Debbie Knight

Taking the “yawn” out of a presentation?

In observation on February 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

I was asked by the chief financial officer of our department to spice up his powerpoint presentation on billing that he would be presenting at a national meeting next month.

Let’s just let that sink in for a moment.

A presentation …

… on billing

… by an accountant (no offense to any accountants out there)

… to an audience (this particular audience: clinical lab directors).

How do you take a presentation that is all words (see image below) and turn it into something that won’t put the audience to sleep immediately? Note: I could not change the content, only the display of that content.

An example of the word-heavy slides in the presentation

Yawn, right? He knew this, that’s why he asked for my help.

To further complicate matters, I was locked in by a template the medical center requires for “branding.” There was little wiggle room for creativity.

The medical center's branding title slide (minus specifics, of course)

I had many issues with this title slide, the branding slide. The placement of the talk’s title. The density of image and text. It’s a busy slide! (especially when you add in a lengthy title). Clearly these were personal issues.

But as a researcher, I also had issues with it. It had a series of scientists doing “science” stuff. (That wasn’t the problem). It had senior scientists, people who run labs not work in them, in the images. For example, the guy in the middle photo (of the triple inset image)?  He has a huge lab operation and I highly doubt he has done hands-on bench work in years. While I greatly respect his research, this photo was clearly staged.

So my first instinct was to add some authentic photos. So I went over to our molecular pathology lab, snapped some photos, and inserted them into the branding slide. The result:

My version of the title slide.

I’m still not completely happy with the slide, but I feel it’s more “authentic.”

Oh, the medical center just modified its name (and branding), so I had to make some adjustments — like covering up the old brand in the photo that spans the width of the slide and adding the new logo for the medical center. Easy enough to fix.

I toyed with the idea of using background images on each slide, but with so many words, there was an issue of readability of those words if they were typed over a photo. So I stuck with design elements rather than images — keeping it simple.

So next was tackling the template body slide.

The medical center's template for the body of the talk

All those words on a predominately white background (with only a little color pop) wouldn’t really help jazz up the presentation. So I worked it over a little.

After a few modifications, it's looking a little snazzier.

I think this was a marked improvement, but was it enough?

His talk had four major topics to cover, so the background color changes with each topic to alert the audience it’s a new topic and to add a little interest/variety. I was limited by the color palette built into the template.

New topic, new background color

But could I do more?

Since the theme of the talk was billing codes, I played with numbers, built in some animation so that a few of the numbers fell from the top of the slide to the pile of numbers at the bottom.

The "something more" version -- numbers piled on the bottom of the slide to reflect the numbers in the billing codes

I’m not sure which version he’ll pick, but I think the presentation has been improved from the black-text-on-a-white-background. Hopefully there will be fewer yawns from the (non-accounting) audience.

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