28 September 2013

Learning from Photography: The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a principle used by professional photographers when taking pictures. The idea behind it is to make photos more interesting, balanced and harmonious.

How does it work?

Imagine to break down an image into thirdsboth vertically and horizontallyso that you have 4 intersecting points, also called Power Points (they really are called like this).

What professional photographers do is they place the points of interest of a photo either along the dividing lines or on the power points. Believe it or not, our eyes are naturally attracted by those points, even if it happens unconsciously. Studies have shown that people’s eyes go to the intersection points more naturally rather than pointing somewhere else. That’s why images following the rule of thirds appear more natural and harmonious.
Let’s have a look at a few examples.

In the above image, you can see how the tiger’s body perfectly follows two of the dividing lines, the upper horizontal line and the vertical one on the left.

Here the point of interest is the lighthouse. No wonder why it has been placed along a vertical line.

This one is my favourite. Where have the eyes of this wonderful kid been placed? Around one of the power points.

How can you apply the Rule of Thirds to your slides?

The Rule of Thirds is a simple but powerful principle which makes images look interesting, professional and harmonious. Since a PowerPoint presentation should be a visual representation of your story, why not use this “rule” to make our slides more interesting, balanced and harmonious?
Most presenters tend to place every element of a slide at the centre. However, symmetry is not always pleasing to our eyes. Asymmetrical designs are much more appealing.
For me, the best way to apply this principle to presentation design is to combine images and text. Remember, research shows that it is easier for the audience to remember and understand your message when you combine images and text together.

Here is a brief presentation I made to show you how to bring the rule of thirds into your visuals. I have mainly collected real slides I used in previous presentations. Just imagine to see a 3x3 grid in each slide and think of what you now know about this principle. Of course the slides alone have no or little meaning without me speaking, but (1) this is not the purpose of the article, the purpose is to learn about the rule of thirds, (2) if people can understand your slides without you being there, this might be a sign of poor presentation design.

As you know, rules are made to be broken, but you can only break what you know. Being aware of the rule of thirds is a good step towards making your presentations more dynamic and beautiful, but you don’t have to apply it all the time. Knowing how to break the rule is as important as the rule itself.


22 September 2013

Less is More: The Power of White Space

People can’t listen to your presentation and read loads of text at the same time. This is an unquestionable truth! So your job is to design visuals that can be understood within a few seconds. In her book, Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great PresentationsNancy Duartea world’s leading expert in the fieldsuggests that audiences should be able to understand your slides in about three seconds. They should be able to very quickly grasp the message of your slides and then come back to you and listen to what you have to say. Slides are there to complement your message, not to substitute it.

Research shows that people better understand slides (and multimedia messages in general) when these don’t contain too much text and information. When those elements are present, they become a distraction and you don’t want to distract your audience, do you?
One of the best ways to avoid distracting your audience is to use a lot of White Space in your visuals.

What is White Space?

White space is the area of the slide which is empty. White space doesn’t have to be white, it can be any colour as long as it is empty space. White space is also called negative pace.
The main benefit of using white space is that it improves visual clarity, which in turn helps direct your audience’s focus on what is really important.  
Are you not convinced? Look at the optical illusion below.

Do you see a vase or two faces? If you see two faces it means that for you the white area is acting as negative space while the black area is acting as positive space. If you see the vase the opposite is the case. This example tells you that it is the negative space that makes the positive elements of your visuals stand out. Negative space doesn’t have to be seen as something to be filled insomething that's wasted unless it is occupied with more elements. Rather, it augments the positive elements of your message.
Perhaps the biggest mistake inexperienced presenters make is that they fill in their slides with loads of text and information which don’t add value to their message. Remember, if everything is important, nothing is important. If everything stands out, nothing stands out. Still not convinced? Ok, then look at the Google’s homepage below and compare it to the homepage of its competitor Yahoo! Google is one of the brands which understands this point very well.

Why do you think most people use Google when surfing the internet? To me, the main reason is the way Google designed its homepage in the first place (this is not the only reason though). It is clear, uncluttered and goes straight to the point. In a sentence, it has a lot of white space.

