Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Season's Greetings from Billion Dollar Graphics

Season's greetings from Billion Dollar Graphics! Thank you for your support this past year. We hope 2014 will bring you loads of success. To help you start the year right, we're giving our readers 13% off Get My Graphic credits and subscriptions until January 2, 2014. Just enter the code 2013DEAL at checkout.

Every month through Get My Graphic, we bring you new and exciting ways to communicate visually. Below are recent additions to our growing database of graphics. Click here to view all our new graphics.

Icons (Icons_0542)
Use this fully editable graphic as a metaphor for storing and accessing processes, procedures, data, and other elements or to illustrate compartmentalizing.The drawers can be opened and closed.

Table (Table_0088)
Use this fully editable Table to correlate data along multiple axes, list stages in a process, show levels of effort, etc.

Hube and Spoke Graphic (HubSpoke_0218)
Use this fully editable Hub and Spoke graphic to show the relationship, structure, or flow of an organization or process.

DNA Graphic (DNA_0059)
Use this fully editable DNA Graphic to illustrate the synergy of multiple actions, concepts, or entities. Together they combine to create a new, better solution (and breathe new “life” into the project).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Presentation Summit Winners

In mid-September, I attended and was able to speak at one of my favorite events of the year: The Presentation Summit. It is a premier, retreat-like conference for presentation professionals and a chance to learn from experts like Rick Altman, Dave Paradi, Connie Malamed, Julie Terberg, Geetesh Bajaj, Carmen Simon, Nolan Haims and the list goes on.

Once again, Rick Altman and his staff put on an incredible conference where learning, networking, having fun, and making new friends blended together into an unforgettable event. So much so, I felt compelled to create a PowerPoint graphic:
Over the next few weeks, I'll post about my workshop and what I learned at the conference. We had the pleasure of demoing our Get My Graphic product at the Summit's Expo. Here's our lovely booth:

Plus, we gave away a few prizes like my Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Graphics book. (Thanks to Sherri and Rick for organizing the prize giveaways!)

To thank the Summit patrons signing up for Get My Graphic, we offered a prize of 100 free credits for a grand prize winner and--just for fun--chose three runners-up for 25 credits each. Below are the lucky winners:

Grand Prize—100 credits
P. Gordon

Runners Up—25 credits
C. Savidge
J. Randolph
R. Radschlag

The winners received emails this morning with more details. Thank you to everyone who visited our booth. We look forward to seeing you next year in San Diego!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Paint a Picture: A Question that Makes Sales and Wins Proposals

There is a question that, if answered, gives you the insight to make sales and wins proposals.

I was invited to give a class with Dr. Robert Frey, author of Successful Proposal Strategies for Small Businesses, at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). During our class, Dr. Frey said that, when possible, he always asks future clients a very specific question (the wording is important):

“How would you paint a picture of success on this task/project/program now and going forward?”

It is an insightful question that, according to Dr. Frey, uncovers a spectrum of critical information. I couldn’t agree more. The following are four reasons this question must always be asked:
  1. Asking the future client to “paint a picture” encourages them to visualize the solution. In doing so, emotions are heightened and there is a more profound understanding and communication of their goals and challenges. The future client’s deepest hopes (benefits) and biggest fears (risks) are often shared.
  2. The future client gives backstory and connects the dots. They may also share unstated needs and concerns. For example, an RFP may read, “The offeror shall include three examples of quality control (QC) measures that eliminated errors on similar programs.” When asked the “paint a picture” question, the future client may reveal that they had great pain in the past due to poor quality control. Specifically, the QC process was skipped. That means that the examples should demonstrate that the quality control process would be adhered to in any situation. The question uncovers the logic behind the RFP requirements and exposes what keeps the future client awake at night.
  3. By including the words, “…success … now and going forward,” short and long term considerations are revealed. Has the future client thought months, years, decades ahead? How far into the future? Is the path from today to the tomorrow clear? Now is the time to know.
  4. The answer to the question ensures the future client and the solution provider are on the same page. For example, if I asked you to think of an office chair, what do you picture? If I ask another person to think of an office chair, do you think they will picture the same chair? Unlikely. For this reason, it is wise to not assume anything. Remain curious and ask clarifying questions so that you see the picture your future client is painting. Most sales documents and proposals fall prey to the following egregious errors:

    a) Never paint part of their picture. If they are stuck, help them paint it themselves. You want the future client to be 100% invested in their depiction of the solution, which you will deliver.

    b) Never paint your picture and hope that you can convince the evaluators or decision makers that your solution should be theirs. 

Next, Dr. Frey recommends creating a graphic that clearly illustrates that vision. Use the future client’s exact words and ideas in the graphic. Use the graphic as your roadmap.

Dr. Frey has great success asking this simple question and I am certain you will as well.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Graphics. Different Ways to Communicate.

My goal with Billion Dollar Graphics is to educate people on the importance of visuals, make graphics more accessible, and teach others what I have learned in my over 20+ years as an artist and designer.

Our Get My Graphic product is an extension of that goal—to offer editable visuals that are well-designed and unique to help business professionals, students, teachers, and anyone else who uses graphics to communicate their ideas. In fact, we encourage people to visually communicate their concepts because using graphics is proven to be make your presentations more memorable and easy to understand. Of course, this is true when graphics are done right.

We've recently launched a Get My Graphic Facebook page where several times a week we'll highlight a different graphic from our Get My Graphic collection and explain how you can use this image to communicate your ideas. Below is a sampling of our new graphics and suggestions for how to use them. Even if you don't need to download graphics, we hope that our site and Facebook page will spark your creativity.

Remember these graphics are fully editable in PowerPoint 2007 or higher. Plus, if you have any suggestions for new graphics, please email info@GetMyGraphic.com. We're always looking for new graphic types to help make presentations and marketing materials communicate better.


A GMG user contacted us because they needed a megaphone image for their presentation. We thought that was a great idea and created a new series of icons featuring the megaphone. But we went one step further and used the megaphone as a metaphor to show the funneling of information. How else could you use this image to communicate your ideas?


I love using Peg graphics as an alternative to puzzle graphics to show synergy or how elements relate/interconnect to one another.


License plate graphics. Fully editable in PowerPoint. Change letters and numbers for what you want to say. Will make a visually interesting opening or ending slide especially if using a travel or driving metaphor in your presentation.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mike Parkinson Nominated For 2013 Small Business Influencer Awards

For Immediate Release

Cleveland, OH, August 12, 2013 - Mike Parkinson has been nominated for a 2013 Small Business Influencer Award in the category of Experts. The Small Business Influencer Awards honor those who are influential to small businesses in North America, through the products, services, knowledge, information or support they provide to the small business market.

