Apr 27 2010
If you’ve read any presentation design books lately (Presentation Zen Design, Slide:ology, etc.), you’ve probably decided to use more images in your presentations. However, you may still be wondering if the images you’re selecting are good, average, or lame. Using more lame or average images in your presentations is about as helpful as adding more bullet points or animations to your PowerPoint slides.
“Good” can be extremely subjective or relative. Just because you’re using an image from a stock photography site doesn’t mean it is automatically good. If you’re using a stock photo in your presentation, you should have the quality basics covered – e.g., higher resolution (not pixelated), adequate size, professional-looking (proper composition, lighting, contrast, color, etc.), and not distorted (stretched).
However, these quality aspects don’t guarantee that a stock photo will be effective for a particular PowerPoint slide. I believe the following two factors define whether a photo or picture is a good presentation image:
- Image relevancy: Does it support/reinforce the key point or message of your slide?
- Image uniqueness: Does the image stand out and get noticed by your audience?
If you use poor quality, overused/generic images that aren’t relevant to your message, these images end up being distractions. They don’t complement your message, they just get in the way. If your images are unique but not relevant or vice versa, they become decorations — ineffective accents to your message.
If you use interesting and relevant images, your presentation slides will become more potent and powerful. In some rare cases, the stars align and you find an incredibly powerful image. This “big bang” image may end up being the star of your show, ensuring a key point is remembered long after your audience has forgotten the title of your presentation.
A good presentation image is more than just a good photograph or illustration as it also needs to match your message. An unassuming but relevant image can suddenly click with a particular idea or concept you’re trying to share. It can feel like finding a missing puzzle piece in your presentation.
A potentially good image can fall a part if it’s not positioned appropriately with your audience. As a presenter, it’s your responsibility to connect the dots for your audience between your message and your image. Like telling a good joke, an effective presentation image needs a good setup and delivery. Proper positioning of the image to show its relevance to your topic can be achieved either verbally or with the right supporting text (e.g., title, quote, statement).
Determining how you’re going to present an idea or concept can be the most difficult and time-consuming part of building a slide. As you settle on an approach, you may want to consider whether your approach supports rich imagery. You may find some topics don’t give you enough options to find a really good image. When appropriate, I like using analogies or metaphors in presentations as they can provide you with richer, more memorable visual options.
Another consideration that impacts image relevance is whether you’re trying to convey too many ideas or points on a single slide. Many people advocate for one idea or key point per slide. When you’re presenting only one message on a slide, your images have to be pertinent to your message. You can create really powerful and memorable slides using this approach.
In some cases, you might use several images to build up to the main message. Using a content staging approach, you can use animations to introduce the images individually. In addition, the “one idea per slide” philosophy may not always be practical or applicable (i.e., time to find multiple images for multiple points, cost to purchase multiple images, creating a summary slide, etc.) so your image(s) should tie into one or two of your key points.
Your image may be relevant or related to your message, but does it stand out? Is it going to capture the attention of your audience? I feel there are two main areas where a stock photo can be unique: the subject of the photo and the composition of the photo.
Subject of the photo
The subject of a photo is the focal point of the image. The focal point or main subject may be a person, place, or thing. There are a number of ways in which the subject can make the stock photo more unique:
- Avoid tired images: You’ve seen “the handshake”, “the globe”, “the arrow/dart in the target”, and “the chess piece” a thousand times. Whenever possible shake it up and find something a little different.
- Unexpected application: Rather than using the standard product- or business-oriented photos for your presentation images, could you use something more playful, retro, or unexpected?
- Realistic vs. fake: Almost everybody in stock photography looks beautiful. Most stock photos of business settings (e.g., people in a meeting room) look overly staged or contrived. I often wonder if the attractive model smiling at the monitor screen in stock photos would even know how to turn the computer on. Keep it real so real people can relate to your slides.
- Exaggeration: There’s a difference between something pretending to be real (unsuccessfully) and something that makes no attempt at being real. An exaggeration can really stand out and emphasize a key point. Use your best judgment with embellishments as they can come across as tacky or cheesy.
- Focus on people: Garr Reynolds and Carmine Gallo mention that audiences respond positively to images with people, especially faces. Putting a human face on your presentation can help your audience better relate to your message, products, or services. Tip: Use pictures of people that match your audience. If your audience is more business casual, don’t use images that have people in suits and ties.
- Tell a story: One well-chosen photo or group of photos can tell or imply a story that your audience can relate to. Stories are some of the most powerful ways for getting ideas to stick.
- Evoke an emotion: When appropriate, you can use photos to elicit an emotional response from your audience. Whereas logic helps people to draw conclusions, emotion gets people to act.
- Humor: Life is already too short and painful to put your audience through slide after slide of boring, lifeless content. If you’ve ever seen Seth Godin present, he effectively uses thought-provoking and humorous images throughout his presentations to engage his audience. You can too.
I’ve covered how good presentation images need to be both relevant and unique. I’ve showed how the subject can make images more interesting.
In Part II of this article, I’m going to look at the composition of the photo. Composition refers to how a photographer takes a picture in a specific manner to emphasize a focal point in a photo. The subject of two photos can be identical, but how a photographer composes the picture (e.g., rule of thirds, angle/point of view, framing, etc.) can make one image more compelling than another.
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