Thursday, November 06, 2008

Does great content trump poor visuals?

I was at an academic presentation recently and it presented a dilemma in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of the presentation. The presenter is an expert in the area and had done some ground breaking research in the area. The conclusions were interesting and he could back it up with evidence based on data that he had exclusive access to. Powerful stuff. But his slides were awful. And he didn't use them well at all.

He shared that he had been presenting this work at other institutions and had received great feedback from other experts in the field who recognized the usefulness of the conclusions he had come to. They saw his work as significant in the field.

So I was left wondering whether great content trumps the poor use of visuals? I'm not sure I have the answer, but here's what I was thinking. I know that fancy visuals can't save poor content. No matter how flashy your slides are, the audience won't leave excited if your message lacks substance. But I am not sure it works the other way around.

If your content is great but presented with lacklustre visuals, the audience will still leave enlightened. They just may not be as informed or inspired as if you had also used great visuals to drive home your points.

That's why I start almost every presentation by talking about the importance of properly structuring your message before you even consider your slides. Without a good structure, making sure that you have points that move your audience from where they are now to where you want them to be, the rest doesn't matter.

Next time you start to develop a presentation, don't sit down at your computer. Go to a quiet place with a pen and paper and allow yourself the time to concentrate on your desired outcome and the best way to achieve it. Only after you've got great content should you look to create persuasive visuals.

That's my answer to the question, what do you think?


Blogger Lisa Braithwaite said...

There's another piece here, and that's delivery. Good content delivered poorly with poor visuals is a bummer.

Good content delivered well (audience connection, enthusiasm for the topic, good interaction) with poor visuals can be effective if the visuals are just bland but not distracting!

I guess there are several combinations we could look at, but good content + effective delivery go a long way toward mitigating bad visuals.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Bert Decker said...

Well Hi Lisa, Just did a post on this and we agree.
Dave, great post and point, and I added a bit about content as well at

12:34 AM  
Blogger Olivia Mitchell said...

Hi Dave, I agree that great content does stand alone without visuals. Speakers and orators of the past did fine without overhead projectors and datashows. I think the reason for this is that our brains are very good at conjuring up visuals. Many years ago I was presenting with an overhead projector and I told a story involving elephants and so I put up a cartoon picture of an elephant. A member of the audience came up to me afterwards and said that she wished I hadn't put up the picture - it had ruined her own vizualisation of the elephant. I learnt from that - the word-pictures we paint can be just as powerful as a projected visual.

4:46 AM  

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