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When your slides rock, your whole presentation pops to life. At TED2014, David Epstein created a clean, informative slide deck to support his talk on the changing bodies of athletes. Photo: James Duncan Davidson
Aaron Weyenberg is the master of slide decks. Our UX Lead creates Keynote presentations that are both slick and charming—the kind that pull you in and keep you captivated, but in an understated way that helps you focus on what’s actually being said. He does this for his own presentations and for lots of other folks in the office. Yes, his coworkers ask him to design their slides, because he’s just that good.
We asked Aaron to bottle his Keynote mojo so that others could benefit from it. Here, 10 tips for making an effective slide deck, split into two parts: the big, overarching goals, and the little tips and tricks that make your presentation sing.
Aaron used this image of a New Zealand disaster to kick off a slide deck from TED’s tech team — all about how they prepares for worst-case scenarios. He asked for permission to use the image, and credited the photographer, Blair Harkness. View the whole slidedeck from this presentation.
The big picture:
1. Think about your slides last.
Building your slides should be the tail end of developing your presentation. Think about your main message, structure its supporting points, practice it and time it—and then start thinking about your slides. The presentation needs to stand on its own; the slides are just something you layer over it to enhance the listener experience. Too often, I see slide decks that feel more like presenter notes, but I think it’s far more effective when the slides are for the audience to give them a visual experience that adds to the words.
2. Create a consistent look and feel.
In a good slide deck, each slide feels like part of the same story. That means using the same or related typography, colors and imagery across all your slides. Using pre-built master slides can be a good way to do that, but it can feel restrictive and lead to me-too decks. I like to create a few slides to hold sample graphic elements and type, then copy what I need from those slides as I go.
3. Think about topic transitions.
It can be easy to go too far in the direction of consistency, though. You don’t want each slide to look exactly the same. I like to create one style for the slides that are the meat of what I’m saying, and then another style for the transitions between topics. For example, if my general slides have a dark background with light text, I’ll try transition slides that have a light background with dark text. That way they feel like part of the same family, but the presentation has texture—and the audience gets a visual cue that we’re moving onto a new topic.
4. With text, less is almost always more.
One thing to avoid—slides with a lot of text, especially if it’s a repeat of what you’re saying out loud. It’s like if you give a paper handout in a meeting—everyone’s head goes down and they read, rather than staying heads-up and listening. If there are a lot of words on your slide, you’re asking your audience to split their attention between what they’re reading and what they’re hearing. That’s really hard for a brain to do, and it compromises the effectiveness of both your slide text and your spoken words. If you can’t avoid having text-y slides, try to progressively reveal text (like unveiling bullet points one by one) as you need it.
5. Use photos that enhance meaning.
I love using simple, punchy photos in presentations, because they help what you’re saying resonate in your audience’s mind without pulling their attention from your spoken words. Look for photos that (1) speak strongly to the concept you’re talking about and (2) aren’t compositionally complex. Your photo could be a metaphor or something more literal, but it should be clear why the audience is looking at it, and why it’s paired with what you’re saying. For example, I recently used the image above—a photo of a container ship about to tip over (it eventually sank)—to lead off a co-worker’s deck about failure preparation. And below is another example of a photo I used in a deck to talk about the launch of the new TED.com. The point I was making was that a launch isn’t the end of a project—it’s the beginning of something new. We’ll learn, adapt, change and grow.
Here, a lovely image from a slidedeck Aaron created about the redesign of TED.com. View the whole deck from this presentation.
And now some tactical tips…
1. Go easy on the effects and transitions.
Keynote and Powerpoint come with a lot of effects and transitions. In my opinion, most of these don’t do much to enhance the audience experience. At worst, they subtly suggest that the content of your slides is so uninteresting that a page flip or droplet transition will snap the audience out of their lethargy. If you must use them, use the most subtle ones, and keep it consistent.
2. Use masking to direct attention in images.
If you want to point something out in a photo, you could use a big arrow. Or you could do what I call a dupe-and-mask. I do this a lot when showing new page designs, particularly when I don’t want the audience to see the whole design until I’m finished talking about individual components of it. Here’s the original image.
