LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

February 2023
Volume 19, Issue 2

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Feature Article: Overcome Audience Overload with Presentation Design Best Practices (Part 2)

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Note from the Author

Have You Seen Any Memorable Eye Charts Lately?

Presenter projecting an optometric eye chart on the screen that is putting people to sleepDo the presentations you attend leave you (and everyone else) blinded by undecipherable and mind-numbing details?

There’s nothing like a slide deck filled with “eye charts” to cause attendees to feel overwhelmed and want to tune out entirely.

Displaying bewildering amounts of minutia in teeny text on slide after slide is an example of the many visual obstacles we levy on our audiences that neutralize their ability to understand, recall, and take action.

Unreadable details not only cause physical headaches in attendees who squint and strain to read them, but they also intensify the ongoing “traffic jam” that occurs inside viewers’ heads. We saw in Part 1 of this series that we humans constantly grapple with interpreting and processing endless streams of real-time input within our limited working memories. This is a notable feat even when all of that input is clear and legible. But it’s a much more difficult accomplishment when it’s not!

Because pitfalls like these are so challenging for presentation designers to avoid, in Part 2 of our series on overcoming audience overload, we’ll focus on these angles specifically.

I hope you enjoy this month’s features, and as always, please be sure to join the ongoing conversations by leaving your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

What Should Presenters Know about People?

100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People by Susan WeinschenkCurious about the science behind designing and delivering powerful and persuasive presentations? This book, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., explains what you need to know about how people think, listen, learn, make decisions, and more, so that you can create more engaging presentations.

Its 100 tips appear in informative sections such as:

  • How People Think and Learn
  • How to Grab and Hold People’s Attention
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  • How People React to the Environment
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  • How People React to You

Regardless of your current skill level, and whether you’re a beginner or polished presenter, this book will guide you to improve your delivery, stance, eye contact, voice, materials, media, message, and call to action!

Feature Article

Overcome Audience Overload with
Presentation Design Best Practices (Part 2)

by Adele Sommers

Did you know that we’re witnessing an epidemic — a presentation pandemic — of meeting attendees who are becoming increasingly glazed over by an antiquated style of presentation design?

A man appearing puzzledI’m sure that we’ve all watched someone give a presentation that lulled the entire audience into a coma. As we began exploring in Part 1 of this series, a sleep-inducing talk might contain too little structure, too much text, too many complex details, poor visuals, or a combination of these.

In contrast, I know that you would much rather produce enthralling presentations using powerful visual techniques that convey your core message!

For this reason, Part 1 included a certain set of findings by multimedia-learning researcher Dr. Richard Mayer. The specific series of experiments revealed that when we add relevant graphics to text-only content, the combination of reduced text and meaningful images can significantly increase our audience’s ability to absorb, retain, and apply our ideas.

But what are relevant images? Relevant images pertain directly to your content, and help illustrate the main idea or the subordinate ideas on a slide. Some of the most effective are simple and symbolic. In presentations, crisp, clear photographs or similar renderings are preferable to cartoon-like clip art. But don’t be deterred by not knowing where to find them. Locating high-quality, royalty-free images that you have permission to use for business purposes is becoming much easier. If in doubt about usage restrictions, review the image source’s terms of use carefully.

Note: Relevant images do not mean slide decorations, such as overt background patterns. As we’ll soon see, “eye candy” actually can reduce understanding. It often competes with the content and becomes a hypnotic distraction that viewers must subconsciously find a way to ignore.

What about text? Be aware that using some text, such as a complete sentence to describe the main idea on the slide, is desirable. Sometimes no text is needed. But too much text, especially without relevant imagery, quickly contributes to audience overload. Yet there may be occasions when the theme of your discussion will revolve around text, such the use of language or other abstract concepts. In those cases, try to limit what appears on a slide to one clearly displayed example or idea grouping at a time. Aim for at least 24-point text on a high-contrast background color.

So, how do we avoid major mistakes, such as saturating our audiences with non-relevant graphics, extraneous visual clutter, and too many textual details?

This article, Part 2 in the series, focuses on how these specific design breakdowns occur, and explains how we can continue to overcome “audience overload.”

Why less is more in presentation design

Have you ever wondered what goes on the minds of attendees who tune out, glaze over, or otherwise give up on trying to make sense of what they can’t read or absorb from the screen?

Imagine that you could listen in on every subtle conversation that occurs in the minds of audience members who are struggling to keep up with dense, rapid-fire slide details while their brains are slowly melting down. (Or, simply listen to your own little voice “talking back” whenever you find yourself in that situation!)

