1 August 2014

Never Use That Animation Again

In the presentations world, animations achieve resounding success. Many presenters seem to be unable to restrain their desire to animate as many elements as possible. After all, that page flip transition is too cool to resist. I believe many of the transition effects made available by presentation tools do very little to improve the audience experience. In this article you'll learn why you should keep animations as subtle as possible.

A transition is useful when it helps the listeners follow your message better. However, if not used properly animations can become a distraction and make your presentation look unprofessional. By no coincidence the world’s top speakers don’t use many transitions. Every time you are thinking about using an effect, ask yourself whether that effect will improve the understanding of your audience. It is a matter of priority
if used with the audience in mind, a transition effect can guide peoples’ eyes so that they will see first what you want them to see first. A transition should be thought of as any other element of your visuals (be it a text, an image, a colour, etc), so the same principle holds: anything should be there for good reason, not because it is cool.    

Say you have created a slide that shows a business process. You might have created a diagram displaying the different steps involved in that process. Well, this is one of the cases in which using a transition can be useful indeed. Instead of showing your audience the individual steps all at once—which would impair their ability to quickly understand your message—you could show one step at a time. By “building” the process step by step you will make it easier for your message to get across.

Let me give you an example. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins reveals what he calls the Hedgehog Concept: the companies which outperform their competitors are the ones which meet all of the following criteria:

  • They are deeply passionate about what they do
  • They focus on what they can the best in the world at
  • Their passion can make them a living 
He calls this Hedgehog concept because of the parable of the clever fox and the simple hedgehog. The fox keeps coming up with brilliant ideas to eat the hedgehog but the hedgehog never dies because he uses his best trick: rolling into a prickly ball. He does one thing and he does it well.
If you want to use Jim Collins’s concept during a presentation, you could create a slide like the one below. 

However, instead of showing the whole diagram at once, having the circles appear one at a time would make it easier for your audience to follow your message.

This is only one example where a transition effect becomes your friend. There are many others. As a rule of thumb, though, try to make sure that at any given time your slides display only what you are talking about in that moment. Use a transition only when it is the right time to make another point. This way you'll make sure your audience will not get distracted by irrelevant visual elements.

Remember, the fact that presentation tools let you choose among many animation effects doesn’t mean you have to use them all. You can make a great presentation even if you restrain yourself to using only one transition—fade—which lets objects fade in and out. You can certainly go further than that if you need, but only if it helps your listeners grasp your message more effectively. And if you animate several objects, try to stick to the same effect throughout your presentation in order to make it look consistent and professional. Like anything in design, simplicity is king.

Do you still think a 
page flip transition adds value to your message? 

IMAGE: Kevin N. Murphy via Flickr