Slide Shows and Movie Stunts

At first glance, movie stunts would seem to have nothing to do with presentations, but an article about stunts written for Salon by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz, provides a valuable lesson for presenters. Mr. Seitz noted that the latest cinema technologies, while creating imaginative and exciting action, have lost the important element of continuity. He wrote that the modern movie “seeks to excite viewers by keeping them perpetually unsettled with computer-enhanced images, fast cutting and a camera that never stands still.” As a result, he claimed, the film denies “the viewer a fixed vantage point on what’s happening to the characters.”

In contrast, Mr. Seitz cited a 100-year old silent film of a man jumping out of a burning hot air balloon into the Hudson River. Although the film itself is lost, the key shot lives on in a Topps bubblegum card. The point of Mr. Seitz’s historic reference is that the image is “a sustained wide shot that showed the diver in relation to the balloon and the Hudson River,” thus providing context for the action and for the viewer. If that scene were shot today, he added, “We’d more likely see a flurry of shots, only one of which showed us the big picture.”

The operative words above are “in relation to.” In today’s films, computer animation and fast cutting move the story along so quickly audiences overlook or are unaware of the lack of context. In today’s pitches, presenters hurriedly cobble together a set of their existing slides, giving their presentations a one-after-another sequencing, in which no slide has any relationship to the preceding or following slides—and therefore no continuity for the presenter or the audience. An audience might try to figure out what one slide has to do with another first, but after a short while they give up and turn their attention to their mobile devices.

One solution is for the presenter to make verbal links between slides; another is to create continuity in the slide design using a technique called Anticipation Space. Below you see two boxes side-by-side, one filled and one empty—the empty box creates a sense of anticipation.

When the empty box is filled with a set of parallel items, as in the image on the right, it sends the message that your company’s solution fulfills every requirement.

Anticipation Space creates relationships, continuity, and much more: It makes your presentation easy for your audience to follow.

So easy, they might even look up from their mobile devices.

This blog is an excerpt from my book Winning Strategies for Power Presentations published by Pearson. Also check out my newly released Presentation Trilogy—Presenting to Win, The Power Presenter, and In the Line of Fireavailable on Amazon and other retailers.