Friday, June 19, 2009

Synopsis: Presentation Zen (Remove clutter, use pictures)

Now we're getting into the principles that Garr Reynolds identifies as being useful for the good graphic design of slides.

First up is Signal to Noise ratio -- the ratio of relevant information on a slide compared to its irrelevant information. The goal is to get rid of clutter. If you remove as much irrelevant information as possible, people can understand what the slide is saying as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Some sources of irrelevant information that make it harder to understand a slide include:
  • inappropriate charts
  • 3-D charts (which often make it more difficult to interpret data)
  • ambiguous labels
  • distracting grids
  • footers
  • logos (remove these from all but the first and last slides)
Reynolds recommends using as few elements as possible on a slide. However, you should consider retaining or including elements that support the message at a more emotional level. That's the subject of his next principle.

Picture Superiority Effect

Pictures are remembered better than words, if you or exposed to the picture for longer than 30 seconds.(*) The picture and your words must reinforce (not repeat) each other for this to happen.

* This Picture Superiority Effect is strongest when the picture represents common, concrete things.

Historically, words have dominated presentations because we lack the technology to easily take or acquire pictures. Now we have readily available digital cameras, editing software and Internet resources. Some sources of rights-free images on the Internet include:

Morgue File
Flickr Creative Commons Pool
Image After
The everystockphoto search engine

As Reynolds established earlier, bullet-pointed lists of words usually aren't effective in a live talk. They should be used rarely and as a last resort. The three main techniques that come out of this section are:
  1. Ask yourself what information are you representing with written words that you could replace with a photo or other graphic?

  2. Find images with plenty of empty space around them (images that are scaled to at least 800x600) and place text inside those images

  3. Quotes or phrases can illustrate your points. Use them sparingly; keep them short and legible. You don't want to bore the audience by reciting what they can (or have) already read.
One thing that I have really appreciated about Presentation Zen is that it constantly draws on documentary and comics as examples of effective presentations to study. In fact, it actually spends quite a bit of time quoting from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. I think I have some further reading and watching to do in this area (coming soon: looks at Zenith and An Inconvenient Truth).

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