Slaying the Slideshow Dragon

We’ve all been there, shuffling into an early-morning meeting, hoping that this time, things will be different. The presenter will be engaging. The slides, compelling. The room, awake! And then… the dreaded bullet points appear, and the morning becomes a painful offering to the Slideshow Dragon.

Nobody wants meetings to be boring or presentations to fail. But even the most engaging presenter will find it difficult to reclaim the audience once their attention has been devoured by black-and-white text or slides that could have been emailed out.

But what exactly is wrong with traditional presentations? Do you have to use newer tools like Prezi to save the early-morning meeting? Let’s break it down with some basic design thinking.

Who are the end users?

In a presentation, the end users are the audience, whether they are colleagues, employees, or clients, and success can generally defined by whether they engage with and remember your quarterly report/new marketing pitch/project update.

Because people like connecting with other people, warm, engaging, enthusiastic presenters can do a lot of this work themselves, so why use visual aids at all? Unfortunately, most people remember only a small percentage of information they hear.

Organizing that information visually can increase retention considerably, as well as make the presentation more interesting—thus the allure of the Slidshow Dragon. But this is where many presentations go wrong and the dragon shows his ugly side.

Here Be Dragons

(Creative Commons)
Photo by Milos Milosevic (Creative Commons 2.0)

In order to communicate information, the presenter can use words (spoken or written), images, colors, media, and sounds. Problems tend to arise when those elements are out of balance. If a presenter is spending most of the time talking (i.e. it’s not a discussion or roundtable), then the words are already taken care of.

It may be tempting to highlight key words or phrases with bullet points, but the brain can only handle so many words at once—and most people would rather read than listen, especially if they think they’ll get the information faster.

Some people try to combine words with cool animations to help keep people engaged. Prezi is built on the idea that flying back and forth across a giant canvas and zooming in on important points is more visually interesting than flipping slides.

But visuals that are too interesting (or dizzying) can backfire, keeping the audience’s attention even more firmly planted on the screen, not the presenter. And if the visuals are that engaging, then they might be better off on their own with a voiceover and posted online, rather than upstaging (or consuming) a live presenter.

Define the Need

Photo by Jan Tik (Creative Commons)
Photo by Jan Tik (Creative Commons 2.0)

The answer is to use slides that aid the presentation visually. That means focusing on images, symbols, colors, and movement to support your message.

  • Convert words to images, symbols, or metaphors. Did something decrease? Use a picture of down arrow with the topic at hand and then talk about what happened. Is there a logical flow of information? Use a flow diagram. Make your information beautiful, or give people a memorable picture to latch onto. Only use words that can be integrated into the image).
  • Use the right tool for the job. Is the information you need to present spatially related (like a map, landscape, or 2D diagram)? Then Prezi might be your best choice. But if your information is hierarchical or linear (A à B à C), stick with something like PowerPoint or Keynote to avoid distracting or unnecessary movement.
  • Make any movement part of the message. If you’re flipping to a new slide, start a new thought. If you’re zooming in on an object, zoom in to the details of the topic. If you have a big, dramatic transition to a new image, transition to a new topic or thought as well.
  • Choose visuals you (or the audience) can interact with. Pick images that you can envision someone asking you to zoom in on or that change based on audience participation.
  • Keep it simple. People are there for your content, not a feature film. Choose simple, clear, relevant images, and don’t overdo them, or the Dragon of Excess Clip-Art may yet devour your masterpiece.
clip art dragon
Beware the clip-art dragon! Image by Clarissa Ridney (Creative Commons 2.0)

In the end, good presentations are like any other form of communication. They connect the speaker and listeners and result in the mutual sharing of information. They increase engagement and generate new ideas. Don’t be the Slideshow Dragon’s next victim—regardless of which presentation software you use!

Featured Photo by Richard Fisher (Creative Commons 2.0)

Use This Simple Technique to Upgrade Any PowerPoint Presentation

PowerPoint is an unavoidable element of the working world. And for us young professionals, PowerPoint has been a part of our presentation-filled lives since elementary school!

As most of us have grown older, we’ve strayed away from the crazy animations and distracting WordArt that dominated the slideshows of our early years.

But it can probably be said that a lot of us have yet to kick an old and more subtle presentation habit: the traditional linear PowerPoint style.

See also: 7 Presentations That Will Renew Your Faith In PowerPoint

If that term sounds unfamiliar to you, it at least will look familiar. Almost every PowerPoint style you’ve seen has followed a linear style, where the slides progress in sequential order.

(If you cannot navigate through your presentation without pressing the back and forward arrow keys, the presentation almost certainly adheres to a linear style.)

Here’s how a linear presentation is set up:

Linear presentation

Although this format can be very useful and does indeed serve its purpose, it is actually hindering us from using PowerPoint to its full potential. The human mind does not work in a linear manner, so why should we present information to humans through PowerPoint that way?

The example below shows a non-linear style. By making the presentation non-linear, we are giving options to both the presenter and crowd.

Maybe your audience is most curious about predators or how dolphins give birth. Instead of dragging them through the other slides, give them what they want first by incorporating some type of menu with hotspots.

Non linear presentation

While non-linear presentations can be created in alternative tools like Prezi and Speakflow, you can also create them with trusty PowerPoint. In fact, PowerPoint has tons of native capabilities that can seamlessly incorporate navigation control—you just need to know where to find them!

Here are some tips that will help you break away from the constraints you thought PowerPoint had—and help you wow your audience along the way.