Why does white space matter?

So far I have shown examples which apparently have nothing to do with Presentation Design. However, design is everywhere and we can apply many design lessons to the world of presentations. White space matters because it brings many benefits to our visuals, such as:
  • Improved legibility
  • Higher comprehension
  • Increased attention
  • Creates elegance and gives an idea of professionalism

The enemy of white space

The reason why most people include too much text in their slides is because they lack the confidence for being different. "Normal" slidesthe ones we are used toare all about conformity. People want to feel secure and designing slides like everybody else is a way of feeling safe. By putting loads of information in your slides you want to show your audience that you have done your homework. However, this approach is not effective at all! It takes courage to be different, I know. But there is no doubt that “different” visualsvisuals that are designed with the audience in mindcan make your presentation remarkable.

Now it’s up to you, do you want to be boring or remarkable?    

14 September 2013

3 Simple Tips on How to Prepare a Presentation

One of the reasons why most presentations are boring and not effective is that the first thing most people do when they are asked to make a presentation is to open Power Point (or Keynote). This is hardly a correct approach to follow. Instead, you should spend time preparing and organising your ideas in an “analog” way before you even switch on your laptop. Here are 3 tips on how to prepare a presentation that I have learnt mainly from Garr Reynolds, author of the best-selling book Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery

(1) Plan analog

The best presenters often scratch out their ideas on paper or on a whiteboard. Their aim is to create (on paper and in their mind) a storyboard, a logical structure for their presentations. Only at the end of this process do they open up PowerPoint and start designing their story. You can do the same. You can write down your key points and manually scratch images and charts that will support a particular point.
You may be thinking, why do I have to waste my time doing this when I could do it directly on PowerPoint? Well, for two main reasons:
  • Planning analog enhances your creativity and helps you think visually and metaphorically. Metaphors help a skeptical audience to embrace your idea because they connect that idea with something they already know. Even Aristotle said: "The greatest thing by far is to have mastered the metaphor."
  • It does not take more time to plan analog. Once you have created your logical flow, you will spend less time on PowerPoint because you only need to design what you already have in your mind.
Opening PowerPoint before preparing your presentation is like lacing up your shoes before putting them on.

(2) Keep it simple

Pablo Picasso said that“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary”. Simplicity is not simple to achieve, it is hard but it will be appreciated by your audience. Simplicity is hard because you have to think about what to include and what to exclude in your presentation. Ask yourself this question: what is the essence of my message? If your audience could remember only three things about your presentation, what would you want them to be?


Also, to help you keep your presentation simple and relevant, there is another question you should ask yourself when building the content of your presentation: “so what?”. In his book The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki says that we should think of having a little man on our shoulder telling us "so what" after every message we say. I think this is a funny and effective way to make our contant relevant to our audience. For anything you want to say, ask yourself whether that particular point is relevant or not and whether it helps your story in an important way or not. If the answer is no, cut it out.

(3) Tell a story

The best presentations include stories and the best presenters make very good use of stories. Research shows that the easiest way to explain even difficult ideas is by telling a story. Stories are also easier to remember for the audience, so try to come up with interesting examples or stories that illustrate your main points. Better yet, think of your entire presentation as an opportunity to tell a story. Great stories have interesting beginnings, engaging and provocative content in the middle and a clear conclusion.

In sum, the first step to making an engaging presentation is to follow those three guidelines: plan analog, keep it simple and embrace the art of storytelling.

8 September 2013

Let's Follow the Master

I think we should all learn from those who are better than us at doing certain things. We should surround ourselves by remarkable people.
Since this blog is about all things presentation related, I want to dedicate my first post to one of the best presenters ever. Surely, the best presenter of company products: Steve Jobs.
This is a short clip of Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone in 2007. Gorgeous introduction!

A blog about all things presentations

Hi there,

My name is Andrea. Echo Presentations is my new blog which is entirely conceived to share my passion about Presentations.

The focus will be on the three main aspects which make a presentation effective:

  • Preparation
  • Design
  • Delivery

Along the way, I'd love to hear what you think about it. Hope you enjoy it!