The Awards are designed to recognize the unsung heroes of small businesses—those who support and encourage entrepreneurs and small business owners, and help them achieve success and stay successful.

Says Anita Campbell, CEO of Small Business Trends and one of the co-founders of the Awards along with Ramon Ray of SmallBizTechnology.com, "Influencers are those who play crucial roles in the small business ecosystem, but who often are in the background. Many of the nominees are themselves small business owners, entrepreneurs or small businesses. The impact of the Awards goes well beyond nominees; however, the awards also encourage and excite the nominees' employees. The Awards are intended to provide that added little boost in motivation and morale that can make a big difference in results. Being nominated also distinguishes the nominee from competitors, and in that sense can lead to competitive advantage."

About the Small Business Influencer Awards 

The Small Business Influencer Awards, now in their third year, enable the small business community to nominate and show their support for those that influence and support them. The Awards have an open nomination period, with community voting, and then a judging period by a group of industry-knowledgeable judges.

The Small Business Influencer Awards initiative is produced by Small Business Trends, an award-winning online publication, serving over6,000,000 small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, and SmallBizTechnology.com, a media company that produces online content and live events educating small and mid-sized companies on how to strategically use technology as a tool to grow their businesses. The Awards can be found on the Web at: SMBInfluencers.com.

CONTACT: Anita Campbell, Co-Founder Small Business Influencer Awards admin@smallbiztrends.com Twitter hashtag: #SMBInfluencer

Friday, August 9, 2013

Make Marketing Matter: BD Marketing Secrets Revealed in Two Essential Steps

Good marketing relies on good design. However, there are two steps to take before you create your visual communication strategy—which should constantly be reviewed just like your marketing plan.

Step 1: Understand How People Buy 
Based on my research and experience, all buyers must go through two decision gates before they enter the buyers’ inner circle and purchase your solution.

Gate One: The Catalyst 
The first gate determines if the buyer will buy. The following are the only three reasons a person will decide that it is time to make a purchase:
  1. Pain. The buyer is in pain. Pain can range from mild (emotional or physical) discomfort to excruciating pain. If the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, the buyer will decide to buy. 
  2. Gain. The buyer desires a benefit. Gain can come from altruistic behavior like donating to a charity or driven by the pleasure eating a favorite cake or be motivated by greed such as investing in a pyramid scheme. If the price to achieve the benefit is lower than the perceived value of the benefit, the buyer will decide to buy. 
  3. Fear. The buyer is afraid of loss. Fear is instigated by many variables such as guilt, scarcity, compulsion, and safety. Fear of loss is 2.5 times more motivational than gain. 
Gate Two: The Choice 
The second gate determines what the buyer will buy. The following are the only three reasons a person will decide to buy a particular solution:
  1. Trust. The buyer must trust the solution and solution provider to buy. Think of all the places from which you buy your groceries, clothes, technology, books, and so on. Do you trust them? Of course, you trust them to deliver on their promise (or at least enough of their promise of good services, quality products, fair prices, timeliness, etc.) to feel you are not being taken advantage of. Unless there is no other option, trust is required to buy. 
  2. Ego. The buyer is relying more on emotions when making a purchase. Why do people pay more for designer clothes, cars, computers, and phones? Ego buyers are influenced by their emotions then justify the choice. For example, many consumers stay with specific brands partly because of the strong emotions and defined image associated with that brand (e.g., Jeep, Apple, Disney). Familiarity and visibility are required in all ego buys. 
  3. Value. The buyer needs their problem solved. The questions the buyer asks are things like“Does it do what I need, when I need it, how I need it, at the price I can pay?” Features and functionality, convenience, cost, and price help buyers determine value. In order to decide if the derived value is favorable, the buyer must have a point of comparison—and anchor. If there is no obvious anchor, a buyer will make up an anchor even if it isn’t a fair comparison. If your solution is so innovative that there is nothing on the market that is like it, the buyer will have a difficult time determining value. In this case, give the buyer an anchor so that they can decide if your solution offers greater value. 
Step 2: Make a Marketing Plan 
Make a marketing plan that clearly defines you, your solution, your target audience, and why people buy your solution and not your competition’s. The following six elements should be found within your plan:
  1. Know Your Brand. What do you want to be known for? Decide the first thing that should pop into your prospect’s mind—emotions, concepts, ideas? What is your brand promise? Focus on emotions as much as your solution. All buying decisions must go through an emotional filter. Use pictures, graphics, and stories to tap into emotions. Familiarity breeds trust so consider leveraging well-known solutions, products, songs, stories, designs, sounds, and (perhaps) smells. For example, if your target audience prefers Microsoft products you may want to have your product endorsed by Microsoft and include the MS logo in your branding (with permission). 
  2. Know Your Solution. What problem are you solving? What are you selling that solves this problem? Make it very easy for your target audience to understand your solution. Ask your existing clients. I thought our clients bought our design services because we were great designers. My clients said otherwise. They explained that although good design was a factor, what set us apart was our experience and expertise with business development and proposals (e.g., speak the language, understand schedule needs, etc.), our speed, and our ability to “turn technical information and data into winning graphics and messages.” Most clients said we gave them “peace of mind.” (What an emotional answer to the question!) 
  3. Know Your TARGET Audience. Define your target audience. Be specific. Get into their heads. Empathize with them. What keeps them up at night? How will your solution make them feel? Will they be afraid to pay the price for your product or service? I recommend using the following acronym key as a guide to define and understand your target audience:

    A   =   attitude
    U   =   understanding (of the content)
    D   =   demographics
    I    =   interest and interests (habits)
    E   =   environment
    N  =    needs (stated and not stated)
    C  =    cares
    E  =    economics (budget)
  4. Market Analysis. Conduct a market SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. Why will people buy you/your solution and not your competitor’s? Be sure the reasons are unique. (“Me too” is the number one sin I see in proposals and it seeps into marketing.) Avoid things like, “People buy us because we are a trusted healthcare solution provider.” It is too generic. Many others can say the same. Also, determine why people won’t buy your solution. 
  5. Budget. What is your marketing budget? What is your budget for each part of your marketing plan (e.g., television ads, whitepapers, trade shows, etc.)? Unless you have an aggressive marketing strategy, I recommend allocating 10% of your annual gross revenue to marketing. 
  6. Media. Determine how best to get in front of your target audience. What are their habits? Where do they go to find your solution? Consider all media such as the following:
    • Ads (Radio, Web, TV, Magazines, Newsletters)
    • Training
    • Webinars
    • Websites
    • Social Media (blogs rock!)
    • Industry events
    • Partnerships
    • Books, white papers, tools 
Modify Your Marketing Plan 
Your marketing plan should be a “living document.” Evolve the plan as you gain insight into what works and what doesn’t. In 2012, I launched a new product and website called Get My Graphic—downloadable infographics you edit in PowerPoint. I thought I knew how my target audience would use the website and the graphics. I was wrong. I learned through tracking and feedback that I had a much broader audience so my marketing plan changed to accommodate the new insights. (I thought I knew who my target audience was. I was wrong.) Instead of relying on a word-of-mouth marketing approach one might apply selling into a single vertical, I now focus on marketing techniques like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that exposes the solution to a broader audience. I uncovered a little more information about my users each month and tweaked my plan marketing accordingly.

