If you’ve never used Prezi to create the visual aids for your presentations (or even if you just haven’t worked with Prezi in a while) now is a great time to give it another look. They’ve rolled out a new website, a new editor, and this introductory video. It even features my great friend David Park of Xterra Solutions, who was one of my earliest converts to Prezi!
Think all of those cat ladies browsing Cute Overload are just wasting their time? You’re wrong.
…researchers at Hiroshima University recently conducted a study where they showed university students pictures of baby animals before completing various tasks. What they found, in research published today, was that those who saw the baby animal pictures did more productive work after seeing those photographs – even more than those who saw a picture of an adult animal or a pleasant food.
Sometimes these esoteric studies seem utterly ridiculous, but I totally buy this one. If nothing else, I think that looking at cute images serves to grab a viewer’s attention and provoke an emotional response that makes them more likely to focus on a task or remember a presentation targeted at them. I’m not saying that kitty pictures are appropriate for every presentation. But anything that makes an audience laugh or feel good can be very effective.
One of the most successful presentations I’ve ever done is one that almost never happened. I spent a couple of years trying to get a presentation I called “The Worst Mistake I Ever Made” approved at a conference. The idea was that panelists would talk about what they’d learned from their mistakes and tell the audience what they’d change if they had it all to do over again. But conference organizers kept telling me it was too negative.
So when I finally got it accepted I inserted pictures of cute baby animals throughout the deck of slides. I thought it would add some humor, but I was also being a bit of a jerk. After talking about a failed project I’d say something like, “Is that too depressing? Well here’s a picture of a baby panda.” And people loved it. The presentation got the best evaluations of any talk from the week-long conference and I still have people tell me how much they enjoyed it years later.
Should you put a picture of a baby walrus in your financial presentations? Probably not. But anything you can do to entertain your audience and make them enjoy being there will also make your presentation interesting and memorable. It’s up to you to determine what’s appropriate within the context of your talk.
Making sure that the tone of your visual aids match the overall message of your presentations is critical. If you choose fonts or images that look unprofessional or aren’t “serious” enough you risk undermining your entire talk. Comic Sans usually isn’t a great choice of font for business presentations, blurry screenshots taken from the web look like you don’t really care, and using a cartoon bomb to illustrate the threat of a nuclear Iran will undoubtedly provoke a response like this:
It’s been a while since I’ve written much about designing visual aids. I’m more of a writer than a designer, but I’m completely intrigued by the impact that visual tweaks can have on the success of your presentation.
Fonts are especially interesting because they’re something most of us don’t even think about–the vast majority of people simply accept the defaults in Word, PowerPoint, Keynote, or whatever program they’re using. But fonts can have unexpected influence on how your presentations are received. In an earlier post I pointed out a study that surprisingly seemed to show that readers retained more information when it was presented to them in a font that was difficult to read.
Now there’s another experiment (I love these things, can you tell?) that suggests certain fonts are seen as more credible than others. Documentarian and generally interesting guy Errol Morris created a sneaky survey to see if changing the typeface of an article altered how believable it was to readers. And it turned out that it did.
After polling approximately 45,000 unsuspecting readers on nytimes.com, Morris discovered that subjects were more likely to believe a statement when it was written in Baskerville than when it was written in Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Trebuchet, or Comic Sans. Baskerville: truth’s favorite typeface?
It’s probably no surprise that Comic Sans wasn’t taken as seriously as some of the other fonts, but who knew that Baskerville conveyed such authority?
The lesson here isn’t that you should only use Baskerville from now on. But you should put some thought into all of the design choices you make and the impact they might have on your audience. It’s not just the words you use that matter–fonts, colors and images all make a difference as well.