A man is thinking, "I'm really distracted by seeing that big logo and gratuitous decorations on every slide!"For example, you might hear inner chatter like this:

  • “I can’t decipher that tiny text — what the heck is it saying?”
  • “Is that purple blob on the screen a logo or is it part of the content?”
  • “What a hideous color scheme! The text-to-background contrast is horrible, which makes everything impossible to read!”

Just imagine how distracting those kinds of involuntary, subliminal conversations are to attendees. The fact that they are having those discussions with themselves means they are not listening to you. The solution is to try to prevent as much of the internal chatter as possible!

Are logos also considered “non-relevant graphics” that distract viewers?

This means leaving off logs, fine details, and slide decorations to reduce visual noise!

Many people feel that they ought to “brand” every slide with their corporate logo.

Your company might even have a policy that requires everyone to use a template bearing the business identity.

But logos are examples of artifacts that the audience must find a way to tune out, since they also can compete visually with the content.

A better approach is to place the logos prominently on the first and last slides only. If there is a desire to include logos on every slide, the logos could become very small, subtle treatments that fit inconspicuously at the bottom, so that they aren’t obvious to viewers.

Other examples of non-relevant images include artsy slide decorations, which came into vogue to help people “illustrate” text-heavy slides. But adornments like bubbles, stripes, and overt patterns are a weak way to create visual interest, and are not a substitute for thoughtful slide design. A simple, thematic color scheme is fine, but it’s crucial not to step over the line and pile on non-relevant decorative images.

Logos and slide ornamentation are therefore examples of “visual noise” that can prevent our audiences from fully absorbing our message!

Here are even MORE reasons to leave off extraneous details...

It's very tempting to want to embellish charts -- just because we canSince many presentations deal with factual and data-oriented topics, let’s take a look at a few egregious chart violations.

For instance, it’s very enticing to glamorize charts with special effects, including 3-D rotations, backgrounds, patterns, bevels, textures, reflections, and drop shadows, as illustrated at right.

We often layer on these features simply because we can, perhaps because they look impressive.

Instead, these busy, mind-numbing effects create even more visual interference. They make it difficult, if not impossible, for viewers to interpret our key points on the fly.

Is there research on what these gratuitous effects do to viewer’s brains?

Yes! Here’s a remarkable study, which offers another reason why less is more...

Research shows we learn much better without extraneous details: Less is more!

Dr. Mayer found that simplifying visuals by removing everything that wasn’t absolutely required to understand the material (such as chart lines, decorative art, fancy doodads, and lower-level details) produced the following benefits:

• Retention jumped by 189%

• The ability to later apply the information increased by 105%!

This set of findings suggests that regardless of how snazzy our chart, graph, or diagram effects seem; or how strong the requirement is to plaster branding art on every slide; or how uncontrollable our desire becomes to cram slides with low-level details, refraining from doing these things will pay huge dividends. Not doing them substantially increases audience understanding and reduces audience overload. Doing them has the opposite effect.

So, where should we put our details, logos, and other branding?

Using handouts will help your audiences digest and retrieve the details of your contentIn the handouts! Our handouts are indispensable tools that can help our audiences consume the main topics and details during our presentations, as well as have a resource to refer to later.

Since handouts are a logical place to relegate the fine points that would be difficult for audiences to read on the screen and to remember, they provide support for both working memory and long-term memory.

In fact, as you develop the content for your talk, you might find it expedient to work on your handouts simultaneously. That way, each process can inform the other as you build out your material.

To summarize the recommendations so far...

We’ll tag onto the first three recommendations from Part 1 by adding 4, 5, and 6:

1. Chunk your material into no more than 3 to 4 main sections or topics.
2. Minimize text, such as by combining a full sentence with a relevant image.
3. Don’t use your slides as a talking script or read your slides to the audience.
4. Use relevant graphics that relate directly to your content to illustrate ideas.
5. Avoid slide decorations, detailed data, and flashy logos to reduce distraction.
6. Use handouts to embody your fine points, logos, and other branding elements.

Stay tuned for Part 3 when we will wrap up this important conversation!

Copyright 2023 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

A Perfect Illustration of Presentation Design Principles

“Five Rules for Creating Great Presentations” by Nancy DuarteNancy Duarte (Duarte.com) is an expert designer of animated presentations and a master at explaining presentation design techniques.

Her company produces videos on a wide range of design methods that beautifully illustrate several of the guidelines I have been sharing in this article series.

For example, see her video, Five Rules for Creating Great Presentations.” It was created in PowerPoint and converted to video. Enjoy!

About the Author

”Straight Talk” Special Report
”Straight Talk” Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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