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Please, for Your Audience's Sake, Use PowerPoint Animation Well

A disciplined use of PowerPoint animation can mean the difference between a dismal presentation and a successful one.

How many times have you seen terrible PowerPoint presentations that use those horrible fly-in animations along with the unbearable screeching tires sound effect? That's not a presentation—that's a disaster. The systematic misuse of PowerPoint’s capabilities, along with the addiction to text-heavy slides, has created a Death by PowerPoint endemic in offices around the world.

Where Do Bad Presentations Come From?

Making a good presentation isn't easy. You have to put a lot of thought into what your message is, how you're going to present it, what visuals you're going to use, when you're going to interact with the audience and so forth. Most bad presentations come about because presenters do one of two things:

1. Take the path of least resistance. This is what leads to those awful slides with bullet after bullet of solid text. Instead of creating a presentation, they end up creating oversized flash cards that they project onto a big screen and then dutifully read aloud to their audience. This is the sort of presentation that makes members of the audience wish they had remembered to sneak in copies of the Wall Street Journal—this way, they'd at least have something to help them avoid the gruesome onslaught of complete and total boredom brought on by the presenter's lifeless monotone drawl.

2. Try too hard. Presenters usually make this mistake only once. The first time they get behind the wheel of a big PowerPoint presentation, they decide to go all out and use every feature, every animation, every transition and every sound effect. These presenters might think, "Wow, my audience will be impressed with the breadth of PowerPoint features that I've been able to weave into a single presentation. I'm sure this will be a presentation that they’ll remember!"

The big day of the presentation arrives and what happens? The audience is so distracted by the tacky overuse of the aforementioned features that they don't even remember what the presenter was presenting.

The Case for Using Animation Well

How do presenters reconcile these two alternatives? They can't take the path of least resistance and they can’t try too hard either. The answer is to use a third alternative: use animation wisely and appropriately.

Animation is a powerful tool when used correctly, but it shouldn’t be part of the substance of your presentation, which is what the "try too hard" crowd gets wrong. Let me lay out the case for using animation:

• Animation lets you present your ideas in a logical sequence, when done correctly. This isn't referring to the top-down or left-to-right order in which they appear on the slides, but the order in which you speak about your ideas in conjunction with the slides themselves. Animation keeps you paced and guarded—you only talk about the most recently revealed item to the audience through animation. By adhering to the sequence that you established when you were building your presentation, this effectively prevents you from wandering.

• Animation helps your audience relate to an idea by focusing their attention on one point of order at a time. If you have to present complex material, like marketing proposals, and it can be tough if you don't use animation. Animation is a necessity because it keeps your audience focused on a single point at a time. It's not that you're trying to constrain your audience to learn at your preferred pace; rather, it's that using sequencing allows you to make sure, through interacting with my audience, that the audience as a whole is on the same page.

• Animation builds up to your punch lines. If a good comedian were performing a standup routine using PowerPoint, would he or she reveal all the aspects of his or her jokes at the same time and ruin the punch line? Of course not—so why would you spoil your own "punch lines" by dumping everything onto your audience at once, instead of building them up? Good comedians work by slowly building their audience up to the punch line. They don't robotically recite the joke from start to finish. They slow down where they need to; they go into more detail on key areas of the joke; they wait for the audience to catch up with them; and then finally, they hit the audience with the punch line. Animation helps you build up to your "big idea," your punch line. And you'll be able to deliver it more effectively after you've prepared your audience with the earlier stages of your sequenced presentation.

Aaron Stannard is Community Outreach Manager at SmartDraw.com.