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Visual Ambiguity – The Product of Thoughtless Layout Practices

It isn't enough to develop a compelling and solidly written presentation message, complete with clear logic flow and support able conclusions.The message must be communicated well, with specific attention to establishing flow, balancing the slide,formatting readable text, imposing consistency, using the chart real estate optimally, creating distance and separateness between objects, and so on.Without serious thought given to these layout considerations, the visual representation of the presenter's verbal message is ambiguous, making the presenter's job more difficult than necessary.

There are a few basic layout best practices that can help focus the efforts of a presentation developer.They are easy to understand and employ.

Layout best practices

Layout best practices are not a formula for choosing templates to present types of messages:conflicts, sequences,etc.Layout best practices are a broad set of guidelines that are applied to every type of slide message and graphic content.These guidelines will help raise the quality of your slides and raise your audience's perception of quality of the presentation.

Formatting Readable, Distinctive Graphics and Text

Creating readable onscreen graphics and text is not just a matter of making them larger.It might actually mean making them smaller.

The slide below is a graphic and text formatted to be as large as possible on the slide

This slide is the same as the slide on the left, but the graphic and text have been sized down slightly

The slide on the right above is actually more readable, even though the graphic on the left and the font size for the text on the right have been reduced slightly. The little bit of white space framing graphic and the text helps focus the eye on these two distinct fields instead of creating one, ambiguous visual statement.Make sure that you use white space as a tool on your slides to divide and separate the fields.White space is your friend.

Establish Flow and Utilize Slide Real Estate Optimally

Slides are horizontally oriented:they are wider than they are tall.Content is not always received nor set up so that it is also horizontally oriented, which means some decisions and adjustments need to be made to create an effective message flow and a workable, optimized layout.

The slide below is vertically oriented, even though the text spans the width of the slide.The content is read like a list, from top to bottom

A better layout would be a horizontal layout.The content is read from left to right

The slide on the right is the better layout for a few reasons:

  1. Short text strings are better than long text strings for readability and retention.
  2. The slide real estate is more optimally utilized:content on a horizontal slide flows better horizontally.Unless a concept demands a top-down or bottom-up flow, opt for a left-to-right horizontal flow.
  3. The graphics and headings are more easily scanned and compared.

Balance the Page

Presentations are typically developed iteratively.The iterative process (1) provides for input from all the individual team members,and (2) is conducive to creating the correct mix and amount of content for a specific audience within the time frame allowed for the presentation.A good process will endeavor to fine tune the content, reducing and expanding pieces of the overall message, imposing ever-higher levels of clarity, wordsmithing for the correct tone,and maintaining consistency.

A frequent byproduct of this process, however, is that slides will become unbalanced.

The slide below is the result of adding a take-away text field on the right and a graphic field that spans the bottom of the slide

The slide needs to be rebalanced, perhaps like the slide below

After the content for a slide is set, make sure you adjust the layout:

  • Resize the fields so that the newly added fields do not look crammed onto the slide
  • Use white space to separate each field
  • If the emphasis of the slide has changed, rebalance to highlight the new main point:make it larger than the other fields, use color to draw attention to it, and/or place it in a more prominent place on the slide.

Thelast edit that should be performed on a slide is balancing the layout.

Imposing Consistency

Themes and motifs are often used within presentations.A theme is a unifying subject and a motif is a recurring pattern.The overall theme and motif for a presentation is the template.Within the presentation, however, there can be many supporting themes and motifs that can help audiences recognize associated information.

This slide contains preset content for comparison with other industries

This slide contains the same preset content for comparison with other industries

The two slides above would work better if they were laid out the same way.This type of discrepancy usually arises when the presentation is spit up and team members create their own layouts.It's better to handle these types of issues on the front end rather than reacting to them after they occur.Identify sets of slides that would benefit from a theme and motif.Then create and distribute a slide template for each set.

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This is not an exhaustive list of layout guidelines, but it is a good starting point for making the elements on your slides distinct and balanced.Work these four best practices into your next production effort and see if you get a better-looking and more effective presentation.