YOU are going to watch a cowboy movie. The storyline looks interesting. It has great actors and an excellent script. But when you watch it, the people are in the jungle. Some are dressed in suits of armour and others in basketball kit. Another scene takes place on the moon. In the end, you can’t recall the story, and nothing makes sense.

In this example, the movie company hasn’t paid attention to the visuals. In reality, of course, this would never happen. Film-makers and studios always match the visual elements to the story and use them to support the message or carry it entirely.

So why is it that when people create presentations, the slides are often a data dump and their impact is barely considered? In a presentation, it is critical that you don’t just focus on what you say (script) and how you say it (performance). Getting the visuals right can mean the difference between a good presentation and a truly memorable one.

One thing at a time

Have you attended presentations where the speaker has lots of information on the slides but proceeds to talk while you are trying to read it? Either you tune out what he says or you can’t properly read the slide. Or else, you miss both.

Imagine a movie with subtitles that are different from what is being said. The audience would walk out.

What if the presenter lets you read the slide? That would get the message across clearly, but then they may as well send you a document instead of having you attend a presentation.

The presenter should put up one important message and then explain it. This supports the way people learn and remember things.

Too much information?

“But my audience needs the detailed information”, you may say. Is that really true? Does the audience need that information in tiny writing on a slide they have no hope of reading? You are there to deliver a presentation — that means they want your opinion on the subject.

Put the data in a document and circulate it beforehand. Then, use the presentation to get across your opinion of the data, highlighting the important points. Use visuals to make your point, synchronising the images with your performance. Remember, a movie scene set in a castle speaks far more loudly than a long description of a castle.

Setting the scene

In the movies, they keep coming up with original visuals and appropriate locations. In presentations, people are guilty of using the same old clipart and cookie-cutter corporate slide templates. To make your slides engaging, you must get away from that. Of course, not all clipart is bad, but you need to choose extremely carefully.

Just because you have a slide template doesn’t mean every slide should look the same. A good template gives you a variety of layout choices. Variety will keep the audience engaged. When you need something different to get your message across, do it.

One message per slide

Have you ever seen a presentation where someone uses a background image slide after slide? By putting it in the background repeatedly, you dilute its impact and may even make your audience more confused. Use the image once, in the right place, for maximum attention and impact.

Rolling the credits

Get your visuals right and you will get a lot of credit. If you are making the slides for someone else, you will get credit because you make them look good. Most importantly, you will get credit from your audience for making your point clearly and memorably. After the presentation, they will be talking about it like they would about a great movie.