Keeping Presentation slides free from clutter

by Oliver Adria on 21/08/2011

This is a guest post By M.S.Ramgopal from www.presentation-process.com
The attention span of your business audience is limited. The success of your presentation depends on how well you channelize this limited attention to the core message of your presentation. There are however, certain elements on your slide that steal your audience attention and reduce the effectiveness of your message. They are called clutter elements.

What is clutter?
Any element on your slide that can be removed without losing information is called clutter.

What causes clutter on a slide?
Unlike what most people think, clutter is not the result of poor PowerPoint skills, it is the result of incorrect thinking. Remember, clutter creeps in long before you create even your first slide.
The primary ‘incorrect’ thinking in creating presentations is ‘self orientation’ instead of ‘audience orientation’.
Take a moment to think about the way you create your slides… You start well by including just the essential elements on your slide. But, soon greed takes over. You suddenly remember the cool chart your colleague showed last week and you want to plug that in your slide. Your boss wants you to add the latest marketing report. Your compliance team wants to add 3 lines of disclaimer at the bottom of the slide. This is after your accounts team adds an ugly box of ‘necessary disclaimers’ for the chart.
Your slide finally looks like this:

cluttered-slide-1_425_2

Need for a change in orientation
Creating slides is not about showing off what you’ve got. It is about helping your audience get what they want. So, ruthlessly remove every single piece of information that doesn’t directly clarify the core message. Make your slide squeaky clean.
Here are some quick tips to de-clutter your slides and make it easy for your audience to absorb your message fast:
1. Keep just the important elements on the slide and remove the rest:
This is an example of a clutter free slide.

graph-without-clutter_425_2

The core point of the slide is to establish that Product Y sold the most in April. So, we made sure that the spot light is on the month of April. We used a different color for the column to draw audience attention. We made the number for the month stand out, by increasing the size and making it bold.
We then meticulously removed every other element that doesn’t contribute to the main point. We removed the unnecessary gridlines and used simple data labels instead. So, the audience doesn’t need to refer to the axes constantly. We ensured that there are no distracting backgrounds or images on the slide.

2. Use transparent images to get the clean look:
Take a look at the following slide. The images are clean without any unnecessary background. This not only makes your slides look professional, but also helps you keep the attention of your audience on the subject.

icons-in-presentation-slides_425_2

Look for Transparent PNGs or Transparent GIF images while doing your image search.

3. Reduce eye hops while using charts on your slides
Eye hops are the number of times your eyes need to land on various parts of your slide to gather information. Take a look at the pie chart here, for example. The legends are placed off the chart. So, your audience needs to use a number of eye hops to make sense of the pie chart.

graph-with-eye-hops_425_2

Consider this alternative instead:

clutter-free-graph-alternative_425_2

All the relevant information is present in one place for the audience to access

4. Group relevant information to enhance retention
Information that is presented in an unconnected is very difficult to remember. For example, take a look at the following slide:

group-information-1_425_2

The shapes are strewn at random. It is difficult to infer any meaningful relationship between the elements on the slide.
Consider the following alternatives:

group-information-2_425_2 group-information-3_425_2The elements are grouped logically to make the information more memorable.
You can group your lists under sub headings. You can group your slides based on agenda points. When you group related information you make it easy for your audience to ‘get’ your message.

Conclusion:
When you think from your audience perspective, you can make your slides clutter free and convey your core message effectively.
Here is a final tip we wish to give you to improve the effectiveness of your slides:
After you finish creating your slides, take a break. Come back to them with a fresh mind and start removing every element that doesn’t contribute to the core message of the slide. Your presentation creation process is never complete without this last step.

Author Bio:
M.S.Ramgopal, owns Presentation Process (www.presentation-process.com) website and is dedicated to providing simple and clear process to create better business presentations. He is the author of Visual Presentations: From text based slides to simple powerful diagrams eBook and his presentation entry won an award on Slideshare Contest in 2010.

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