Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Through Washington Post Graphics

Check out these great information graphics used by the Washington Post to speak about the top stories from 2011. From the royal wedding to the East Coast earthquake to remembering our fallen soldiers in Iraq, these graphics communicate the essence of each topic and give you a more detailed understanding that words alone couldn't.

To thank you for your support this year, we are offering 10% until January 15, 2012, at BizGraphics on Demand. Enter the code Holiday11 found in the coupon below.

Everyone at Billion Dollar Graphics wishes you a very Happy Holiday and successful New Year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Blogging about Visual Communication

We're honored that Chantal Bossé, a presentation expert of Chabos, Inc., referenced our articles on visual communication for her most recent blog. Check out her blog here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Key to WINNING Executive Summary Graphics

Many of you write proposals for your company. Whether you write a new one each year, every few years, or once a week, most likely you've been required to pen an executive summary to provide an overview of your company's solution. I've had a lot of students and clients ask my advice on creating graphics for these introductory sections and below are my key rules to help you put your best graphic forward.

Think of your executive summaries as the “elevator pitches” of the proposal world. Your future client wants to know why they should care about you and your solution—fast.

Put yourself in your future client’s shoes. Imagine you want to build a beautiful, cutting-edge home theater (lucky you) as soon as possible. You ask for multiple potential home theater specialists to give you bids and plans. In the end, you get twelve 90-page proposals. You don’t know much about the submitters. Fortunately, a few companies supplied a “proposal-at-a-glance” (an executive summary) with their proposals. You pick up their two-page “proposal-at-a-glance” for a quick scan. What would you want to see? What information would help you choose a company? Do you think it might influence whom you choose?

Independent research says when we are given too much information we tend to focus on the wrong data, which leads to poor decisions. The key is to give decision makers and evaluators what they need as quickly as possible. Make it blindingly clear and easy to understand.

When reviewing a company’s “proposal-at-a-glance” for your new home theater, would you prefer a text heavy document extolling the virtues of their company? Or would you prefer to see images of luxurious home theaters created and installed for other clients? How about testimonials? What about price or quality comparisons?

The secret to a winning executive summary is to empathize with your future client. What do they care most about? Show them your solution in the beginning and, as quickly as possible, give them an overview of it. Graphics communicate up to 60,000 times faster than text alone, quickly show your professionalism and commitment to the project, and greatly influence the decision maker.

I highly recommend making your executive summaries image rich. Give the decision makers and evaluators what they want in graphic form. Back up your visuals with concise text. If they want more detail, they will review your proposal to find it.

Before you develop your executive summary be sure to know the answers to four critical questions (which I refer to as knowing the “P.A.Q.S.”):

1) What is the purpose or primary objective (P) of my executive summary?
Phrase your answer carefully. Don’t simply write, “to win the proposal.” Although this is accurate, it doesn’t help you empathize with your future client. Instead, I recommend something specific: “To show that AdHelp (our new software) saves our client 80% in costs over their current system and raises sales revenue by 20%.” You want the answer to this first question to be a statement you can make to your audience.

2) Who is your audience (A)?
Know who they are, what they want to read/hear/see, and what they care about. Learn what your audience truly desires. They are the sole reason you are creating your executive summary. Tailor it to your target audience (e.g., use their lingo, reference their past products, talk about how you will work within their world). Make sure your audience can see the solution to their challenges and understand the resulting benefits.

3) What are the questions (Q) to which your audience needs answered to achieve your primary objective?
Refer back to the first question. Imagine you walked up to your future client at a networking event. After introductions and pleasantries you say, “AdHelp saves you 80% in costs and raises sales revenue by 20%.” How would they respond? Perhaps they may ask, “How?” In which case, your answer should be the same as the theme of your executive summary. It should answer their burning questions:
• Who?
• What?
• Where?
• When?
• Why?
• How?
• How fast?
• Is it reliable?
• Is it easy to use?
• How much does it cost?
• What makes it better?

Focus on answering their top three questions. I recommend addressing no more than five in your executive summary, or you run the risk of giving them too much information up front, which could lead to poor decisions.

4) What are the answers to the questions? I call this knowing the subject matter (S).
To correctly answer your audience’s questions, you need a clear understanding of the presented topic. If you do not understand, how can your audience understand? You need to answer their questions quickly and clearly.

Executive summaries come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like brochures and others look like amped up proposals. Your approach is dependent upon your audience’s preferences, award value, and the anticipated influence of your executive summary. If you think your audience will be “turned off” by a brochure, avoid using it. If the award value is high, rest assured they will expect extensive effort and thought being put into the proposal and executive summary. If you believe your future client prefers to see a summation of the solution immediately, then your executive summary will have greater influence.

The bottom line is your executive summary needs to shine. The best way to do this is to follow my process and use quality, concise content and superior graphics that communicate the right information—what your future customer cares most about.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Want Clients to Choose You? Keep It Simple.

Whenever I'm working with a client, I always stress that they keep their designs as easy to understand as possible. You want potential customers to comprehend your solution immediately and how it will help them. If they have to weigh through too much complex information (and choices), they may become frustrated and not purchase your product or service. People have limited time and many distractions in their lives, they don't need one more complicated decision added to their hectic schedule.

Recently, Smashing Magazine blogged about Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice. In it, Schwartz reveals an interesting conclusion:

People choose not on the basis of what’s most important, but on what’s easiest to evaluate.

Our audience doesn't always have the chance to thoroughly research and evaluate each and every decision they have to make. So it makes sense that they will gravitate to those websites, ads, brochures, storefronts, etc., that speak simply and succinctly to their needs.

Consider the simple design of Apple stores. Not to mention the easy-to-navigate Mac interface, which was so much easier than the PC's operating system when it first entered the market.

We're doing the same thing for Billion Dollar Graphics and our BizGraphics On Demand websites. We've learned our lessons from our years of experience in simplifying graphics for clients that we're redoing both sites to make it easier for our customers to navigate and find what they need (based on their input). Look for our redesigned websites to be launched in early 2012.

I suggest you read the Easier Is Better Than Better article at Smashing Magazine. Maybe even print it out as ammunition next time a boss or client asks you to cram a ton of information in a small space, citing "more is better."

According to research, less is what the customer wants. And, after all, the customer is always right.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Inspiring Hand Turkey

With Thanksgiving on its way, I started remembering art projects my teachers made us do each year to celebrate the upcoming holidays. One in particular stuck out to me. The ole' make-a- turkey-out-of-an-outline-of-your-hand art project the teacher trotted out each year to be displayed on refrigerators across the country to accompany the cranberry sauce and stuffing during Thanksgiving meal. It looks something like this:

It's so simple, yet what amazes me is that someone looked at their hand and thought, "Huh, that sort of looks like a turkey. If I color my fingers to match a turkey's feathers. And then add an eye and a beak where my thumb is. VoilĂ ! My hand now resembles a turkey."

