30 May 2014

How many words should I use on each slide?

There are 300 million PowerPoint users in the world. They make 30 million presentations each day. About a million presentations are being made right now. Many of them are rather poor. One of the reasons why most presentations are so painful is because we tend to include too many words on each slide. The average PowerPoint slide includes 40 words. The result? Boring presentations.
However, the presentation tool itself is not boring—it is the way we use it that is boring. A presentation is not merely a transfer of information—it should go far deeper than that. You want to change people so that they will eventually believe in what you believe (be it a product, an idea, a project, etc.). But you won’t inspire anybody if you display slides with 40 words. Research shows that people are not able to read and listen at the same time, so the more words you have in your slides the more your audience will be distracted and not able to listen to you. Everybody knows this truth but very few seem to do anything about it. Especially in the corporate world many professionals still use bullet-point slides because that is the way it has always been done. 
We can read between 150 and 300 words per minute on average. That makes about 15 seconds to read a 40-word slide. And I’m being conservative because I’m not considering the distraction you inevitably incur when the presenter is speaking at the same time. Nancy Duarte—founder and CEO of Duarte Design—judges the quality of visual displays based on what she calls the Glance Test; that is, people should be able to grasp the idea behind a visual within about three seconds. That’s how billboards are designed too. As you can see there is a huge difference between ideal world and reality. How many valuable insights will be ignored by your audience due to the only reason that they can’t perform two tasks at the same time? 
What’s the optimal number of words then?
The answer is it depends. Every situation is unique and an approach which works for a certain presentation may not work for another. However, some experts did try to come up with an optimal figure. For instance, Seth Godin never includes more than six words on a slide. Guy Kawasaki never uses a font smaller than 30 points (see his 10-20-30 rule) to prevent him for using too many words. I’m not a fan of strict rules when it comes to designing slides, so I don’t think there is an optimal number of words you need to adhere to. However, Godin’s and Kawasaki’s rules go towards the right direction. They both restrain your desire to include a lot of text. 
An unequivocal truth does exist though: less is more. Every time you are not sure about whether to include an element or not, don’t. It’s better to err because you left it out than because you included it. 
Sample slides
I prepared two before-after slides in order for you to understand how you can follow this approach in your next presentation. Suppose you work in Sales and you are responsible for a certain business unit within your company (the Automotive industry) and your colleagues ask you to give them an update on the performance of that industry. On the left-hand side you have a common bullet-point slide, the one you have probably seen many times; on the right-hand side you see how I would remake it for maximum impact. Remember, in visual communication there is nothing better than combining images and text. You don't need to write every single statement on your slides. Rather, show the main idea and then complement it with your delivery. This way your colleagues will quickly look at your slide, have an idea of where you want to go and then come back to you to listen to your message. 
Personally, I would even go for a slide like the one below because I tend to include only what is necessary, not more. If you think about it, all the supporting points you see in the original version can be mentioned directly by you. 
Keep it simple
You might be thinking, this approach is too simplistic. Truth is, simple and simplistic have not the same meaning. Simplistic means oversimplifying. Simple instead means plain, not complicated, easy to understand. Sounds nicer, doesn’t it?
Research shows that people learn more effectively from multimedia messages when they don’t include unnecessary elements. Too many words on a slide are an unnecessary element. When you design your slides, any element should be there for a reason. To make sure this is the case, every time you are about to add something, ask yourself: does this particular element add meaning to the message I want to communicate? If the answer is yes, keep it. If it isn’t, leave it out.

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19 May 2014

PowerPoint vs. Keynote: A Useless War

There are two kinds of people in the world: PowerPoint users and Keynote users. Both would never compromise on the software they use to make a presentation and both share the same idea, that the presentation tool makes a difference. This article wants to answer a simple question: which of the two applications is better?

