A terrific presentation depends in large part on smart slide design.
To create great presentation slides, consider the human attention span.
Picture yourself arriving at the last presentation you attended. You were
probably one of many and could melt into the crowd; you were interested but
preoccupied. You had a phone in your pocket, a to-do list in your head and
your next meal on your mind.
The presenter was vulnerable. In the next few moments, she could captivate
you—or lose you with a barrage of information.
Studies show that humans don’t multitask effectively; instead, we switch our attention
rapidly between tasks.
Multitasking gets in the way of productivity, decreasing efficiency by as much as 40 percent.
MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller explains: “People can’t multitask very well,
and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”
Couple that with our collective
shrinking attention span,
and it’s hard to connect with a crowd and make an impact. Despite being
distractible, we’re also predictable, and there are several reliable ways
to capture and keep our attention.
[EVENT: Corporate Communicators Conference]
Let’s focus on using layout and design to grab your audience’s attention
and guide it through your presentation story, so your message is broadcast
clearly. According to Nancy Duarte, in her book "Resonate,” the best
slides communicate a single idea and are highly audience-specific, have a
consistent visual style and arrange the elements thoughtfully. Thankfully,
you can test most of this with a tool called “the glance test.” These
lessons apply whether you’re designing PowerPoint or Keynote slides or
presenting slides from the back of a napkin.
The ‘glance test’
People can’t multitask effectively, meaning audiences cannot simultaneously
read your dense, bullet-riddled slides and listen to you and understand what you mean. Thus, your slide should function
like a billboard.
We call this “glance media.” The audience should be able to quickly (in
three seconds or less) grasp the meaning of the slide before turning back
to the presenter.
Think of your slides as a radio transmission: There’s the signal, and then
there’s noise. Your signal/message is susceptible to interference, which
can distort the communication and diminish the audience’s ability to
discern meaning and intent.
The “glance test” helps you quantify slides’ effectiveness by calculating
their signal-to-noise ratio. It focuses on:
singularity of the message
clarity of visual elements
helpfulness of diagrams
Before you present, evaluate each slide using the above criteria. If an
attribute diminishes the slide’s clarity, fill in the “noise” bubble; if
the attribute augments the meaning, fill in the “signal” bubble. Total up
each column—the higher the signal, the clearer the slide. Rework any items
that contribute to the noise.
To create slides that pass the “glance test,” focus on these aspects:
1. Slides that communicate a single idea
Remember your ultimate goal: making information easy to digest and
understand. Trying to say too much will confuse your audience. Restraint is
big idea—the goal of the presentation, the controlling idea, the gist, the
takeaway, the thesis statement. Every bit of content should support
this larger mission.
Limit yourself to
one idea per slide. Break up complicated, multifaceted concepts on separate slides, and
direct the audience to focus on key messages and data. If the
information doesn’t support your big idea, kill it.
2. Slides your audience cares about
Every piece of information you’re presenting should speak to your
audiences’ needs, concerns and fears. You want to build trust, establish
emotional connections, and anticipate their questions and their resistance.
Keep a persona slide, and refer to it as you’re editing the others.
3. Simple slides with a consistent visual style
When you strip out extraneous elements (excess text, graphics, animation)
audiences learn from those messages more effectively, so put a premium on
simplicity. Rather than adding elements to a slide for aesthetic purposes,
ask yourself whether there’s a good reason to include a given element. If
not, then it shouldn’t be there.
Stick to a consistent visual style throughout. Use the same typeface (or
two), the same color palette, and photographs shot in the same style. That
way, audience members don’t have to process new or unexpected visual
elements, and they can focus on your message.
4. Thoughtful arrangement and layout
In creating your slides, pay special attention to how you arrange elements.
Doing so haphazardly can obscure your meaning and confuse the audience. Key
on these elements:
Think about how viewers’ eyes will move around a slide. They might
notice the biggest and brightest elements first, then move to other
Human eyes are drawn to things that stand out, so use contrast (size,
shape, color, proximity) to focus the audience’s attention.
Include a healthy amount of open space around a slide’s items of
interest to isolate the important elements and sharpen viewers’ focus.
Your presentations should appeal to your audience, communicate simply and
clearly, and offer slides that inform and move audiences to action.
Catrinel Bartolomeu is
head of editorial for Duarte.
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