1. Treat Your Slide As a Blank Canvas

You open up a new document. What do you see first? A bunch of presets and bullets. Don’t feel the need to use them just because they’re there! It helps to look at a plain white slide and imagine the information organized on it.

If that’s hard, draw your layout using paper and pencil, then apply it in PowerPoint. **Helpful hint: The size for a PowerPoint slide is 1024×768 pixels.

2. Get to Know Your Tools

There’s an inner artist in everyone, and if you are familiar with the right tools, you just might be able to unleash it.

Action buttons (slide show options), quick styles (format options), and animations (slide show options) are a few tools we recommend to check out. They might help add the pizazz you need for your next presentation!

3. Organize Your Puzzle of Slides With Navigation Control

As crazy as this might sound, some PowerPoint presentations can go up to 80 slides. When this is the case, consider having a navigation menu present on all slides so that you and your users can move through the information, just like a website.

This will make it hassle-free if someone would like to go back to a slide when he or she is waist-deep into the presentation.

Pro Tip: Check out this tutorial on master slides to learn an easy way to show recurring elements across slides without having to copy and paste each time:

Seriously, master slides will change your life!

4. Bond Pieces of Information

Avoid presenting steps or branches of common information in sequential order if you don’t have to. Let’s say we want to share a brief report of sales for every month in the past year.

Going through each slide one by one with your audience can get tiresome. Creating one slide with links to all the different months can be one way to add structure and a level of engagement to your presentation. And, in turn, both you and your audience gain some control within the PowerPoint.

5. Use Buttons to Encourage Engagement and Play

Think of creative ways to display your information. Instead of listing bullets, maybe add hotspots to a graphic that will reveal information when clicked.

Adding buttons that link to other slides in the deck is a great way to make your PowerPoint non-linear. Establish a mindset that prevents you from using the back and forward keys as much as possible.

6. Get Cool With Animations Again

For some of us, animations bring to mind our silly PowerPoint presentations from when we were younger. But if you give careful attention to the intended experience, you can use them in a sophisticated yet seamless manner.

Start out by incorporating fades and floats. Test how purposeful animations can be in a few slides before you go crazy!

Try it Out

Well, there you have it! We hope we have persuaded you enough to fight your slideshow demons and create something new and amazing in PowerPoint.

7 Presentation Examples That Will Renew Your Faith In PowerPoint

The opening scene of It Might Get Loud shows Jack White (of The White Stripes) hammering together a one-string electric guitar with a two by four and an empty Coke bottle.

He plugs it in, plays a grungy riff, takes a drag of his cigarette and asks:

“Why says you need to buy a guitar?”

Pretty epic, right? The thing is, Jack White is one of the best guitarists in the world. Any guitar manufacturer would be happy to send him their best gear for free.

He’s got access to all of the latest guitars, amps, effects processors – you name it.

But he doesn’t need any of these things to make great music because he’s a master of his trade, a craftsman. An artist.

See also: Beginner’s Guide to Graphic Recording

An artist’s skills and creativity aren’t determined by his tools. Tools are only as effective as their user!

The most illuminating example of this in the business world is the ever-present PowerPoint presentation.

You know what I’m talking about, right? We’ve all sat (or napped) through a mind-numbing PowerPoint presentation at least once in our professional lives.

It’s easy to blame the tool, which is why you’re so used to hearing people say things like:

“PowerPoint sucks!”

“Death to PowerPoint!”

“Prezi is better!”

Have you ever said anything like this? I know I have.

But PowerPoint isn’t the problem. It’s us, the users. PowerPoint is a blank canvas, and it’s actually a pretty powerful tool. After all, there’s a reason why it’s the most popular presentation software in the world!

The problem isn’t the software. The problem is that presentation with 50+ text filled slides and no images. It’s charts and graphs that are too small to see and impossible to digest.

It’s a design problem, and it’s totally fixable. Bad PowerPoint presentations can be avoided, but it’s up to you – the user – to make that happen.

To help you get inspired, here are 10 good presentation examples everyone should see (especially non-designers):

1. Fix Your Really Bad PowerPoint

by SlideComet

A presentation about presentations? How meta! This deck is based of Seth Godin’s ebook on the same topic, and it’s fantastic:

2. Why Content Marketing Fails

by Rand Fishkin

This isn’t a pretty presentation. Rand clearly isn’t winning any design awards with this one. But it’s very entertaining and very effective:

3. The Brand Gap

by Marty Neumeier

This grey scale presentation about design and branding is simultaneously minimal and beautiful. It goes to show that you don’t need a ton of content to make your point:

4. What Would Steve Do?

by Hubspot

This deck about the world’s best presenters is bold, clean and impactful. Pay attention to the power of full size images and tasteful transition effects (i.e very simple “on click” animations):

5. 10 Powerful Body Language Tips

by SOAP Presentations

Believe it or not, this is really a PowerPoint presentation. But many hours of expert design went into it, so it looks like it was built in Illustrator:

6. The Power of Networking

by Fabio Lalli

This is a perfect example of slide deck built to support the presenter. – not to steal the show or act as a crutch. Notice the use of large, evocative, high res images on every single slide:

7. All About Beer

by Ethos3

What stands out in this deck is the design. Specifically, the branding and consistency.  The pleasant (and relevant) color palette is consistent throughout the presentation:

Each of these are examples of great presentations that could be built with almost any presentation software, including PowerPoint.

So here’s my challenge to you: next time you’re putting together a slide deck, come back to this post, get inspired, and create something awesome that makes people ask:

“Is that PowerPoint?”

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