This Friday, I attended PechaKucha Night Orlando Volume 5. If you are not already aware (and you are if you’ve heard me speak for more than five minutes or taken my class), I love PechaKucha! I look forward to the PechaKucha day in my class each month. My students work diligently over two weeks to put together a presentation many run from. They work to find a topic outside of their standard realm of experience, let go of their dependency on bullet-riddled outlines disguised as slideshows, actually devote sufficient time to preparation and rehearsal, and then…most of the time…magic happens! So, I was stoked for PK Night. These presenters shared amazing ideas–from the hilarious Mark Baratelli of The Daily City and Patrick Greene of Urban ReThink to the inspirational and adorably geeky father and son team Ian and Adam Cole and superteacher Amy Selikoff, who uses energy, empowerment, and engagement to get 7th graders fired up about civics. I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed though, not by a lack of interesting ideas, but by the appearance of a few old school presentation design practices. Presenters used pixelated images, pre-made templates, bullets, and a bit more noise than signal at times. I believe the habits stem from slide anxiety. A PK is a beast of a presentation, primarily because it is difficult for us to let go, to get over our lizard brains. Some of it is really just lack of experience with this medium, with its true possibilities.
The PK was the brainchild of two designers, Astrid Kline and Mark Dytham. The envisioned a presentation that featured 20 images–20 images that reinforce and enhance the presenter’s message, 20 images that cement the speaker’s message in the minds of the audience. Sometimes we see what others do and get what Duarte calls slide envy. But, in my experience, the best PKs are the ones that blend highly impacting images with a bit of relevant typography in the service of advancing the speaker’s main point and engaging the audience to understanding and internalization. Above all, the best PK slides are simple and call little attention to themselves.
Lessons to apply:
Use high quality images
So, what’s my beef with pixelated images? Well, they frankly suck. A pixelated image is a really great thumbnail, but it will make for an instant credibility killer when stretched to the size of a slide.
Not sure what size to look for? The size of a slide is 1024 x 768, so look for images that are this size.
Compfight.com, a great resource for Flickr lovers lets users know just how big an image is. We’ll cover what to do when you have several smaller pictures you’d like to display.
Don’t use a template
If you’ve used the same template before, chances are millions of other PowerPoint and Keynote users have chosen the same template.
Would you choose or purchase a prepackaged outfit you’d seen a thousand people were before simply because it was classified as “professional” or “trendy” or “whimsical” or “classic”? No, probably not. Then, why use a template? Get out of sheep street. Ditch the template.
Create one of your own by selecting core colors, layouts, image types, and or big ideas, as this excellent example by Empowered Presentation does.
Use grids to organize images
The collage look only looks good, well, in an actual collage. Designers know that people need grids and some sense of alignment to process information quickly and effortlessly. Think of your images as fitting into the jigsaw puzzle that is a rectangular 1024 x 768 slide. Fit them together by combining vertical and horizontal images, using cropping or masking tools, and aligning images along a clear grid. I am currently revising my visual resume, and this is a slide I am thinking of incorporating. It allows me to display many sides of my home island of Puerto Rico in a seamless and beautiful way.
Don’t use bullets
Seriously. Bullets kills. It has been proven that people remember information when it is presented in both textual and visual ways.
Using bullets alone only hits one of these, which means your audience is likely to retain less information. Couple this with the fact that we have been killed for years by bullet-riddled slides; when we see them, we expect something boring, dry, forgettable, and frankly we assume the presenter is pretty much useless.
Keep it simple
I advise my students to stay away from too much animation and completely forget about wacky animations like anvil, fire, sparkle, orbital, and typewriter and useless transitions like cube, page flip, doorway, blinds, and random. If you don’t need it to convey your message. Don’t use it. If transitions and animations aren’t absolutely necessary to your delivery, and if you can’t use them without wanting to constantly turn around and check on your slides, don’t use them. Keep your slides simple. No one will be as impressed by 72 frenetic and distracting animations as they will by a confident, carefully crafted, and polished message that is supported by impacting images.