You now have the foundation needed to improve your success rates using effective marketing. The secret is to have a marketing plan and measure the results before making changes. Give your plans enough time to track the results so that your choices are objectively defensible. Over time, this data will paint the picture of your success.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The 60,000 Times Faster Question

Image created using www.GetMyGraphic.com.
Do graphics matter?

Over the years, many clients and colleagues have asked me this question. It’s my profession. It’s my passion. Of course, graphics matter to me more than most so I am arguably biased. Then how do I prove graphics improve communication and help users achieve their goals? Through professional experience, experimentation, and research—a lot of research.

I’ve cited many studies about the power of visual communication and wrote Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Graphics to break down the process for creating graphics into three easy steps. Now a few of those studies referenced in by book are in question. Several bloggers are pointing out flaws in this research and wondering at the accuracy of the results and numbers quoted.

One such study under the blogosphere’s microscope is the 3M and University of Minnesota School of Management findings that stated, “Presentations using visual aids were found to be 43% more persuasive than unaided presentations.” I first came across this study referenced in an article on www.presentations.com, The Psychology of Presentation Visuals. I also saw this research quoted in various other articles about visual communication. A reputable company and university oversaw the study so I considered it safe to quote this paper in my book.

Then a client emailed me a link to medical and scientific illustrator Ikumi Kayama’s blog where she goes into detail over five very thoroughly written posts trying to understand how the researchers arrived at the 43% claim. In the end, Kayama couldn’t make sense of their logic. How the paper was written didn’t properly cite their evidence nor was it peered reviewed and their numbers and charts seemed off. None it of matched up to true scientific research of which she was very familiar in her field of work. She wondered if this paper was a veiled attempt at creating research to support the need for 3M’s new colored projectors (this study was done in 1986 when 3M was launching this product), and that it is merely a commercial touting research to support the superiority of using their product over the previous type of overhead or slide projectors.

Check out Kayama’s blog and download the original white paper here and come to your own conclusion.

Most scientific studies can be (and should be) questioned. I believe that all research should be reviewed and discussed. This doesn’t mean 3M manufactured these results. It could just be a poorly written white paper. Their reputation is on the line as well as those of us who have cited this study in our own research. I am grateful for Kayama's research into this matter, so I can be better informed regarding this statistic and become more diligent on looking into statistics before I use them in my materials.

Soon after discovering Kayama's blog, I learned about another statistic in question from yet another 3M study:

“Humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.”

Is it coincidence 3M is again part of this claim? I don’t know. What I do know is that several bloggers are searching for the science to back up this fact—and so far they haven’t had any luck. One blogger is Darren Kuropatwa. He did extensive research into this statistic and found it quoted in a presentation given by a Senior Product Specialist at 3M and then in a book about visual literacy by Dr. Lynell Burmark—which is where I first found the quote and used this reference in my book. (I even found it in a marketing flyer from 3M that references this statistic from "behavioral research" although the research is not cited.) From what Kurapotwa could discern, the 3M presenter had gotten the fact from elsewhere and possibly Dr. Burmark had quoted the statistic from this presentation since both the presentation and Dr. Burmark’s book are dated from 1998.

After this, the trail goes cold. Could it be that this research was never uploaded to the web for public knowledge? Or has this claim just been repeated so many times it has now become fact without any research to back it up?

Dr. Wesley Fryer, a commenter on Kurapatwa’s blog, said he took the statistic out of his citations after being questioned about it and finding out that it may be false. He now references traceable scientific studies in his writings and presentations that discuss the presence of more neurons connecting the eye to the brain than the ear to the brain. This fact can certainly support the assumption that images travel to the brain faster and are processed faster than only hearing words.

How much faster? Well, that remains to be proven. However, until we can find the research to support the 60,000 claim, I have taken it down from my website and out of my presentations. I will also be writing an addendum for my book explaining this claim being put on hold until the truth is determined.

At first, I was disheartened by the new findings proving that one fact was potentially biased and the other seems to be unfounded. Then I realized having these statistics on visuals questioned does not invalidate the power of visual communication. Don’t let a few questionable results dissuade you. The majority of research available is less biased. Check out books and articles by experts like Connie Malamed of the Understanding Graphics blog and author of Visual Language for Designers and Dr. Carmen Taran of Rexi Media, who shared her white paper results about her visual presentation experiment on our blog.

Decide for yourself what is most effective. For example, which item below more quickly communicates the answer to the question, "What is a circle?"

I recommend comparing visuals and text to uncover what works best for your audience. For example, a colleague, Rob Ransone (owner of Ransone Associates, Inc. and a Defense and Space Consultant) conducted an experiment at his local Toastmasters chapter. The following is his email to me:

I conducted a little experiment one night at Toastmasters when I gave the Educational Tidbit. I had compiled some statistics on Southern California drivers and presented this detailed information in my presentation. Without telling my audience, I had divided my presentation into three parts. During the first part I simply stated the statistics: “There are 6 million licensed drivers in Southern California.” In the second part, I emphasized the statistics: “In Southern California, 2 million of the drivers are either handicapped, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol – 2 million! 2 million drivers!” For the last part I showed them a chart with detailed statistics tabulated. I could see the puzzled expressions on their faces: “What has this got to do with Toastmasters?” After I finished my speech, I took down the chart and handed out a “pop quiz” that required them to answer specific questions on the statistics. I scored the answers and presented the results at the end of the meeting. Where I had only briefly mentioned the statistics, only 26% of the answers were correct. Where I had emphasized the statistics, 34% of the answers were correct. Where I had showed them a picture of the information, an incredible 86% of the answers were correct! I have since seen these same results from similar studies.
Image created using www.GetMyGraphic.com.

All experimentation I have conducted during my workshops and my professional experience yield similar results. My team and I at Billion Dollar Graphics will continue to bring you the best information on graphics and design to help you succeed in our visual world. We apologize for not giving these statistics the stringent review that they required before adding them to our book and workshops. Please contact me at info@billiondollargraphics.com if you have any questions or any other studies you'd like to share on visual communications that I may add to our continual education on why graphics matter.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Albert Einstein—A Visual Genius

Photograph by Oren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J.
(The Library of Congress) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
What causes someone to be a genius and make so many groundbreaking contributions to our world? This is the question scientists have tried to answer for several decades by exploring Albert Einstein's brainwell, actually, his stolen brain.

