Visual learning and PowerPoint presentations


Should you consider visual learning when putting your presentations together? We think so.

Most businesses stick to established conventions, when creating PowerPoint presentations, such as: bulleted lists, headers on every slide, lots and lots of words, strict reliance on house style, a template and the company logo on every slide. Whilst house style is important to strengthen brand identity it is possible to create more visual and hence more memorable presentations by stripping out the unnecessary. Remove all slide clutter (e.g. objects, logos, text) which does not contribute to your message. Focus on what is essential on each slide and add more slides with smaller chunks of information on them – this will make the presentation easier to follow and digest. Slide count does not change the length of your talk so don’t be afraid to add slides.

The cardinal rule of presentation design

Stick to one distinct idea on any one slide. If you feel compelled to put more than one idea on a slide, don’t. Instead, to reiterate an important concept, split up your ideas onto more slides containing smaller, simpler chunks of information. That way your presentation will be easier to remember. Starting at the beginning, for example, on an introductory slide, simplify the message by focusing on the title without lots of other detail:

Badly designed PowerPoint coverr  Visual learning presentation cover

Visual learning and recall

If you find you are making bulleted lists you might consider pulling out each bullet onto its own slide, each with a supporting image or graphic. Why? It’s been shown that people have 6x better recall when both verbal and visual channels are used together AND spatial contiguity proves that learning improves when words are placed near relevant pictures. In other words, using images or graphics to support your text prompts learning.

What visuals should you use?

Do not ever use ClipArt, ever. It is as simple as that. It is outdated and obtrusive. Besides, with so many better alternatives available there is (really) no need for it. You could use a high-quality image to support your message and bring a real sense of meaning to a slide. There are many free (or reasonably priced) image databases online, such as Death to the Stock Photo, Freepik and Pixabay. With so many images available you should easily be able to find a creative one which fits with your message:

Badly designed dog slide  Well designed dog slide

If you wish to highlight numbers, as well as using charts and graphs you can also use typography as a visual aid. (Word to the wise, as with ClipArt, do not ever use WordArt.) If you really want your text to stand out, use a good font and make your text LARGE and legible – give it some POW to make it memorable. Another benefit of using large text is that it ensures that your message is kept short. It’s best not to use large text throughout a whole presentation, as this isn’t overly engaging for the audience, although it is still clean and simple way to present your information.

Does your presentation tell a story? Then make it more visual with slide transitions and animations. People naturally look at things that move – so highlight your key messages with simple animations and triggers.

Obviously, how you visualize your presentation will depend on how it is going to be delivered. If you are presenting in front of a live audience you don’t need much text, so your slides will be a visual reinforcement to your verbal content. Your online or printed deck might need more text, or even extra slides to fill in the detail for your audience.

The human brain is at its most effective when it processes information simultaneously through both verbal and visual learning so for a truly memorable presentation use diagrams, photos, flow charts, illustrations – any kind of image that will support your slide’s message while you speak.