Protesting Presentation Design: “I’m A Visual Learner! I Need Bullets”


During an English Department meeting earlier this week, I overheard a colleague say, “I’m a visual learner.  That’s why I need to use bullets in my slides.”

Rather than halt the meeting, I decided it was time for yet another “Protesting Presentation Design” post.  Back in November of 2012, I wrote a post on the 5 most common arguments that I hear protesting presentation design, but I completely forgot about this argument:


To be honest, I think I actually try to push this argument from my mind because it makes the least amount of sense.  Also, the people who say this to me often think I have no idea what I’m talking about… For that reason, we’ll defer to the experts.

“7 Lessons from the World’s Most Captivating Presenters” is a Slideshare presentation and also a really great article.  The third lesson we must learn is that a picture is worth a thousand words.  The article reads:

“There’s a reason why expressions like, ‘Seeing is believing’ and, ‘A picture is worth 1000 words’ are so universally recognized — and that reason is based in science.

It’s called the Picture Superiority Effect, and it refers to a large body of research, which shows that humans more easily learn and recall information that is presented as pictures than when the same information is presented in words” (Source).  If you’ve never heard of the picture superiority effect, please check out the 30 second explanation video below:


The article goes on to explain how the picture superiority works in an additional test: “In one experiment, for instance, subjects who were presented with information orally could remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. Those who were presented with information in picture format were able to recall 65% of the content” (Source).

So consider this:


Visual people do remember words, yes, but they remember pictures much more vividly and for a longer period of time.  “Not only do we remember visual input better, but we also process visual information 60,000x faster in the brain than we do text” (Source).  So if you are, in fact, a visual learner, your slides should include images to simplify your message and to increase retention.

How many times have you seen that standard death-by-PowerPoint slideshow filled with bullets and text?  What did you actually remember?  Chances are, you can’t recall that information today, and if you do, I can guarantee you that the presentation was boring. No one waits to speak to a death-by-PowerPoint presenter after the speech to rave about the bullet points.  People remember an impacting image, a high-quality chart or graph, or a powerful video.  “Sure, it takes more time to find and select awesome images to replace text, but master communicators know that it’s worth the extra effort to achieve maximum impact and maximum audience retention” (Source).

Consider pairing image and text in your next PowerPoint presentation to ensure you are actually developing a visual presentation that meets the needs of your visual learners.  Be sure to check out “7 Lessons From the World’s Most Captivating Presenters” here.

What other arguments do you hear protesting effective presentation design?  How can we work to get through to these people?


Visual Design: Apply The Picture Superiority Effect


When I learned that I would have a few very special guests attending my visual design lecture this month, I redesigned my lesson plans.  While these lessons aren’t quite Slideshare-ready yet, I would like to share them with you over the next few days.  I promise to debut the new visual design Slideshare presentation before the end of January!

The new lessons focus on teaching my students 7 key rules for effective slide design.  Yesterday, we began with rule number one: Slides Are Not Documents!  Read that article here.  Today, we will focus on rule two:


When we realize that slides are not documents, applying the picture superiority effect is the second step in effective slide creation.

If we treat our slides as documents, our slides look like this:


The picture superiority effect says that an audience can more easily process and recall information if it is presented visually.  We remember pictures more than we remember words.  Since the goal of your presentation is to stick in your audience’s minds, to touch and to effect them, you definitely want to create slides that resonate.

Dr. John Medina teaches us that vision trumps all other senses.  Medina’s Brain Rules explains that, “We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%” (Source).  This short video explains the picture superiority effect in 30 seconds.

This effect works when large, clear, and beautiful images are used.  The only place I go to find images for my slides is Compfight.  Compfight is a Flickr search engine and allows you to find images that are legally usable as well as images that will be large enough to fill an entire slide.


Images That Are Legally Usable:

The most important thing to remember about the PSE is that all images belong to someone.  Either an individual photographer or a huge company took, arranged, and/or designed the photograph.  Because of this, we can’t just go to Google images, search for “dog,” and use anything that pops up.  In my case, because they are going to appear on both in my classroom and on my blog, I use “Commercial” images.  If you are a student working on a project for class, you will likely be able to use “Creative Commons” images depending on your school.  Always check the license and respect the owner’s wishes.  You can get yourself into a lot of legal and financial trouble for misusing images or for forgetting to show credit to the owner of the image.  ALWAYS cite your images and ALWAYS respect the license of that image.

Don’t use Google images unless you’re searching by license.  Don’t use clip art, corny stock photos, or images with watermarks.