In the article Einstein's Brain Unlocks Some Mysteries of the Mind, author Jon Hamilton discusses why we even have Einstein's brain available for study nearly 60 years after his death. It is thanks to Thomas Harvey, a pathologist who performed the autopsy on Einstein after his death. He stole Einstein's brain before this genius was cremated, and no one would learn about his theft until 10 years later. Harvey believed he could crack the code for why Einstein was a genius. Not being a neurologist, Harvey realized he couldn't find the answer without help. Storing it at one point in a Tupperware container, Harvey began sending slivers of Einstein’s brain to scientists who had the means to study it more thoroughly.

In the 1980s, Dr. Marian Diamond at the University of California, Berkeley, asked for samples from four areas of his brain. Harvey sent the pieces to her by mail in a mayonnaise jar. Unlike many of her peers who believed neurons to be the most essential working cells of the brain, Dr. Diamond’s research focused on the glial cell, which means glue. At the time, most believed these were just the glue holding the brain together. Now many believe they help feed the neurons and increase communication between them. What Diamond found in Einstein’s brain is a high concentration of glial cells in the tissue involved in image and complex thinking.

Could Einstein have been a better visualizer than most?

As Molly Edmunds points out in How Albert Einstein's Brain Worked, Dr. Diamond’s work came under criticism for her research process since glial cells continually divide during a person’s life. Plus, the subjects to which she compared Einstein's brain to weren’t on par with his age or of a high IQ score.

Jimhutchins at en.wikipedia
Still searching for answers and still in possession of Einstein’s brain, Harvey contacted Dr. Sandra Witelson, a researcher at McMaster University, who was looking into the differences between men’s and women’s brains. Dr. Witelson agreed to study Einstein’s brain, and Harvey gave her a fifth of it. Because of her previous research, Dr. Witelson had years to acquire various types of brains, which she used to find 35 comparable male brains with an average IQ of 116 and 56 female brains. One odd element that stood out to her when inspecting this genius's brain was that the Sylvian fissure (lateral sulcus shown above right) was mostly absent. This fissure separates the parietal lobe into two compartments. Because Einstein’s brain had a smaller dividing line, his parietal lobe was 15 percent wider than average brains. What’s even more interesting (and how the story relates to this blog) is that we use our parietal lobe for math, spatial reasoning—and three-dimensional visualization.

As Edmunds points out, this fact is very telling when you understand that Einstein credits his major discovery to visualization: Einstein "...  figured out the theory of relativity by imagining a ride on a light beam through space ..." and "... saw his ideas in pictures and then found the language to describe them."
"Words do not seem to play any roles," Einstein said. "[There are] more or less clear images."  

His nearly non-existent Sylvian fissure is the current theory on why Einstein was a genius—until someone can visualize another, better theory. Maybe that is what it will take to crack Einstein’s thought process. A scientist who is able to "see" the answer.

So don’t be afraid to use graphics or images of your ideas and solutions. People will think that you’re pretty smart, since you’ll be using the same methods as Einstein.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Working with Flowcharts—Guest Post with Geetesh Bajaj

Please welcome Geetesh Bajaj, Microsoft MVP and overall PowerPoint expert, who helps Microsoft users find solutions to their PowerPoint questions on Indezine.com. If you want answers to your presentation issues or want to unlock PowerPoint shortcuts and secrets, then bookmark his site now. In his guest post for the BDG blog, he shares his tips for working with flowcharts in PowerPoint.


Flowcharts? Are we discussing the graphic type that computer programming nerds used in the last century? Yes, the last century was just a decade or two back (not a hundred years ago)—and yes again, flowcharts continue being used these days. If they came into existence to represent workflows for computer programming routines, these days they are used for everything from adaptive recipes to complex employee induction programs.

The strongest advantage a flowchart has over other graphic types is that anyone with little graphic knowledge and plenty of logic can create them. Unfortunately, that's also their biggest disadvantage—most flowcharts look like they are still flashbacked into 1989! Yet, there's no reason why you cannot create stunning flowcharts that are more contemporary looking, as we will explore in this article.

Frankly, I am not too surprised about how frequently I am asked about flowcharting in PowerPoint slides—questions range from suggesting a book or resource that explains flowcharting in plain English to which flowcharting application can create something that can be easily inserted on a slide. The important part is that these questions exist!

Flowcharting has always been popular because it is so simple – yet if you still want a structured approach, look at my Flowcharts in Microsoft Office tutorial. About an answer to the second question: you do not need a separate flowcharting application – PowerPoint already has everything you need! Yes, under the hood PowerPoint has full featured flowcharting abilities.

Let us create a flowchart from scratch in PowerPoint—here is a flowchart that I created in one of my old notebooks when I was doing a Computer Basics course—I am sure this is from 20 years ago. The reason I am using this old flowchart is to show you how much more you can do using PowerPoint compared to the paper and pen days—even with the same content.
Yes, I made a flowchart about buying Pepsi or Coke. That’s how the instructor in our class tried to make computing concepts easier for us by using real-life scenarios.

Look at my Pepsi or Coke flowchart again, and you will find that it contains three types of shapes (ovals, rectangles, and diamonds). It also contains lines that run between these shapes—these are called connectors. Technical and complex flowcharts have many more shape types but for most flowcharting graphics, these three shapes and connectors are all you need so let us explore them further:
  1. Ovals: The beginning and end of a flowchart sequence typically are ovals. In flowchart parlance, these are called Terminators. You usually have Start and Stop typed within these shapes, but there’s nothing stopping you from using more creative text captions. 
  2. Rectangles: This is a Process, which means that you need to process a thought, an action, or anything similar. In our sample flowchart, something such as Ask for Pepsi, Ask for Coke, or Buy are all processes. 
  3. Diamonds: These are the shapes that make you think. In flowchart terminology, these are called Decisions. These shapes also have more than one output branch emanating from them. Typically, you have two branches identified as Yes and No decisions. You choose just one of these decision options, unless you are indecisive—in that case branch out of both decisions to see where it takes you! 
  4. Lines: These are called Connectors. They lead you from one flowchart shape to another, and an arrow on one end of the connector makes sure you proceed in the right direction. 
All these shapes and connectors can be found within the Shapes gallery in PowerPoint. The Shapes gallery can be accessed by clicking the Shapes button in the Home or Insert tabs of the Ribbon in PowerPoint (see figure below).
The area highlighted in red contains all flowchart shapes, and includes the three basic shapes we discussed (Terminators, Processes, and Decisions). Refer to Indezine’s Flowchart Symbols: What They Represent? page to learn more about the other flowchart shapes.

