Three Simple Rules for Slideshow Animation

We’ve all been in the audiences of far too many presentations that unleash all the bells and the whistles of slideshow animation with a frenetic, pyrotechnic display that challenges a Fourth of July celebration or a night at Disneyland.

That such excess happens is no surprise. The many options in the pull-down menus and ribbons of animation are as fascinating as are all the many joystick and button combinations on the keyboard or controller of a computer game. Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Transition has 48 effects grouped into three categories, with variable speed options for each. They cry out, “Try me!”

Uncontrolled, they can cause the loss of the game or the presentation.

The obvious solution is to exercise restraint, but that is negative advice. What to do instead? Three simple, overarching rules will bring your presentation to life (after all, that is the definition of animation) and, more important, bring clarity, if not tranquility, to your audiences.

  1. Rule One: Make the default direction of your animation left to right. Text in Western languages is printed from left to right. This simple fact drives how humans perceive visual stimuli. When your audience sees images move from left to right, it will feel natural and pleasing to their eyes—and make them more receptive to you and your message.
  2. Rule Two: Use direction to express the action in your message. If you want to show rising revenues, have your animation move from the bottom up; if you want to show declining costs, have your animation move from the top down. If you want to send a negative message (say, about your competition), reverse direction and move your images right to left.
  3. Rule Three: Allow your audience to absorb your animation. The highly reactive optic nerves in your audience’s eyes cause them to react involuntarily to light and motion. Therefore, the instant your animation starts, all their attention suddenly shifts to the screen and away from you. Because they are so focused on the animation, they don’t hear anything you’re saying, nor do they see what you’re doing. Therefore, whenever you introduce anything new on the screen, stop speaking, turn to the screen, and allow the new slide or animation to complete its full course of action.

Think of these three rules as using animation to tell your story just as a Walt Disney movie does, but leave the fireworks to Disneyland.

This blog is an excerpt from my book Presentations In Action 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.