Last month, I put up a presentation skills post explaining how to work with your visuals when you’re giving a presentation. This month, I want to look at how to design your visuals for maximum effectiveness. Here are 7 tips I have found to be valuable.
1. Ditch the special effects. Animations and fancy transitions can be real attention getters. That’s reason enough to avoid them. Anything that diverts audience attention from you and your presentation skills to your visuals, which are, after all, only a prop, reduces your effectiveness as a communicator and persuader.
2. Proceed from left to right. Business audiences are thoroughly conditioned to left-to-right reading. This goes without saying for text, but make sure your charts, graphs, tables, and images also tell their story left to right. It will save your audience confusion and you won’t have to waste your presentation skills on explanations you didn’t need to make in the first place.
3. Use color in text, sparingly. In choosing a screen design or template, pick a color for headlines, subheads, and captions that’s different from the color you use for other text. But choose only one highlighting color. Two colors per screen is very effective. If you need a third and fourth color for elements of your screen template (e.g., headers, footers, corporate logo), that’s fine.
4. Use bulleted lists. Most presentation visuals are bulleted lists, and you will probably find your slide-making program defaults to them. But don’t use more than four bullet points per screen or more than four words per bullet. Anything more can dramatically reduce the audience's comprehension and increase the strain of trying to understand the points, which can sabotage your presentation skills.
5. Use pictures. Photos, clip art, or cartoons can be entertaining, and there is always value in entertainment when you’re trying to use your presentation skills to win an audience over. An illustration can make points that would take forever to get across with words. A picture may or may not be worth a thousand words. But a picture can often clarify a history or a process instantly and even dramatically. On the other hand, avoid the temptation to use pictures just for the sake of using pictures.
6. Showcase every graph. Graphs can be a great way to show trends, relationships, and proportions. If a graph is important enough to show your audience, it’s important enough to be on a slide by itself. Putting more than one graph on a slide, or putting a graph on a slide with a bulleted list or a table, increases the effort required by your audience to interpret them. Always direct your presentation skills toward reducing the audience’s efforts at comprehension.
7. Keep tables simple. If you need a table to get your point across, keep it simple. More than two to three columns by two to three rows (plus the row labels and the column labels) and you are inviting the audience to interpret and analyze the table rather than what you and your presentation skills are saying about it.
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