Who came up with the idea of a "hand turkey"? They need a special prize. A special recognition. Because the more I consider it, the more interesting the idea becomes.

And the more I wish we could all come up with our own "hand turkeys."

Well, I don't want the graphics world populated with "hand turkeys," but this art project illustrates a point I challenge my students to do.

Think visually.

When creating graphics for your company, your audience, your students, think about various ways your service, product, or idea can be presented in a compelling, unique, and memorable way that represent your topic. Consider these suggestions:
  • If you are creating a piechart for an article about Thanksgiving, how about making the piechart out of a pie—a pumpkin pie?
  • Your company sells lumber and you need a barchart for a quarterly report. Maybe you can make the bars out of lumber?
  • You want customers to know that banking with you will insure their cash grows and give their financial goals a step up. A stair graphic made from incremental piles of cash would be a memorable visual.
  • A silhouette of your product can be used as a segmented graphic to show percentages of growth and sales. In fact, Coke uses this technique with their campaigns, since their bottles have become icons synonymous with their product.
Write lists of items related to your business that could be used as your graphic. Then sketch ideas related to the items on the list. (Make sure they are relevant to your topic.) Don't be afraid to let your imagination go, like you did as a child. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a child invented the "hand turkey."

I challenge you to invent your own "hand turkey" this season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 Practices to Getting the Most Out of Your Graphics

Graphics can make the difference between winning and losing clients. Graphics can increase idea creation and innovation. Graphics can validate your solution (according to independent research). Unfortunately, many small companies and consultants have little money and time to design good graphics. Some are lucky to have any graphics at all (even clipart) to include in their presentations, brochures, and websites. So, how do you fix this problem?

Reuse by recycling graphics.

But beware. Reuse works well when done right. There are pros and cons to reusing graphics.

Reuse Pros:
  1. It kick starts a marketing/proposal team or gets the team "unstuck." Starting with nothing is challenging. I call it “blank page syndrome” (BPS). But having a graphic from which to draw ideas, even one used in a previous presentation or proposal, is easier than starting from scratch.
  2. It saves time and money when done right.
  3. It leverages earlier efforts and institutional knowledge.

Reuse Cons:
  1. Your company can get lazy (it is easy to say “good enough”) or trapped (keeping too much of the old/boilerplate content vs. using it as a starting point).
  2. Reuse can result in rewrites and late nights, if the old content misses the mark or doesn’t relate to the current project and causes confusion in the team.
  3. Your organization may not evolve and your marketing and proposal projects could lose their competitive edge. Excessive reuse results in no innovation and having no fresh ways to show your ideas and concepts, which can lead to others seeing your company as uninspired.
Reuse is a double-edged sword that is sometimes needed in our resource-starved industry. To determine whether reuse is right for you, answer the following questions:

When reuse is needed, use the following seven best practices:
  1. Employ a knowledgeable, well-organized director (art director, proposal manager, marketing manager, etc.) to shepherd the team/department/company through the process of reusing graphics. They determine what graphics can be reused, manages a database of graphics, and sets the standards for reuse (e.g., templates, graphic styles, and approved software packages)
  2. Use Pareto’s Principal or the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your project is custom content and twenty percent reused and tailored content. Of course, every rule is made to be broken. If your projects are quick-turn and similar in size and scope, I recommend greater reuse.
  3. Implement a system to catalogue, search, and retrieve content—often referred to as a digital asset management (DAM) system. Most large companies use tools that can be customized for this purpose. For graphics, I recommend a solution with the ability to apply metadata (searchable keywords) like Extensis Portfolio.You can group graphics by theme to make it easier to find: organization charts, bar charts, stacked graphics, etc.
  4. Design for reuse. Develop graphics in a software package used by those on your team. Create layers within your files labeled for text, photos, boxes, lines, arrows, graphic elements, etc. Highlight the elements that require customization. Create a template indicating approved colors, logos, fonts, and any other design elements to keep design styles consistent and provide a starting point for designing graphics.
  5. Develop a good quality control process. For example, assign one or two other teammates to proof each piece before it is printed or uploaded online. The person designing the graphic should not be the one proofing it.
  6. Review and refresh your content often. As mentioned earlier, excessive reuse results in no innovation—and your audience may feel your company lacks innovation if they keep seeing the same graphics again and again in your materials. Whenever new graphics are created for a project, make sure they are labeled and copied into your database. If you find a certain graphic or style is being reused too much, remove it from the database or the company server or place it in a “retired graphics” folder.
  7. Reevaluate your need for reuse annually by using the reuse checklist and reviewing graphics needs with your team.
In my experience, reuse is a necessary approach in our fast-turn business environments. The key to success depends upon a measured approach with everyone on your team working together.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Using Charts in PowerPoint

Geetesh Bajaj interviewed me for about using charts in PowerPoint. Check out the article here and leave a comment if you have anything to add:

Monday, October 17, 2011

3 Steps to Make Your Data Standout

How do you prove that you have the best idea or solution? Data. Back up your assertions with real numbers. We tend to believe quantitative data.

Step one: provide real-world data.

For example, you say your solution saves money. You could provide a spreadsheet that compares your solution’s costs to the current solution based on research conducted by a reputable resource. Unfortunately, spreadsheets can be difficult to digest and are far from memorable and compelling. Look at the following example. Is this the fastest way to analyze data?

Because, like you, viewers are often resource starved, rushed, and hate sifting through mountains of data to do their job, it is in our best interest to make data analysis easy.

Step two: turn data into a quantitative chart.

Consolidate data into bite size chunks that can be analyzed quickly. (You can include your spreadsheets as back up data when applicable.) Quantitative charts—like bar charts, area charts, line charts, and pie charts—make it easy to compare data. (To see more examples quantitative charts visit How easy is it to compare the following numbers?

Although much improved over a spreadsheet, a quantitative chart is not that memorable. Let’s face it, you see countless bar charts, area charts, line charts, and pie charts every year. What do you remember? If you are like me, not much.

Step three: use visual embellishment.
The Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada conducted an experiment to determine if visual embellishment in information charts was a detractor. Below is an excerpt from this study:

“Guidelines for designing information charts often state that the presentation should reduce ‘chart junk’ – visual embellishments that are not essential to understanding the data. In contrast, some popular chart designers wrap the presented data in detailed and elaborate imagery, raising the questions of whether this imagery is really as detrimental to understanding as has been proposed, and whether the visual embellishment may have other benefits. To investigate these issues, we conducted an experiment that compared embellished charts with plain ones, and measured both interpretation accuracy and long-term recall. We found that people‘s accuracy in describing the embellished charts was no worse than for plain charts, and that their recall after a two-to-three-week gap was significantly better.”

