7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design: Pride

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To help my students learn important visual design concepts, they were assigned to read slide:ology.  To accompany the text, we spent time studying the 7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design.  We began with envy, and deadly sin two is pride.

Students and faculty alike have a tough time tackling their slide pride.  This is something I truly don’t understand.  When I first met Chiara Ojeda and sat in on her class, hearing about and seeing the visual design revolution from her and reading resources from Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte changed my life.  I am not exaggerating.  Effective visual presentation has a profound impact on student learning and has proven results on all audiences.  I am always saddened by people who are too prideful to change their slideshows because their pride stands in the way of audience retention and engagement.  I hear all kinds of excuses.  Here are the most frequent excuses that indicate the speaker is wrapped up in his or her own slide pride:

“But people like my slides!”  Actually, they really, really don’t.  One particular teacher insisted to me that his slides worked well and that his students loved his visual presentation.  Unfortunately, this is an example of slide pride.  His students, who would later take my class, would explain that this particular instructor had the most terrible slides and the most worthless lectures of any class they had taken.  Ouch!

“But my slides don’t have to be good.  My content speaks for itself!”  or  “But my slides don’t have to be good.  My delivery is good.”  Sadly, prideful people, audiences need all three legs of the presentation stool to work together in order for a presentation to be successful.  Good delivery and strong content are okay, but neither matters when your audience is asleep because you’ve bored them to death with your slideshow.  Remember that death-by-PowerPoint happens when you write all of your content on your slides.  Your audience reads the slide ahead of you, and then everything you say becomes repetitive, redundant, and boring.  Your slides have actually made you as a presenter obsolete.  And if you’re obsolete, you’re actually not good at delivery or content.  If you’re reading your slides, your delivery sucks.  If you’re putting all of your content on a slide, you lose that sense of story and mystery essential for an idea that resonates.  It’s time to get it together!

Most people who resist effective visual design do suffer from the deadly sin of pride.  They believe they are too awesome to need help or to change in any way.  That attitude will never lead to an effective presentation, as audiences don’t connect with prideful people.  In fact, audiences don’t like prideful people.  TED Commandment #6 reminds us that when presenting, “thou shalt not flaunt thine ego.  Be thou vulnerable” (Source).

Think about it.  Do you actually like people in your everyday life who believe they are so awesome that nothing they do needs tweaking, changing, and improving?  Similarly, when a haughty, snobby, arrogant presenter comes to the front of the room, audiences don’t respond well and are actually more combative.  If you’re putting your audience’s needs first, you’re putting your pride on the shelf.

The biggest excuse I hear from my students is this one: “I don’t need to know this stuff.  I’ll just hire a designer to do this for me.”  Unfortunately, this is delusional thinking.  Being able to communicate your ideas to others in words and images is the single most important quality of a leader.  How are you going to explain your ideas to your team?  How are you going to sell a product, idea, or service to a global audience?  If you’re going to have your designer do everything for you, how quickly will that designer replace you in the role of leader?  Try reading “5 Ways to Determine If Your Communication Style is Hurting Your Career” by Forbes and work on your leadership potential!  Passing the buck is not a quality of a leader.

Shake off that slide pride!  It’s hurting your reputation, but even more importantly, it’s hurting your audience.

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