Microsoft clipart wielding virtuosos, you have had your day. Say goodbye to your star-wipes and ‘bounce in left, fade out’ animations. The love affair is over.
“Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication…” So wrote Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale, in his aptly named article ‘PowerPoint is Evil’.[i]
I know, I know. “But a PowerPoint is so professional!” you’re thinking. Indeed. To those who seek to spice up number-news or make forecasts and reports look more interesting than they are, it will be difficult for you to follow this initially but stay with me.
I remember the time I had the privilege of hearing Gary Gray speak. Gary, as you may or may not know, created the ‘Got Milk’ campaign, and wrote the Smarties jingle. You know the one. ‘When you eat your Smarties..’ That’s right. We sat mesmerized as he told us the story of how he got inspired to write that jingle; by noticing how little girls always saved the red ones for last so they could ink their cherubic lips with the spit-moistened, colour shells.
Gary spoke for a full hour with nothing but the hall spot lights on him. No slides to change, no handouts to follow, no bullet points appearing out of the animation ether. And even without all that, I still remember his words in as crystalline a state that almost 10 years will let me. His favourite movie (at least then) was The Conversation. He was writing a book for his grandkids about astronauts, and his father was a marquee changer who used to let him hang out at the theatre all the time which is what in part ignited his passion for media. He also owned an island. I remember that he was wearing a grey suit, and a bow tie. And I remember his voice. His unadorned and undeniable presence was possibly the best pitching tool ever. His message is still engrained in my mind.[ii]
We had about 30 key-speakers in that lecture series. Speakers from Umbra, from Alias Wavefront.. I think we even had Nick Shin come in and speak about the Mordechai Richler font he was then still designing. All of them had great presentations but I don’t remember anything beyond that general ‘good’ mental grade I gave them. I remember they all had PowerPoint’s though. They all stood behind the podium and half entertained, half begged their audience to stay alert in the darkened room.
Now that we’re fully entrenched in a new kind of ‘broadcast culture’ the stakes are even higher. Airtime snippets have conditioned our attention spans to disconnect in less than 3minutes, if that. Yikes. So how are you supposed to get someone to sit through a 40 slide PowerPoint and retain anything, let alone stand prop-less and just ‘present’ in a packed auditorium?
In a private study of 10 participants, only 2% were able to accurately recall the last PowerPoint slide they had seen just 5 minutes earlier, but when asked what the last 3 YouTube spots they had previously watched, 80% were able to answer without any difficulty, and even engaged in lively discussion about specific uploads.
Hmm. Video, 1. That PowerPoint you gave on Best Practices, K.O.
So where does this leave you when next you have numbers and figures to share with your boss and their boss?
We can’t all be Gary Gray on the captivation scale. But we can make sure that we use his principles of engagement in combination with our presentation technology and even expand our tech scope to gain more of a recall with our viewers. Remember, the key to every great presentation is actually respecting the audience.
Here in the business world, chances are you will still have to do a slide show of some kind, most likely sometime soon. But here are a few ways to breathe life back into your colleagues short-term memories.
Don’t think in Slides, Think in NARRATIVE.
Think about the story you are telling – the information that you are relaying. It will be interesting, because it is vital. If it’s not vital, then take another look at why you feel compelled to include it. On the flipside, when you run through your presentation, do you find yourself repeating points that aren’t mentioned in your slides? Find a way to incorporate those.
Find the DRAMA of your Content.
Rev your content by presenting an analysis, instead of just ‘reporting’.
The difference? Last year’s performance is meaningless until it’s been shown against the year prior, or against the leading competitor. The latter context gives you room to engage the audience, asking what they think contributed to the successes or setbacks you experienced. Conversation and an element of ‘controlled spontaneity’ is much more memorable and engaging than a bout of stale rhetoric followed by “…does anyone have any questions?”
Design Presentations to STAND ALONE.
Slides are not cue cards. How many times have you read through the handouts of a meeting where nothing actually makes sense once you remove them from the context of the presentation? How many of you have seen slides and handouts like this:
– New advancement
This is not a game of word association, this is actually where your content goes. Write the complete story for your audience instead treating content solely as the memory triggers for your next point. Treating the presentation (and therefore the handouts) as a stand-alone piece means that the audience will refer to materials after and actually know what they mean after the fact.
