Book Review – Clear and to The Point

This is another book that helped to form my early interest in presentation design.


Stephen Kosslyn is a professor of psychology who has written many papers and books on cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. This book follows from one of his earlier works, Elements of Graphic Design. This is a very well-written and practical book that gives some great examples of “Do’s” and “Dont’s” to improve slides in presentation.

Kosslyn offers 3 goals that “virtually define an effective presentation:”

  1. Connect with your audience
  2. Direct and hold attention
  3. Promote understanding and learning

He then proposes 8 principles to achieve those goals:

  1. Principle of Relevance – Communication is most effective when neither too much or too little information is presented
  2. Principle of Appropriate Knowledge – Communication requires prior knowledge of pertinent concepts, jargon, and symbols
  3. Principle of Salience – Attention is drawn to large perceptible differences
  4. Principle of Discriminability – Two properties must differ by a large enough proportion or they will not be distinguished
  5. Principle of Perceptual Organization – People automatically group elements into units, which they then attend to and remember
  6. Principle of Compatibility – A message is easiest to understand if its form is compatible with its meaning
  7. Principle of Informative Changes – People expect changes in properties to carry information
  8. Principle of Capacity Limitations – People have a limited capacity to retain and to process information, and so will not understand a message if too much information must be retained and processed

Quotes from the book

“…you don’t want the audience to be lost in the admiration of the background of your slides.”

“Just as you wouldn’t blame Microsoft Word for every bad article you’ve read, you shouldn’t blame the Powerpoint program for every bad presentation you’ve seen.”


Kosslyn, S. Clear and to the Point. 2007. Oxford Press.

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