Posted by Dan Steer
During Presentation Skills training, we learn all about the 4 pillars of an effective presentation: Message, Structure, Content and Style. In content and style, we also look at how visual supports are used to support and message and speech: What would be the minimum effective dose when it comes to discussing a certain topic? Is a chart a better way of showing growth than a table? Should I add some images to my PowerPoint? And what kind of visual style should I use?
In my other post “9 PowerPoint Essentials for Real Business People”, I listed some very simple pointers for fixing PowerPoint slides. In this post, I develop one PPT slide example to show how we can turn bad text-driven slides into awesome big bold visual messages…
First, let’s look at the original slide in question:
This slide comes from a PPT deck in support of a presentation explaining how a particular bandage is better than another. One of the primary reasons is because this bandage doesn’t hurt when being taken off an abrasion-injury…
What’s wrong with this slide?
If you appreciate the 9 PPT Guidelines then its clear:
- There’s too much text
- The title is bad
- The colour contrast is not effective
- Its not very visual
Let’s see what we can do. First, to get to the minimum effective dose of text, take out anything that doesn’t have power (that’s why they call it PowerPoint, after all!):
- Look for what words carry the structural and content “weight”
- Take out useless prepositions (if, by, and, of…) and articles (a, the, an…)
You might end up with something like this…
That’s already a lot better!
One the ideas I like a lot about PowerPoint is Vinod Kholsa’s 5 second rule – if you can’t tell what a slide is about in 5 seconds, then its not good enough. A good next step to helping solve that is to add a message-driven title that actually says something. Try this:
..now, in the context of the greater presentation, we know immediately what this slide is about. What next?
Personally, I think a better colour contrast on PowerPoint slides makes a big difference to how physically easy it is to look at something and how aesthetically pleasing it can be. Keep the following in mind:
- Contrast is important to create good easy readability: Be sure to have light on dark or vice-versa
- Your eye will focus on whatever is brightest. This means that a bright white background is going to get all your attention… that is tiring and leads to headache. Better to have a dark background…
- …but if you do that, bear in mind that your printing costs will be higher. Consider having a dark-background for the wall and a white background for the handout.
Here is the new improved contrast version:
…immediately much better. Of course, don’t forget to customise your colours to suit the company branding, or your marketing guys will be really unhappy !
OK – its getting better. We are close to the minimum (maybe…) but its not very visual. A visual slide will work much better for the majority of people.
Here’s some basic guidelines for getting visual:
- Avoid old boring dodgy clipart – we’ve all seen it all before and it doesn’t make you look clever!
- Don’t draw things yourself unless you want to be “quirky” (like I did here) or you’re a really good artist
- Don’t opt for the first results you find in Google – chances are everyone else already used that as well
- Make sure your images are high quality – use the “other sizes” link bottom-right underneath Google thumbnail images to find better quality pictures
- If you are going to steal copyright (which I know you wouldn’t do…), don’t take the image with a watermark for copyright on it. It just looks lazy.
- If you are talking about numbers, pimp your table (blog-post to follow), use one of the right 4 chart types (blog post also to follow) or maybe even consider just showing an image which tells the story without reverting to numbers (you can put the numbers in a handout)
In this slide, the presenter added in an image that really shows you what he means by abrasions:
…but he kind of just slapped it on there without thinking. #Fail
Where should you put images when there is text on the slide?
Answer = left of the text block. Why? Its simple, because it lines up more nicely to the text block, like here:
Now, there are exceptions to this rule and the above example is not finished yet, so bear with me…
If you have text which is justified to the right, then of course you could line your image up better on the right. And if you have just a few bullet points that can be creatively placed to line up better, go for it. Click here to see one of my own examples.
In the slide above, the image is in the right place, but it is not looking beautiful yet. I think it would be much better to increase the size of the image to match with the size of the text block, like here:
Personally, I think we’ve come a long way from our original text-driven slide. We have gotten rid of a load of text, we’ve made more contrast and added a message-driven image, which is in the right place. Some people would stop here and depending on your style, that might be the right choice.
But personally, in terms of minimum effective dose (within the greater framework of the entire PPT) we can do a lot better.
First, let’s get bold with that image:
Hurts to look at? It should! That’s the point!
..but hang on a minute: The text says that an example of an abrasion is road-rash or something you get from sports + play, that’s its a superficial wound, that it hurts and that its prone to infection. Doesn’t the image already say all that? Wouldn’t the following do just the same?
For some people, this is too much. For me, it really is the minimum effective dose. For me, its an awesome big bold visual message.
The advantages of awesome big bold visual messages are many:
- It will be understood more quickly by the majority of people
- It will stick in people’s heads a little bit longer (certainly in THIS example!)
- It will oblige you to talk around your point instead of reading from the slide
- People will think you are awesome 🙂
Thanks for reading – I hope this helped
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Posted by Dan Steer
Trainees sometimes ask me: “What is the most efficient way to make a presentation?” Follow these 5 steps and you will know the answer… Objective, Audience, Message, Structure, Content !
- Clarify your objective to be sure what you want to achieve
- Define the audience to be sure you will say the right things in the right way
- Create a strong message that links your objective to the audience and creates impact and recall
- Build a structure that supports the message and is easy to follow
- Develop content in order to deliver the minimum effective dose
The pages linked above outline what to do at each step – follow the links and follow the instructions and you will be able to make a great presentation.
Don’t cheat on these steps. The next time someone asks you to make a presentation, just follow one at a time… Don’t go adapting previous presentations and PPT documents you have already made, start from scratch…
…and even if you prefer other ways to make your presentation, you will still need to deal with 5 basic steps. I can tell you now that the most efficient way is not opening PPT and just getting started on your visual support! Design your presentation first!
NOTE: This is not about making nice PPT documents, but building the whole presentation. PPT is referenced in the entry on building content…
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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