Visual presentation, when done well, is a very powerful tool. Supporting your sermons, Bible classes or other presentation with strong visual communication techniques can help your message stick in the minds of your audience. But we must learn these techniques and practice them. Just as we would suggest that a speaker who uses poor grammar and speech patterns (can you say, “um”) learn to correct his speech – we need to suggest that those same speakers who flood their slides with words too small to be read, or visuals that flip and spin need to correct their visual language as well. Poor visuals quickly become a distraction to the message. But there are a few simple rules to follow that will get you headed down the road to better presentations that reinforce your message rather than detract from it.
Four Simple Rules for Better Visual Presentations
1. Don’t use built in slide templates. PowerPoint and Keynote both come with built in slide templates. Some may seem somewhat usable and some are downright hideous. The problem with all of them is that they force you into a “Slide Title, Subtitle, Bullet point” approach to laying out your slides. This may work great for engineers presenting project reports or sales professionals presenting regional sales figures and graphs but it is horrible for telling a story or communicating a spiritual message from God’s Word. Using these temples relegates your visuals to nothing more than your sermon or class outline onscreen. THAT IS NOT COMMUNICATING VISUALLY.
Rather than select the same template your audience has seen a hundred time (you know the one – the blue sky with the brown mountains on the bottom of the slide), start with a blank slide with a solid black background. When I say blank, I mean completely blank – no Slide Title, no text boxes, no bullets, zip, nothing, nada! I know at this point you are thinking I have lost my minds, but I haven’t I promise.
2. Use one simple and concrete image that illustrates your point. This is where our problems usually begin. We just get on Google Image Search, find an image, drop it into a box under the slide headline and next to a list of bullet point (usually on a white background) and we are ready to go, right? Wrong! If we really intend to communicate visually – the picture needs to be the right one and it needs to fill the screen. Make it simple and concrete. Very often, the image you need cannot be found on Google. You end up settling for and image that is not quite right, but hey…it’ll do and it’s free! But if it isn’t the right image it will be a distraction. Find an image that is simple and gets right to the point. This is not a time to be esoteric and subtle.
3. Reduce the number of rectangles onscreen. I have posted about this before. As the eye moves through an image on screen, any hard lines work like barriers. The eye stops and follows the line until it hits another one. When your slide layout is made up of a number of various rectangles these hard lines block the eye and there is no smooth movement through the image. Note all of the hard lines in the image to the right. This is a pretty typical slide you would seen on any given Sunday. There are at least 4 rectangles making up this slide; 1) the picture, 2) the text, and finally 3) the square of color that makes up the outside of the slide. All of these hard lines cause the eye to stop and start trying to move through it. That’s why it feels “clunky” and “choppy”.
Now look at the next image. There are only really two rectangles here; 1) the outside edge of the slide, and 2) the box that holds the text. Even at this small size your eye moves from the text to the face of Christ smoothly and fluidly. That is because there are no hard lines to block the eye and redirect it.
Try minimizing the number of rectangles you have onscreen simply by selecting one, simple, and concrete image and letting it take up the whole slide. Place your text in an open area of the image and you will find your slide communicate more effectively.
4. Use the Rule of Thirds. The Rule Of Thirds is an old art trick that helps your images feel more balanced onscreen. I have blogged about this before as well and you might find my previous post helpful. Basically, draw a tic-tac-toe board on your slide. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the closer the better. Where the lines intersect are the “sweet spots” of the image. The human eye likes balance and will naturally go to these spots in an image. Place imporant elements of the image (faces. eyes, key objects, text, etc…) as close as you can to these “sweet spots”. The results will be that the eye moves smoothly through the image. It doesn’t feel chunky or choppy. People are no longer distracted by the layout. Instead they can focus on your message.
I realize that this post is a bit longer than normal (actually I am just trying to make up for not blogging for awhile ), but I hope this is helpful to you. Just try these four simple rules that next time you are assembling a lesson or sermon. You will be amazed at how much easier it is, but also how much better your message connects with you audience.
Give it a try.