4 Key Considerations for Presentation Strategies

I think that one of the interesting things about the professional writing industry is that it contains far more than just written documents, as I explained in my previous post about writing and computers.

Another important facet of being a professional writer is also being a professional presenter. In many companies, writers might find themselves having to make proposals for projects to company officials, or explaining difficult concepts to large audiences. And while writing is an integral part of constructing a presentation (the idea of “winging it” has no place in professional presentations), there is a lot more to consider.

TED Talks has many examples of fantastic presentations.

TED Talks has many examples of fantastic presentations. (TED Blog)

I learned about these important factors in a course I took at Seneca College called “PWR 382 – Workshop in Presentation Strategies.” My professor, Burke Cullen, took a practical approach to the course; there were presentations literally every week. This gave our class a chance to both learn about how other people present and apply our own strategies to presentations.

The thing about presentations is that there are different approaches to them. For example, Burke advocated for the use of Powerpoint, whereas Duncan Koerber (who I described in an earlier post) dislikes Powerpoint, and instead supports the use of Prezi. In another way, Burke told us that our presentations had to be heavily memorized, whereas Duncan told us to take a more natural approach, remembering only key points.

In PWR 382, however, I learned about four important considerations for presentations. And although certain elements of presentations are subjective, I do feel that anyone who wants to produce a professional presentation should do the following:

  • Consider Your Presentation Context: This consideration is most pertinent when putting your presentation together. One cliché we always hear in the professional writing world is that the audience is first and foremost. The reason this is a cliché, however, is that it is absolutely true. Presenters need to consider the needs of their audience: why are they listening to this presentation? Why should they care? When you have this information, you also need to consider how you’re going to do your research, and how much time you’ll have to present it. Context is everything.
  • Consider Your Physical Environment: Many people discount this consideration, but a good presenter should never be caught by surprise. Presenters should investigate their presentation area beforehand to get a feel for the size and the number of people to that they will be presenting. They should also investigate what type of equipment will be available (microphones, projectors) in case they need to make changes to their presentation. Also, some companies provide lecterns for presenters; this will affect any physical gestures that you might plan to do when you present.
  • Consider Your Voice: A presenter’s voice is naturally integral to his or her presentation; most presentations are live and oral, so a presenter needs to have complete control over his or her voice. This is perhaps the least subjective consideration, as there are some standard rules for maintaining a good voice for a presentation. Presenters should keep a good volume, a good pace and should enunciate every word. Presenters should also avoid things like uptalking or from an abundance of “ums” or “uhs.” A presenter’s voice should be clear for every audience member.
  • Consider Your Visuals: Presentations, like many documents, often have important visual aspects. There are different types of presentation software out there, but there are a few unifying principles that presenters should consider no matter what types of visuals they use. For starters, the visuals should be readable. Factors like a small font size or an ugly colour scheme can hinder the readability of a visual, so presenters should avoid these. It is also helpful to add titles to visuals. This helps audience members know where they are in the presentation. Lastly, try to keep a consistent appearance; this helps familiarize the visuals with the audience.

Of course, there are many different types of presentations, and each calls for a different strategy. Pearson Education’s Talking Business: Strategies for Successful Presentations gives a comprehensive guide to delivering excellent professional presentations. While a lot of the work that professional writers do is often behind a computer screen, you shouldn’t discount the fact that you may have to do a few of these presentations in your lifetime.

As always, I’m happy to answer more questions about presentations. If you would like to know more, leave a comment here or send me a question on LinkedIn.

10 Vital Tips for Visual Info and Document Design

In an earlier post, I discussed ways to improve the content of your writing. And while a document’s content is important, this is irrelevant if people are turned off by the document’s overall design. Content should always be produced in an attractive and clear manner; this not only keeps audiences reading your documents, it also helps them remember what they read.

So, when I took “PWR 480 – Advanced Workshop 1: Visual Info and Document Design” at Seneca College, I learned many important principles for optimizing the appearance of my documents. My professor, the excellent Sharon Winstanley, was very enthusiastic about the content, and she hammered each of these points into us until they were second nature.

Any professional writer looking to make clean, clear and concise documents should definitely take note of these important tips for document design:

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when choosing fonts.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when choosing fonts. (University of Calgary)

1. Choose the Right Font: While font choice may be menial to some, every designer knows that fonts are one of the most important parts of a document. Fonts greatly vary depending on readability and legibility; naturally, document designers select fonts that are very easy to read. Fonts also have distinctive personalities; we can immediately gauge the formality of a document that uses Times New Roman versus one that uses Comic Sans. Make sure that you choose the right font for the document you’re designing.

2. Consider Word and Letter Spacing: In many contemporary word processing programs such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign, you can adjust the overall spacing between words, lines and letters. The space between these elements is called local white space, and it affects the readability and legibility of a document. At times, words or letters may be too close together, at others, too far apart. Document designers should try to making text too dense, but should simultaneously use the space available efficiently.

3. Use Headings, But Use them Judiciously: Headings are a great way to organize information, as they describe what paragraphs of text are about. Headings are especially helpful for longer documents, as readers can quickly go to the appropriate heading to extract the information that they need. While headings help make documents more functional, document designers should be aware that too many headings can clutter a document. Readers who need to memorize a document will have a harder time doing so if there are too many headings.

