The “Attention Method” for Effective PowerPoint Presentations
This is a method of constructing effective PowerPoint presentations in a way that helps your audience pay attention to you and understand your ideas more fully. With Attention Method, the slides are designed to add power, emphasis, and deeper understanding to your well-scripted speech. You flip slides often so that, at any given time, your slides always support only what you’re saying and contain no distracting information. Instead of one slide with several bullets, each slide should contain one idea expressed in vibrant images and minimalistic text.
I developed this method while working at City Arts and Technology high school in San Francisco in 2008 and have continued to develop it over the years since. It’s inspired by Lawrence Lessig’s uniquely minimalistic presentation style with a greater emphasis on visual impact. See his presentation style in action here:
You can see an example of an Attention Method presentation here:
Notice that while the visuals are more elaborate, the slides flip quickly so they always support the words being spoken, and each slide contains only simple images and text.
Before we talk about how to do it, let’s talk about the characteristics of a bad presentation.
What Goes Wrong with Presentations?
Too Many Words, Not Enough (Mental) Images
A picture is worth 1000 words— then why do we use words instead of pictures?
The reason text-heavy slides are such a drag is because people think in pictures, not in words. Words are a container for ideas, and they mean different things to different people. When your audience sees a word on your slide, they have to go through a mental process of decoding that word into mental pictures. Conserve their attention! Use images to show what you mean whenever possible, adding text only as necessary for comprehension and impact.
Slides are used as sketchy speaking notes, not audience-centric comprehension aids
Often, people don’t fully think out exactly what they are going to say. They put a few sketchy bullet notes on a slide and then wing their presentation. Don’t do that. Choose your words carefully, and then choose the images and slides that will help your audience understand them best.
Transitions and Animations don’t add to the meaning of the slide, but rather distract from it.
Use transitions and animations sparingly, and only to add meaning to your slides. Often people add transitions “for fun” and end up just distracting people’s attention. Done well, animations can show relationships between concepts and help support your audience’s attention on your ideas.
Images are small, low quality, and carelessly chosen
Nothing makes your presentation look worse that small, blurry, and uninspiring images. Take the time to find large, beautiful pictures that clearly add value to your words.
How to Do it Right
Write a Script
Seriously. Write out everything you’re going to say. This will do wonders for your speaking— you will sound more self-assured and fluent than if you are making up your presentation on the spot.
Once you’ve written your script, read what you wrote with to identify the most important idea in each paragraph. Each big idea should be well supported by your slides.
One Slide Per “Big Idea”
Each bullet point you have could potentially be a slide of its own. Use slides (and the space they offer for images and large type) to help your audience concentrate on your ideas.
Optimize for attention
At each moment of your presentation, your slides should only contain information that supports what you’re saying. Remove anything that competes for your audience’s attention.
Search for Large, Compelling Images
When you search for images, you can restrict your search to “Large” images— these are over ~1000 x 1200 pixels and should fill up your slides. From there, find images that are colorful, visually interesting, and leave room for text.
Choose your font with care
The fonts you use are the voice of your slides. Make yours distinctive and beautiful! Most people just use the default font in their presentations, but you can do better. Check out these “font pairings” using the free Google WebFonts collection. Choose a big fat font for your titles and a nice “everyday” font for bullet points and text. Choose a nice pairing and stick with it through the whole presentation — don’t go crazy with all the free fonts you find.
Color for Comprehension
Color is another tool you have to add meaning to your slides. Color can help you group ideas, show contrast between things, or simply make your slides look a little nicer. Below, you will find some tools to help you use color more effectively in your presentations.
This above all else: Always support the audience’s attention!
The big takeaway here is that you need to do everything in your power so that when you say a word, your audiences’ minds are flooded with images that support your words. Slides with big bold images and type can make your ideas explode in people’s minds and hold them in rapt attention until you let them go.
Below, you will find several of my favorite tools to construct compelling slides.
Slide Design Tools
Nice Display Fonts
You want fonts that look good LARGE. Google offers a large, free collection of web-friendly fonts that are licensed for re-use. I have downloaded several of these free fonts to use in my powerpoints and design projects because I know they’re free and legal to use. I even have a tricky method for downloading the whole set at once, if you’re interested.
You may also want to familiarize yourself with some nice Google Font Pairings to see which fonts go together nicely.
ColorZilla (Chrome, Firefox) An “eyedropper” tool to help you pick up colors from websites you like and use them in your projects.
Adobe Kuler (Web) Dynamically generate complementary color palettes for free.
Copyright Friendly Images
Compfight search only the Flickr photos that bear a Creative Commons license.
Creative Commons Search search several sites for various media, all licensed with Creative Commons.
Medical Stock Sources Medical focused repositories of free and commercial stock images.
Remove Backgrounds from Photos
Let’s say you found a great image of your topic, but it’s got a bunch of extra distracting stuff in the background. Remove the background from a photo so it fits more naturally in your slide and focuses attention on the main idea. You can even combine photos in novel ways to show relationships between concepts.
This guide gives you three simple tools (including PowerPoint itself) for simply removing backgrounds from images.
Nice Backgrounds for PowerPoint Slides
Subtle Patterns is a great collection of free, creative commons images for backgrounds. You can use these in your slides to give a nice sense of luxurious texture to your slides.
Attractive Alternatives to PowerPoint
PowerPoint is not the only presentation software on the block– several attractive alternatives exist that can help you escape PowerPoint’s bullet-ridden presentation hell and start making a visual impact.
If you have access to a Mac or iPad, you should really check out Keynote. It’s interface is similar to PowerPoint’s but they make it much easier to make beautiful presentations with minimal effort. It’s my presentation tool of choice, and I’d be lost without it.
This simple cloud presentations app for iPad and Web seems purpose-built to help you construct Attention Method slides. It forces you to limit your slides to one bold title and a compelling image for each slide, thereby guaranteeing that your work will be visually stunning.
Follow these Presentation Thought Leaders
Baiba Svenca: Digital Presentations in Education A steady stream of links, tools, and techniques for better presentations.
PresentationZen Blog on issues around presentation design.
- Make the Perfect Presentation: 5 Lessons From Steve Jobs’s Innovative Use of Imagery
- Keynote annoyances (and some pleasures)
- Effective Business Presentations
- EverySlide – Interactive Presentations | Audience Response System
- Top 5 PowerPoint Tips for Student Presentations in School
- More tips on Effective Presentations (Module 7 – EDS151)
- Some Basic Rules for Better PowerPoint Presentations
- Digital Presentations in Education – Does PowerPoint Know I Need a Font?
- Nature of powerpoint
- Art of Presentation Making
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