The following example published in the study’s findings shows a chart developed by Nigel Holmes (left), a renowned visual communicator, and a “plain version.” Which is more memorable?

For best results, I recommend combining a quantitative chart with a visual metaphor, simile, analogy or icon/symbol. Use of metaphors, similes, analogies, and icons to support data is proven to increase recollection. In the following example I use the material (lumber) for my bars to better communicate the subject matter and increase the likelihood that my data will stand out and be remembered (compared to other bar charts).

Most quantitative charts are far from unique and, therefore, fail to stand out. Using a visually embellished quantitative chart helps your data stand out, be remembered and, ultimately, help you succeed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

5 Typography Rules That I Use

Many times I see presentations and marketing materials and even websites using "razzle-dazzle" fonts that aren't readable or even appropriate. There are so many typefaces from which to choose, it can be daunting—not to mention various styles within each font family. So here are a few rules I employ when choosing a font for my project:

  1. Geetesh Bajaj of recently sent me a link for a poster that graphic designer Julian Hansen created to help people (in a very interesting and cheeky way) find the best typeface for their project. Check it out here. What I find most interesting is the text in the center which directs the reader on how to use the poster: Start out by choosing the kind of project that you'll need your typeface for. Just like choosing a style for your graphics, you want to understand your project's goal and then choose the appropriate typeface for your project. You wouldn't choose a whimsical font for the intro page of a company's website that supplies defense equipment to the government. Each font has an intrinsic meaning which your audience will subconsciously pick up. Underneath each typeface below is my impression of it; yours may be different. Always keep your audience and goal in mind when choosing a font.

  2. Use ALL CAPS, bold face, and italics—sparingly. I cringe when viewing presentations where bulleted sentences are entirely in uppercase. Not only does it seem like SOMEONE IS SHOUTING AT ME, but sentences in all caps are harder to read. I suggest only employing all caps for short titles and headings where you use small words or just a few words.

    I've felt annoyed reading brochures where all the text is bold. Annoyed because I don't know what is important. A bold typeface is a great way make essential phrases and concepts stand out from the rest. I apply bold to headings, subheads, titles, and key words within a paragraph. You run the risk of confusing your readers–and possibly annoying them–if your entire document uses a bold typeface.

    I've gotten a headache reading pages of italic text. Again, italic fonts should be used to make certain text and ideas standout. Because of the way the letters lean, it can be hard to read, which may turnoff your audience and they won't be willing to read more to learn about your product or service or concept. Consider using italics to highlight important ideas, in a heading or subhead, for a pull quote, to set off a paragraph quoting another source, or for reference or book titles.

  3. Use a ubiquitous font if other people will be working in or editing the document or presentation. Unless you can embed the font and are sure it will travel with your document, then stick to a font like Arial or Times New Roman. They are simple but will get the job done, especially for presentations. In a few instances, I designed my presentation on the Mac and needed to load it on a PC for delivery. I couldn't risk font substitution and would've needed to buy and load a PC version of my font onto the other computer which belonged to someone else, so that wasn't an option.

  4. Don't use more than 3-4 typefaces in one document. It can get messy—and confusing for the designer working on the project and your audience—if you throw in Goudy with Garamond with Futura and a touch of Univers. When using fonts that are close in structure like Futura and Univers, you run the risk of your document appearing awkward. Your audience will subconsciously pick up on the subtle differences between the typefaces from one paragraph to the next and it will put them off—like wearing navy blue and black. They are too close in color that it seems off when you try to pair them. Check out every aspect of the font before you choose one: What do the numbers look like? Will the punctuation print well? You may love the appearance of the letters but the numbers or punctuation may be odd. Remember, the less variety of typefaces you use, the cleaner your document will look and the more people will want to read it. If you want help in determining what fonts work well together here are two sites that offer some great suggestions: 19 Top Fonts in 19 Top Combinations and Typefaces that Work Together.

  5. Determine a font style for your document in the beginning. Your company may already offer a style guide that lists appropriate fonts for outfacing materials. If you're unsure, ask. It' a great resource to have and you want to tie in the font and colors used in your company logo to any marketing materials. You want to keep all the materials consistent because consistency breeds trust. Whenever I begin a layout on a document (either a brochure, catalog, or presentation), I first determine my typeface for body text, headings, any callouts or pull quotes, footers, footnotes, etc. My favorite look is to combine serif and sans serif fonts. I use sans serif for the main headings and serif for the body text. I find serif fonts easier to read in printed materials. (Think books. Most books contain a serif font for a reason.) I did learn recently that many website designers prefer sans serif fonts for websites because they feel it looks cleaner on the screen and is easier to read. The preference is up to you. But I recommend maintaining the same font family (or font combinations) throughout your materials to keep your documents clean and consistent.

These are my basic tips. There are many others that I also employ, and I found several websites with great advice in addition to the rules I just put forth:
Dynamic Graphics
Foam Train Fonts
Web Designer Depot

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Things I Learned at the Presentation Summit

With more presentation and design experts than you can shake a stick at, there was much to be learned at the Presentation Summit in Austin. Here are a few prime tips and resources to sink your teeth into:

  1. Tell a story with your presentation (which can apply to marketing materials like brochures and websites as well). Don't simply show charts or images to your audience. Connect these visuals with a story—a story in which your audience can see themselves and relate. Jon Thomas of Presentation Advisors said, "When audience members see themselves in your story, the need to persuade disappears."
  2. Carmen Taran, Rexi Media, surveyed her audiences after several presentations to learn what they remembered most about her slides. She found that when she had a slide with a bizarre image (like a pig with wings), the audience remembered that slide. When she had a contrast from one slide to another (like a large image to a small image), the audience remembered those slides. People act on what they remember and by changing up your slides (or even your websites or pages in your brochures), you will hold their attention and they will be more likely to buy into your product or service. Try mixing an odd image with something familiar to your audience. Go from predictable to the unexpected and they will want to look more closely to see what you're going to do next.
  3. PowerPoint 2010 is more powerful than I imagined, and Sandy Johnson of Presentation Wiz helped me realize it. You can import Illustrator files as eps and ungroup the elements. The Combine Shapes feature allows you to create simple vector images and icons that are fully editable. Check out Sandy's website for a pdf tutorial on how to use the tool and begin creating your own icons and vector images. I think Illustrator may have to watch its back soon ...
  4. I've always set up templates for Word with styles and colors specified. As for my slides, I've set up the slide masters and a template slide with style choice but ... that was it. Then Julie Terberg of Terberg Design demonstrated that I was short changing myself and those editing my presentations. Creating theme colors in PowerPoint saves time in importing graphics, text, charts, SmartArt, etc. Because, if you used theme colors to set up your template, PowerPoint will automatically update the colors of what you import into your template, saving you loads of time. Julie has a great explanation in her blog for how to best do this. I bookmarked it!
  5. The final lesson I wanted to talk about is "failure." Yes, I said, "failure" and it isn't a typo. As Rick Altman brilliantly said in his Monday morning talk, he wanted us all to fail during the conference and when we left. Now Rick wasn't hoping we wouldn't succeed in life, he was referencing Denzel Washington's commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania. He encouraged the graduates to take risks "because nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks." He told those graduates not to be afraid to "fall forward" and learn from their failures and mistakes. Do not be afraid of failure but embrace it, because failing is one of the most powerful ways to grow, to improve, to become better presenters, designers, managers, writers, trainers ... whatever it is we want to be.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Presentation Summit—Wow (again)

