And now in colour…
Tom Salinsky writes...
Working recently with a group of people who were just starting to give presentations for the first time and – as I often do – I was pruning a number of the slides back so that instead of putting up distracting pages of dense text which the presenter would then largely ignore, we instead had a small number of simple bullet points which could as signposts, adding structure to the verbal presentation.
Late in the session, I watched one of the attendees present and her slides were in general already in quite good shape. So I confined most of my feedback to her style and manner, but I did mention in passing that I thought her slides were rather too colourful – almost childish – and this was not in keeping with the quite sober audience she had in mind.
I suggested that one slide in particular, which was nothing more than a simple list but each item was in a thick bar, each in a different colour, could be usefully streamlined to give a more professional approach. She looked a little frustrated and when I asked her why, she explained that she had originally designed the presentation with very simple, plain, white-on-black slides but she had received the feedback that these looked drab and so had spruced them up a little. To be told now that they were too colourful was little short of maddening.
There are a few different issues here.
As noted, most people have too much material on the slides, not too little. Reducing the quantity of information on your slides to a more suitable level will earn you endless thanks from relieved audiences. But it’s also true that attractive slides flatter an audience as well as functioning as a psychological peacock’s tail. Subconsciously, the people you want to influence will think to themselves “anyone who can craft slides as attractive as these surely knows what they’re doing.”
But that doesn’t mean colour for its own sake is always welcome. Consider this slide, describing the structure of a hypothetical department.
Yes, it’s a bit drab and a company logo or a nicer font or a splash of colour might be welcome. But a charismatic presenter who understands that the slides are not the star of the show will be able to talk about each of these teams and tell stories, give examples, explain the relevance and no-one will be likely to complain that the slides are monochrome.
Now let’s look at an alternative version.
Well, this is certainly more eye-catching isn’t it? But the bright colours and the bold boxes are likely to be distracting, not just because of the rainbow paint-job. People assume everything you do, you do for a reason and so the more elaborate your slides become, the better a semiotician you have to be. Your audience, scanning your visual aids for the first time, are looking for meaning and you had better hope that the meanings they find are the meanings you put there.
Why is the PR/Comms team in black text when all the others are in white? Is it just because it’s easier to read? Are the PR/Comms and Legal teams in some way subordinate to the Research, Analysis and Campaigning teams, and that’s why they are arranged underneath? Is there something which the last two teams have in common and that’s why they are together? And what about those circles in the background? What are they trying to tell us?
Not all slides need more colour, but if you do want more colourful slides, please make sure that the colour is there purposefully, that it is a part of the overall story you are trying to tell.