The answer is it doesn’t matter which presentation tool you use. What matters is the approach you follow. You can make great presentations both with PowerPoint and Keynote. Personally, I think Keynote is superior in that it is more elegant, simple and user-friendly. It offers you only what you need and forgets about the fluff. I’m particularly happy with the positioning lines—which help you automatically place objects in the correct position—as well as with the various options for creating shadows, which are particularly useful when you need to make text stand out clearly above another element, like an image. On the other hand, the business market is dominated by PowerPoint, so if you use Keynote you might have compatibility issues. 
Above all, what really matters is the story you communicate. If the story is working, the audience won’t even be aware of the tool you are using. But if the tool gets more attention than your message, there might be a problem with your message, or with the way it is communicated. Yes you need great visuals which support your point, but the story comes first. If the story is not working, no astonishing visuals will be able to make it work. As they say in Hollywood, “the Story is King”.
A thought on Prezi
If you ended up reading this article, you have probably heard about Prezi. Prezi is another presentation tool which was born to replace the ordinary slide based presentations. In addition to the typical features all slideware apps share, Prezi allows you to zoom in and out and pan around. When it was first released a few years ago people started sharing the good news as if it was a revolution in the industry. I admit I never fell in love with it because I don’t think it improves on clarity. It doesn’t bring the speaker closer to the audience, nor the audience closer to the speaker. It doesn’t help to communicate a story more effectively. 
Prezi lovers say the main drawback of traditional slide based presentations is that you can’t jump from slide one to three without showing slide two first. My answer is that if you prepare your presentation carefully, then the position of the slides is not random. Slide three comes after slide two because that is how your story goes and there is no need to skip anything. The only situation I can think of where Prezi can be useful is a lecture, especially long lectures. I understand a professor who needs to jump from one point to another, or to go back to a particular topic if a student asks a question. In these cases yes, Prezi could be useful. Even though, the old whiteboard would still be better.
The power of a story
In a 2007 Wall Street Journal interview, Steve Jobs talking about Pixar, movies and storytelling said: “No amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story”. I believe movies and presentations have a lot in common. Their success depends on one core element: storytelling. A movie (or a presentation) without a story is like the sky without stars. No presentation tool will turn a bad story into a good story.

8 May 2014

Why you shouldn't use your logo on every slide

One of the most common PowerPoint habits—especially in the corporate world—is to place a (company) logo on every slide. Unfortunately, common habits are not necessarily good habits. The purpose of this article is to explain why placing your logo on every slide is not the way to go.
Why do most people fall into this trap? When I ask around, the usual answer I receive is they do it for brand recognition. I believe some people confuse logos with brands. A logo is not a brand and placing a logo on every slide is not branding. Garr Reynolds—who is not only a Presentation Design expert—he is also Professor of Management and Design, wrote in this article:
“The logo is an important part of the outward expression of a brand [...] but the meaning of brand and branding goes far, far deeper than simply making one’s logo as recognisable as possible.”
He also shared a funny yet so true point: “We don’t begin every new sentence in a conversation by re-stating our name, why do we bombard people with our company logo in every slide?” 
Can you prove him wrong?     
I’m not campaigning for presentations with no logos at all, but I think there is another way to “sell” yourself (or your company) while keeping clutter away from your visuals. The solution is to put your large logo only on the first and last slides. If you want to make a good impression, make a good presentation. Your audience will remember you—and your company—because you made a great presentation, not because your logo was on every slide. On the other hand, if your presentation is boring, your audience will think of your company as a boring company, even if your logo is everywhere. Focus on making a superb presentation, not on bombarding people with repetitive elements which don’t add meaning to your message.     
It’s undisputed that Apple’s keynotes are one of the most well designed in the corporate world. Do they place their famous fruit on every slide? No way. Still, people recognise their slides. What they do make sure is that their logo is displayed when people walk in and out the conference room. They also display it to build breaks from one topic to another—using bumper slides—but never on a slide which includes other elements. 
By removing unnecessary elements like logos you will also achieve an invaluable benefit: you will free up space to make your visuals look more design-mindful
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry 
I believe repeating your logo throughout your presentation has the only effect to add visual noise and, as a consequence, impair comprehension. It won’t help you sell your products or make your point better. Rather, it will make your visuals look like a commercial. Is that the purpose of your presentation? Remember, people don’t like being sold to. (By the way, I think it’s time to write an article on the purpose of a presentation. I’ll do it, promised) 
No presentation has the goal to sell, none of them, not even sales pitches. A presentation is not about the presenter, it’s about the audience. Now think about this: if a presentation is not about you but about them, isn’t it contradictory to place your logo on every slide? If you want to be remembered, just make a great presentation.