Once again, Rick Altman and his team put on a tremendous conference in beautiful Austin, Texas. We learned so much at the Presentation Summit and met so many amazing industry professionals whose knowledge alone would fill a book (as large as War and Peace with loads of interesting visuals). We had wonderful talks with presentation expert Dave Paradi, who gave us insight on marketing and who contributed to our previous blog. Check out his site for creative resources on how to design and deliver effective PowerPoint presentations. With Connie Malamed (whose book Visual Language for Designers is now in paperback), we watched the bats ... yes, I said bats ... stream out from under the famous Congress Avenue Bridge (shown in photo) where 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats reside and stream out at sunset to feast on 10,000-30,000 pounds of insects each night. Unfortunately, I don't recommend standing under the bridge to watch this phenomenon—we got a little wet and it wasn't raining. :)

Jennifer and I also had a booth during the Expo for BizGraphics On Demand where attendees could try out our product and pick up a poster of our Graphics Cheat Sheet. The feedback was overwhelming, and we introduced new users to our product who bought credits onsite to begin using the product. Then Geetesh Bajaj, Microsoft MVP and owner of, gave suggestions for new offerings, which we will be implementing in the coming months. Check out his feature articles on highlighting a few of the inspiring keynotes from the conference.

I had another brainstorming session with Jamie Garroch of GMARK about how to increase our product offerings in new ways. Jamie impressed us with his enthusiastic approach to his business of creating better PowerPoint add-ins that meet the needs of users. His company, GMARK, will even work with you to create custom Add-Ins for PowerPoint. If you can imagine it, they can do it. What an amazing service! One GMARK product that stood out to me was MapPrez. If you use maps in your presentations, MapPrez will allow you to integrate maps through Google Maps with your PowerPoint slides and turn any of those maps into editable vector images. You can colorize and style each country differently, remove and expand map sections, and automatically locate and place markers on specific cities and sites. Definitely a time saver!

I'll write more in a post later this week about helpful tips I learned at the Presentation Summit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Using a Graphic in Both Print and in a Presentation—by Dave Paradi

For our last e-zine, Dave Paradi contributed this article, Using a Graphic in Both Print and in a Presentation, and we wanted to share it with new readers and those not subscribed to our e-zine—it's free to subscribe to our e-zine and you'll receive quarterly design tips!

Dave Paradi has authored and co-authored seven books and his book, The Visual Slide Revolution, was selected as one of the Top 10 Business Books of 2008. His workshops and consulting help clients ranging from municipalities to Fortune 500 corporations. Learn more at He'll be speaking at the Presentation Summit next week in Austin, Texas.


Many of the graphics we design today must serve dual purposes. One of the purposes the graphic must serve is for a print document, whether it is a proposal or a report. The second purpose is for use in a presentation, since often we are asked to present on the topic in addition to providing the written document. We can certainly use the same graphic in each setting, but there is a technique we can apply to use a graphic more effectively in a presentation context.

When we place a graphic in a report or proposal, the graphic does not stand alone. It is on a page with explanatory text that the reader uses to gain understanding of the graphic. If there is anything they are unsure of, they can move back and forth between the graphic and the text until they understand the point being made. Even if the graphic and the text are on different pages, it is easy for the reader to flip the page to refer to either text or graphic quickly. The explanatory text and the reader's ability to refer to both at the same time allows even a complex graphic to be easily understood.

Using a graphic in a presentation is different. The graphic is placed on a slide and there is generally no explanatory text on the slide. The presenter is explaining the graphic to the audience. If the audience doesn’t understand the graphic the first time, they can’t go back and review it again, because the presenter has moved on. Most audience members also fear asking a question during the presentation, because they think they will embarrass themselves in front of peers and colleagues in the audience. So audience members can be left confused about the graphic during a presentation because they can’t review what the presenter said. This is especially true with complex graphics.

The solution to the issue of using graphics in a presentation is to break down the graphic into pieces and explain each piece to the audience one by one. This way, the graphic does not overwhelm the audience and the presenter’s explanation can be focused on only one part at a time. Audiences follow along much more easily and there is a smaller chance that someone is confused after the presenter is done. One method for breaking down the graphic into pieces is to actually create individual graphics, one for each section. This can work, but it does require more work on your part and the presenter can’t make any changes if they decide that the breakdown should be altered.

A more flexible and less time consuming method is to use a technique that our teachers employed in school when they used overhead transparencies in the classroom. They would place a piece of paper over the transparency, covering up what they didn’t want us to see, yet. They would slide the paper down to reveal each point as they spoke. This gives the same benefit to the audience as building each part of the graphic on the slide. Let’s look at how we can do this in PowerPoint.

The first step is to position the graphic on the slide. Make it as big as you need to, depending on what else you are placing on the slide.

Now, just like our teacher, we need to cover up the graphic. You can use the regular drawing tools in PowerPoint to create shapes that will cover up each piece of the graphic. Usually, you will draw a series of rectangles that will cover up two to four sections of the graphic. Make the fill and outline color of the shapes the same as the background color of the graphic, so it looks like you are building the graphic piece by piece.

The last step is to make these shapes slide off the graphic like the teacher did with the piece of paper, revealing what is underneath. To do this, select the shape and apply an Exit animation effect. I suggest the Wipe effect in the direction that makes sense. For example, if you are revealing pieces of a graphic from left to right, have the shapes wipe to the right, just like it would look like if we had a piece of paper on a transparency.

If you would like to see an example of how this looks in action, I used this technique in a slide makeover video which is shown below and available for viewing at

By understanding the differences between using a graphic in a print and in a presentation context, and by using the exit animation reveal technique, you can save time by creating a single graphic that can serve both purposes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Presentation Summit—September 18th-21st

Just wanted to give a shout out to Presentation Summit—a great way to spend the money left over in your budget on improving your presentation and graphic skills and have a fun time doing it. Rick Altman, the author of Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Even Better, is the man behind this great event. Learn from presentation gurus like Garr Reynolds, Nigel Holmes, Connie Malamed, and Dave Paradi. Get expert PowerPoint advice from Geetesh Bajaj, Ric Bretschneider, and Julie Terberg.

