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Eliminating the Eye-Chart

“Visuals should be used to enhance an audience’s understanding of a concept, not used as cue cards.” - William Kreiger

I am sitting in an elementary school lunch room with several dozen other parents listening to the Parent Teacher Association give an accounting of the previous year’s projects and expenses.  Like most presentations, this one used projected slides to convey their numbers with charts and spreadsheets, and like so many of those presentations before, I could not read a single line.  Presenters will joke about this tendency to overcrowd the slide by saying, “I know this is an eye-chart, but….” How many of us have had that experience?  As a participant, what did you do next?  For me, I just shook my head and wondered, “when will we ever learn?”   I stopped listening because the slides became a huge distraction. Instead I watched parents, who were really interested, strain to see what was being referenced.  As they did so, I watched their facial expressions turn to frustration, causing them to sit back and give up.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business found that presenters who used visual aids were rated by listeners as: better prepared, more professional, more persuasive, more credible and more interesting.

How do you eliminate the eye-chart and still use visuals in an effective way.  PowerPoint is used approximately 2 million times a day.  This form of multimedia has huge benefits - the audience is 43% more likely to be persuaded and will pay 26% more for a product or service (University of Minnesota statistics).  Yet not all situations are appropriate for using multimedia. If you have a smaller audience and data intense material, give each a front row seat with a handout, thus avoiding the eye-chart.  What to do:

  • Avoid having your notes on the slide and just reading them.  An effective presentation is not a deck of slides, you are! Visuals should be used to enhance an audience’s understanding of a concept, not used as cue cards.
  • Know what the purpose is for showing the information.  Is it to compare and contrast? Recall? Understand complex relationships?  Knowing your purpose will help determine what should be displayed.  Ask yourself,  “will a picture say this better than I can?” If so, consider using a slide.
  • Use the 6 x 6 x 3 rule.  This is simply six words per line, six lines per slide, and no more than three columns of data. Holding to this rule will greatly increase the readability of your slides and allow your audience to quickly get the information and stay focused on you the presenter.

These To-Do’s are best summed up with this statement from Garr Reynolds, author of 'Presentation Zen':

“Most presenters make the software their chief concern in the preparation process and delivery. This often produces cluttered visuals and talks that are neither engaging nor memorable. Yes, the basics of software are important to know. Delivery techniques and do’s and don’ts are useful to understand. But it’s not about technique alone. The art of presentation transcends technique and enables an individual to remove walls and connect with an audience.”

You see, it is not about you, but them.


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