Images That Are Large Enough To Fill Up A Slide:

A slide is 1024×768, so when you are searching for images, it is important to select pictures that are AT LEAST that size.  Compfight allows you to save “Large” and, sometimes, “Original” images that are much bigger.  Check the size, and I recommending saving and using the largest possible picture.  You can always shrink an image, but you can’t blow up an image and maintain the integrity of that image.

Slide revolutionaries often mention the picture superiority effect.  Check out the following articles for more information on designing beautiful, clear images applying the PSE: Garr Reynolds’ “Picture superiority effect, pictograms, and culture.”  My colleague and slide master, Chiara Ojeda, blogged about the PSE in her August 2012 post “Does visual really matter?”  You can also read more about how the PSE influences consumers in this article appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Check back tomorrow for the third rule of strong, effective, visually-driven slides.

Slide Makeover: Example Edits Using 3 Simple Visual Design Concepts


A few months ago, the Junior League of Greater Orlando held its Fall Provisional Retreat.  The goal of the Saturday event was to introduce new recruits to the League’s mission, history, structure, and each other.  The Vice President of Active Membership is in charge of the Admissions/Provisional Mentor program, the team that hosts the Provisional Retreat, and this year, the VP asked me to put a video in her PowerPoint presentation.  Being a PowerPoint fantastic obsessed with turning death-by-bulletpoint into slides that are truly visual, I asked the VP if I could redo her entire slideshow.  She graciously agreed, and with just two hours of work following three simple steps, the PowerPoint underwent an extreme slide makeover.

Here are the original slides:

Bullets, clip art, confusing charts, and the required JLGO template… Oh, my!

First, I applied the picture superiority effect.  Chiara Ojeda of Tweak Your Slides recently wrote an article called “Does Visual Really Matter?” Chiara discusses the picture superiority effect, and I love this video she found explaining the concept in 30 seconds:


Here is one example of Slide #6’s “before” and “after” its makeover applying the picture superiority effect:

As you can see, I divided each bullet point into its own separate slide.  This follows the “one main idea per slide” rule of visual design.  The rule of thumb is that if you have six bullets on one slide, you should give each bullet its own slide.  Your audience can stay with you as you cover each “bullet” (each main idea), and they won’t read ahead.  That ensures your audience will stay with you, and your visual design will support your presentation as opposed to distract and detract from your message.

It’s tough sometimes to work with companies and corporations that have branding standards because they require certain elements in certain places on a template.  For example, the template here required the red and white framing, the JLGO logo on the bottom right-hand corner, and the use of the Arial font only.  I tried to work my way around these restrictions, as the “template” here naturally leads to ineffective slides.

Let’s take this confusing “chart” as another example of what needs revising:

People cannot understand this slide, and this confusion leads to the third important rule of slide design: the three-second rule of glance media.  An audience should be able to process your slide in three seconds because it is glance media – not a document.  A book is a document.  A handout is a document.  Slides are a visual medium like a billboard or a magazine ad.

So what did I do to revise this confusing mess of a slide?  I made each element its own slide, applying concepts 1, 2, and 3.  Keep in mind that a slideshow is linear, so no arrows were necessary because of the use of the year combined with the image of what happened that year.

In all, I turned the 8-slide original death-by-PowerPoint into 28 slides applying the three basic visual design concepts covered here: the picture superiority effect, one main idea per slide, and the three-second rule of glance media.  It took me just as long to create those 28 slides as it took to make the original 8-slide creation… How do I know?  I asked.  For those who are curious, it took two hours for the original and two hours for the revision.

Now, there are still problems with the revisions.  Obviously, the template kills me.  Why do I have to show the red and white framing on each slide?  Why can’t I just cover it up and make the entire picture or image the background of the slide?  Why does a logo have to exist on the bottom right-hand corner of each slide?  Garr Reynolds explains the ineffectiveness of this often-used technique in “Who says we need our logo on every slide?”  Studying and learning from our slide design masters, such as Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte, can help us update templates so that we maximize their effectiveness.  Perfect?  No.  Significantly better?  Yes!

What are your steps to revising a deck of terrible slides?

Design: The Picture Superiority Effect Explained in 30 Seconds



The picture superiority effect should be used over death-by-bulletpoint for two primary reasons: 1) people actually learn with slides that apply the PSE, 2) people will be engaged with well-designed slide as opposed to bored with a slide full of bullets, and 3) visual presentation is visual, so applying the PSE turns your slide from a document into what it was designed to be: a visual communication medium.

Do you use the picture superiority effect when designing slides?  How would you explain the purpose of the PSE?