In this video, Heather Ackmann covers the three pillars of PowerPoint slide design—audience, environment, and message.
- [Narrator] Throughout this course you will hear me talk about three design pillars often. They are audience, environment, and your message. I call them pillars because they should be bracing your design at any given moment. Take any one of these pillars away, and your design isn't as structurally sound. First up, consider your audience when designing. The first thing I tell anyone when I talk about presentations or effective communication is that communication is about community.
The whole point of delivering a talk is to inspire action or change. To communicate an idea to someone. Essentially, this isn't about the words or the idea then, this is about the people. To get the people to do something or feel something, or to think differently, to share your point of view and experiences or goals. And somehow this is a detail that is often forgotten during preparation. Where the focus turns too much on the presenter or the slides themselves.
Your slides are all about those people and it's not about you or your company. When we sit down to write our speech or think of what we want to communicate, somehow during that process, we tend to either become laser analytical, focusing entirely on our thoughts and message or our sales pitch. And we become a little self-centered focusing on how we will appear in front of a mass of people out of fear of public speaking. We tend to visualize ourselves but you are speaking to other people so your focus should be on those other people.
Even in this creation stage, especially in the creation stage. Whether you are writing or designing your slides, because the tone you set for this audience here, is a very different tone than the one you set for this audience here. Audience makes a big difference and you can't package the same design in the exact same speech for vastly different audiences and expect similar results. So consider your audience when designing.
Next, the environment is a design pillar. And here I'm not talking about recycling, I'm talking about the context for which you are presenting. Now, most people think of an in person presentation behind a podium, but are you delivering an in person presentation in front of ten people, 300 people, or 300,000 people, or is this a recorded presentation like this one? Think of how you are watching this presentation right now, in front of a TV screen or in front of a small iPhone.
Maybe you are hearing impaired and reading this text in closed caption, which is sad because I'm told I have a very pleasing voice. Well, I have news for you, where you are presenting has a huge impact on slide design. You'll need to make some adjustments according to where your slides will be projected based on the size of the screen. Even the lighting and color of the room or quality of projector. And often, there's not a good way to predict or anticipate a lot of these things too far in advance.
And finally, the last pillar is the most obvious one. It's your primary message. Your whole reason for giving a presentation in the first place. Your design shouldn't be a distraction from your message. Your message shouldn't be in competition with design. Design should work with your message at all times. In some ways your design is your message, just like your audience and the environment is your message as well. And yet, all too often I find that presenters are uncomfortable with empty areas of their PowerPoint slides and feel the need to fill that space with arbitrary clip art or images.
Images that have nothing to do with what they're talking about. Like this slide. This slide lists 10 migraine symptoms. Why is there a picture of a duck? Psychologists have a name for this, it's called visual dissonance or if that's too hard for you to remember, I like to call it a what the duck moment. It's a state of tension when one experiences a disparity between what one expects to see and what one actually sees. And when presenters throw arbitrary things on PowerPoint slides like this duck just because there is a blank area of the slide that they don't know what to do with, they are unintentionally creating visual dissonance for their audience.
Now what that means for their audience is that they are now no longer paying attention to what the presenter has to say or paying attention to the content on the slide. They are looking at this darn duck and trying to figure out what it has to do with the subject of migraines. In other words, they are missing the entire point of the lecture. And that's bad. It's better to remove the duck at this point. Always better to have no duck, an unbalanced plain design, than to have your audience confused and not listening to you or your message.
Sure, they'll remember the duck and maybe that you were talking about migraines, but none of the signs of migraines which was the point of the slide. So bottom line is this, in general, you want your message to coincide with your visuals and your overall design. Do that, along with focusing on your audience, and keeping a close mindful watch on where and how your presentation will be held and you will be in a good position for success.
- Designing as non-designers
- Key design components
- The need for hierarchy
- Hierarchy in bulleted slides
- When bullets are cognitively necessary
- Using space effectively
- Creating similarity and contrast strategically