Here at BrightCarbon we specialise in PowerPoint. We live it. When we tell stories in the pub, we have a supporting deck of slides ready to go; when we’re bored of an evening we experiment with PowerPoint add-ons; we get excited that PowerPoint is now available on the iPad…
But this is our day job. So, what shortcuts and words of wisdom can we impart to you to make your presentations look different (and better!) than everyone else’s? The short answer is simple – don’t design your slides like everyone else. Here are some things you can leave off that will transform both your approach to presentations and your presentations themselves in no time.
Too Much Text
‘Ughhh hello, BrightCarbon girl. I think we know you don’t like text…’
Well readers, it is a truth universally acknowledged that you can’t read and listen at the same time and it doesn’t hurt to say it again.
The fastest and easiest way to improve a presentation is to remove as much text as possible. If the presenter is going to say the same thing, the text doesn’t need to be there; if there’s an image saying the same thing, the text doesn’t need to be there (if there isn’t an image try making one); and if the text is just additional information, then it doesn’t need to be there – don’t distract your audience away from the key point of what you’re saying.
If you try looking for the bullet point button in the Quick Access Toolbar that we use and share, you’ll be disappointed. It’s not there because we don’t use it.
The company you’re presenting to wants a 20 slide presentation…
‘That’s not many and the content we have runs to about 40. Well they never specified how much information they wanted on a slide…’
The result is a slide as busy as Black Friday.
Less is more. I know that can be a really unhelpful thing to say, but the result of reducing the content per slide is that you’ll get to hone your message until only the really relevant stuff remains.
If you do have more slides to play with, then you’ve no excuse. Split your content onto two slides and bask in all that delicious white space.
The dream presentation has presenter and slides working together in perfect complementary harmony: each enhances the other in a sort-of elegant waltz. Sadly slides that are busy try to vie for the audience’s attention a little too much, and the result is two people dancing the lead. Your slides shouldn’t distract the audience, but help them to understand your message. If, therefore, your slides are busy and complicated your audience will simply just get bored of trying to figure out what you’re saying.
‘Call Disney, I’ve Nailed Animation’
When I was a child I asked for a post office playset one Christmas. This thing was amazing. You could write letters, post them, stamp them, deliver them: how fun is that!? Anyway, at that time I began to write these small, insignificant letters to everyone, delivering my uninteresting messages to family members and friends alike. Everything had to be done via the post office. This was my new toy.
For some people, they have the same joy when they realise PowerPoint has a number of delightful options to make a flat slide come to life with a whole host of animations. There are two branches to this:
Entrance & Exit Effects
In the previous point we saw how slides were meant to complement the speaker and not distract the audience’s attention. This goes for your animation too. PowerPoint provides lots of really interesting entrance and exit effects that will see your elements burst onto your slide with a flurry and a fanfare. If this doesn’t fit what you’re saying, a fade will do.
‘Do you know you can make things bounce on!?’
Just because it’s there it doesn’t mean you need to use it to bring in your company targets, or your annual turnover. Sometimes simple is better. (For the Star Wars fans among you, see how the fancy wipe transitions added to IV, V and VI DIDN’T add to the storytelling.) It may look more pedestrian, but your audience will stay with you.
Emphasis and Motion Paths
PowerPoint labels these two as ‘advanced animation’ and they’re reserved for the conscientious person who has really got to grips with PowerPoint and can’t wait to show off the fact they can make the new Head of Sales spin like they’re in a washing machine, grow to 150% and then turn an unpleasant shade of green.
Again, if it’s a distraction, it has no place on your slide.
At this point it’s worth thinking about what animations are for. Animations let you animate. ‘Oh yes, that never occurred to me before…’ But think about it. Does your new Head of Sales need to be animated? Or could you save that for the map you have showing how much your company has spread across the world in the last 15 years.
Not everything needs to be animated. Not everything needs an exciting entrance and exit. With your presentation you’re telling a story and the animations help that story come to life. But if an animation doesn’t help to tell the story or make your point, then something simple will do.
First of all make sure your picture is good quality! I know a portrait artist who was once given a blurred passport-sized photo of a dog from which she had to produce a portrait. She did not find this entertaining or funny.
So assuming that the pictures you’ll get will be excellent quality – no pixilation here – the next thing on your list is simplicity. Your pictures have to be instantly recognisable, and obvious as to what they’re representing in your presentation.
For example, if you’re talking about leaning towers in Italy – what are you going to use as an example, the bell tower of Santo Stefano in Venice, or that other one…?
To keep the theme going, you need it as the focus of your picture, from the angle everyone expects with nothing to distract the audience’s eye from the object in question.
This goes for anything – pictures of people, silhouettes of vacuum cleaners, photographs of nuclear waste, sketches of the Bodleian Library…
PowerPoint provides lots of great effects to enhance your images. It also provides a lot that are redundant, silly, and a little out-of-place in the business world. Like the animation, sometimes we have a tendency to look at these oh-so-special effects and choose a combination of our favourites on each image we have.
This doesn’t always turn out so well.
We end up with busy, confused graphics that act as a massive distraction. Often these aren’t in-keeping with company branding and cheapen the whole look of the presentation.
Much like you wouldn’t mix your metaphors, don’t mix your styles. If you can’t find a particular element in a certain style, please consider buying, making, or drawing something so that it is in-keeping with the style of your presentation. Before Communication Consultants at BrightCarbon start making our presentations we get a theme from our graphic designers – they put colours, style, and some elements together to give the visualisation consultants some parameters to work within.
By far the worst thing you can do is to ruin an entire presentation because you couldn’t find one key element, so you went to… lengthy pause… Clip Art… Don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Every time you do, graphic designers die a little inside. And while you’re at it – try to steer clear of PowerPoint’s templates. There are only 50 or so to go round everyone in the world, so why not try designing something original.
I Love it When A Plan Comes Together
So far we’ve taken the text off our slides; we’ve created more space; we’ve stopped trying to compete with Pixar with our animation; and all of our pictures are clear, representing quickly and easily the point the presenter is making.
I really hope that after purging your slide deck of those four offending items you’re not left with completely blank slides. If you are, please don’t be disheartened, because it may be because you committed the fifth cardinal sin of PowerPoint.
Some people love planning things. My friend planned her wedding, and based on her organisational abilities and the knack she had for frightening people into doing tasks, I think she could have applied to run the security services’ international missions programme. There are just some people who get a real kick out of planning. Most, I have discovered, however, do not. I always ‘plan as I do’ and ‘do as I plan’. This basically means I’m lazy and I skip the planning stage. The result of this though, is that the editing stage is unbearably long and tedious as I realise all the things I could have avoided had I done some initial planning.
Planning a presentation before you start creating slides is absolutely vital, and if you don’t do it you’ll probably end up with something cobbled-together, incoherent, and rambling that won’t sell anything of use to anyone.
If, however, you plan before you start, you can iron out the creases in your message, decide on the story you’re telling, and then select a series of elements that will complement your message and your story, animating them, and using them on your slide to illustrate your points perfectly. Everything will flow simply and elegantly.
In fact if you’re interested about this process, why not have a read of this article…