One of my favorite tools in graphic design is novelty. In presentation design it can be used as a subtle wake-up for those audience members who are feeling a little sleepy. Novelty works in any category of communication, not just design. In every media, novelty is a technique used to bring attention to the message. It relies on the human tendency to be curious about that which is new or different. This newness can evoke any range of emotion from delight to disgust. Some people tend to see it as a “made-you-look” gimmick. However, it can be subtle, so don’t think of it as something that has to be obnoxious. When dealing with our information saturated culture, a “made-you-look” strategy might be worthy of serious consideration.
By breaking from whatever the current visual vocabulary is for your meetings, brand and/or industry you can draw your audience in. Determine what your audience is expecting to see then do something different, even if it’s just a little bit. You don’t have to be outlandish. In fact, going overboard with novelty can sometimes be a detriment, especially in conservative business situations, so be careful. Changing something subtle can be very effective so long as it is not so subtle that it won’t be noticed.
Use caution if you are breaking your company’s brand rules. They are in place for good reason. If you aren’t the boss, you will probably need to get approval to do this. My suggestion for deviating from your company’s brand guidelines is more about deviating from your company’s corporate presentation template, especially if it is worn-out and tired. I often see big name brands with excellent public marketing materials, but horrible B2B presentation templates. Stick with the approved fonts and colors, but offer different/better layouts and more concise messaging. If your company’s template is well designed already, try bolder layouts, use more color, reverse colors, or use larger concise headers with small body copy.
If you are trying to use novelty in your existing, branded presentation template try doing it with imagery. Be careful if you want to break from your brand colors and fonts. You probably won’t be able to make a good case for that. You might, however, be able to get away with using a different image style as long as it is purposeful. You can do something as easy as converting to black and white if your presentations usually use full color images, or vice versa. Or you could switch to monochrome using a brand color. If your company does not have strict brand guidelines, then consider what your audience thinks they are about to see, in terms of imagery, and give them something a little different. This works especially in situations where the audience expects dull, unprofessional looking slides. It’s not what they want. It’s just usually what they get. Elevating the design standards of your deck can act as a novelty in this situation. Some other simple ideas to consider:
Many presenters are turned off by animation. This is not because animation has no use. It is because, like PowerPoint, it is used ineffectively (or annoyingly). So, we see a lot of bad examples of it. It is also, I hate to say, because a lot of presenters don’t want to deal with all the clicks it takes to use slide animation effectively. I am a huge proponent of subtle builds and transitions, so I will argue for the additional effort it takes to use slide animation. Not only will it bring an aspect of novelty to presentations, but it will also help to clarify your message by allowing you to more precisely control the flow of your story. Plus, slide animation is often very easy to set up.
To use novelty in the writing of your presentation simply ask yourself how your company’s standard presentations are being written and do something different. If the presentation is external try to find out , if possible, what will be the likely styles of your competitors. Bringing novelty into your writing will affect the entire meeting and bring attention to your message as well as you, the presenter.
One obvious example that I see all the time is that almost no one knows how to use words and images together. Slides should support the speaker, not the other way around. Cut copy. Be concise with your wording. Use limited text to mark what you are speaking about and to serve as a “memory hook” for those who briefly tune out. Never read off whole blocks of copy on your slides. (And, in fact, never write whole blocks of copy on your slides. Do that in your speaker notes instead). Not only is this a better form of communication, it is actually an all around better way to present. We all know it, but hardly anyone does it. Simply using this method may bring novelty to your presentation IF your audience is used to, or expecting, “death by PowerPoint.” And for those presenters who are timid about using a little showmanship, this is a conservative way to be different.
Another great way to use novelty in writing is to combine it with humor. It allows you to connect with your audience on a human level, it puts them at ease, and it serves as entertainment for what might be tough or boring information to get through.
Hopefully that will give you a few ideas about the how, when and why to use novelty in your presentations. Novelty will help you gain audience attention and get your message across. It does not have to be garish or over-the-top. A few subtle things that are noticeable are all it takes.
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