The cliché

Doug Neff

Written by

Doug Neff

In the preface to her wonderfully inspiring book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland says (of the students in her writing class),

I freed them from clouds of automatic verbiage, from “uninterestingness”.

Lovely, isn’t it? I bet you’ve never seen those words strung together before. It’s fresh and new. An original and poetic way of making her point.

And if she had written that she “maximized their creative assets” or “drove her class to high standards” you might not have even noticed the sentence. It would have slid by, unnoticed, because you had seen one just like it a hundred times before. Instead, with a few carefully chosen words, she managed to capture my imagination and make her point beautifully. (A big thank you to Amanda L. for recommending this book.)

If we do anything at Duarte Design, we work hard to free our clients from “uninterestingness”, that debilitating affliction to which business presentations seem particularly vulnerable. And one of the symptoms for uninterestingness comes from the cloud of automatic visual metaphor, that smelly old town dump of our collective visual consciousness.

Shaking hands with a globe in the background

We call it the cliché.

Clichés are those tired, overused, well-worn ideas that seem to dominate every boring presentation you’ve ever attended. And we’ve seen plenty of them. To be perfectly honest, we’ve used quite a few of them ourselves.

But we keep aiming for “interesting”, and that means leaving the cliché behind.

We do this by calling them out whenever we see them, by encouraging our clients to let go of their favorite “water ripple” slide for something a little more creative, and by pushing ourselves to always find another way to tell the story.

So I thought it would be fun to share with you some of our favorite presentation clichés. The one above, in fact, is a well-known taboo in the office. We use “two hands shaking” to refer to any slide that has ventured into cliché territory, a sure sign that we need to go back to the drawing board.

This slide probably evokes the idea of “partnership” for you. It does for everybody! And that’s the problem. Anyone could think of that image. If you really want to show “partnership” visually, then spend some time brainstorming and figure out a unique and wonderful way to do it. Don’t settle for the first answer that comes to you. Go deeper and find the good stuff. The stuff that’s unique and poetic. The stuff that will capture your audience’s imagination the way Brenda Ueland captured mine on the second page of the preface to her book.

We’ll continue this series of favorite presentation clichés by sharing a new one every week. Add your own favorites to the comments, and together we can save the world from uninterestingness!