Here’s the process for masking it. (1) Set the image transparency to something less than 100. (2) Duplicate that image so there is one directly over the top of the other. (3) Set the dup’d image transparency back to 100. and (4) Follow the technique here to mask the dup’d image. You’ll end up with something that looks like this.
You can use this technique to call out anything you want in a screenshot. A single word, a photo, a section of content—whatever you want your audience to focus on.
3. Try panning large images.
Often, I want to show screen shot of an entire web page in my presentations. There’s a great Chrome extension to capture these—but these images are oftentimes much longer than the canvas size of the presentation. Rather than scaling the image to an illegible size, or cropping it, you can pan it vertically as you talk about it. In Keynote, this is done with a Move effect, which you can apply from an object’s action panel.
4. For video, don’t use autoplay.
It’s super easy to insert video in Keynote and Powerpoint—you just drag a Quicktime file onto the slide. And when you advance the deck to the slide with the video that autoplays, sometimes it can take a moment for the machine to actually start playing it. So often I’ve seen presenters click again in an attempt to start the video during this delay, causing the deck to go to the next slide. Instead, set the video to click to play. That way you have more predictable control over the video start time, and even select a poster frame to show before starting.
5. Reproduce simple charts and graphs.
Dropping an image of a chart into a presentation is fine, but it almost always disrupts the feel of a deck in unsightly fashion. If the graph data is simple enough (and you have some extra time) there’s a way to make it much more easy on the eyes. You could redraw it in the native presentation application. That sounds like needless work, and it might be for your purposes, but it can really make your presentation feel consistent and thought-through, of one flavor from soup to nuts. You’ll have control over colors, typography, and more. Here are some examples.
Lastly, I’d love to leave you with a couple book recommendations. The first is Resonate, by Nancy Duarte.
It’s not so much about slides, but about public speaking in general – which is the foundation for any presentation, regardless of how great your slides are. In it, she breaks down the anatomy of what makes a great presentation, how to establish a central message and structure your talk, and more.
(One of her case studies comes from Benjamin Zander’s charming TED Talk about classical music, a talk that captivated the audience from start to finish.)
Think of this as prerequisite reading for my second recommendation, also by Duarte:Slide:ology. This is more focused on presentation visuals and slides.
Last month we offered you some free templates to help you create unique and innovative résumés.
In line with this help, here are ten things to avoid. They pretty much guarantee that your résumé effort will end up in the circular file:
1. Not enough information
Make sure you’re applying specifically to the job being advertised. Tweak your résumé to provide the information the recruiter or prospective employer is looking for. If you don’t provide basic information in an easy-to-spot way, the person reading your résumé may give up before you’ve even had a chance to make your case.
And too much information about yourself is as bad as too little. Does the prospective employer really want to know you got an Eagle Scout badge or made it to the finals in a cook-off? (And since it’s the rare occasion when a photo is useful, forget the pic.)
If you say you worked for ABC company from 2000 to 2002, and the next job, at DEF, begins in 2005, red flags will go up! The person reading the résumé will wonder what the heck you were doing for those three missing years. So if you do have a gap, it’s better to explain it than hope people won’t notice. (They will.)
If your résumé says you speak a foreign language fluently, and you don’t, you may as well shoot yourself. All recruiters will be quick to tell you to be transparent, be honest, don’t put anything in that résumé you can’t prove or support in an interview.
5. Poor presentation
Job-hunting is work. Especially in down economic times. So put as much effort into your résumé as you would into a job. Make no spelling errors. Make no grammatical errors. Use formatting that enables a reader to see at a glance all the pertinent information. (Dates of employment, employers’ names, job titles, for example.) And, by the way, do NOT rely on a spellcheck function … the software is sometimes just plain wrong!
6. Too many pages
To a beginning jobseeker, a one-page résumé should be plenty. For the more experienced professional, two or three pages can be acceptable. Again, the easier it is to find the key information, the better. (Remember, the person on the other end of your résumé may be reading a hundred résumés … so make it easy for the poor soul!)
7. Opinions and editorials
The résumé is not the place to tell people how good or smart or reliable or whatever you are. The résumé is the list of the facts of your employment, not opinions about it. (And in the interview, try to be modest. A good interviewer will be able to see how capable you are.)