4. Use Lists Effectively: Lists, like headings, are great way to easily identify groups of information. When using lists, document designers should be careful whether to make them vertical or horizontal; studies do show that vertical lists have a greater readability. Document designers should also decide between bullets and numbers; bullets usually work better for shorter lists, and numbers for longer lists. Lastly, be sure not to overload your audience with too many list items.

5. Pick the Right Image for the Job: Images are a fantastic way to convey visual information, but document designers must remember that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Each image in a document should serve one of three functions: it can be decorative (improving the overall aesthetic of the document); informative (a chart or graph that helps explain a complicated idea) or emotive (a touching photograph that adds emotion to the content). Please ensure that you’re not needlessly placing images if they don’t complete a specific function.

6. Introduce, Identify and Interpret Your Images: Remember, text has to work with an image in order for both elements to reach their maximum potential. When using an image, be sure to introduce it by describing what it is. You should also identify the image via an appropriate caption and title (for example, “Figure 1.1”). Lastly, interpret your image by stating its relevance in the text. This three-step method emphasizes clarity, which is very important for audiences.

7. Use Colour Effectively: Colour helps create unity in documents, both through images and text. For example, document designers can colour-code headings depending on the content they cover. This helps readers identify and group this colour-coded information together. Also, a document with multiple images might have all of them use the same colour palette. This creates aesthetic unity. Document designers can experiment with colour and use it to their advantage.

8. Create Global White Space: While I talked about local white space earlier, I also want to bring extra consideration to global white space, which is the overall white space of the document. An ineffective use of global white space can make a document too dense or too sparse, so document designers need to be weary when placing images or paragraphs on a page. There should be an ample amount of space between the separate parts of a page; this helps the document look clean and allows each part to be easily read.

The "F-Shaped Pattern" tracked via web browsing.

The “F-Shaped Pattern” tracked during web browsing. (Nielsen Norman Group)

9. Keep the “F-Shaped Pattern” in Mind: I’ve attached an image of the “F-Shaped Pattern.” This was created using technology that tracks human eye movement when a person reads a document. Often, people “scan” documents rather than reading them all the way through. As you can see, people are more likely to read the areas that are “hot spots” when they scan the page. Therefore, document designers should keep in mind that these “hot sports” are good places to put important information.

10. Avoid Underlining: This last one may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but this was one of Sharon’s professional (and personal pet peeves). We, as readers, are used to seeing and using underlines for emphasis. However, Sharon suggested that there are cleaner ways to emphasize a phrase, such as bolding or italicizing it. An underline actually makes the text less legible, and it also interferes with local white space. At first, I was skeptical about this, but after my experience in the course, I do feel that underlining is obsolete, as there are always cleaner options for emphasis and identification. Document design is a fun and creative experience, and I encourage all of you to play around with some of these elements to get a feel for what looks good and what doesn’t.

Of course, there are many more strategies for improving your documents. Thinking with Type is a great place to start, and there are tons of other resources online or in book stores.

If you’d like to ask me anything personally, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on LinkedIn.

4 Important Concepts of Writing and Computers

Wikipedia is a perfect example of webtexts done right.

Wikipedia is a perfect example of webtexts done right.

In my first year at York University, I took a course called “WRIT 1500 – Writing and Computers.” Considering that I enjoy both writing and computers, taking this course was a no-brainer; however, I wasn’t prepared for what my professor, John Spencer, was about to spring on our class!

The professor taught the class through a course wiki that was updated by the students themselves. We learned not only to produce written content optimal for online consumption but also to structure this content. We created our own personal wiki pages and our assignments consisted of completing wiki pages defining course ideas.

So, what were some of the things I learned from the course? I can describe 4 very important concepts for potential online content producers:

  • Webtexts: Webtexts are any form of online content. Webtexts are commonly thought to include only alphanumeric text (such as the “text” of this blog); on the contrary, webtexts include images, audio, video and other forms of media. Whether an blog post or a Youtube video, webtexts are “read” by their audiences. Therefore, online content producers need to be aware of the “reading habits” of their audiences.
  • Hyperlinks: Content that contains links to other content. Our professor stressed the importance of interconnectivity on the internet, and hyperlinks bring this concept into fruition. Hyperlinks allow users to access more content in an easy manner, so online content producers need to ensure that they use hyperlinks to their advantage.
  • Public Writing: The idea that user-generated content can help improve a webtext. Wikis are at the forefront of the public writing debate, as they allow any user (registered or anonymous) to edit articles. While this has raised concern about misinformation in wikis, public writing (when properly implemented) can create a plethora of valuable information and perspectives. As the internet becomes more communal, the amount of user-generated content is increasing, and online content producers must be sure to explore the possibilities that public writing allows.

This class really helped shape my perspective on online content production; I find the process both fascinating and fun (and after rereading my blog, I’ve determined that at times I have a little too much fun). I try to keep these four concepts in mind when producing any sort of online document, and I encourage others to do the same.

If you want to know more about this stuff, leave a comment here or send me a message on LinkedIn.