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Show and Tell: Creating Visuals with Impact!

Many presenters and speakers find that visual aids add a great deal to a presentation. Today, the most widely used visuals tend originate from presentation software and the most ubiquitous program is PowerPoint.

PowerPoint is a very good program – easy to use and flexible. One of the best things about it is that even if you have no design experience, its many templates and wizards allow even a novice to create professional looking visual support. There are a number of things to keep in mind when designing a slide show:

Limit the number of slides. A 30-minute presentation should have no more than 10 slides. This is because you want to keep most of the focus on the speaker, not on the slides. Having too many slides results in the presenter always clicking through slides and the audience never taking its eyes off the screen. Add a dimmed room at 3pm and you’re going to start hearing a lot of snoring. Remember, you are the message and the slide is an aid.

Limit the information on each slide. Most people have a great desire to include everything on a slide but the kitchen sink! The outcome is a slide so packed full of information that not only does the audience need a lot more time to wade through it, but the information’s too small to read anyway. At that point, the listeners will begin tuning out. This leads to the next point:

Make the visual easy to read. Use upper and lower case and a consistent, simple font. Headlines show up well at 36 pt. and body text at about 24 pt. Try to limit text to 5 bulleted points with the majority being one line.

Use message titles. A message title summarizes what the slide says. For example, instead of a title that says “Financial Data,” try “Profits were up 10% in the 3rd quarter”. Message titles create instant understanding. If you do nothing else, this technique is a must.

Steer the audience’s eyes to the main message. Color can be used strategically. Choose (or have PowerPoint choose) 4 colors that work well together and use them for emphasis. Use pictures, graphics, charts and graphs to give your words meaning. Proper use of slide transitions and animation is also an attention-getter. Careful, though, not to overdo it. A recent client was having such fun with objects flying in and rotating out that it took nearly 30 seconds for one slide to complete its journey. Transitions and animation, like color and graphics, should be carefully planned.

Sometimes simpler is better. Although you could design a 3-D pie chart to illustrate some information, you might be surprised to see that a 2-D chart is actually more effective. This is a principle to apply to all your slides. Save the fancy footwork for your speaking.

Use the “B” key. Pressing the “B” key makes the screen go dark, but doesn’t lose your place. This technique quickly refocuses the audience’s attention on you. When you are ready for another slide, press any key and your show will light up the screen once more, right where you left off.

PRACTICE! Never wait until the presentation to see what it looks like on screen. The projector you use may display colors quite differently than your laptop. This can make for some unpleasant suprises that are better dealt with before an audience is present.

Following these simple steps will get you well on your way to a dynamic presentation whose impact will be felt by all.

Copyright 2000 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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