Who doesn't want their slides to look beautiful? I bet each time you've seen a professional looking presentation, you've wished deep within that your presentations look just as good. In my last three blogposts on the topic of presentations, I covered:
- 6 Mistakes you should never make as a Presenter
- 5 Tips to help you Plan your Next Presentation
- My favourite Presentation Tools and when I use them
Now before I go further, I want to state the corollary to my above point. No amount of beautification can make a bad concept look good. I find beautifying a poor story to be the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. So please, please, please think through your story before you slam slides together. With that said, let me go through some simple tips that should help you whip your slides into shape.
Think AIDA when Sequencing your VisualsThe AIDA lesson is one that most marketeers and advertising professionals seem to swear by. Very simply put, the idea is to follow a four step process to selling as you can see above. When designing your presentation, think of your visuals as a sequence of AIDA chunks. To capture attention try some of techniques here. Follow up with a compelling, visual description of how your concept can help solve your audience's problem, make their life easier or help them achieve what they want to achieve. To wrap things up, provide your audience an undeniable reason to believe you. And then do what good advertisements do -- let your audience know what to do next. Remember how they say, "Rush to your nearest ____ store!". Try the same thing with your presentations. End each AIDA sequence with a strong visual that helps your audience remember what they need to do to follow your wonderful advice. Wrap up your sale by reiterating actions from each of your AIDAs.
Think 'integrated visual' NOT 'collection of elements'Very often the boardroom style of presentations tends towards being slideuments. I find most presentations to be a collection of elements dropped onto slides. As a consequence, your slides start to look less like attention grabbing billboards and more like collages from your hostel dorm. I've written an article about this earlier - it should help you create integrated visuals and avoid the amateurish collage look. A few tips that'll help you design your slides effectively.
- Think of your slide as an image not an information radiator.
- Try to convey no more than one concept per slide - that'll help further to make your slide look like an image.
- Make objects blend into their background - think of how different elements play with each other. What's the connection? What's the purpose?
- Unless there's a very good reason, don't arbitrarily plonk a picture onto your slide, just for decoration. If anything, it's likely to detract from your key message.
Use 'Full Bleed' ImagesGoing with the previous tip about creating integrated visuals, one of the easy ways to do this is to use full bleed images. Instead of using a low resolution image or a scaled down high resolution image, consider using a full screen image. There are a couple of advantages to this:
- You usually leave no ambiguity about where you're leading the eye.
- You force yourself to remove excess text and provide only headlines on your slide.
Bonus Tip: When you compose your full bleed images, try bleeding part of your image 'off' the screen. This creates an illusion of large size and generates a lot of visual interest as well -- after all, it's interesting to imagine what's not on screen. Here's an example for you.
Lead the Eye
Call me a control freak if you will - but I'm not shy of saying this.
"Good visual design is when you can control where the eye is looking."
Designers will tell you about several ways to lead the eye, but here are a few simple ideas you can use:
- If your slide has people on it, then the eye usually looks at the people first. Then the eye looks at whatever the people are looking at. So, always ensure that your people are not looking out of the slide because then you know what's likely to happen.
- People notice things that are different. So use contrast to highlight what you want people to look at. Here are some ideas:
- On graphs and charts, highlight the key statistic in a contrasting colour.
- On complex images blur out or decolour the parts you're not talking about, focussing only on the elements you're explaining. This is what I call 'de-noising' your image.
- Size is a great indication of contrast. Increase the size of elements that you wish to focus on -- this will create contrast to lead the audience's eye.
- Follow the rule of thirds. Here's an excellent article about composing images using this rule. While the domain is photography, the advice is equally valid for presentations. Take a look at the example above as well.
The first thing you need to know is the difference between Serif fonts (Times New Roman/ Baskerville) and Sans-serif fonts (Helvetica/ Arial/ Gill Sans). In general serif fonts play well in documents with a lot of text -- you'll see a lot of these in newspapers and well written reports. These fonts however don't play very well on billboards and screen presentations, particularly because these mediums don't capture the detail that well. So if you're creating slides, your best bet are your sans-serif fonts. Now there's obviously some debate about this -- all I'll say is that once you select a font, ensure that you pick sizes that even the last row can read.
A few other tips to help you use type effectively on presentations:
- Don't use fonts from more than two families on one slide.
- Use handwritten fonts to simulate labeling on images or to convey informality.
- Use comic fonts to simulate conversation - particularly on comic bubbles.
- Avoid artsy and grafitti fonts unless you're creatng a visual that merits their use.
Celebrate the Power of WhitespaceJust because there is space on the slide, doesn't mean that you need to fill it all. The above picture on from Garrey Reynolds, illustrates the Japanese principle of 'hara-hachi-bu' which simply means 'eat until you're only 80% full'. Originally a rule to healthy living, Garr extends this rule to presentations and talks about using only 80% of your slidespace. There's good reason for this. The effective use of whitespace helps lead the eye towards the elements you've deliberately positioned on the slide. I can't be more eloquent than Garr about this principle, so here's an excerpt from his book Presentation Zen Design.
"Contrast is indeed fundamental to good design, and without whitespace, good contrast cannot be achieved. The leading cause of the lack of contrast is clutter. Too many layers of visual complication make contrast weak, even if it exists. White space allows for real differences to be created, emphasized and noticed. Space allows for elements -- such as text, images and lines -- to breathe. Just like life itself, it is this invisible breath that sustains and empowers. In this sense then, we can say that without space you are dead. Embrace empty space."
So ensure that you leave enough space for your design to breathe and resist the temptation to clutter the slide with all you have. Try splitting concepts across slides if you notice clutter - remember extra slides don't cost any money!
Understand Color SchemesI have to confess that I suck at understanding colour combinations. So I rely on software to help me create meaningful color schemes for my presentations. All of us like to see well coordinated colours and as they say, "If you have never seen anyone coordinate their clothes badly, then you are probably the one who chooses bad color schemes for your outfits!" On that cheeky note, let me tell you what I do to coordinate colours for my presentation. I use a colour schemer to help me generate a theme for my presentations. As you'll notice from the above image, I've taken a representative picture of my topic and used that to generate a colour scheme that gives me a pallette to play with. Once I have this pallette, I can play around with shades and tints as long as I keep the hues consistent. My favourite color schemer these days is Kuler (above). Garrey Reynolds has written an excellent article about using Kuler, so I'm going to shut up for a change.
Before I give up though, I want to point you to some excellent colour schemes that already exist in Office 2007. You can find them on your design menu and I really like the work Microsoft has done on them to actually give you some ready to use themes for your presentations.
So that temporarily brings me to the end of my recent series of posts on presentation skills. I'd love to know what you thought of them. Did you find them useful? Or did you find them too elementary? Would you like more such blogposts in the future? Your feedback will help me tune the content of this blog to be more useful for you. So let me know what you think by adding to the comments section of this blogpost. Next week, I'll be back to commenting about the changing role of trainers in the post-modern workplace. And btw, I know that some presentations just seem 'beyond us'. As I've said earlier, all you need is a bit of inspiration - I recently found this amazing site that allows you to download excellent presentations to help you learn from some of the best designers around the world.