Similarly, the area highlighted in blue contains lines. Many of these line variants can work as connectors but the second, fifth, and eighth line options from left (the ones that have an arrowhead at one end) work best.

Now that you know where you access your flowchart shapes and connectors from, it’s easy to create your own flowchart. Here are some best practices to help you get started:
  • To create a flowchart shape, select the shape you need from the Shapes gallery. Your cursor will turn into a crosshair. Drag and draw on your slide to create an instance of that shape. 
  • To add text to your shape, just select your shape and start typing. To edit text, select your existing text, and type as required. 
  • To connect shapes, bring up the Shape gallery and choose the line options that have an arrowhead at one end. As soon as you get your cursor close to the shape you want to connect from, you will see 8 magnetic handles. Move your cursor closer and the line will snap to establish a start point. Now drag towards the other shape you want to connect and move close to the similar 8 magnetic handles. Let go your cursor close to the handle where you want to connect. Learn more in Indezine’s Using Flowchart and Connector Shapes Together tutorial. 
  • You can make your connectors thicker or thinner and add Yes or No captions to connectors that emanate from Decision shapes. Learn more in Indezine’s Formatting Connectors within Flowcharts tutorial. 
  • You can change fill colors of flowchart shapes in the same way as you change fills of any other shape in PowerPoint. However, do not go overboard. Restrict yourself to fills that complement the overall look of your slides. 
Using the principles explained above, I recreated my old flowchart in PowerPoint. The figure below shows the result.
Have fun creating flowcharts in PowerPoint!


Geetesh Bajaj is an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for over 12 years now. He has been designing and training with PowerPoint for 15 years and heads Indezine, a presentation design and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India. An author of 6 books, Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements—these elements include abstract elements like story, color, interactivity, and navigation—and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fotolia Teams with Get My Graphic

Fotolia, one of the top stock image providers in the world, and Get My Graphic team to offer a collection of new, professional photos for use in your Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Question that Makes Sales and Wins Proposals

There is a question that, if answered, gives you the insight to make sales and win proposals.

I was invited to teach a class with Dr. Robert Frey, author of Successful Proposal Strategies for Small Businesses, at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) in association with TargetGov. During our class, Dr. Frey said that, when possible, he always asks future clients a very specific question (the wording is important), “How would you paint a picture of success on this task/project/program now and going forward?” 

It is a question that, according to Dr. Frey, uncovers a spectrum of critical information. I couldn’t agree more. The following are four reasons this question must always be asked:
  1. Asking the future client to “paint a picture” encourages them to visualize the solution. In doing so, emotions are heightened and there is a more profound understanding and communication of their goals and challenges. The future client’s deepest hopes (benefits) and biggest fears (risks) are often shared.
  2. The future client gives backstory and connects the dots. They may also share unstated needs and concerns. For example, an RFP may read, “The offeror shall include three examples of quality control (QC) measures that eliminated errors on similar programs.” When asked the “paint a picture” question, the future client may reveal that they had great pain in the past due to poor quality control. Specifically, the QC process was skipped. Therefore, the examples should demonstrate that the quality control process would be adhered to in any situation. The question uncovers the logic behind the RFP requirements and exposes what keeps the future client awake at night.
  3. The words success, now, and going forward included in the question help to reveal short and long term considerations in the answer. Has the future client thought months, years, decades ahead? How far into the future? Is the path from today to tomorrow clear? Now is the time to know.
  4. The answer to the question ensures the future client and the solution provider are on the same page. For example, if I asked you to think of an office chair, what do you picture? If I ask another person to think of an office chair, do you think they will picture the same chair? Unlikely. For this reason, it is wise not to assume anything. Remain curious and ask clarifying questions so you can visualize the picture your future client is painting. Most sales documents and proposals fall prey to two egregious errors. Practice the following to avoid making these mistakes:
    a) Never paint part of their picture. If they are struck, help them paint it themselves. You want the future client to be 100% invested in their depiction of the solution, which you will deliver.
    b) Never paint your picture and hope that you can convince the evaluators or decision makers that your solution should be theirs. 

Next, Dr. Frey recommends creating a graphic that clearly illustrates that vision. Use the future client’s exact words and ideas in the graphic. Use this graphic as your roadmap.

Dr. Frey has had great success asking this simple question. Follow Dr. Frey's example, and you will make sales and win more proposals.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

4 Ways to Win During Sequestration

I'm back at Washington Technology sharing my tips for winning during these uncertain economic times. Please drop by and share your thoughts on sequestration and government bids.


4 Ways to Win During Sequestration
Expect fewer opportunities and stiffer competition in 2013 for government contracts. Layoffs, budget cuts, and price shoot-outs will be commonplace. To win in 2013, you need strategies. Consider this “4-D” approach:

1) Diversify. Can your existing solutions help commercial companies? If so, refocus (and rebrand, if needed) your products and services to support small and large commercial companies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions. There is likely an underserved niche or an unanswered challenge that you can solve with your existing solutions. . . .

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Magical 2-in-1 Deck by Nolan Haims

Today the BDG blog welcomes Nolan Haims—former Presentation Director for Edelman who now oversees his own design firm, Nolan Haims Creative—as a guest blogger. I met Nolan at the Presentation Summit and was blown away by his workshop and the helpful PowerPoint tips he taught his audience. In fact, his workshop was so popular, he was asked to present again on the last day of the conference. The secrets he shares in our blog are guaranteed to make you a presentation magician.

The best presenters know not to hand out their on-screen slides as a leave behind for their audiences. But when under the gun and without time to create a separate more detailed handout, distributing slides is sometimes unavoidable in the corporate world.

To address this problem at Edelman, we created the “Magical 2-in-1 Deck,” a solution which exploits PowerPointʼs option to customize Notes View through the Notes Master. The result is a single PowerPoint presentation that looks one way on screen (minimal text), and a very different way when printed or made into a PDF as a leave behind (much more detailed text.) Hereʼs how it works...

Design your slides first and foremost for on-screen display. This means large and limited text and a preference for strong imagery. Write your speaker notes and place them like you might normally do into the notes section.