Plus, you can make it a vacation and check out Austin, Texas. We'll have a booth at the event for you to test out BizGraphics On Demand, and we'll be offering special pricing for conference attendees.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 29, 2011

PowerPoint Goes to School

Check out my latest article on Microsoft's PowerPoint blog about how PowerPoint is being used to better educate and train students. I offer three basic rules on using PowerPoint to educate your audience.

Leave a comment and add your own tips!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't Forget Your Pants—Make Time for Both the Work and Practice

We're running a blog series by guest blogger, Megan Skuller, a graphic designer at 24 Hour Company, specializing in proposal and presentation design. Below is the fourth and final in a series of four blogs by Megan about how to improve your oral proposals and presentations. Using real-world examples, Megan shares her top three rules when building visuals for your next project. This blog highlights her first rule.


Visuals aids take time to create! On a memorable trip to Seattle, a client wanted a couple weeks worth of work done mere days before the presentation was to be given. Because of the limited time, the presentation was being practiced in sections with updates being added as we went along. One presenter had to stop during a practice session to pull his thoughts together after being confused by the new look of his slides. Imagine this happening during the presentation! Taking into consideration how long the various pieces would take to create and starting much sooner would have benefited this particular client. It is important to be sure enough time is built into your schedule to have the completed visual aids in hand for practice. Unsure? Then think about modifying your presentation. Complete the most important pieces first.

How much practice time should you plan for? Laverne A. S. Caceres, M.A., Director of The Professional Voice, suggests the guidelines shown in the graphic below. You can find these tips and more at

Keep in mind that your presentation’s visuals represent you, your company, and your product or solution. Presentations are opportunities to achieve your goals. Before you begin creating your presentation, remember to start with my three favorite rules from this blog series:
  1. Know your audience
  2. Keep it simple, relevant, and professional
  3. Make time for both the work and practice
Plus, don't forget your pants—or graphics! Put your best foot forward and engage the audience with great visuals.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Don't Forget Your Pants—Keep it Simple, Relevant, and Professional

We're running a blog series by guest blogger, Megan Skuller, a graphic designer at 24 Hour Company, specializing in proposal and presentation design. Below is the third in a series of four blogs by Megan about how to improve your oral proposals and presentations. Using real-world examples, Megan shares her top three rules when building visuals for your next project. This blog highlights her first rule.


In a BNETvideo on YouTube called Present Like Steve Jobs, Communication Coach and author Carmine Gallo breaks down how the successful CEO gives presentations. This is something that Mr. Jobs is known for and has written about. Along with other good advice, Mr. Gallo says, “Inspirational presentations are short on words and big on pictures.” The last thing you want people to do is spend all their time reading bullets or trying to figure out overly complicated graphics rather than listening to and engaging in the presentation. All visual aids used should have a message and should always relate to what is being said. Everything should have a reason for being in the presentation or you need to take it out.

Watch the full video below:

Visual aids communicate on both a conscience and subconscious level. They should enhance, not detract. Starting with and sticking to a template is a key helper in creating a consistent, professional look. If your corporate branding does not already have a template, build one. As Mike Parkinson likes to say, “Consistency breeds trust.” Inconsistent changes in style and/or color looks unprofessional and subconsciously makes people distrust what they are seeing. Looking at the below example, which is more professional?

The graphic on the top uses too many different types of image styles and fonts. This disparity in design distracts from the message and doesn't make our eye want to read more. The graphic on the bottom uses similar styled photos, arrows, and fonts throughout the design. This uniformity draws our eye into the graphic and makes it easy for us to focus on the content—makes us want to focus on the content. If the author had taken the time to create a visually-appealing, cohesive graphic that conveys the information we need, then we can be assured that this company will deliver the professional and knowledgeable service we desire.

My next and final blog will cover making time to perfect your presentation. Check back next week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don't Forget Your Pants—Know Your Audience

We're running a blog series by guest blogger, Megan Skuller, a graphic designer at 24 Hour Company, specializing in proposal and presentation design. Below is the second in a series of four blogs by Megan about how to improve your oral proposals and presentations. Using real-world examples, Megan shares her top three rules when building visuals for your next project. This blog highlights her first rule.


Visual aids done well engage the audience and help them understand your points faster and remember them longer. Courtesy of the Department of Labor website,, to the right is a bar chart showing the level of information retention when using visual aids. The bar chart clearly shows that adding a visual component increases the audience’s retention exponentially over oral alone. Furthermore, the Department of Labor offers fascinating statistics about the impact of visuals on an individual:
  • In many studies, experimental psychologists and educators have found that retention of information three days after a meeting or other event is six times greater when information is presented by visual and oral means than when the information is presented by the spoken word alone.
  • Studies by educational researchers suggest that approximately 83% of human learning occurs visually, and the remaining 17% through the other senses—11% through hearing, 3.5% through smell, 1% through taste, and 1.5% through touch.
  • The studies suggest that three days after an event, people retain 10% of what they heard from an oral presentation, 35% from a visual presentation, and 65% from a visual and oral presentation.
What does this all boil down to? Your visuals play a vital role in your presentation!

When making an outline, be sure to think about what you are going to show while talking. Put yourself in your prospective client’s shoes. What message do you want your audience to derive from the visual? Ask “So What?” If you don’t, they will.

Tailor your presentation to your audience. The better your prospective client can relate to the images, the more likely they will see themselves using the solution or product. For example, if it is a proposal talking to the Army, be sure to show images of army personnel. If you can show the product or solution being used by Army personnel, even better! A marketing piece selling to management? Use relevant concepts that your audience can relate to and show people in business related situations.

In my next post, I'll discuss how to keep your graphics simple, relevant, and professional.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don’t Forget Your Pants—Great visuals help put your best foot forward!

We're running a blog series by guest blogger, Megan Skuller, a graphic designer at 24 Hour Company, specializing in proposal and presentation design. Below is the first in a series of four blogs by Megan about how to improve your oral proposals and presentations. Using real-world examples, Megan shares her top three rules when building visuals for your next project.

Oral Proposals and Presentations are fundamentally an opportunity. You (as the speaker), your company, and solutions or products are being showcased. Similar to interviewing for a job with a prospective employer, this is a chance to immediately build strong personal rapport with your prospective client. Besides your shining personality, an integral part of presentations are visual aids—they help the audience understand your key points. Think of visual aids as part of your outfit. When dressing for an interview, would you walk in with your shirt pressed, shoes shined, questions and answers ready, but forget to wear pants (or skirt as the case may be)? Of course not.

