Your Next BIG Speech
Bare Necessities of Successful Design
Once you have considered visuals, data, and consequences, you can move on to the preparation of your presentation. This opens up a very dangerous Pandora’s box of options for you. The ease of using presentation software like PowerPoint, Keynote, and Prezi (to name a few) gives way too much power to the novice speaker. The opportunity to mix in cool fonts and awesome animations is very appealing. Try your best to avoid diving into that rabbit hole until you better understand graphic design. Start smart. Start easy. When laying out presentation slides, here are a few things to pay attention to:
Color Inside the Lines
As kids grow up there are a few developmental landmarks I have watched my children achieve. Coloring within the lines was one of the earliest. I can’t fully explain why I was so proud that my daughter could color in the lines, but it felt like a big deal to me. Her pictures became much better. They were cleaner. They were prettier. You may have blind pride in your children’s deeds…I don’t. I prefer things to be done right. Coloring in the lines is a good start. It shows attention to details. It shows a desire to make things look good. It shows improvement compared to earlier efforts.
This is all you can ever ask for – improvement. Aim to improve each presentation as you move forward. Don’t just recycle old material/slides/layouts. Learn from your experience. Learn from what you seen others do. Make your presentations stand out or at least don’t let your presentations be messy or stale.
Next, there are bullets. Not the lethal kind, mind you, but the dangerous kind. Most talks will have some lists where items are bulleted below a heading. This is perfectly acceptable. What is not? Changing the type, size, depth, and spacing between the bullets. There are some pretty basic templates and style sheets that allow for you to keep this a nonissue. However, I’ve seen plenty of instances where one list will be numerical and the next will have bullets that are asterisks. Or there will be a few pages where the bullets are dots, but then on a page where someone else’s slide was added, the bullets are arrows. Spend the time to clean up and assure uniform text features. It isn’t too difficult to select the bulleted areas and assign a similar style throughout the presentation. Standardized layouts are kind of like referees, you only notice them when they are bad. Do what you can to minimize their impact on your next talk. Its one thing to talk about what not to do, it’s another to show you. Here are some examples of things to avoid with your slides (DISCLAIMER: edited versions of real slides, to protect the innocent):
First, the good – the slide layout is nice. The design is clean and colors are ok. The bad – too much text. No way anyone can read that much text and listen to you at the some time. This is a presentation, not a book. Also, the pictures are meant to emphasize the text. Instead, I find myself searching through the slide trying to figure out what is going on. For a presentation, material doesn’t need to be written AND spoken. Lastly, there is a typo in the second bullet.
This is an example of a poor slide layout. The theme of water droplets is fine, but inserting a white image without integrating it with the water element background is not. The black font is a poor choice due to the similar tone as the dark-blue background. Labeling and graphs on map are too small for audience to read. This is a low effort slide where the author took a picture from a book and dumped it on a slide. Then put a title on as the default. Default is lazy. Cut and paste is lazy, too.
There is lots wrong with this title slide. There are too many titles, too many words, too many colors, too many fonts, and the design elements clash.
Where do I start? The slide design is bad. Too much text. The font on the table is too small. Plus, do you need that much table to make your point? Then there is clip art. Boo clip art!! Oh, and there are acronyms and abbreviations galore. Ick.
The good – the slide design is good. The images are laid out so not to conflict with the layout. It is colorful and eye-catching. The bad – too much happening on one slide. There are different color bubbles. There is an odd mix of text and figures. There are acronyms and abbreviations all over. Some pictures have backgrounds included, while others have been removed. There is no consistency in this slide. Also, there are too many shades of green that don’t match.
Here we have some pretty simple things that shouldn’t happen. First, the text obscures the picture and the picture obscures the slide design. The image provides no benefit to the audience. Next, the text is a bit too wordy for a summary slide. And lastly, a Summary (by definition) should summarize the key points of the presentation. It should never roll over onto a second or third slide. Aim for clear and concise, not wordy.
One easily avoidable common slip up is the placement of images on a slide. You should consider what images you want to include in your presentation before you select your style of slide. You may even need to change your slide design as you begin to incorporate more pieces into your presentation. Always treat your slide design as a starting point, but be flexible. Presentations need to minimize distractions for the audience. They should be visuals aids, not visual hindrances.
Avoid simple mistakes like having your images overlap the slide design. This is distracting and can be easily remedied by choosing a different slide style.
Next, let’s talk about size. “It’s the motion of the ocean, not the size of the vessel.” NOT! (I’m totally going to bring it back) Bigger is better, don’t be fooled. Size of text and figures is essential for successful talks. If your audience can’t see what your pointing out, you’ve failed them. It’s a rookie mistake. Fonts, figures, tables, and graphs should all be legible from 20 or more feet away. If you don’t know if your text is readable from that distance, that is why you practice. Pay attention to those kinds of details. Everything you put on a slide must have a purpose. And if you can’t see something, it ill serves its purpose.
Another question I get is, “How many slides should a presentation have?” There is no hard and fast rule on this, but I prefer to follow a ⅔ ratio. If my presentation is 15 minutes, I never have more than 10 slides. If my talk is 45 minutes, I will include roughly 30 slides in the presentation. I once had a boss who would have dozens to hundreds of slides on his talks. He then would skip the slides he didn’t want to use and stop when his time was up. Please, don’t be that man! You are not giving a slide show. You are giving a presentation. The slides are there to help with your storytelling and audience engagement. They are not intended to be a crutch where you talk for 30 seconds then hit next. If you see that you have 28 slides for a 15-minute talk, I’ll beat the proceeds from this book that you will find yourself rushing through that presentation. Pace yourself. Allow the audience to see and digest what they are being shown. Let them formulate their own conclusions about what they are seeing. Let your slides breath.
The last necessity is the most egregious offense, in my opinion – the typo. Similar to resumes and funding proposals, if you can’t be bothered to make sure words are spelled correctly and punctuated properly, then you don’t deserve my attention. Typos are just lazy and inexcusable. Most illustration and word processing software now has a spellcheck feature. Please use it. But addressing poor spelling is just the beginning. Address poor grammar, as well. Do not mistake “there” for “their.” Do not end questions with a “.” rather than a “?” Carefully consider capitalization as you title your slides. There are some stylistic exceptions to capitalizing text, but make sure you stay consistent. That is actually the key for a lot of these bare necessities. Consistency. Limit distractions and assemble a clean, clear, and concise presentation.
Parenting & Public Speaking. Together
The behaviors, experiences, and techniques parents use everyday can improve YOUR NEXT BIG SPEECH. Whether it be using silly voices or just playing with the kids, these actions improve self-confidence, stage presence, and audience engagement. And that’s just the beginning…