At this point, if you wanted to print and hand out your Notes Pages, you would be stuck with PowerPointʼs ugly default layout, shown below. This just screams “lazy,” and it is. But weʼre not done yet.
Go into the view for your Notes Master, and youʼll find that just as with your Slide Master, you have the choice of customizing your Notes pages any way you like. A more standard use of a custom-designed Notes Master would be to keep the portrait layout and reduce the slide thumbnail, leaving a healthy portion of the page for detailed text and supporting materials for this slide. Taking this route would be a great gift for your audience, but hereʼs my problem with this solution: Itʼs dangerously close to creating that second, separately designed handout that we originally had no time for. And if a presenter is editing his or her content at the 11th hour, a handout like this is going to feel psychologically like double the work. The next thing you know, all that detailed content is getting slapped on screen and handed out. Weʼre right back to our initial problem.

So hereʼs where the 2-in-1 Deck comes in: The first thing to do is to change the page orientation of the Notes Master to landscape—just like your on-screen slide layout. Then, just make a few design adjustments, so that your notes field becomes a sidebar add-on—almost like a souped up footnote. You can apply basic text and background formatting to the notes field, but donʼt go overboard. This view is now a print document and should be treated as such. Use 11-point type.

Now, if you have written your more detailed content for each slide in the notes field, all you need to do when ready to create your handout is to Print: Notes Pages or Save As PDF: Options: Publish: Notes Pages. All of your notes are automagically formatted for you into a completely different looking document. Voila!

If you wish, you can go into each individual notes page and further stylize the text or the entire layout on a slide by slide basis like we did with the blue subheads above. The important part of this is that if you donʼt want to think about creating two different documents, you donʼt have to.

And thatʼs the Magical 2-in-1 Deck.

Special thanks to Edelman and my New York Presentation design team who helped develop this technique.


After careers in theatre and the circus, Nolan Haims moved into the world of presentation, designing presentations for Fortune 500 CEOs, leading financial institutions and all the major television networks. Currently Nolan is Presentation Director for Edelman, the world's largest PR company. He writes about visual communication at PresentYourStory.com.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cure for Blank Page (Slide) Syndrome

When you are churning out several presentations (and/or marketing materials) in a year—or especially in a month—it is easy to get frustrated trying to find new concepts, new ways to show your ideas. Starting with a blank slide or page will not motivate you. You need to refocus and get inspired.

I used to flip through graphic design books to find interesting ways to show information. Now the Internet has made it easier to find inspiration. In Google, I type in my concepts or keywords and click on the Images tab to see what others have done. (Great artists steal as Picasso once said.) I check stock image sites and browse through their collections. At Get My Graphic, we encourage our users to enter keywords into our Advanced Search field to find a variety of images and graphic metaphors to communicate ideas in new ways and add visual interest to presentations.

Inputting the proper keywords is essential to find the most concise range of images. Brainstorm with your team to come up with keywords related to your concepts and use that list when searching for graphics.

For inspiration, I've included a few of Get My Graphic’s latest visual metaphors below. These graphics are fully editable in PowerPoint 2007 or higher. You can change colors, elements, and text to fit your concepts, themes, and style guides. I included keywords that you can use to find these graphics and many others. Play around and learn new ways to show the same old information, and quickly fill up that blank page. Give your audience different ways to view your ideas—and remember them.

Puzzle Graphic 
Use a puzzle to show parts of your organization, process, or business plan coming together to work in harmony toward a solution. This graphic can depict your company partnering with another contractor. The icons can represent an oversight committee (binoculars), security team (lock), web programmers (computer), or whatever concepts work for your information.
Keywords: cooperation, synergy, teamwork, unify, interact, process

Pie Graphic (Segmented Chart)
Use this pie graphic to group segments of your concept: highlight steps in a process, breakout corporate departments, focus on individual leadership roles, etc. Switch out the icons or use the included icons to indicate remote communications (tablet), information (book), observation (binoculars), or anything else you can relate to these images.
Keywords: group, allocation, division, arrange, organize, categorize

Process Graphic 
Use this process graphic to show information being stored in countrywide databases, production plants influencing the country’s economy, sales teams communicating with clients in the United States, and many other concepts about parts flowing into and from a core element.
Keywords: global, flow chart, communication, interaction, influence
Venn Diagram 
Use this Venn diagram to show a convergence of elements such as departments forming a university, parts producing a product, job skills making up the perfect candidate, or components that merge together to create an even better component.
Keywords: convergence, cooperation, synthesis, unite, bring together

Cross Section Diagram 
Use this graphic type as a metaphor for digging deeper into your company’s issues, drilling for funding, excavating corporate resources, mining for information, or any concept that requires extensive research or investigation. The icons can represent floor managers (clipboard), accounting (line chart), sales activity (monitor line), web traffic (laptop), security (lock), analysis team (binoculars), etc.
Keywords: research, hierarchy, analyze, mining, excavate, phases, process

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Save Time Making Your Presentations, Use These PowerPoint Tools

At Rick Altman's Presentation Summit, I've met many professionals in the presentation industry who are helping to make presenters' lives easier and their presentations better. One of them is Microsoft MVP Steve Rindsberg of PPTools, who saved my webinar—and my sanity—a few weeks ago.

At the end of February, I had just finished prepping my presentation for PresentationXpert's webinar series. My slides were finished (just in time) when I received the request to resize my presentation from 4:3 to 16:9 proportions for the webinar. I was certain I'd be up to the wee hours of the morning resizing my slides and fixing any issues with the graphics. Then my lovely, smart wife suggested I download Steve's Resize tool. I was able to re-proportion my presentation in seconds with only minor cleanup to the slides. It saved me hours and gave me time to relax—a foreign concept in our world. ;)

I was so excited with the ease of using Steve's product that I wanted to interview him for our blog to learn more about his other PowerPoint tools.

You are the owner of PPTools and creator of some of the most innovative add-ins to help PowerPoint users get the most out of this software. What led you to start this type of company? 
In all honesty, I’d have to say sloth. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but sloth is its daddy. I get bored easily, especially when I have to perform the same set of repetitive steps over and over. Two, maybe three times is about my limit. After that, I start looking for a way of making the computer do the grunt work instead of me. If it seems like the kind of grunt work other people are likely to be bored with too, I figure I have an audience for a PowerPoint add-in. Once the add-ins are in the user’s hands, they always come up with great ideas for expanding/improving them. That’s one reason all the add-ins have free fully-functional demos. Users will try them out, then send email along the lines of “Hey, great tool. It would be perfect if only it could ….” And I have an idea for a new feature. And so they grow.

What tools built into PowerPoint do many users overlook but that you find essential when creating slides and/or graphics? 
I still create slides and graphics fairly often in PowerPoint but I’m probably the wrong person to ask this question of, since my main interest is finding tools that AREN’T built into PowerPoint, but should be. And then building them. Still … I’d say the most overlooked tools would be the format painter tools (especially the Pick Up and Apply Object Style eyedroppers, the ones that MS hides until you customize them onto the QAT or a ribbon), the selection pane, and the Combine Shapes tools.

