Why Your Presentations Lack Depth, And What You Can Do About It

Your audience has become numb to PowerPoint. In fact they’re pretty much bored with static slides altogether. They’re spatial learners. They need a sense of context to relate information and ideas based on connections and patterns. They want depth. And if you want your presentations to resonate with your audience, you’d better give it to them.

Think about it. We’re born into a 3D world. If someone asks you to close your eyes and visualize the layout of your living room, that should be relatively easy—the placement of the couch, the television, the coffee table. However, if someone asks you to close your eyes and visualize the first line of the second paragraph of a book you read last week, I’m guessing that would be a lot harder. It’s just the way most of us are wired.

It’s not like PowerPoint didn’t try to add functionality to make presentations more interactive and engaging. Remember those animations and sound effects that for many seemed so cool at the time but quickly became overly distracting? Who am I kidding—I think most people are probably trying to forget. But just because transitions like "fly in" and "float in" and sound effects like "applause" and "camera" were incredibly annoying, doesn’t mean it’s any less important for us to visualize our ideas.

And that’s a point that wasn’t lost on the folks at Prezi, makers of zooming presentation software. "Creating a visual journey lets your audience know where they are and where they’re headed and that helps to create a sense of context" says Peter Arvai, Prezi CEO. "That context adds depth that makes it easier for people to understand ideas and their relationships to each other" he added. What’s most interesting about 3D imaging and other emerging technologies is how they’re changing the way we design and deliver information.

Instead of just throwing static words up on a projector screen, we’re able to use spatial relationships and visual effects to share big ideas and tell powerful stories. By adding visual depth, we finally at a point where we can create truly immersive experiences that will increase the likelihood that our audience will actually comprehend and remember our presentation content. I’d say that’s worthy of an "applause" sound effect, wouldn’t you?

Shawn Graham is a marketing and brand strategist for startups and small businesses. Find Shawn at shawngraham.me or continue the conversation on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Michael Porter]

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  • Janthonysteele

    Absolutely spot on!  Many of the best sales people do this without even thinking when they provide truly insightful analogies during sales presentations.  They provide "spatial context" that the customer can relate to and feels more comfortable with therefore allowing them to better grasp what the sales person is trying to convey.  It's one of the best adult learning techniques as well.

  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks for the comment. Analogies and visuals can go a long way in creating context--especially when you're trying to convey something complex. A great example I always reference is from a presentation on leadership. The speaker could have said "Be persistent" but instead he said "Be a sandbag clown." I'll never forget it. He asked the group of 275 MBAs in the audience if they were familiar with sandbag clowns--a few shook their heads. So he went on to explain what they were--and I found myself visualizing his point. And I still remember it 10+ years later.

  • Paul

    I've used PP for a decade at a level most would never believe possible.  There is no way you can build anything close to what Prezi can do with PP.  Look at these presentations!  They are amazing.  The content is active.  I can zoom in and out with a mouse wheel and pan with click and drag or multi touch.  It can be dumbed down into a PP like feel but there's little comparison.

  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks, Paul. PowerPoint was definitely on to something when they added animations. Unfortunately, they quickly became annoying instead of making presentations more robust. I'm curious to see what will happen as technology continues to become more interactive and immersive.

  • Sandy

    I've done what Prezi does using PowerPoint. And, I can do it in such a way that the audience doesn't fall off their chairs from the zooming. It won't be long until audiences realize that Death by Prezi is more fatal than by PowerPoint. It's not the tool that makes great (or bad) slides -- it's the user.

  • Shawn Graham

    Sandy - great point. It all starts with content and delivery. Flash can help drive a point home, but there has to be a point there to begin with. It didn't take people long before they were suffering from animation overload with PowerPoint. 

  • ShawnGraham

    Thanks, Cher. You can find examples on the Prezi website. Check out  “Tribute to Existence: Our Space in Space”

  • ShawnGraham

    Jason - you can find examples on the Prezi website. Check out “Tribute to Existence: Our Space in Space”