Text: Essential For Diagrams, Not Presentations

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In my role I deal with a lot of diagrams and presentations. There is an unfortunate trend amongst IT professionals, manufacturers, and resellers to fail to communicate properly using both diagrams and presentations. This miscommunication stems from the inclusion or exclusion of text. Sometimes you need to read text to explain what you are looking at, and at other times text gets in the way. It all depends on the purpose for the material that you are looking at.

So why do so many IT professionals create presentations with slides like this?


To make matters worse, their diagrams often look like this:


Our industry has it backwards!

When making a presentation it is the presenter’s job to know the material so well that he or she does not need to read from a screen. Between Google image searches and the animation tools that any modern presentation software includes you should never have text on the screen unless it is a brief quote or statement that you want to put heavy emphasis on. Such slides should be a rarity, with the overwhelming majority of a presentation using images and animation to compliment what the presenter is saying.

On the flip side a diagram should have plenty of accompanying text to explain why an item was included on the diagram. No one cares if you have every single IP address and hostname for all of the systems in the diagram if you do not have some text explaining what the infrastructure provides and how it provides it. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but only when that picture clearly conveys a message.

I have a theory as to why this plethora of text appears in presentations but not on diagrams:

  • We create presentations for others, but many of us do not know how to present. Thus we rely on written communication skills to convey our message instead of verbal communication skills and body language.
  • We create diagrams for ourselves, or for our fellow team members who can easily get in contact with us if they do not understand the diagram. We never assume that the diagram might one day go outside our circle of connections and be viewed as cryptic.

Keep this article in mind the next time you are creating a diagram or presentation. Work with a great presenter to craft materials that compliment what you say as you present, and never present on a subject that you are unable to speak comfortably about without notes. For your diagrams include text that explains what every item on the page is, and what it does that warranted it being included in the diagram to begin with. Doing so will also remove unnecessary clutter from your diagrams.

Develop these presentation and documentation skills and you will have abilities beyond just technical skills that others will notice. People who can communicate effectively are able to lead others, and if you want to ensure that the right technology is being used in your organization why not be the person leading the technical decision makers? You cannot lead others unless you communicate well, both with and without text!

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