Use visual aids to their best advantage—engaging the audience! In both the corporate and government world, PowerPoint slides are synonymous with presentations. If done well, a slide deck is enough. Could there be accompaniments? Absolutely. A few examples are printed boards, brochures, and props. In the book How to Wow, by Corporate Coach Frances Cole Jones, she describes a story about a client who was giving a presentation the next day on High Fructose Corn Syrup and its health effects. Ms. Jones mentions how the presentation was flat; the slides were chock-full of scientific facts and terribly boring. What was her solution? She and her client took a trip to the grocery store and picked up commonly consumed healthy foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup. What was the result? “An interactive event!” The audience came in, examined the products, and made comments like “… I thought it was good for me.” The audience immediately became engaged in the presentation. What does this mean for the presenter? Retention!

Here are three rules to consider when building your visuals. I'll highlight each of these rules in my next blogs posts:
  1. Know your audience
  2. Keep it simple, relevant, and professional
  3. Make time for both the work and practice!!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Winning Millions by Using PowerPoint

Check out Microsoft's PowerPoint Blog for my next blog. This time I address how I won millions of dollars in revenue for my company by using PowerPoint. Many don't realize how powerful this resource is in growing a business. By having a medium to show my company's services, I can better convince potential customers of our abilities and how we can meet their goals.

Leave your suggestions or share your PowerPoint stories!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Inspired Blog

One of things we love best about our job is when our products help other people reach their goals.

Inspired IT wrote a blog detailing how they downloaded Process_0325 from BizGraphics on Demand to help make "a boring list look interesting."

However, as they populated the graphic with their text, they began to see this graphic in a different light. They began to reconsider the purpose for displaying their information in this graphic. What did they want their audience to take away from the visual? Certainly, their audience didn't care that the image was "interesting." If it didn't communicate anything relevant, why show it to them? The graphic needed to be more than just a cool image. It needed to have a purpose and communicate that purpose to their audience.

They distilled their information down into the most important points that mattered to their audience. Using these points, they slowly transformed this graphic from a unique image to that which clearly communicated their goals. The author realized the graphic needed a goal or else it should not be used. What started as an "interesting" image ended as a graphic that not only captured the audience's attention but communicated the author's objectives in a memorable and compelling way.

Check out how they did it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

What We Can Learn from Temple Grandin

My name is Temple Grandin. I'm not like other people. I think in pictures and I connect them.
—Temple Grandin, HBO films, 2010

One of the things I stress during my training, in my book, on this site is that we are all visual thinkers. And one of the best ways to sell your idea to others, to train your audience in your process, or promote your business is to do it with visuals.

For Dr. Temple Grandin that is one of the best ways to communicate with her. She's autistic and she is a total visual thinker. Unlike most of us, who can process verbal commands and information, Dr. Grandin's brain translates words into pictures before it can process what is being requested. Then she sees an image of her response and her brain translates her response into words before she can speak.

Sounds overwhelming, right?

Well, for Dr. Grandin it was how she'd always thought and had assumed everyone else thought as well. In fact, if it wasn't for this unique way her brain processed the world, she probably wouldn't have gone on to revolutionize the farming industry by designing and implementing humane stockyards, corrals, loading ramps, and many other facilities for farm animals. Because of the perspective autism gave her, she could see obvious design flaws in farming equipment with the ability to "test-run" or visualize how the equipment will operate before it was even built. She'd even crawl in the mud to get on the same level of the animals and watch their behavior, picking up on clues for why certain coral methods upset the animals causing a stampede.

Coming of age in the 1960s, when autism was not clearly understood, Dr. Grandin had to overcome great adversity and prejudices to get through school and go on to earn her master's degree and then doctorate. Couple her unique personality with being a woman and Dr. Grandin had a further uphill battle to be accepted in the ranching and farming communities—primarily a man's field. In the HBO film, Temple Grandin, one of the owners of a slaughterhouse asks why she thinks her new configuration for his processing plant would work. He'd never seen a plan like hers and didn't think it could possibly do what she claimed.

She replied that she knew it would work, because she could see it in her mind. She could visualize it working and was convinced it would be successful.

Now imagine if you gave your audience this ability—the ability to see your process, idea, product successfully at work.

Do you think they'd be convinced?

Friday, July 1, 2011

3 Presentation Secrets for Non-profits

Check out Microsoft's PowerPoint blog for our latest guest blog spot highlighting presentation secrets for non-profits. Add a few of your own!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3 Tips to Making Powerful Presentations to the Government

Check out our new post on Microsoft's PowerPoint blog with tips to making powerful presentations to the government.

Add a few tips of your own!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Change the World with PowerPoint

Want to learn 2 steps to change the world with PowerPoint?

Check out our first article in a series for Microsoft's blog and tell us what you think!

Friday, June 3, 2011

5 Questions with Geetesh Bajaj

Microsoft MVP, author of several PowerPoint books, and owner of—just to mention a few of his involvements—Geetesh Bajaj is a PowerPoint guru. His website hosts a multitude of PowerPoint articles from industry experts, detailed tips on PowerPoint features, a PowerPoint e-zine, and free templates for download. If you have a question about PowerPoint, you'll find the answer—and more–on his site. Recently, Geetesh answered 5 questions and imparted some of his PowerPoint wisdom.

  1. You have authored and co-authored several books on PowerPoint—including Cutting Edge PowerPoint 2007 for Dummies and Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 Complete Makeover Kit—and you are an MVP (Microsoft Most Valuable Professional). When and how did you first get involved with using Microsoft PowerPoint?

    My involvement with PowerPoint was not planned, nor were the books, or even becoming an MVP. So it’s probably something I was destined to do!

    I got started with PowerPoint around 15 years ago to help a client create a presentation—I still remember that presentation, because I used more of Photoshop than PowerPoint in the slides— a few more presentations later, I was asking questions in the PowerPoint newsgroups. I found that I could answer many questions asked by others and did that for the next 3 or 4 years before Microsoft recognized me as an MVP. I have been an MVP for the last 11 years now, and that has opened up a whole new world. Writing those books was part of this new world.

    I want to add that I no longer need to use Photoshop while creating presentations— Microsoft has put in so much graphic abilities in PowerPoint now that it is easier to create better presentations that take less time to make.

  2. What is one of the most useful features in PowerPoint 2010 for presenters?

    There are tons of great features that many users are aware of—but there are many others that are little known. I find the option to create a video clip of the entire presentation to be a huge timesaver—this lets me upload the video to YouTube without having to worry about anyone editing my presentation.

