Master Your Message for Maximum Impact

A lot of presentation “newbies” start with a graphic of some type and build their presentation around it. NOT the best way to create a highly effective presentation. Why? Because without an overall plan, or outline, you can quickly get off track.

What if you were redesigning your kitchen and wanted something both eye-catching and practical? BUT you’d already gone out and bought the refrigerator. You’d actually be starting with your refrigerator and attempting to design the kitchen around it. What are the chances that it would be as efficient and cutting-edge as you first imagined? The truth is that you’d end up compromising all along the way and end up with something that pleased nobody.

The more effective method is to design your kitchen to your tastes and then select a refrigerator to fit. In other words, start by developing your objective first and once you have your concerns and key points organized, identify your evidence (the facts to support your key points). Your visual support will be chosen as evidence to support your key points.

In order to select the most powerful visuals, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are the facts that support my main points?
  2. Is there a visual way (other than text) to prove my point?

When Should You Use Graphics?

Visual support doesn’t have to be used for everything. If it isn’t critical to proving your point, don’t use it.

There are 5 main reasons to use visual support:

To reinforce or emphasize a point.

1. Clarify a point.

Charts and diagrams can help you communicate a complex point. For example the structure of a complicated company might need a diagram to make it clearer.

Chart showing a diagram - to clarify a point.

2. Reinforce or emphasize a point.

Using a visual is a far more powerful way to reinforce an important idea.  You can use a word or phrase to emphasize or make the most important elements stand out.

For emotional appeal.

3. Emotional Appeal.

Getting your audience emotionally involved is a far more powerful way to involve them. If they get emotionally attached to your solution, you have an excellent chance to bring them over to your way of thinking.

Slide depicting a far away location.

4. Transportation.

This is where pictures truly do represent thousands of words. Showing a remote location as a visual can mentally transport your audience. You’ll never describe the ambiance of a place succincty without pictures.

Show or describe an unfamiliar object

5. Show or describe an unfamiliar object or concept.

If you’d never seen or heard of a kangaroo, I might find it very difficult to describe what it’s like without a picture

How to Select Visual Material

The thought process involved in deciding what to use should be: “What is the most powerful visual that will support and prove my key point beyond all doubt?” There are a number of powerful types of visuals you can use:

  1. a. a text, audio or video testimonial
  2. b. a short video
  3. c. a picture (either factual, explanatory or emotional)
  4. d. chart or graph (to show trend or relationship is most powerful)
  5. e. short quote
  6. f. icon, diagram, cartoon or illustration

Less powerful are simple text phrases to reinforce your message, unless they are well-known phrases or something utterly profound. Otherwise, they will simply support the core point you’re making but not be powerful enough that the audience will remember them.

Slide showing different sizes of graphics.Sizing of Graphics

Sizing of graphics is perhaps one of the most difficult things to understand in Powerpoint. I often see huge files that have been inserted onto screens that end up slowing down the program considerably and can even make it freeze or crash. The computer screen determines the quality you need to strive for – and it isn’t very high in quality relative to other mediums. A computer screen displays graphics at 72 dots per inch, whereas, to print a high quality visual, the file needs to contain 300 dots per inch. As a result, any uncompressed graphic file for Powerpoint only needs to be about 1 megabyte in size (a bitmap file, for instance) to look good at the most common screen size. Any more is just wasted and bloats the Powerpoint file. If it’s a compressed file (jpeg, for example), it can be even smaller in size. So, above is a guide to help you understand the relative file sizes required for a variety of mediums, from very high quality to the lowest quality (for the internet). Remember, you can easily size a file down (from a higher quality) but you can’t go in the opposite direction – it will look terrible.

A Note About Blank (Black) Screens

Within Powerpoint, you have the ability during a live presentation to make the screen go to black. You can do this by pressing the “B” key on your keyboard. To go back to the screen you were on, either press the “B” key again or the space bar. To go to a white screen, it’s the “W” key. Some suggest that you might black out the screen when you want to talk about something that isn’t in your presentation – that it keeps the audience’s attention on you.

HOWEVER . . . I don’t advocate you EVER black the screen for this reason. Why?

  1. As a producer, I cringe at even the thought of a big, black hole on the stage looking back at the audience. It’s ugly and it tends to give a negative look to what, in a professional conference is a colorful, well-appointed stage.
  2. It’s relatively easy to put a visual up that supports what you’re going to say . . . even if it’s only one word. If your screens are designed to give a theme to your presentation, or present a certain image, going to black disturbs the continuity and you lose the “image” that you’ve tried so hard to create.
  3. Your screens (or slides) are SUPPORT. You shouldn’t have to worry about them taking the attention away from you in the first place.

The only time I can see putting up a black slide is when you’re using a video within your presentation. A black slide takes the light off the screen and allows the video to project onto the screen at full intensity. The screen should only go to black for a second or two. Once the video is over, you can quickly go to the next slide, filling the screen almost instantly with the new image.

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