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Level Three: Presenting
Beat 1. Display
What You Show
Almost everybody is perpetually exasperated with terrible slides, and almost everybody produces terrible slides. Almost everybody gives advice to take a lesson from Apple, and almost nobody takes a lesson from Apple. Is there a law of nature that your slides have to be terrible? No. Here’s the first rule:
What an idea is, that’s up to you. An idea can be that your treatment has four incredible advantages. Then put all four on one slide, maybe making them appear line by line for greater impact. Or, you can treat each of these four advantages as an idea by itself. Then distribute them over four different slides. Or, one feature has a defined set of elements that aren’t too numerous. Then put these elements together on a slide. It’s the concept of “one idea, one slide” that counts. It helps you structure your set in the most impressive way possible, both cognitively and emotionally, by making you think. The second rule:
Legibility is a matter of font, font size, and contrast. Use a classic presentation font that is easy to read, with large font sizes, breathing space between elements, and high contrast against the background. Arial or Times New Roman aren’t presentation fonts. If in doubt what to use, read up on this or ask someone with typography skills. As a rough guideline, don’t make text smaller than 24pt or headlines larger than 44pt (but individual fonts might need adjustment). And don’t cram elements too close to each other! Don’t be that person who apologizes to the audience, “I know you can’t read this, but I wanted to put all twelve points on one slide.” (Which actually happened at a game-based learning conference, of all places.) Don’t combine background colors with text colors or element colors that don’t stand out clearly, don’t match, or cause problems for people with color blindness. Again, read up on it or ask a designer what fits your presentation best. (The default black-on-white arrangement isn’t lacking in contrast, for sure. But it’s terribly lacking in style.) This is followed by the rule:
Think of well-designed highway billboards. They don’t feature sentences with more than six simple words because people are busy driving; they neither have the time nor the cognitive capacity to read and digest difficult words or complex sentences. Your audience in a pitch presentation is also “driving.” They’re busy listening to your words and analyzing your treatment! They, too, have neither the time nor the cognitive capacity to read and digest dense and long-winded prose on the screen. The best approach to make every slide instantly comprehensible is to follow billboard rules and use clear, simple sentences with not more than six words; crisp artwork that adds meaning, clarification, or emphasis; or a combination of both. (And don’t use clip art or stock images. This is a pitch proposal, not a road safety presentation at your local children’s library.) Finally:
No spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors. Immaculate typography with all hyphens, n- and m-dashes where they belong; correct double and single quotation marks that match your language; uniform and consistent line heights, tabs, indents, margins, and so on; and every element aligned to an invisible baseline grid. If you’re not scrupulous with your presentation, why should anyone think you’ll be scrupulous during development?
That’s about it, at least for the slides. From the technical side, there are also a handful of rules:
These things happen all the time, and they’re not funny. Make all this part of your preparation routine, always.
The last set of rules is about video and sound:
In case you have a playable prototype, the device and multimedia preparation rules also apply for any device you bring for a hands-on session. This should not be your presentation device, don’t even think of it. Instead, provide one or more dedicated devices that you have prepared in advance.
There’s certainly a lot more advice to be given, but this should suffice. It’s not that the bar is particularly high, sadly. If you manage to meet these ten rules, your presentation will shoot past the audience’s expectations like a rocket.