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The Power of Presentation Design in Reaching the Audience

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Posted September 24, 2019

Crafting impactful presentations is as much art as science; and while the raw content of a presentation is critical to its success, presenters ignore design at their own peril.

Of course, fundamentally content does need to be sound. The story or narrative being told needs to capture the audience’s attention and interest. According to research by presentation platform Prezi, 90% of people say that a “strong narrative” is key to audience engagement, even as 80% of professionals say they shifted their attention away from the presenter at the last presentation they attended.

Part of this is the ability to tell a good story that connects the subject matter with the audience’s interests and successfully translates data into compelling stories. “Companies must understand that data will be remembered only if presented in the right way,” says market researchers at Think with Google. “And often a slide, spreadsheet or graph is not the right way; a story is.”

But that’s only the start of a good presentation. How the content is displayed and what visuals are used can make a definitive difference in the presentation’s memorability and success in achieving its goals. For example, Prezi has also found that presentations were 43% more persuasive if they contained visual aids (when compared to the same presentations without visual elements).

There are many reasons for this, such as the Picture Superiority Effect, which states that people are better able to remember items presented as images than as text. The specific visuals can vary tremendously. One professional presenter surveyed his peers and found that they use all kinds of visual elements: photos, screenshots, original graphics, charts, illustrations, icons, even memes and gifs.

All of this research is simply affirming what many presenters have long known. Google CEO Sundar Pichai says, “Since stories are best told with pictures, bullet points and text-heavy slides are increasingly avoided at Google.”

In fact, many presenters have begun limiting the amount of text on slides to just a few words or a single statement. The idea is for audiences to be able to consume and understand each slide almost immediately. PowerPoint designer Nancy Duarte refers to this as the three-second rule: the audience should be able to understand the gist of the slide within 3 seconds. “Think of your slides as billboards,” she tells Inc. “When people drive, they only briefly take their eyes off their main focus, which is the road, to process a billboard of information. Similarly, your audience should focus intently on what you’re saying, looking only briefly at your slides when you display them.”

That’s better than a visually or textually intensive slide, which forces the audience to divide their attention between what the presenter is saying and what the slide is displaying. The human brain has only so much attention and memory to go around at any given moment; and due to the Redundancy Effect, asking the audience to process the same information in multiple places simultaneously will reduce their ability to process and retain the information.

Mastering the elements of great presentations like good design, by contrast, can ensure that the audience properly absorbs, understands, and remembers the content of the presentation.

About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.

Sources: Prezi, Think with Google, Inc. Magazine, Venngage, Duarte.com. Other links: Hurleywrite.com.

The Power of Presentation Design in Reaching the Audience

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(503 Reviews)