greatly favors) resonate better with the brain. In addition the presenter benefits from more output: It takes more time to do computer graphics for presentations ahead of time than it does to construct sketches on the fly.

Prepare Your Mind
Make sure the concepts and ideas are “distilled” in your mind. Speak directly from your mind and your heart (once prepared; noting the emotion again, which Khan takes as a positive element). Interestingly Khan notes that while he is not a fan of scripts as an end product the writing can help prepare the mind.

Keep It Short
Initially forced by YouTube, Khan considers about ten minutes to be the right length to articulate a concept. Given a large topic, chop it to small pieces and make a separate presentation for each piece.

Thanks to Anya Kamenetz and Fast Company for bringing this presentation to the fore.



Making a KSV (video)

Visual Oxymorons: Nonverbal Messages in Design

I don’t think this is much taught in Instructional Design courses, but the design of a presentation conveys information in and of itself to the audience. This is due in large part to the fact that all the elements of a course or presentation (including the presenter) constitute a Gestalt that is projected to the audience.

Good design matters because good design leads to clarity. And clarity facilitates perception.

The design elements often constitute the ground in the figure-ground relationship of the medium, but the whole package conveys a message. The medium is the message.

As an example of how design sends nonverbal cues to the viewer, take a look at the short talk by John McWade of Before & After Magazine. Although taken completely from the design world the example captures the effects of font, color and shape passed as a subliminal message to the unsuspecting eye.

It is not hard to cite these effects in educational media and presentations. How often does a slide, presentation or workshop exercise say “boring” or “we don’t care” or “this is not important” or “this is hard to understand” to an audience? Media evoke reactions from the viewer and the reactions are often affective in nature. Connie Malamed at the eLearning Coach puts it this way:

“This has strong implications for learning, because of the impact positive or negative feelings have on motivation, comprehension and retention.”

We design educational media for a reason. Well designed media lower the barriers to comprehension and assist the mastery of new skills. Things that detract from these goals include boring and inept graphics, awkward symmetry and poor layouts, illegible typefaces, abrasive or boring color schemes, and too much information.

For more information on good design see:

Before & After Magazine

How Visual Clarity Affects Learning,” The eLearning Coach

Visual Language for Designers

Avoiding the Data Dump – Building Better Technical Presentations

Picture 1
Death by PowerPoint

Garr Reynolds over at Presentation Zen has pulled an old skeleton from the presenter’s closet: The Technical Presentation: “Who says technical presentations can’t be engaging?” Scientific and technical presentations are often put in a separate class because they tend to be highly specialized, dense, and often a bad match for the limited bandwidth of PowerPoint. This, in combination with a variety of other issues (poor preparation, bad graphics, lack of clear purpose, no regard for the medium) often results in what is commonly known as the “Data Dump.” Too often we fall prey to this abuse, even when we are paying for the privilege of the presentation. Reynolds cites an essay by geologist J. Lehr (1985) who reminds us of our primary burden as presenters:

“Failure to spend the [presentation] time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for tedium.”

Avoiding the Data Dump requires work. Far too often presenters are pushed to deliver reams of data and complicated charts and graphs without the assistance of (or time for) a design(er). It’s almost unheard of (and perhaps ironic) that technical people have any background or knowledge of information design to help them prepare media. What’s worse, this blind spot is just as common in technical writers and instructional designers who fashion presentations for others to give. This is certainly one instance where good design can pay off.

With that said, what can we do to avoid inflicting a lethal PowerPoint presentation on a trusting audience?

  1. Prepare in advance
  2. “Own” the material
  3. Simplify the look and content
  4. Don’t read the slides
  5. Avoid gratuitous anything (this may be a comment on 3. above)
  6. Connect with the audience
  7. Adapt the presentation to the audience
  8. Tell a story
  9. Rehearse the talk (this may be a comment on 1. above)

How to give the worst possible presentation

Presentation Zen Design (the Book)

Garr Reynolds is in the throes of a new book titled “presentation zen DESIGN” due out at the end of the year. It follows on a previous title “presentation zen” and drills down deeper into material specifically related to visual communication. From his blog post:

“For many of us, there is a hole in our education when it comes to communicating visually, and knowledge of even the basics of graphic design is missing for most people. This book intends to do its small part to help fix this problem by focusing on concrete graphic design principles and techniques in the context of presentation design, though the concepts and knowledge can be applied to other areas of one’s professional life. This book is a deeper exploration of the Design section of PZ (chapters 5-7). The underlying guiding principles are the same — restraint, simplicity, and naturalness — but this time applied strictly to visual communication in general and graphic design in particular. My aim is to help the non-designer become a bit more savvy of a visual thinker and to give him or her the tools and understanding to apply this knowledge in concrete, practical ways immediately in presentations (and beyond).”


Reynold’s work should be required reading for anyone who teaches or gives talks with PowerPoint and the like. His emphasis on clarity, simplicity and naturalness is a balm to the tired soul deluged by dreary stacks of slides that drone on in endless succession.

The author also requests suggestions, stories and examples from his readers. Please write to Garr Reynolds at this address with suggestions for “presentation zen DESIGN.”