Visual Aids Gone Wrong

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 , , , 4 comments

Presenters are beginning to realise that their presentations don’t have to be boring, and it is inspiring to see that people are moving away from bullet points to more engaging visuals. Audiences are now demanding more, and presenters are rising to meet this.

Unfortunately however, a large number of presenters feel that the small improvements they have made to their slides are sufficient, failing to realise that there is so much more that can be done with them. And so we see the same mistakes made time and time again – without the presenters realising that they’re doing wrong.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that people are still in ‘print out slide’ mode – except that now it’s not ‘printout’, but ‘upload to SlideShare’ mode. This approach has not been helped by well-known presentation books such as Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Pointsa book which recommends the reader to explain his presentation via his slide titles.

Thus presenters often design their slides to make sense on their own, expecting to just elaborate on them when in front of an audience. This idea has fuelled a whole range of presentation mishaps, which we’ve outlined below.

These are all real life examples of PowerPoint slides from perhaps the biggest perpetrator of bad slides – SlideShare.net.

Mistake #1: Asking Your Audience to Read a Lot

Slide 38 – How to Manage Sedation in Neuro ICU

Thankfully, this sort of slide is rare now. The worst visual aid is the one that’s not designed for a presentation, but as a document. The audience have come to listen to you – not to read. This sort of slide would be more useful when emailed as a document than projected onto a screen.

Enough complaints have been made about this practice now that there really is no excuse. The layout doesn’t matter – a lot of text is ineffective, whatever format it is in. And if you put text up but say something else – your audience will still read. And ignore you.

And aside from anything else – with that much text on screen, will they even be able to see it all properly?

Mistake #2: Bullet points

Slide 61 – Drupalcon Keynote – Open Source and Open Data in the Age of the Cloud

Do bullet points look exciting? Every presenter should know of the staleness of bullet points by now. There has been enough hype in the media, and enough books published, for the majority of people to understand that bullet points do not work. So why are audiences still subjected to this? Bullet points are not engaging.

The current craze is to remove the bullet points, placing each idea onto its own slide instead. While this is an improvement, it doesn’t matter where the bullets are – even if each point is on a separate slide, they are still bullet points.

Mistake #3: ClipArt

Slide 4 – Designing a Movie Trailer

Thankfully, this has seen a dramatic downturn in popularity, but the fact that we managed to find even one example of this is reason enough to provide a reminder. ClipArt is tacky and awful, does not aid audience comprehension in any way, and will just leave them distinctly unimpressed.

Mistake #4: Tacky Stock Imagery

Slide 10 – Death by PowerPoint

Does this really need an explanation? The picture looks unprofessional, and doesn’t aid the audience’s comprehension in any way. This isn’t the sort of picture you’d expect to see in the boardroom, or at a really good TED talk. In fact, this sort of image could really be considered as photograph ClipArt.

If you want to impress with your presentation, make sure that you use only the best visuals. Using humour is risky at the best of times, and this sort of silliness is unlikely to make a good impression.

Mistake #5: Complicated Diagrams

Slide 5 – Project ViResiST

Aside from the awful colours and the bizarre text bubble in the background, there is far too much going on on this slide. Throw up something like this and your audience will give up before they’ve started. Complicated diagrams are difficult enough to digest when perusing them at one’s own leisure: when put up on a slide with a presenter talking over them, the audience has even less chance of comprehending. There’s just far too much information here to digest – is the presenter really asking the audience to acknowledge all of these data points?

Diagrams should be simple, and should build so that each point can be talked about as it appears on screen. Putting everything up at once just renders the audience unable to digest the information, and can leave them so overwhelmed that they disengage entirely.

Mistake #6: Distracting Pictures

Slide 11 – Rise of the Marketing Technologist

This type of slide demonstrates what some presenters refer to as ‘the visual metaphor’. A metaphor or comparison is selected, often a well-known cliché or conceit. This is then pictured in the form of an abstract visual, and an image is found that vaguely portrays this. The image is most often big. And beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that audiences would happily have it on their walls. So beautiful in fact, that they could stare at it for hours, happily drifting off into their own personal daydreams…

See the problem?

Unless your visual aids are strictly relevant to your message – don’t include them. Visuals can be more distracting than you think, and encouraging your audience to think about something else while they’re supposed to be listening to you is never a good idea.

(Thanks to Olivia Mitchell, who wrote a whole post on this point.)

Mistake #7: Explaining the Point

Slide 33 – Shift Happens

The presenter who uses this method has realised that visuals can be seriously distracting when used incorrectly. So in order to ensure that the audience focus on the message rather than on the pretty pictures, he outlines the point of the slide. Great. Can’t ignore that, can they?

Well, no. Which is the problem.

If you put text on a slide, the audience will read this instead of listening to you. No problem, the presenter replies. I’ve only put up one sentence. They can read it, and then come back to listening to me.

But why should they? As far as the audience is concerned, your slide completely explains the point. They don’t need to listen to you – they already ‘get it’. Unless your truly spectacular presenting skills can drag the audience’s attention back, they may disengage – because if the slide explains the point, the presenter’s role is defunct.

Conclusion

So, when designing your next presentation, think about what will most help you to keep the audience engaged, whilst aiding their comprehension of your point. Think about each visual you choose: why are you using that particular slide? If it doesn’t help the audience grasp your point without distracting them – don’t use it.

Visual aids should work with the presenter – not against him.

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4 Comments to Visual Aids Gone Wrong

  1. #1

    Joe Sheeran

    2:24 am, August 26th, 2010

    This is a query. I have followed the tutorial on inserting film clips into a slide. I am also able to place it correctly in the sequence I choose and can also relate it to ther objects on the slide comfortably. My problem is as follows: havingclicked to start the movie and let it run to its term just at that point I am left with a black square. I want the movie, sited at the top-right of a square, to move into the centre simultaneously with three still photos from the other three corners of the square. There are two things I can do: simply dissolve the black square and its companions where they are or try and freeze the film into stillness and then it becomes the same as the other stills and I can manipulate them all together.Can I freeze a film clip thus allowing me to give it the same value as the other three stills – If I can do that, how?

  2. #2

    Richard Goring

    9:27 pm, September 6th, 2010

    Hi Joe,

    Sorry for the delayed response. If I understand you correctly, you should be able to freeze any movie clip mid-play at any point by using a trigger animation effect.

    When you insert a movie into PowerPoint, the animation effects that the clip has by default are ‘play’ and ‘pause’. If you right click on the ‘pause’ animation command in the animation pane and select ‘Timing…’ you can make the movie pause on a still by making the ‘pause’ effect occur ‘With previous’ in the ‘Start:’ section and by introducing a delay with the ‘Delay:’ section that takes you up to the point that you want the movie to pause. This then gives you your freeze frame. Is this what you were after?

    Richard

  3. #3

    Fred Dibnah

    11:55 am, November 14th, 2013

    I thought the whole point of that Shift Happens presentation was that it is supposed to stand alone, so the slides need to make the point as it was intended to be used without a presenter.

  4. #4

    Harry Wilson

    10:37 am, November 21st, 2013

    Hi Fred, Slides are not meant to make sense without a presenter. If they do what is the need for the presenter? The audience will just read ahead.

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