Polish, Perfectionism, and Presentations

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Earlier in my career, I obsessed over small, seemingly insignificant details, because I thought they were important.

Some were frustrated by this, and I know at times I took the process to extremes. But now that I know where this trait comes from (it’s related to one of the fundamental things that drove Steve Jobs  to create such amazing things), I have learned how and when to harness the obsession to turn otherwise mediocre content into things that get extraordinary reactions from people.

I was thinking about this today, as I spent the entire morning editing, polishing, and tweaking the content and appearance of my newest personal web page. All four pages of it.

This project was for me, so I didn’t have to worry about someone else’s clock, and since the site’s whole purpose is self-promotion, being persnickety about the presentation was entirely appropriate.

But I still felt a little guilty over the pace. Until I opened The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and got to the bottom of page 3.

That’s where the author shares how much time design experts (including those at Apple) recommend spending on the creation of a 60-minute presentation.

Ninety hours. For thirty slides.

And suddenly I felt at home again. (This prep time is specifically attributed to Nancy Duarte, who coached Al Gore.)

To get the right value from spending three hours per slide, you have to do a lot more than polish—you have to strive for perfection.

You will never get there, of course, but the key talent is knowing when you have reached the “good enough” point, so that you don’t waste time on elements that hardly anyone will notice.

I don’t have a clue how to teach that last point—I think you simply have to be blessed with a gut feel for what it is, and adjust it based on your hunch of what others with a slightly less-critical eye than yours will notice.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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