We have all sat through yet another interminable boring PowerPoint presentation often riddled with poor use of graphics. As engineering professionals we tend to stick to the technical side and most of us avoid presentations like the plague. However here are some really great tips I have picked up  (or stolen?) on how to use graphics (or visuals) in your next engineering presentation– well, with some panache.

Dear Colleagues

We have all sat through yet another interminable boring PowerPoint presentation often riddled with poor use of graphics. As engineering professionals we tend to stick to the technical side and most of us avoid presentations like the plague. However here are some really great tips I have picked up  (or stolen?) on how to use graphics (or visuals) in your next engineering presentation– well, with some panache.

There is no doubt that graphics are vital in a good presentation and can gain a lot of attention from technical personnel who immediately sit up when a piping diagram or a pump or circuit schematic appears on a slide. But I get quite despondent when I see graphics used wastefully and poorly. And to add insult to injury, probably one of the killers these days is the use of enormous deluges of videos (which often are poorly explained and have very little relation to the actual presentation). Another trick is to make extensive use of sound and animated graphics. Which while initially entertaining end up confusing (and ultimately boring) everyone.

There is (unfortunately!) no replacement as yet (by machine or software) for a well researched, rehearsed and dynamic presentation by you. But there are no points about graphics which can assist you in your next presentation.

The keys to use of good graphics are:

  • Use them sparingly
  • Make them big so that they can be clearly seen
  • Make them simple so that they can be understood (even by an orang utan!)
  • Avoid garish colors that can’t be seen at the back of the room
  • Make them memorable, so that people will remember them long after your presentation has been concluded.
  • Engineering professionals tend to prefer useful schematics rather than cute pictures of industrial plant and equipment

So why use graphics in your presentations?

  • You simply can’t present slide after slide of text – too boring – so they can be a useful divider of text and refresher
  • Explain difficult concepts where text is not up to the task
  • Graphics are great for getting across symbolic points you want to be remembered
  • They provide a useful prompt or prop for you to talk around when discussing some concept
  • If used appropriately, they show your audience that you have gone to some trouble to create a really professional presentation to benefit them (rather than a bunch of text-ridden slides)

Cut out the clutter (and noise)
Many graphics have an enormous amount of clutter in them. One needs to apply the so called “three second rule”. If your audience can’t read and understand the graphic in this time; you need to simplify it further. Otherwise they are distracted from what you are telling them as they try and unravel the mysteries of your graphic.

Ways of reducing clutter include:

  • Remove unnecessary detail such as grids, numbers and other irrelevant details
  • Focus only on including that you are discussing (this may mean eliminating the remainder of the graphic).
  • Get rid of any numerical details and use a bar or line graph to get the point across
  • Don’t use legends with graphs – label directly on the lines in the graph to minimize your audience flipping back and forth to the legend.

Give your bulleted sequences the bullet
An audience can be exhausted by the endless bulleted lists on slide after slide of PowerPoint. So be innovative here and use a graphic to replace the bullets. For example, a star with the individual bulleted items at each point of the star often looks far more appealing than plain text.

Symbols and more symbols
A great list of symbols as a replacement for using text to make your message (of clichés) more memorable could include a graphic of:

  • An electrical plug and socket for “plugged into a concept or thought”
  • An engineer swinging a bat for “taking a swing at corruption/poor practices…”
  • A rocket with the concept written on it for “taking off like a rocket”
  • A blindfolded person about to step down a manhole with no cover for “blind to danger or safety issues”
  • Kids building blocks for “the basic building blocks in creating some new concept”

And at the end of the day; ensure that an incredible graphic doesn’t take your audience away from you and distract them totally from your message.

Thanks to Peter and Cheryl Reimold for some good ideas in writing this piece.

Always remember Alfred Montapert’s comment about the end game of visualization – you still need to do something :  “To accomplish great things we must first dream, then visualize, then plan... believe... act”!

Yours in engineering learning

Steve

Mackay’s Musings – 10th May’16 #599
780, 293 readers – www.idc-online.com/blogs/stevemackay