Know the scope of your audience as well. Do you have experts in the crowd? Any newbies? Are you writing to impress your boss or are you making sure that 100% of the people there understand the concepts you’re using? If you gave your presentation in handout form to a stranger, would they be able to follow it? They should. Just like a logo should always work in black and white, your presentation should work outside of your sphere of immediate interaction. If you have doubts about what works and what doesn’t, hand your presentation over to someone for some Quality Assurance before you bring it out for the big guns.
LABEL your Illustrations.
Let’s face it, no one is psychic. It might make perfect sense for you to show a squiggly line with some dots on a chart-type thing, but even though you’re wildly gesticulating at it with your new laser pointer tool, it’s not going to change the fact that no one knows what you’re talking about. This happens so much. It’s very important to include labels for all axes in a chart, as well as titles, and yes, even summary paragraphs describing what the newfangled diagram is indicating and how it ties in. This should pertain to photographs as well. What this lets the viewer do is differentiate between the content graphics and images, and the graphics and images you are using for design/embellishment purposes. You know, like your beloved clipart. Shudder. Do not even think about labeling those.
Design with DESIGN in Mind.
There is nothing worse than seeing a PowerPoint on a dark background, with drop-shadowed fonts being projected, except perhaps knowing that you will have to follow the ‘6 slides per page’ handout that accompanies it. Again, respect the audience.
- Remember that your presentation will be projected as well as printed, and you don’t need 48pt font sizing for the titles, or 20pt for the body. Usually, 14-16pt will do for body and 20-28pt will do for headers. I’d say you can venture even smaller but I’m not sure you would feel comfortable with that just yet.
- Sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Calibri, Trebuchet, and Tahoma, are easier to read when projected, and when used on screens/displays. Hint, hint.
- Try and keep max 7 points to a page as that is statistically the most anyone can actually absorb anyways. (And by the way, the smaller font will make it look less crowded on the page).
- Get over the drop-shadow. No one wants to see it. In a meeting everyone’s already cross-eyed from fatigue and stress. We don’t need to feel drunk as well.
- Take the time to design each slide so that it looks like it was meant to be printed and the hand-outs aren’t just the doggy-bag of your presentation.
- If you have to print handouts, print 1 slide per page and encourage sharing.
- Alternately, let people know that they will be emailed post presentation with a PDF of the show that they can easily screen-read or print out should they choose. (By the way, never send or post a PPT file.. Never.)
Consider VIDEO over another Page of Bullets.
Take that private study I conducted (ok, ok, it was actually a team meeting) to heart. Maybe it’s because ‘to respect the audience’ in this media-saturated world means giving them the format that they enjoy and have been programmed to remember the best, but video can pack a ton of information into a small amount of time, liven up presentations, and serve as a versatile tool after the fact. Stick with people as the primary focus in the frame, speaking to the camera. This will give the audience the feeling of team participation, as they make eye-contact and are seemingly addressed by a third party. Also, this frees you from your corporal bonds – and the freedom of being able to impart information 24 hours a day, from wherever you are, isn’t just convenient for you. It’s an incredible tool for your audience.
Confession and Penance
Do something for me now. Look through your hard-drive for an old PowerPoint you’ve created, and read it. Really read it. At what point did you stop reading and start skimming? When did you fall asleep? How many ‘filler’ slides could you cut? What design changes could you make? Where could you contextualize information so that it tells a story and doesn’t sling statistic-hash at the viewer? Where could you reframe information to include an interview or more personal video component? Where could you add more complete sentences or phrases to make up for the Haiku like points you may have?
Spin The Idea has played with the integration of video into our client branding mix and have been able to reach farther and provide more easily-digested, in depth information than with other methods. Nowadays we’ve even got our own branded content over at TryingTimesShow.com that features businesses and their product/service mix, in a fun, engaging way.
SPIN THE IDEA LTD.
[i] Wired Magazine, Issue 11.09 | September 2003, PowerPoint Is Evil It’s still posted in the archives here: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html
[ii] This is all true. Of course, I have no idea how much of it Gary was just whipping up for our benefit. The point is not the validity of the content it’s the fact that I remembered everything without the PowerPoint crutch. I went to 3 different rental stores to find ‘The Conversation’ incidentally.