Design, marketing, Presentations

How to avoid making boring presentations

I have been doing a lot of presentations lately. So, inspired by the classic Steve Jobs and Bill Gates comparison, and after reading these comments over at Presentation Zen:

If someone emailed you both presentations, you’d probably be more likely to make out Bill Gates’ message.

How would you scape from bullet points and charts if you are presenting a technical subject?

I’ll have to throw in my little presentation guide as well. Hell, I’ll even give you an example. I am going to show you the presentation I use to tell students about pixels, colour schemes, dynamic range and a complete explanation of run length encoding of pictures.

Without one single bullet point.

The typical bullet point hell version of one of the slides would be like this:

Bullshitpoints

Nicely done with a horrible default gradient background and an ugly font.

The first quote from the comments is answered by my presentation rule number one:

If someone that did not attend to my presentation can understand anything if I mail them my slides I have made a really bad set of slides. Really bad.

Why the heck would I bother spending money on a ticket to London and do a presentation if I could just mail the people my presentation and they would get the same? Ladies and gentlemen: slides are an illustration to what you are saying.

…but what about the people that did not attend? If they are important you’ll have to do another presentation or you’ll have to produce a document that people are supposed to read. A set of slides is not a document that people are supposed to read.

I’ll show this with my example.

In my presentation I have three illustrations that I use while talking about bits and how a picture can consist of simply huge amounts of bits:

Bits Illustrated

That’s my slides when I talk about bits, switches, header files and why we need to compress. The illustrations alone are not enough when the students repeat for themselves before exams. So, I have to provide them with a document that they can read. An excerpt from the document:

Bitmap
Figure 26

The simple picture in Figure 26 will be stored in the computer as a series of zero and one:

0,0,1,1,1,1,0,0,0,1,0,0,0,0,1,0,1,0,1,0,0,1,0,1,1,0,0,0,0,0,0,1,1,
0,1,0,0,1,0,1,1,0,0,1,1,0,0,1,0,1,0,0,0,0,1,0,0,0,1,1,1,1,0,0

The header of this picture-file would tell the computer that this is a 1-bit picture and that the dimensions are 8 by 8 pixels. After ordering the bits in rows with 8 bits in each row it starts to look like an image:

Bits2

In a computer everything is stored as a representation of zero and one. A simplified view could be to compare the zeros and ones to switches. A switch that is off or a switch that is on. The simple picture in Figure 26 needs 64 switches to be described. When sent over a network a total of 64 small signals have to be transmitted. Storage and network communication cost time and money. If it was possible to describe the same information with less amount of switches it would be possible to send it faster over a network or store it on a cheaper hard-disk.

When I talk about pixels I have this on my slide:

Pixels

…etc.

What about quote number two? Yes, I know – it seems difficult to illustrate highly technical issues. Still, these issues are the ones that really scream for illustrations. Now feel free to download the following files. They are excerpts from my presentation on digital images:

The presentation (PDF)

The accompanying document (PDF)

My best advice would be that you give yourself serious restrictions like “never bullet points”, “always an illustration”, “only one font”, “never animation effects”. And no, that would not limit your creativity. Setting restrictions for yourself will actually enhance your creativity! Especially if you stick to them like they where the truth and nothing but the truth.

I will most likely be back here with more presentation advice.

Edit:
Already more presentation advice: Presenting Software

But really – you don’t need more than this free eBook from Seth Godin: Really Bad PowerPoint (click the red “Get it”-button)

And a tour of Presentation Zen.

And as a little note in the end. No, I don’t hate bullet points in text documents. I hate them when they are on peoples slides.

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