Presentation Animation Must Be Motivated

There are people today that animate just about everything in either Powerpoint or Keynote – or whatever software they use for visual support. On stage I rant about how weak text is as support for your talk. It will never be remembered and has little impact … unless it’s used sparingly and in small amounts to reinforce a central message. It can actually be very powerful if synchronized with a spoken word or short phrase. However, there are VERY FEW, if any, reasons to animate it. And yet presenters do it weekly (and weakly!).

Recently, I’ve been distracted by presentations that use a cube effect to rotate the entire screen between thoughts … for no reason at all. It’s hugely distracting. The culprit is Apple’s Keynote, which has all sorts of whiz-bang transitions to trap any animation-nerd. PowerPoint has pretty well caught up … not to worry!

Now, let’s take a moment to think about what this kind of add-on animation does to your presentation. If you had to have a really important conversation, would you choose to do it in the middle of a busy downtown intersection? Not likely. There are simply too many distractions. Distractions break focus. Lack of focus means the message won’t get across properly.

So … don’t needlessly animate text (or anything else) in your presentation – it destroys the underlying message of your presentation – just like too much mayonnaise on sandwich.

All those sliding, zooming words don’t make you look like a space-age wonder – they make you look like a distracting dork. Because anyone can do that. Anyone. Software companies have put so much “stuff” into their software, that we often think it’s for a good reason. Well, it’s to entice us into purchasing or upgrading our software. That’s just about as useful as it gets.

So don’t fall into the trap of using the effects just because they’re there. Audiences dislike over-animated presentations intensely. Yes, INTENSELY.

Here’s the key:

Animation must be motivated.
It must help you make your point. Otherwise, it’s just plain distracting. It will drive people’s focus away from your point.

What do I mean by “motivated?” The word takes me back to my 35 years in television as a writer, director and producer. Effective directing, in most cases, hinges around the ability of the director and actor to agree on the character the actor is playing. In other words, how do certain characters think; what drives them to do the things they do? What’s their motivation?

The joke was that when an actor came and asked me (as a director) what the motivation was, particularly when the character was very thinly defined, as in a commercial for instance, the answer was simple. “What is my motivation?” I would say … “Well,  your motivation is getting paid. Just read the lines!” Sometimes I was kidding, sometimes I wasn’t. And “Voila!” What I just did was a distraction. Putting that joke in the middle of this article is distracting, because it doesn’t add anything to my point.

In terms of your presentation and more specifically, animation on the screen, here’s the thinking: If the animation isn’t helping you make your point, it’s simply a distraction.

Some of the best animation is very simple. I include in this list simple dissolves, or “builds.” Synchronizing your spoken words to the one or two words of text that come on the screen is very powerful. Think of two senses being stimulated with the same information at the same time.

Always build to the right or down on the screen. Movement to the right is a forward, positive move (as is a move downward).

If animation serves to show the movement of something, like the pistons in a car engine, that’s powerful. If you build an organization chart tier by tier as you explain it, that can be powerful. Anytime you have several layers of logic to explain, animation can help you get there, by helping break it into small chunks. We can take in small chunks but big barrels of information make our eyes glaze over.

So, think of animation as a tool. If it can help you explain a concept or point, use it. But if it’s just there for fluff, do yourself a favor and stay well clear.