by Jerry Weissman
In my constant effort as a coach to persuade business people to remember that a picture is worth a thousand words and to avoid the dreaded "Presentation-as-Document Syndrome," presenters often protest, "But I’m not an artist!"
Cast adrift from their familiar text slides, presenters are reluctant to try alternatives. However, you don't have to go out and buy a painter's smock and beret to break the mold of an endless parade of boring bullet slides.
Begin with overarching concept that the primary—and sole—purpose of your PowerPoint is to illustrate your narrative. Remember my often-repeated (because it still hasn't taken hold) recommendation that your business slideshow should follow the example of television news broadcasts: the anchorperson tells the story and the graphics serve as a headline that captures the essence of the story.
Then design your presentation headlines as "infographics" or "data visualizations." Visual.ly, the world’s largest community for sharing infographics, defines these terms as follows:
…Infographics are images created to explain a particular idea or dataset. They often contain beautiful graphics to increase their appeal and help catch your attention. Many of them use data visualization.
Data visualizations represent numerical data in a visual format. They can be anything from a simple bar chart to a complex three dimensional CAT Scan representation.
But go beyond the usual charts and venture into more vivid images to communicate and illustrate your story. You have at your disposal a number of resources to convert text into images, and to inspire your thinking visually:
- Google and Bing: Each of these powerful search engines has an "Images" feature. Just go to the search bar on either site, type in a keyword, and you'll see a broad array of photos, clip art, and line drawings. You can also search for synonyms of a key word. For instance, "jail," "prison," and "penitentiary" will bring up multiple variations of incarceration images. Moreover, as soon as you type in a key word, each site offers a pull down menu with other variations. "Jail" brings up "jail bars," "jail cell," and "jail house," and each of them brings up even more images—all in the interest of getting your creative juices flowing to think outside the plain vanilla text box.
Be aware, however, that many of the images on these sites may require payment for high resolution copies and/or royalties. Below is a list of ten websites where you can find free or low cost images.
- Royalty-free / Public Domain Image Websites:
U.S. House of Representatives
Open Clip Art Library (OCAL)
Public Domain Photos
United States Senate
Totally Free Images
U.S. Government Photos and Images
U.S. History Images
- Visual.ly: Visit the excellent graphic community site and see what they call their "data visualization enthusiasts" have created. Browse the site and sample the many impressive infographics their members have posted. They will inspire you to think visually. The site also provides a tool to step you through the creation of your own infographic.
- Microsoft PowerPoint: The industry standard presentation software itself offers multiple ways to turn plain vanilla words into interesting graphics. Just click the "Insert" tab on the top Ribbon and another tab opens with the following graphical choices: Table, Pictures, Clip Art, Photos, Shapes, Charts, and SmartArt. The latter provides an almost infinite array of shapes, colors, and textures to enhance the look and feel of your text. Look at the difference that embedding text in simple shapes and shading can make with the identical text in the figure below.
Now, with your palette of four different options—Google/Bing, Free Images, Visual.ly, and Microsoft PowerPoint—are you ready for your artist’s smock and beret?