Leave the judgment calls to the people who interview you.
8. Complicated formats
Most professionals will tell you that a résumé should be typed in black Times Roman or Arial font and in a legible size (12-point should be fine for the eyes of most readers). For special words or phrases, it’s okay to underline, use italics or bold face.
And if you must use color, don’t use more than one or two colors; and choose colors that aren’t glaring, like blue and gray. If you’re a designer or a professional in an artistic or creative area, use your best judgment about color in the résumé.
9. Bad translation
A bad translation will leave a bad impression. If you need your résumé translated, find professionals fluent in the languages you need to use. Spending the money will be worth it in the long run.
10. Evasion and ambiguity
You résumé needs to present clearly the level of your experience. So don’t be vague in your work descriptions. Again, people will notice and wonder why you’re not being more specific.
The bottom line here is that a résumé is you on paper… well, you in your party clothes and looking fabulous, anyway. So if you don’t have the skill set to put you on paper in the best possible professional light, hire an expert to do it for you. They’re out there, and they can get results. Again, money well spent!
Presentations can be just like a good movie. SOAP believes in that since day one. From then on, we have always been inspired by narratives and elements that turn a good movie into a blockbuster.
But now we went a little bit further. We went to L.A. to learn how to make a movie from scratch.
The lessons we got from that experience will be applied to SOAP products, processes and trainings. Some interesting things we learned are that:
- If the story is really good, dialogue is unnecessary. In a short film, for example, the scenes are enough to tell the story
- The more dialogues and lettering needed, the less efficient the visuals are
- If what you have for the story is a man exiting through the door, you have nothing. If, however, this man is exiting through the window, then you’ve got a story
- Continuity is one of the main elements on a good movie. As it is on a presentation!
- Each scene should contain indispensable elements only. The same is true for the slides of a presentation
- If something has no reason to exist, get rid of it!
- Conflict is part of life. If a story doesn’t have conflict it is not a story. If the Joker had died during The Dark Knight’s first 10 minutes the story would be over
- Account for the unexpected in a production
- The more flexible you are when transforming the script into visuals, the better the result is going to be
- Being able to foresee a movie or a presentation even before starting the visual production is a competence that requires experience envisioning each detail in the process
- Budget! That’s what’s going to determine the resources to be used in a movie or presentation. There is no magic. You must put into practice your creativity to turn a little
- into a lot. Great ideas are not necessarily expensive
- All people involved in the process should visualize the same movie or presentation. From client to designer, from screenwriter to account executives, all should be on the same “slide”
- Each shot should be planned as comprehensively as possible. The more time you spend planning, the less effort is required. The same for presentations, of course! Invest most of your time planning the message you want to convey to your audience and check the difference as you produce the slides
We hope your next presentation is a blockbuster!
Who doesn’t like to hear a good story?
Who has never rooted for heroes (and, sometimes, even for the bad guys) as if they were close friends?
When we transpose the concept of storytelling to the corporate presentation and video realm, we notice that this is the best way to pass along information without imperativeness. A good example is the video “Love story in milk”.
The author talks about a frequently discussed issue – recycling – in a very original way. After all, you won’t always see two milk cartons romantically involved!
The video is captivating because it engages the audience, who can easily relate to love stories. Also, the video relies on a powerful ally to touch its viewers’ emotions: the sound track, which helps build up momentum in each shot.
Click on the video bellow to see the final result:
Upon applying the storytelling technique, the author managed to communicate effectively because he worked both sides of our brain: emotion and rationale.
At SOAP we believe storytelling is the best way to “sell an idea”. After all, besides entertaining, stories are appealing and lead the audience towards the conclusion you want to convey.
Do you receive those .pps files from an uncle, ex-friend or grandmother?
If you think that all .pps files are boring, bring self-help messages
and have to be deleted from your inbox before opening it, you may be missing an opportunity!
Not all .pps are like that…
Check what SOAP did with this .pps:
Since 1985, PowerPoint has been used as a tool to present ideas.
Some of the results are good, many are boring.
SOAP believes that a presenter can engage any audience using PowerPoint in the right way.
What about you. Do you believe PowerPoint can be a Media?