NICHOLAS J. MATIASZ, Ph.D.

Jean-luc Doumont

Jean-luc Doumont can teach you to communicate much more effectively. Doumont is a consultant and educator who lectures on effective communication. Since attending his talk at UCLA on May 1, 2014, I’ve studied his book, Trees, maps, and theorems, as well as his other online materials. For those who are unaware of Doumont’s work, this post provides a brief introduction.

Three laws of communication

Jean-luc Doumont bases his theory of communication on three laws:

  1. Adapt to your audience
  2. Maximize the signal-to-noise ratio
  3. Use effective redundancy

Much of Doumont’s theory is an elaboration of these three laws. I highly recommend his presentation on these principles, aptly titled “The three laws of communication.” If you’d like to attend one of Doumont’s presentations, you can check his speaking itinerary and sign up for his email list to be notified when he’s coming to your area.

Presentation slides

Perhaps Doumont’s most unique contribution to communication theory is his method for designing presentation slides. According to his method, you should give each slide only one message. Barring occasional exceptions, this message should be displayed prominently in the top-left corner of the slide; it should be expressed as a complete sentence, on no more than two lines. Doumont also encourages us to remove what he calls the noise: anything that does not communicate each slide’s single message. He jokes that you should reward yourself with an M&M each time you cut something from a slide. You can view examples of Doumont’s slides on his website; a good example is his presentation, “Modern myths: Shortcomings in scientific writing.”

I analyzed Doumont’s slides to determine the colors he uses most frequently. The hexadecimal and RGB values of his color palette are listed below, with some notes on how he often uses the colors.

Color Hex value RGB value Primary use
      #000000 (0, 0, 0) text
      #606060 (96, 96, 96) text
      #737373 (115, 115, 115) text, plot axes
      #A5A5A5 (165, 165, 165) text
      #CDCDCD (205, 205, 205) text
      #E6E6E6 (230, 230, 230) background color
      #EDA43C (237, 164, 60) data lines in plots
      #F5BC6C (245, 188, 108) bullets
      #FAD9A8 (250, 217, 168)  
      #FDE9CA (253, 233, 202)  
      #FF0F19 (255, 15, 25) emphasized text
      #E99076 (233, 144, 118) (lightly) emphasized text
      #FF6600 (255, 102, 0)  
      #FDF39D (253, 243, 157)  
      #00A54F (0, 165, 79)  
      #0B24FB (11, 36, 251)  

Templates

When I saw him speak at UCLA, Doumont shared an insightful perspective on templates, including templates for presentation slides. He defined a template as a set of rules to help you choose content for your document and format that content once you’ve chosen it. This definition of a template underscores an important point: if you have not chosen any content, you cannot perform any formatting. In other words, trying to design a document (e.g., trying to format slides) in the absence of content is not worth your time. When asked what template he uses for his slides, Doumont jokes that his template is a blank white page.

TeX

Except for his websites, Doumont uses TeX for all of his typesetting. He doesn’t seem to discuss TeX outside of technical communities, but he did give a presentation on his grid-based approach to page layout (see “Quantum space: designing pages on grids”). This grid-based approach produces an extremely clean, organized design. Doumont hasn’t released the source code for his slides, but you can read his description of his technique in his LinkedIn group.

Resources

Below is a selection of Doumont’s work.

Trees, maps, and theorems HTML
Traditions, templates, and group leaders HTML
Curriculum vitæ: some dos and don’ts HTML
Interview about forging your own career path HTML
English communication for scientists HTML
Grid design for LaTeX HTML
Effective written documents PDF
Effective oral presentations PDF
Designing the presentation: template PDF
Creating the slides: checklist PDF
Effective graphical displays PDF
An effective curriculum vitæ PDF
Modern myths: shortcomings in scientific writing PDF
How to work more efficiently PDF
Being efficient during your PhD PDF
Creating effective slides YouTube
Communicating science to nonscientists YouTube
Teaching is not learning: going beyond the traditional lecture YouTube
Quantum space: designing pages on grids YouTube
Integrating TeX and PDF YouTube

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