The Art of Presentations

Everyone seems to have endured a terrible PowerPoint presentation at some point. The rollercoaster of emotions from boredom induced by metaphors in stock-images to frustration that the presentation took an hour or more of your time that you won’t get back.

It seems surprising that in the internet age with millions of images at our disposal, and the opportunity to use a number of alternate presentation software, slide presentations are duller than ever.  We expect quality presentations both in terms of visuals and presenters, yet many of us fall short of providing our audience with a really memorable presentation.

Often the choice of image is where it all begins to go wrong. The top ten worst photos to use in presentations, according to Pickit, a Swedish crowd-sourcing database, are as follows;

  • cogs
  • images of people holding hands around a globe
  • stacked pebbles
  • thumbs up
  • archery targets (with optional arrow)
  • jigsaw piece being fitted into puzzle
  • businessperson poised to run a race
  • handshakes
  • rosettes
  • groups of businesspeople staring intently at a monitor

There are plenty of alternatives to PowerPoint including Keynote, Slides, Prezi, SlideRocket and Slidedog, to name but a few. These are all freely available online, so there really is no excuse for an out-dated PowerPoint with cheesy transitions.

Yet, Microsoft’s software, which launched in 1990, continues to dominate the market. It is estimated that there are 1.2 billion users worldwide each day, creating millions of presentations using the software. Microsoft has introduced a range of new tools to allow people to make presentations look better; the Morph feature allows users to create animations by moving objects around slides, whilst its Designer feature enables photos to be added and edited with ease.

The process of updating PowerPoint saw Microsoft work with graphic designers to create more than 12,000 possible options with variables such as picture placement, framing and transparency. The Designer feature can analyse and suggest design options for newly-uploaded images.

Aaron Weyenberg, who makes the slide decks for the TED conference, suggests that people need to reconsider their use of images when creating presentations. Often photos are most effective when they serve in a metaphorical and conceptual sense to set a backdrop tone rather than always matching up with the content.

Here are some tips for choosing and using images in presentations:

  • Think about your slides last
  • Create a consistent look and feel
  • Avoid slides with lots of text
  • Use simple photos that enhance meaning
  • Use storytelling
  • Have a focused message that you want your audience to retain

Weyenberg goes as far as questioning whether slides are needed at all, which perhaps for an informative presentation could be straining for the audience. He does warn that should you need to use a presentation, there is no excuse for not finding a great picture these days. Particularly as Getty Images, the largest photo agency, made large sections of its library free to use.

Design firms are encouraging presenters to include more unusual imagery in their work, rather than always using stereotypical images which do little to add information to the story. A good visual presentation needs photos are unique.

So perhaps next time you are looking to illustrate a new partnership, why not use an image of bacon and eggs sizzling in a pan?