May 12, 2007

Powerpoint Presentations That Support Glanceability

"Glanceable Powerpoint" - what's that all about then?

Lorcan Dempsey posted a couple of days ago about glanceability after seeing the phrase mentioned in Learnin' from Virgin, my review of James Cridland's talk here a week or two ago.

Lorcan did a bit of digging and came up with an academic reference that included this definition:

Glanceability refers to how quickly and easily the visual design conveys information after the user is paying attention to the display.

He then applied the concept to search results: "it seems to me that effective ranking, for example, supports glanceability, as folks will focus in on top results and may forego individually inspecting each member of a result set."

Yes :-)

It also struck me in half sleep this morning how the presentations I respond best to when I'm in presentation blogging mode are slides that support glanceability - ideally slides with a mere handful of keywords that I can note down and use to scaffold my thoughts about, paraphrases of and quotes from, whatever the speaker is talking about.

The way Powerpoint is typically used - by academics at least - as a medium for pushing large amounts of text to the audience, whilst reading it out loud as well, was slated in a widely posted story last month reporting that people find it hard to process words that are being spoken at the same time they are being read.

The Presentation Zen blog posted a thoughtful response to this story - Is it finally time to ditch PowerPoint? - which is probably worth reading if you've got an upcoming presentation to prepare...

John Sweller, the psychologist behind the news story (and author of this topic related report), was quoted in the original news report as follows:

It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.

The Presentation Zen take on this is evident via their "house style", which combines a small amount of text with a relevant image:

presentation zen example slide

My own, evolving approach, is to try to build presentations around keywords or screenshots - examples on SlideShare - which is similar to the Presentation Zen model in this respect: the text (and imagery) supports glanceability and reinforces the point being made verbally by the speaker at that time.

How to use Powerpoint most effectively appears to be one of the memes of the moment in the blogosphere; here's a way in to that conversation: Tony Karrer: "PowerPoint - More Questions".

Take home message for me - for easier blogging, make your Powerpoint presentations glanceable ;-)

Posted by ajh59 at May 12, 2007 11:43 AM

You hopefully saw virtually no words on my Powerpoint slides. Around four years ago, I watched a presentation by radio consultant Jonathan Marks, consisting of lots, and lots, of photographs as he spoke: amplifying the point, not duplicating it. I liked the idea very much indeed, only using text when I want to underline something.

Glad that 'glanceability' has a proper definition! As visual accompaniment to radio, I think it is entirely apt: if the benefit of radio is that you can do other things, why remove that benefit?

Posted by: James Cridland at May 12, 2007 02:14 PM

JC wrote: "You hopefully saw virtually no words on my Powerpoint slides."

I did notice that implicitly, because it was easy to take notes from - unlike many other presentations that week!

One thing that was present though were lots of short talking heads movies/interviews, which allowed you to have a form of dialogue with the screen - letting interviewees make points for you to then pick up, or illustrate further the point you were making.

Using the slides to REINFORCE the message, rather than deliver it, necessarily?

(I was wondering just after how much time had gone into producing the presentation, and the extent of any professional design support? Is the presentation available on the web anywhere?)

"[I]f the benefit of radio is that you can do other things, why remove that benefit?"

Agreed - though that point made me LOL with the parallel thought of that a benefit of listening to presentations is that you can do other things at the same time ;-)

Posted by: Tony Hirst at May 12, 2007 03:39 PM