Your products include tools that resize presentations, export slides and presentations as high-resolution images, merge data from spreadsheets, and many other useful add-ins. What tool is your most popular? And what tool do most recommend for presenters? 
At the moment, Merge is the most popular of the PPTools add-ins, but nearly anyone who creates presentations can save time by using one or another of the StarterSet add-in tools. And hey, StarterSet is free. Or for a few bucks more, you can enable a bunch more of its handy tools. And ShapeStyles is like format painter on megasteroids. Anyone who needs to produce slides that match branding specs or who needs to quickly fix up slides from multiple users/sources so that they match a set of standards is working far too hard if they don’t have ShapeStyles.

Is there an add-in you are developing or about to release that you can share with our readers? 
I’m working on a highly user-configurable graphics library add-in that’ll work for both individual customers and at the enterprise level. And on a kind of reporting tool that’ll tell you what media files are included in your presentation, how large they are, whether they’re linked or embedded and a host of other useful information.

As a Microsoft MVP, do you have any advice for presenters on how to improve their slides? 
Visit the sites of my other PowerPoint MVP colleagues! Buy their books. They’re the ones I turn to to learn this kind of thing.
Those are just my top five. I can’t list them all, but there’s a fairly complete list of current and past PowerPoint MVPs at http://www.mvps.org/links.html#PowerPoint And of course my newest discovery: http://www.billiondollargraphics.com.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Professional Graphics Secrets for Non-Designers

You can now view my graphics webinar originally featured as part of PresentationXpert's webinar series.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Most Valuable PowerPoint Feature that You’re Not Using by Rick Altman

Today, we have a special guest blogger and presentation expert—Rick Altman, the man behind the Presentation Summit and author of Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better. If you want to learn more amazing and helpful PowerPoint tricks and best presentation practices, then check out the Presentation Summit this year in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, from Sept. 22-25. It's a must for any presenter!


The best-kept secret of modern versions of PowerPoint? That’s a no-brainer, as I experience it almost every time I interact with users. When I am brought into an organization to consult on presentation skills, most in the room don’t know about it. When I give webinars, I can practically hear their oohs and aahs when I show it. And at the Presentation Summit, where 200 of the most earnest and passionate presentation professionals gather each year, I routinely get many dozens of users in a room producing a collective gasp.

I refer to the Selection and Visibility Pane, introduced in Version 2007 and largely overlooked by most users of 2007, 2010, and probably by the few who have tested the waters with 2013. I attribute this to two things: 1) This function doesn’t actually create anything; and 2) With lower-resolution displays, the icon shrinks to the size of a pinhead and most don’t even see it.

Let’s reverse this discouraging trend right now, shall we? The S&V task pane addresses several of the most frustrating aspects of the software over the last decade. It deserves your undying love and devotion. Here are three big reasons why.

Select Objects on a Crowded Slide 
The simplest virtue of S&V is the ease it affords you in selecting objects that are hard to reach with a mouse or even invisible to you. When objects overlap one another, reaching the ones on the bottom of the pile has traditionally required contortions, such as temporarily cutting or moving the ones on top or pressing Tab until you think the selection handles maybe kinda sorta are around the desired object.

Those headaches are all in your rearview mirror now, as the figure above shows. With S&V, you can select objects by clicking on their names in the task pane, bringing much-needed sanity to what should be a menial task. Once selected, you can do anything to an object that you otherwise would have. As I said earlier, this pane doesn’t really do anything except make it easier for you to do what you want.

Rename objects 
The screen image above might look unusual to you because you had never laid eyes on S&V before, but there is another cause for a raised eyebrow: Circle in the front? Circle in the back? Where did those names come from? Most of you know what kind of names PowerPoint assigns to objects because you have been scratching your heads over them for the better part of a decade. Rectangle 23…TextBox 9…AutoShape 34.

Historically, PowerPoint has been maddeningly obtuse in its naming scheme and you’ve never been able to do anything about it except curse. But with S&V, you can assign names to your objects that actually make sense. You’d probably do better than Circle in the middle, and that’s the point: you get to decide what to call your objects.

Renaming objects becomes more than just a cute screenshot opportunity when you have complex animation to create. PowerPoint’s obtuse object names are duplicated in the Animation task pane and with ambitious animation needs, you could find yourself drowning in a sea of obtusity. With Rectangle 23, 24, and 25, which one enters first, which one moves to the center of the slide, and which one fades away? Arrghh!

Thanks to S&V, you can do much better. You can name objects according to their appearance or purpose and have a much easier time creating animations for them.

Case in Point: Solavie, the skin care product that offers formulations for six different Earthly environments. To highlight these formulations, the six icons in the lower-right corner move and morph into the six photos across the top, after which each string of text cascades in. So lots of identical shapes doing similar things, one after the other—imagine pulling that off with typical PowerPoint names. But the image above shows how powerful object renaming can be. Each object is named according to its environment type, making the animation process orders of magnitude easier.

Hide and Unhide 
Sometimes it is not enough to be able to name objects. Sometimes you just have to get them the heck out of the way. When you are working on the final parts of a 45-second animation, it becomes incredibly tedious to have to start from the beginning each time you want to test it. You need to be able to start from the middle or near the end.

Prior to S&V, if you needed to temporarily remove an object, you had to cut objects to the Clipboard and work quickly before you accidentally send something else there. Or work up some bizarre strategy of duplicating a slide, doing your business there, then moving those objects back to the original slide.

Now we have an elegant and simple solution: make an object invisible. The screen image above shows the beauty and the genius of hiding objects, as the tail end of the Solavie animation gets the attention that it deserves. As you can see, when you hide an object, it leaves the animation stream, making late-stage testing a piece of cake. Here, just the final two environment types are still visible. The earlier four are still there, just temporarily hidden.

Selection & Visibility lives on the Home ribbon in the Editing group. PowerPoint ribbons have a bad habit of changing right when you might want something on them, and that contributes to the anonymity of a small icon that is there one minute and gone the next. Indeed, there is no way to predict when you might want to use S&V. Creating, inserting, designing, animating—using S&V cuts across all contexts of PowerPoint operation.

So it’s helpful to know about its keyboard shortcut of Alt+F10. There’s no mnemonic that you can apply to that shortcut—it’s as easy to forget as the function it belongs to.

So you just have to commit it to memory. When you’re in the throes of creation, just press Alt+F10. Pretty good chance that little task pane will come in handy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How to Pick Colors for Your Next Project

Last week, I gave a webinar through PresentationXpert. Before and during my presentation, the audience was encouraged to ask questions, and I was surprised at the number of questions concerning color choice.