    In addition, PowerPoint 2010 lets you broadcast your PowerPoint, too. Also, while I was authoring a book on Office 2011 for Mac, I experimented with the co-authoring options available in both PowerPoint 2010 (Windows) and 2011 (Mac)—that’s an amazing feature that people need to discover!

  3. PowerPoint 2007 offers increased graphic capabilities with new tools that make it easier for presenters to create graphics. What graphic tools do you recommend in PowerPoint 2007? How has Microsoft improved on PowerPoint’s graphic capabilities in their 2010 version?

    PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 both provide amazing graphic abilities – but that’s not the most important graphic feature they include. I find that the Reset options for pictures are amazing. I can play with a picture, change it to black and white, change other attributes, add some effects, and then if I want, I can reset it so that all changes go away. Wow! I don’t even need an undo any more and would never go back to the Photoshop/PowerPoint workflow unless I need a real high-end graphic effect.

    PowerPoint 2010 adds the cool, background removal option, and this takes a little effort getting used to, but it is so useful.

  4. With articles from various experts, resources on everything related to PowerPoint, and millions of page views a month, your website has become the informational site for everything related to presenting and PowerPoint. When did you begin and why did you decide to create this website?

    As I already told you in a previous answer, I was a frequent participant in the PowerPoint newsgroups. In those days, newsgroups worked within news programs rather than as in-browser discussion groups. When users had questions about PowerPoint, they just went ahead and asked their questions because there were not as many search options to look for similar questions that other people had asked before them. Thus, you ended up with the same questions being asked several times a day. Rather than type in the answers repeatedly, I set up and would type in the URL that contained the answer users were looking for.

    Thereafter, just evolved into a community. Today thousands of subscribers and millions of visitors from all over the world frequent

  5. What is the most important piece of advice for a presenter who uses PowerPoint?
    Keep it simple and remember what you want to say is more important than how your slides look. If you have nothing to say, it won’t matter if your slides look amazing! Content is important, so create the structure of your presentation outside PowerPoint—preferably on a piece of paper. Only when you have the entire structure ready, go ahead and launch PowerPoint.

    Once your presentation is ready, keep plenty of time available to practice, and then redo your slides over and over again until you feel confident and happy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fotolia Review

Recently, I was given the opportunity to test out Fotolia, a Royalty-free, online stock image library. I set up an account, searched their database and began downloading images.

I was pleasantly surprised with Fotolia’s options. Fotolia has more than 12 million photographs, illustrations, vector images, and HD videos. Keywords made it easy to find relevant images. For example, I found over 5,000 photos of business meetings for a website I designed. I found more than 4,000 healthcare icons that were editable with illustration software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator). I was able to narrow these search results by using more specific keywords (meeting room, doctors, women only). When I searched for more generic terms like “business group,” I received over 50,000 choices. The photographs show diversity as well as a variety of natural and posed images, groups and individuals, and professional activities.

I love the variety, broad applications, and uniqueness of the graphics I found. Below are a few of the raster images I downloaded to use in marketing pieces.

The following are examples of some vector imagery I downloaded for a project.

Like other stock image companies, you purchase either credits or a subscription to use towards your downloads. The higher the resolution (or the more complex the vector graphic), the more credits needed to download the image. However, credits start from $0.75 each, so even high-resolution images are well priced. I downloaded several photographs for $6-8 each—an excellent value for the image quality. On a few fronts, Fotolia differentiates themselves from their competitors:
  1. Downloaded comps don’t have logos superimposed over the image. Their comps were very useful when I created my sample web layout before I bought, because there were no logos obscuring the images.
  2. Unique images. Many styles of images on this site, I have seen nowhere else.
  3. Over 100,000 video clips for web presentations.
  4. Highly competitive pricing. (Bottom line: you'll pay less here.)
  5. PowerPoint and Word plug-in to instantly add photos and videos without leaving the software. This is great way to save time while working in these packages, particularly in PowerPoint, so you can test out photographs with one click before you buy. Check it out:

I added Fotolia to my short list of online resources. I recommend you do the same. You won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

5 Questions with Nancy Duarte

If you are a presenter, then you should already know Nancy Duarte.

If you don't. Go to her website. ... Now!

Well, after you read our interview. ;)

Nancy Duarte, is a presentation expert and she has the portfolio—as well as the books (Slide:ology and Resonate) and a successful company—to prove it. She is the CEO of Duarte, a presentation company that goes beyond typical PowerPoint fare, designing high-end presentations for Executive Keynotes (Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth) to Launches (Palm Pre) to so much more and boasts clients such as Apple, Facebook, Ford, Twitter, and Wells Fargo among many other big name players. I encourage you to check out Duarte's website and be inspired by the amazing—and widely creative–presentations her team has created. She even offers presentation training, so you can learn how to create your own inspiring presentations through meaningful visuals and thoughtful content.

Recently, Nancy was kind enough to take time to answer five questions for our readers.

1. You started making "presentations" as a child. Why are you so passionate about presentations?
A child eh? I’m older than you think! When I was young, I did have signs I was a visual communicator. I loved to fire up the film strip projector and usually chose homework assignments that included drawing over those that required prose. Since I’m heavily weighted toward being a visual learner coupled with the fact that the primary visuals we use in business involve a presentation is what drew me to the field. I love communications that are clear, so taking a muddled mess and making it clear is like solving a puzzle to me.

2. Do you believe presentations can change the world? Why?
You can point to an oratory moment that has been the flashpoint for almost every historic movement. If you think about it, some companies today are larger than historic kingdoms have ever been. So even within a company there needs to be presentations that spark change to ensure survival and competitive advantage. Consider the small shifts companies have to make to be at the right place in the future. A well communicated presentation is the way to get them there.

3. What is one common mistake that presenters make in their PowerPoint presentations and how can presenters avoid it?
Most people cut too many corners of the creative process when creating a presentation. There are times when throwing together a deck for a quick meeting is okay. But when trying to persuade an audience, nothing should be just thrown together. It’s a cop out to Frankenstein a deck together instead of thinking through the nuances of an audience. First, move out of the linear trap of the slide application itself. Try to look at the entire presentation as a whole by working in outline mode or by moving sticky notes around on a surface. Make sure that each slide supports the main idea but also creates a compelling storyline.

4. In your latest book, Resonate, you focus on creating compelling presentation content by applying the rules of great storytelling to affect your audience. The title is referenced in your first rule, "Resonance causes change." Can you elaborate on what this means for presenters?
When someone says “that resonated with me” what they are saying is “that rings true” or that they are “in agreement with you.” That’s the kind of result you want from a presentation every time. I decided to title my book Resonate when I saw this physics experiment online.

