Controlling flashy graphics

by Peter Watts

I recently observed an exciting approach to presenting a boring subject. The type of subject that is entirely fact driven, very technical, and needs a lot of slides!

This approach held an auditorium of 200 people in rapt attention for just under two hours. How? The entire presentation had been professionally animated!

The basic animation scheme was simple. As each slide appeared, with data points all grouped neatly down the left-hand side, a filmed human hand holding a pencil would appear on the right hand side and rapidly dash off doodle-style illustrations appropriate to the content.

It must have been expensive to produce, and the audience, anticipating deathly dullness, were visibly delighted at the approach.

There were however, two snags:

A little over half way into the presentation, I realized that in my fascination at watching the furiously doodling antics of the hand, I was failing to pay attention to what the presenter was actually saying. My recall of the previous 45 minutes was limited to cutely cartoony houses, and people, and various bits of computer. It had been tremendously enjoyable watching the art of the presentation, but had failed the art of presenting. The visuals had swamped the message.

The second snag started to show up in the second half of the presentation, as the presenter began to tire.

All the visuals were running in a form rather like a movie. The presenter was in effect delivering a precisely timed live voice-over to what was appearing on the screen. For the first half of the presentation, this worked just fine. One had to admire the hours of rehearsal necessary. In the second half however, the video started to run away with the presenter. As he tired he would start to trip over his words or forget the odd passage here and there. The result was embarrassing periods of presenter staring at screen and trying to catch-up with the action.

The visuals were now swamping both message and messenger.

In commenting on this presenter’s approach we can draw two conclusions:

Firstly, full marks for imagination, preparation, and rehearsal. The subject being delivered, while innately uninspiring, was one that was vital to this particular organization. The effort to produce an eye-catching presentation was therefore valid, and in terms of fascinating the audience, delivered powerfully.

If the budget and skill-set are available to other presenters, I would encourage the same approach.

The second conclusion is that when you are using such an approach, as with all things presentation, keep it simple:

Don’t let the onscreen action be continuous. Have sections where nothing is happening behind you so that you can recapture the audience’s full attention and emphasize key points.

Use those gaps to create fire-breaks in the presentation where you have to manually advance the presentation to the next stage. This ensures that things can’t run away from you.

High-end graphics can be great, just keep them in control!


  1. That will have cost a ton of money…

    And, I’m curious what was being communicated in the 2 hours?
    Was it informational? Were the audience making notes? Learning? Or was it “motivational?”

    • Hi Bill. Partly informational, and partly instructional, seeking to persuade the audience to make more use of a in-house CRM tool.

  2. Interesting. Probably cheaper to pay someone to sit down with every member of the audience and talk them through it….

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