However, these concerns shouldn't have surprised me. Color is an important element of a presentation. Not only can color affect mood, it can communicate your brand and set the tone for your presentation and marketing materials. Color is one of the first details chosen when setting up your corporate logo, website, letterhead, and presentation templates. Finding colors that work well together—and fit with your message—can be a challenge even for seasoned designers.

Before I give you suggestions on how to choose colors, let's review the color wheel:

When speaking with a designer about colors, here are terms to help you communicate your color needs more accurately:
  • Hue – where on the color wheel the color appears
  • Saturation – the intensity of vibrancy of the color
  • Value – the lightness or darkness of the color
  • Analogous – colors that appear next to one another on the color wheel like blue, green, and yellow
  • Complementary – colors that are across from one another on the color wheel like red and green
Analogous colors are often the better choice when developing your color palette because complementary colors vibrate when next to one another. Have you ever seen a website with a blue background and red text? Is it inviting? Does it make you want to read more? Or does it give you a headache?

So, how do you determine which colors to use?

As with designing a graphic, you need to determine your primary objective when choosing a color. If you are trying to win new business with a presentation, then integrate your potential client's colors into the template. People like to see themselves, especially their businesses, in your presentation. Seeing something recognizable in your presentation promotes feelings of trust and partnership. Consider if the two slides below were being presented to the U.S. Army. Which slide communicates that you understand this client?

On the flip side, if your goal is to brand your company, then use your corporate colors. I know you may not like those colors or are probably sick of using the same colors, but think about this: When you picture a Coke ad what color do you primarily see? If you saw a color other than red—maybe purple—how would that make you feel?
Coke and other heavily branded corporations infuse their ads and marketing materials and packaging with their company colors. Using these colors is almost as important as their logos or font choices in helping their customers instantly recognize their product.

What if you need to choose colors to complement your brand or maybe you are creating a new brand, how do you find the right colors?

Colors evoke different feelings in your audience and confer different connotations based on subject matter and culture. See how unappealing this pie slice becomes when the wrong color is applied.

Below is a list of colors and their meanings specific to many Western cultures. Keep these in mind when choosing colors to help properly convey your message.
  • Red = empowering, bold (Red needs to be used sparingly. In studies, it has been shown to raise blood pressure and increase respiration rates, which will negatively impact mood.)
  • Orange = warmth, happiness
  • Yellow = happiness, energy
  • Green = balance, refreshing
  • Blue = relaxing, cool
  • Violet = comforting
  • White = pure, cleanliness
  • Black = authoritative, shows discipline
I've found blue and green to be the safest colors when creating a new color scheme. Although, even I need inspiration when creating a template of colors with primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Check out these sites to find that perfect color combination for your next project and colors to complement your corporate ones.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can text-based slides be memorable in PowerPoint presentations?

Guest Blogger: Dr. Carmen Simon, Rexi Media 

I have recently conducted a memory study based on a basic question: how many slides do people remember from an on-demand, text-only PowerPoint deck of 20 slides? 1,540 people participated in the study: they were randomly assigned to 26 groups, viewed 20 slides, and after two days, they received one question: “What do you remember?”

Here are two of the findings and what you can do about them for your next presentation (especially if you create decks to post on Slideshare).

One of the findings from this study was that participants remembered an average of 4 slides from a deck of 20 slides. Even though this number seems low, there is good news associated with it:
  1. People still remember content from text-only slides, which means that text can still be a strong design element if we don’t abuse it.
  2. There was a correlation between some slides that were made to stand out (were distinct) and the recall rate—which means, even though recalling 4 slides may be low, at least we can influence which four slides people may remember.
Let’s address these two findings in combination.

The phrase “Death by PowerPoint” has been created mainly because of an overwhelming volume of text-intensive slides one after another after another after another. I remember conducting a Haiku contest once, where I asked participants to write a Haiku about PowerPoint. Someone cleverly wrote:

“Slide 1, Slide 2, Slide 3, Slide 4, Slide 5, Slide 6, Slide 7, Slide 8 …”

The picture below exemplifies this Haiku. One of the problems with this design is its predictability. From an evolutionary perspective, the brain is designed to not miss anything. Once it figures out the pattern, it also figures out that it’s okay to check an e-mail or two because it will not miss anything. This type of file invites multitasking (or rather task switching), and memory is impacted negatively because attention is disrupted; and attention is an important ingredient to memory—it is harder to remember that which you did not pay attention to in the first place.

Also, it is difficult to remember these types of slides, because there is so much sameness—nothing stands out.
Figure 1. Text-only deck, easily forgettable because it is predictable and marked by too much sameness.
Don’t think that adding images to all the slides is going to greatly impact recall. The presentation design in the example below is equally bad because the flow becomes predictable: what is the chance that after seeing 7 picture-slides, the next slide is also going to be a picture? Unlike the previous visual, the deck below is marked by too much variety. The brain needs a certain degree of sameness before it perceives something that stands out.
Figure 2. Picture-only deck, easily forgettable because it is marked by too much variety
So far, we’ve seen that the brain needs a certain degree of sameness before it perceives differences. Going in and out of a pattern also avoids predictability. We can link these observations with the idea of using text in PowerPoint slides. Just because text has been abused in the past, it does not mean that it cannot be resurrected. Using text as a memorable element can be done in several ways:
  1. Let’s say you’re presenting mostly a document, and text provides the meat of your presentation (some audiences and presenters crave this format because they believe that content volume = credibility). You can break the pattern of text-based slides with an image that summarizes the main point of the preceding slides. Your deck might look something like this:
    Figure 3. Breaking the pattern in a text-only deck with something that is the opposite of established sameness may increase recall.
  2. If your style is more visual and you are not afraid to use images on most slides, then text can help you break the picture pattern (the substance comes from images and text is a deviation). Your deck might look like this:
    Figure 4. Using text to break the pattern in a picture-based deck may also increase recall

  3. The idea is to break the pattern. Unfortunately, some presenters either have no pattern (there is too much variety in their presentations) or there is to too much sameness.

    While the visuals above have been created just to provide examples, the ones below are extracted from real business presentation files. (They have been made very small so that we don’t reveal the owners, but you can get the idea of the two issues identified: too much variety or too much sameness.)
    Figure 5. Too much variety

    Figure 6. Too much sameness
    Even though people do not remember much from a PowerPoint presentation, can you influence which slides they remember? In our study, whenever something went off the pattern every 5th slide, those slides were recalled more than any other slides in the deck.

    So the conclusion is: dare to break the pattern, dare to deviate from the normal routine in your deck. Presentations are the one area where deviant behavior is acceptable because it may impact recall.

    Before your next presentation, ask yourself: what is my 5th element?