Sticky Presentations bite size article: Using animation to ease understanding of complex information in presentation slides

Using animation to ease understanding of complex information in presentation slides

Feb 07, 2018

I am not sure about you, but I really love watching plays with scenes that move seamlessly to the next scene without a break or needing the audience wait while the technician sets up the stage for the next scene. The story flows nicely with the stage background and props moving in and out of sight, transiting between scenes and getting the audience engaged the whole time from start to finish. This experience was so amazingly entertaining.

I like to relate this to the business world where we present information to the audience every other day. Most of the time the information that we present is really complex and difficult to understand.

The complex information
A slide with really complex information might be one that has a series of related numbers packed into a single slide or company history that we are trying to explain visually cramped into a 10-year timeline. Or maybe a bunch of data to suggest a change in production requirements that needed to be illustrated in a pie chart. These are likely raw data that were quickly pasted onto the slide, but will be difficult to understand from the audience perspective.

Fig. #1
Example of a slide containing complex information

Example of a slide containing complex information that is difficult to understand and not suitable for a presentation slide.

How do we then present complex information seamlessly in presentation slides?

Separating information in layers and showing them one at a time with the help of animation is one of many ways to solve the complex information problem. In our everyday business presentation, animation is not always a requirement. But for data and information that are really complex, technical or financial in nature, using animation can help make understanding of the information a lot easier.

Layering information
If we separate the complex information into various segments, we can then layer them to display one set at a time with the help of tastefully select animation effects. Next, is to decide on the display order of the information. Decide on which set of information should be presented first and how the next set of information should be shown.

At this point, you might also want to rephrase (or reword) paragraph of texts to make it shorter. Consider using keywords instead of lengthy paragraphs of texts. With shorter paragraphs and keywords, it is easier to rearrange the layers in blocks and connecting them using lines and arrows (like a diagram), showing the overall information in a visual format.

Fig. #2
Complex information to keywords

Lengthy texts are complex and makes understanding difficult, especially when used in presentations. Convert or rephrase lengthy texts using keywords or shorter paragraphs.

Fig. #3
Breakfast Places. A good slide.

Arrange messages visually in a logical sequence. Connect related messages to the key message by using arrows.

Designing the information flow
The flow of the layered information must follow the natural flow of how you would logically explain the information to the audience. As you connect the lines and arrows to the information blocks, think about how each block of information relates to each other. Here, you will want to think about how many pauses is needed before the next block of information is displayed.

Let's say, you have 3 blocks of information on a slide, and if you plan to talk about the first block, then briefly elaborate with a simple example, before moving on to talk about the second and third block of information, you will animate in the first block of information and PAUSE, allowing yourself to finish illustrating your examples for the first block before you CONTINUE animating in the second and third block of information.

However, if you decide to very quickly talk about all 3 blocks of information without illustrating with examples, then you will want to animate all three blocks of information into the slide without a pause. This is to ensure the information shown on the slide is in sync with your verbal delivery.

Selecting the type of animation effects
Always use simple effects. There are many animation effects in PowerPoint and Keynote. Not every effect is suitable for business presentation. Choosing effects that are subtle and that will not distract the audience during the presentation are preferred. Effects that make objects or text explode or jump all over the slide might not be quite suitable for a formal presentation. A subtle effect like a move or fade is a better choice. Similarly for transition from slide to slide, you want to use simple transition effects, something like a fade, push, or none.

Putting everything together
So, with the layered content, tastefully select animation effects, and a properly thought sequence, you are now ready to build the content in PowerPoint (or Keynote) slides. Once you have completed the slides, remember to rehearse your presentation with the animated slides. Take note of the objects’ timing and slide transitions’ timings. Adjust the speed if certain animations are too slow or too fast during your practice runs.

Here is an example of an otherwise complex information made simple and with carefully select animation and transition effects executed nicely for a presentation.

Note: The above example is designed to be shown as presentation visuals requiring the speaker to elaborate on the content of the slides. The messages are short and easy to remember as key takeaways from the presentation session.

A good presentation is one that execution is seamless from the audience perspective. It will surely take more time to prepare a presentation with animation than one without. But at the end, the time and effort spent are worthwhile when your presentation is easily understood and you get better results with your objectives met.

The author, ANG Tian Teck is a coach, trainer, and speaker, specialising in inspiring organisations and business leaders to deliver high impact presentations. He has coached, trained, and infected over 10,000 individuals across the region with his Amazing Sticky Presentations approach. Tian Teck is also the author of two books, Sticky Presentations, and Spinning I.D.E.A.S.

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