Thursday, February 18, 2010

The risk of too much design in our presentations

What could possibly be wrong about too much design in our presentations?

Just so we are all clear, I’m not talking about large keynote style presentations that have a significant entertainment component. Almost none of us will be working on presentations like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation that won an Academy Award (evidence of the entertainment component).

I’m talking about the type of presentations that most of us work on. Presentations such as training programs, sales presentations, project status updates, and reporting on financial or operational results. In these types of presentations, when there is too much design in the graphics and movement, the risk is that it is perceived as slick.

Why is slick a bad thing? Because one good definition of slick from is “deftly executed and having surface appeal or sophistication, but shallow or glib in content.” Here are three problems with “slick” in a presentation:
1) The audience thinks you spent more time working on the look than the content (whether that is actually true or not). The audience for our presentations wants solid content as the primary focus.
2) The audience wonders what you are trying to hide in the presentation. They figure you are trying to dazzle them with a flashy look to cover up something else.
3) Your boss may wonder how much time you spent on the presentation and what other more important tasks you could have used some of that time for.

So instead of aiming to compete with the flashy entertaining keynote presentations, I suggest you focus on making your presentation clear. Create a simple background design that is not distracting. Use headlines to clearly summarize the point of each slide for your audience. Use simple visuals and simple animation to illustrate the point.

Be cautious about overinvesting in the design of your presentation because it takes time that could be better spent on other valuable activities.


Blogger jessica.pyne said...

I agree with the ideas behind this, but think that you may be a little harsh on design!

The fact that a presentation is well designed will not immediately set off alarm bells in an audience. The minority may believe that it is covering up a lack of content, but most audience members are impressed by a professional appearance.

That said, good design cannot replace solid content. PowerPoint slides should function, and work as effective visual aids that help to explain a point. No matter how pretty they are, if your slides do not convey your message in an effective way, they will not be successful.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Dave Paradi said...


Sorry that it sounded like I was being harsh on design. The intention was to be cautious about overdesigning our presentations where the focus is on making it gorgeous instead of making the content for the audience the primary focus.


6:48 AM  
Blogger jessica.pyne said...

In that case, I agree with you! Presentations should be effective, not just pretty. And the audience should definitely be the primary focus.


7:00 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Very good point Dave, kinda along the lines of my own thinking in this post

It would seem that George Orwell agreed with us too!

7:18 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hey Dave,

I liked the post so much I wrote my own post about it!

Hope you have recovered from the devastation of the Hockey match the other night!

7:42 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

I think I forgot the link

7:42 AM  

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