One way to look at what sort of slide design works well is to deconstruct an effective slide. The slide below is one I use in live training and I’m so confident it works I say this to my audiences:
When we finish work today I’ll ask you what slides you can remember from this morning. If this slide isn’t one of the first ones you mention and isn’t one that most of you mention, I’ll not invoice for today!
Suffice it to say, I’ve never had to not send an invoice.
Deconstructing an effective slide
Brace yourself. There’s a lot to take in here. I’ve concentrated on the four main elements of good slide impact and they’re all going to hit you at once! 🙂
Let’s start by looking at the slide itself. Take a moment to look at it before you start reading about how it’s constructed.
Four steps to impact
This is a bumper module – there are four things to take in and it makes sense to land them all at once – not least because they overlap and integrate a little.
The steps are:
Obviously there’s more to it than that, but once you’ve mastered these four tools you’ll be a very long way ahead of most people! 😉
As a species, we’re attracted to what’s visually appealing/striking. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, because things that revolt us and turn our stomachs are generally speaking bad for us to eat, so it goes a long way into our psyche. There’s even research into the legal system which says that all other things being equal, attractive defendants are less likely to be found guilty and if they are, they’re less likely to have heavy sentences… and that’s in a system which is designed as far as possible to remove all such subjective criteria, dealing with the facts, all the facts, but only the facts!
Slides – and presenters! – which are visually appealing are more memorable and more trusted. The last bit is just as important as the first.
Question: what can you do to make your sides, you, and your room more attractive?
Notice how the text hasn’t been made harder to read by having the image behind it? That keeps it easy to read – but also notice how the text isn’t in white. White would be the safest option here, to make it most distinctive and easy-to-read against a black background but the text is instead in the same colour as much of the oceans of the earth. This gives the slide a more integrated feel, with an obvious linkage between the written information and the visual information.
The linkage doesn’t have to be done by colour, that’s just the way it’s been done in this particular slide – it could be done by pattern, style, location or anything else.
Question: what can you do to make you slides, you and your room more integrated?
A bit of a side-note warning here. One answer to that question which is technically true but rather spoils the ‘beauty’ idea above is to have all the slides the same, using a template and – worst of all – showing company logos on every slide. Yes, it’s integrating things, but no, it’s missing the point!
Random facts are much harder to memorise than facts in some kind of recognisable pattern.
Consider this: if I wrote one word on an index card, for a couple of hundred cards, and scattered them across the table, do you think you could memorise all of the cards in (say) ten minutes? Probably not. But what would happen to your chances of pulling off the memory trick if I sorted the cards to that they formed the lyrics to a pop song? Such a song has pattern: it has rhythm and rhyme; it has pattern and scan. It may not be great art but a good pop song is memorable (and possibly popular) precisely because of those things.
Acronyms are a form of pattern and in this case the pattern is S, E, A. In a live presentation the slide could make more of those things by (for example) fading them in before the rest of the words.
Question: what can you do to make your slides and your data have more pattern?
The astronaut in the image didn’t spontaneously appear, get photographed, and then vanish. There is a full life-story behind that picture. What’s more, the very picture itself is clearly the middle of a story, of an event. Walking in space is one of the highest technical achievements of our race and here’s an image of someone doing it.
But at the back of your mind are questions like ‘why are they doing it?’; ‘did they get back safely?’; ‘how are they not terrified?’. Once an audience begins to engage with what you’re saying in ways like that, it’s called ‘Backstory’.
Backstory can be thought of as the mental/emotional work that an audience does to understand and engage with the material. If the backstory is strong, the relationship with what you’re saying will be stronger too. Experience has taught us that backstory can be increased by:
- powerful, emotional images – particularly images of people
- direct personal relevance to the audience – something which audiences can see affects them (and which they can see affects them without it being explained to them!) are more powerful
- being worthwhile. I know this sounds obvious but audiences will engage more with a presentation about curing cancer than with new paperwork about expense.
Question: How can you increase the backstory of what you’re telling your audience?
It’s hard work to do this for every slide in your slide deck but it’s worth it if your presentation is important to you (and more importantly to your audience). Obviously there comes a point where putting in extra time isn’t worth the effort but even just a little effort can have rather impressive results.
A few tips that might help you answer these questions are to:
- separate the creation of your content as far as possible from these questions – treat them as editing rather than content creation
- take advice from an Einstein quote and treat your audience as 12-year-olds in your head – at that age they know very little but they learn unbelievably quickly. If you imagine you’re working with children you’re more likely to think of tricks that your adult brain would reject before you even noticed you’d had the idea
- get someone else involved – it’s much easier to do this if you’re bouncing ideas around with other people, often. If you do get someone else involved, it’s often helpful if they know quite a bit about people and communication but nothing about the topic in question.