To use animations and transitions in presentations cleverly, treat them as an expensive commodity
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Definitions: An animation in presentation slides is the movement of an object, such as a text box or a picture, within a slide, while a transition is the movement from one slide to the next.
Over ten years ago, I attended the Master’s thesis defence of a then colleague of mine. He is a linguist and a self-professed computer enthusiast. The former had provided the topic for the thesis, while the latter had affected how he had created his slides.
Probably to show off his PowerPoint prowess, he made each piece of text appear in the slides using a different animation. And each new transition between slides was different from the previous ones too. I had had no idea there were that many animations and transitions in PowerPoint.
Soon, the audience was in awe and it clearly reacted to each new animation and each new transition.
What do I remember from that thesis defence after more than ten years?
Except the mind-boggling number of animations and transitions.
In other words, the wrong thing. Which just proves how distracting animations and transitions can be if they are misused because they distract from your message.
The best policy is to keep them as simple as possible and unspectacular as possible.
However, there are sometimes exceptions.
About three years ago, my wife and I were developing a presentation for the then president of the Brazilian competition authority, CADE, which he delivered at the New York State Bar Association, and different version of it later at Yale University and NYU.
At the beginning of the presentation, he had to tell the story of how the competition watchdog was transformed into a much more effective body. The presentation was meant to be very short and we decided that the best and the quickest way to tell the audience about the success of the transformation was to compare the critical newspaper headlines from before the change with the complimentary ones after it. And for this purpose, creating a visual story using a complex sequence of animations and transitions was in our opinion the perfect solution. Please watch below.
The headlines added objectivity and credibility to the message, while delivering it in less than a minute and a half.
After our client grabbed his audience’s attention with a short and impressive visual story, they were all ears to find out how the Brazilian competition authority were able to pull it off.
So my best advice for the use of animations and transitions is:
Treat them as a very expensive commodity and imagine that the more complicated they are, the more they cost. This should help to keep them simple, except when there is a very good reason not to. And in reality, those reasons are very far and few between.
And the ultimate guideline for deciding when to keep them simple and when not is how well they focus the audience’s attention on your story and message.
They should never be an end in themselves.
How do you use animations and transitions in your presentation? I’d love to hear it.