Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part II: Visual Design

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part II of the workshop: Visual Design.
Presenter: Aaron Sobel

The descriptions below follow Aaron's slides.

Generally, there aren't any specific "rules" for designing a good presentation. Every presentation is different and you just need to do what works. That being said, here are some "rules" to go by for basic slide design!

  • Don't use bullets
Bullets are boring! You're probably used to seeing them frequently in your classroom presentations but there are two reasons for that: (1) your professors are giving multiple presentations every day; they don't have time to craft great presentations for every class and bullets are easy, and (2) the slides are often available online as a reference and need to be easy to follow on their own. However, those limitations do not apply to your group project presentations. Remember that you are the presentation, not the slides.

There are ways to keep the notion of bullets, minus the bullets themselves (see Patagonia map slide). For example, in this slide, we highlight key ideas overlaid on a (visually interesting) map. Each idea appears in bold, then fades out as the next idea is introduced. Consequently, you have some visual interest, there's still white space on the slide, there's a progression through the slide, and the audience can tell where the focus is (all without bullets!)
  • Know your presentation constraints and equipment.
Even if things look perfect on your computer, there are a number of issues that can come up in a new venue: the screen aspect could be different, there could be a washed out display or your colors may appear differently. Be prepared for these issues and whenever possible, try out your presentation at the venue in advance.
  • Avoid cheesy clip art.
Visual interest is a good thing, but cheesy clip art . . . not so much. Use pictures and data visualizations, but eliminate (or at least minimize) that clip art.
  • Think about font choice.

Font choice can put meaning into a slide . . . whether you intend it to or not, so be careful. It's also important to standardize your font choice--you don't want a different font on every slide. Font size can also be an issue. Guy Kawasaki (slide guru) suggests "Find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That's your optimal font size." (While this might not always work out, it's at least a good place to start.)

  • Consider contrast.
Contrast can either enhance the read-ability of your slides, or detract from it. Dark text on a light background (and vice versa) is good. Colors that are really close together on the color wheel (like green/yellow) are hard to read on top of each other, so definitely avoid that. Also avoid simultaneous contrast: when colors that are opposing to each other (see slide) are placed right on top of each other.
  • Avoid pixilation of images
You can actually tell Google Image to find images above a certain size threshold. Generally, if it looks good on your computer screen, it will probably look OK on your presentation. On a related note, if you have images that contain text, the text doesn't always look so great, so be careful of it.
  • Create "white space"
You don't want to cram your slides full of information. The audience's attention should be focused on YOU, not on the slides. A general rule of thumb is that they should be able to absorb your slide in 3-5 seconds. If it takes longer than that, the info on your slide is probably too dense.
  • Blank slides are OK.
As soon as you switch slides, the audience won't be looking at you, they'll be reading the slide. So if you're talking for awhile and you don't want your audience distracted, put up a blank screen. It gives the audience a "break" too.
  • Draw the viewer's attention

You don't have to weight everything on your slide evenly. If you have a key point or image, figure out a way to draw attention to it. You can use color, fadeouts, bold text, etc.

  • Split complex ideas across slides (and go through them faster)

You don't want to overload your audience, so if you have a complex idea, split it up into bite-size pieces. (This tip also ties in with creating white space.) Some of you may have heard the guide that you should have one slide for every two minutes, but that should be the exception, not the rule.

  • Images are absorbed easier than text

When your audience can absorb a slide quickly, it keeps the focus on you, where it belongs. You are the one giving the info, the slides are behind you supplement your info.

  • Use your own photos (of YOU & your group!)

Using your own photos makes it interesting and creates a personnel connection with your audience. You can also use your own photos online or in your poster (Just remember to keep them professional and give proper credit.)

  • Opacity
You can adjust the opacity in most slide applications, so you can dim out images to emphasize text, or vice versa.

And the final rule is . . .

  • Break these rules!
If we all followed these rules, we end up with similar looking presentations, which is boring.

Remember that YOU are what makes the presentation.

Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

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