Monday, November 17, 2008

Use The Force Wisely, Young Jedi

Visual aids enhance stufessional presentations. A stufessional in a business meeting may employ PowerPoint presentations to swing executive favor, while in the classroom, a stufessional can add zest static slides with photography and even audio.

Perhaps this is no surprise. Stufessionals are savvy after all. Yet merely selecting a image to spice up drab bullet points is not the answer. Visual aids are not a quick fix. They require forethought and care. Consider reading the U.S. Department of Labor's article, "Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids."

Let's isolate the Microsoft PowerPoint visual aid for this discussion. In a typical work-flow, the stufessional labors over the content -- the written content. Text is written and rewritten to be clear, concise, and attractive. During the presentation, the stufessional speaker most likely references the PowerPoint in the background. The speaker is the focus, while the projection is wallpaper.

I argue that the same attention to grammar ought to be applied to visual content. One is not dependent on the other. The presentation is a package where each element must be strong. A weakened corner of a box will most likely cause the contents inside to spill.

Presentation Helper
, an online resource for sharing ideas with respect to professional presentations posits "Seven Deadly Sins" of visual presentations:
1. Still using bullet points?

While bullet points are fast and easy to use, they are a poor way of getting your message across. According to research at carried out at UCLA a visual presentation is five times more likely to be remembered after three days than a presentation using just bullet points.

2. Corny images.

Visual images obtained from the royalty free photo database often have actors showing emotions such as surprise or happiness. The difficulty is that they can look very corny, and if the photos are a few years old, the fashions can look very dated. As with most things in life, taking a little extra time to select that right visual appearance will make all of the difference.

3. Using Clip Art.

Clip Art used to be a great way of making a presentation visual. The problem is that clip art now looks very dated compared to a color photograph.

4. Grainy pictures.

A lot of visual presentations are let down by the use of grainy images. It could be a picture or it could be a logo. Generally these images are taken from a web page and increased in size. The problem is that since they were saved as small files to make them load quickly, they do not enlarge well.

5. Copyright theft.

You must obtain the permission of the copyright owner before you can use any image. Often this is obtained simply by sending an email to the web master. If you don’t, you could easily end up with legal proceedings against you. How will they ever know? Well you never know who might be in your audience, and if the presentation gets distributed electronically you may find that the image that you have taken has an invisible digital water mark hidden in it. A grainy image (see above) is perhaps the biggest sign that it has been taken off a web site.

6. Images purely for decoration.

A picture is worth a thousand words. So why would you slap down any old image just to fill up a bit of space? The image should help to tell your story. One technology company had a slide entitled “Our stable of products.” Instead of an image showing how their products could suit a wide range of businesses, their graphic design agency had added in a picture of a horse! Relevance is everything.

7. Video clips that are too long.

It is very tempting to add in a video clip into a visual presentation. The difficulty is that an audience’s attention span when watching a video is very short. On the other hand the standard company video is often between three and ten minutes long. The audience will typically start to get twitchy after around 60 seconds and start to switch off after two minutes. If you are going to show a video, get it cut down into bite size chunks.

Stufessionals looking to add flavor and edge to professional or student presentations may benefit from visiting Slide Share, an online database providing inspiring PowerPoint designs and secrets.

Stufessionals looking to branch out to DVD video, online video, and doctored photographs may benefit from visiting the digital media labs at their university. At American University, the New Media Center provides online tutorials for software programs like iMovie.

- Jared

"The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates."
- Oscar Wilde

1 comment:

The Stufessionals said...

That is very helpful. I'm working on a presentation for Monday. Thanks!