Distracted Presenting

Avoiding Primary Distractions when using PowerPoint - by Steve Puffenberger, Advent Media, Inc.

Distracted Presenting

“Distracted driving” is a scourge on the land. You can’t go more than a week without hearing of someone who’s crashed their car – or just walked into a pole – while texting.

But this article is not about the foibles of distracted driving.  It’s about distractions when you’re trying to be a presenter – especially when using PowerPoint or other slide-based visuals.

So here’s the deal. Rule #1* of any presentation is, “people forget details.” Rule #2* is “people remember impressions,” and the corollary to Rule #2 is “distractions are impressions!” So what’s a distraction? It’s ANYTHING that causes a member of your audience to lose focus on what you are …SQUIRREL… saying.

Now the environmental distractions of any presentation environment are bad enough: people entering, coughing, noisy children, stuff happening outside a window, flickering overhead lights, uncomfortable seating, etc. But when presenters build distractions into their own media, that’s when presenters are walking straight into the pole while texting.

So what am I talking about? What’s on the screen.

There are actually two ditches on the sides of this road. The first is the verbose approach, when all that’s on the screen are words. Lots of words. A whole book full of words. And then the presenter reads all the words. It’s like watching your teacher with an overhead transparency made from a book, and it puts people to sleep.

The other ditch is “eye candy.” In an attempt to overcome the boredom factor, edgy designers use trendy moving backgrounds, tiny thin text, type colors that blend into the background, and pretty soon important information can’t be read. When people are trying to figure out what the slide says, they’re not listening to you. And you wind up saying the most dreaded phrase any presenter has to utter, "I'm sorry if you can't read that."

The answer is balance.  How do you balance a modern, fresh look with the utility of understandability?  It's all in the details:

Most presentation media is PROJECTED on a white screen in a brightly lighted room (because we don’t want the audience to go to sleep). Did you ever wonder why they turn the lights out in the movie theater?  It’s because YOU CANNOT PROJECT BLACK. Turning lights on in a room with a projector floods the screen with light. Light raises the black levels of the images on the screen, and when you do that you lower contrast. You cannot read easily without contrast. See, isn’t this easy to read?

If you're presenting on a direct-view monitor, big-screen TV or a phone, you don't have to worry so much about ambient light washing out the screen, but you're presented with two other issues. One is glare - most of the direct-view monitors have "shiny" screens that reflect ceiling lights and windows. The other is size.  If a slide that's hard to read on a 60" TV is put on a phone, you have mouseprint that's impossible to see.

The other factor is that some of your audience will be sitting a much farther away from the screen than others. The thin lines in some type fonts disappear at a distance, especially for those with vision impairments, and it makes it much harder to read. 

And if you use a white background with brighter modern projectors, or if using a direct-view screen, the glare becomes a major annoyance over time, and a white background will show every flaw in the system - like the tomato stains from the last presenter.

So in a projection environment everything will look different than it does on your computer screen. People starting out in this business don’t seem to understand this. They design trendy things that look really cool, but in the end they become distractions that hinder communication.

At Advent Media, Inc., our "prime directive" is to end “distracted presenting.” Not only do we offer a unique projection screen that absorbs ambient light, our designs are shaped to work in the environment where the presentation will be made. 

Make the call and get us involved. Don’t walk into the pole or crash on your next presentation.

*from PainFree Presentations by Steve Puffenberger

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