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How to Use Graphics in Your Presentation

Here are five easy rules for when and how to put graphics in your presentations.
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Most business presentations are about as interesting as watching paint dry in slo-mo, so the last thing you want is to make your presentation MORE boring by misusing your graphics.

Here are some simple rules based on a conversation with psychologist Stephen M. Kosslyn, author of the book Clear and to the Point.

Note: I've included some very rough examples to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Needless to say, your own slides will be somewhat more polished.

1. Use a graphic when illustrating relative amounts.

Graphics are particularly good at communicating that one thing is larger than another. If you attempt to express this with words and numbers, you're forcing your audience to do mental mathematics. Why not make it easy for them?

WRONG:

RIGHT:

2. Use graphics to simplify rather than more complex.

If your data contains multiple elements (like sales over time), a graph is the best way to communicate. However, don't crowd the slide with data lest it become a puzzle-solving exercise. Keep it simple.

WRONG:

RIGHT:

3. Break complicated concepts into multiple graphics.

It's very difficult for an audience to absorb a complicated graphic. Rather than present it as a massive wall of visual data, break the graphic into chunks and show how each chunk relates to the previous chunk.

WRONG:

RIGHT:

You: "Here is our basic organizational structure." (Click)

You: "We are now going to focus on the R&D group."

4. Don't use corny clip art.

Actually, Kosslyn didn't say anything about this, but it needs to be said: enough with the happy workers who look like they've stepped out of a soap opera!

WRONG:

RIGHT:

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IMAGE: intelfreepress/Flickr
Last updated: Mar 6, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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