I had my son recreate this by pouring salt on a steel plate and running an audio frequency through the plate. Something magic happens when we resonate at the right frequency. It’s like the pieces of sand just know where to move. It’s as if the grains of sand are all part of a grand plan that they choose to align to. When you resonate deeply, an audience can make something collectively beautiful.

5. Do you believe presenters—and presentation graphics—have improved in recent years?
There is definitely unrest among audiences right now. Great unrest. It’s almost as if an unprepared presenter is stepping unwittingly into a trap because the audience knows the principles of a great presentation and they have a voice via social media channels now. With my work and that of Garr Reynolds, Stephen Few, Dave Sibbet, Nick Morgan, Dan Roam and others, best practices have emerged. Audiences feel that the presenter undervalues them and their time when the presenter doesn’t take time to communicate in an engaging manner. There’s been some improvement but we have a long way to go!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

5 Questions with Connie Malamed

Last year, I had the pleasure to attend a graphics workshop by Connie Malamed at the Presentation Summit. Connie is the author of Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, author of two blogs—The eLearning Coach and Understanding Graphics—and is a consultant and public speaker, teaching individuals and organizations to use cognitive psychology to create better visual communication.

In her workshop, Your Brain on Graphics, Connie reiterated again and again the importance of communicating with visuals. She taught basic rules for how people perceive and interpret pictures based on psychological research. By knowing and applying these guidelines when creating graphics, our visual messages would be more effective and lead to our greater success.

I had found a kindred spirit!

Since that workshop, I have been recommending Connie to anyone who wants to learn more about how your audience responds to graphics and the psychology behind effective visuals. Her book, Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, expands upon research I discuss in Billion Dollar Graphics and goes into more depth about basic cognitive principles and how to use them to reach your audience.

Connie took time out of her busy schedule to answer 5 questions about visual communication for our readers:
  1. What is your visual communication background?
    I’ve been interested in the visual arts since childhood. My mother was an interior designer and our house was filled with artwork propped against the walls for her clients. In that environment, I almost didn’t have a choice but to become hyper-visual. I studied fine arts and art education as an undergraduate. On a day-to-day basis, I now work in several fields that involve visual communication: eLearning, website design and information design.

  2. What led you to write Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand and to dedicate yourself to promoting the design principles detailed in the book?
    I’m fascinated with cognition how we think, learn and solve problems. My graduate studies focused on instructional design, which is based on cognitive psychology. So it was natural for me to synthesize visual communication and cognitive psychology … to wonder how we process visual information and to ask how we can improve visual design based on our cognitive architecture.

    I didn’t see many books out there discussing this, so I’ve been researching these questions for years. When the time was right, I found a publisher so I could share what I’ve learned.

  3. Your book provides six design principles, based on cognitive science, to "align graphics with our cognitive architecture." Can you give us a brief overview of one of those principles?
    In today’s world, where we are bombarded with information of all kinds, it helps to understand how to get your message across quickly and efficiently. The Reduce Realism principle explains how “low fidelity” graphics get processed more easily than complex graphics. Designers can reduce realism by removing shadows and detail and limiting color.

    Examples of graphics with reduced realism include line drawings, silhouettes and icons. These types of graphics get recognized and understood quickly and the mind fills in any the missing information.

  4. What are the common mistakes most people make in visual communication?
    A common mistake is that people don’t realize how our brains are hard wired for visual communication. In presentations and in eLearning, you’ll find screens of text where the ideas could be communicated through visuals. Graphics help gain attention, they are memorable and audiences understand them. Designers should always consider whether verbal or visual communication would be best for a particular message. Many times, both are needed.

  5. Your blog, Understanding Graphics, offers a variety of well-researched guidelines on information design. Can you leave our audience with one guideline you find most essential for visual communication?
    One of the most important things to remember is that people can only process around four bits of visual information at one time. So designers should keep their visuals clean, clear and easy to understand. They can help viewers focus on the most important information by creating a visual hierarchy. Research shows that when people find information easy to process, they feel more positive about it.
To learn more about Connie and her book and services, visit her website at

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with Rick Altman

For those in the presentation industry, Rick Altman is the man with a plan—a plan to help presenters create better presentations. His years of presentation experience produced the must-have book for any presenter: Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better. I had the opportunity to meet Rick during The Presentation Summit, a fun and informative conference he hosts that feels more like a retreat with a group of cool people who share the same passion for presentations (and having a good time) as Rick. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Rick about his "true passion," too much crap in presentations, and his most important rule for presenters.

Q. You host the annual Presentation Summit, teach presentation techniques through your PresentationNext workshops, have written many books, and consult with a myriad of companies. How did you develop this passion for presentations?
A. Well, we're not saving the world or anything.

Q. But you have to have passion for it.
A. It's not just a job, that's true. Anyone who is self-employed will tell you that you have to absolutely love it to do it well. I started giving presentations for the graphic design community—CorelDraw users in the early 1990s. This was before PowerPoint even existed.

Q. Did you use Lotus Persuasion?
A. Close—Harvard Graphics. Then in the 2000s, as the Corel universe shrank, it became clear that the market for presentation design was growing.

Q. What led you to write your book Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better?
A. Now that's passion! It is my 15th book but the first one that I have self-published. I pitched a book on advanced PowerPoint technique to each of the publishers that I had a relationship with and they all agreed, provided that I include several chapters on introductory material.

Q. And you didn't want to do that?
A. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to sink my teeth into meaty topics, not a bunch of "here's how you make a bullet list" stuff. So I just published it myself.

Q. And that allowed you to use that title?
A. What, you don't think Microsoft Press would have gone for it?

Q. Well ...
A. Such a cynic.

Q. What is a common mistake that presenters make in their PowerPoint presentations?
A. Too much crap.

Q. Too much crap?
A. Too much text, too much junk, too much motion, too much background, too much everything.

Q. Not only does your book give pointers on creating better presentations through design techniques, but it also touches on rules for developing slide content and tips for public speaking. Can you tell us the most important rule presenters should know?
A. I believe it is always remembering that the person is the presentation, the slides are not. Nobody walks into a room looking forward to seeing your slides—that doesn't happen. People come to a presentation to hear what you have to say. When you make your slide content more important than your own words and ideas, you do everyone a disservice, especially yourself.

Q. Do you believe presenters—and presentation graphics—have improved in recent years?
A. Without a doubt. Five years ago, few companies seemed to care about presentation. They would spend millions of dollars on their brand, but send someone out for the first impression—the sales call in the boardroom—with a few hours of training with PowerPoint and no knowledge of presentation best practices. Today that is changing. We sold out the conference last year and my phone rings often. Companies are starting to get it that they have to invest in broad-based presentation skills development.

Q. You sound passionate about that.
A. Back to that, are we? Okay, if I were good enough to have played tennis professionally, I would have been passionate about that. This is a pretty close second, I admit.