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Less really is more (impact).

February 20, 2010

No matter the audience or the message, it’s easy to make even a simple topic sound complex: just present too much about it.  The result feels complicated and confusing—and that feels bad.  Less, but well-chosen content feels like simplicity—and that feels good.

Saint-Exupery 1900-1944

And that’s the first rule of getting to simple: reduce the content.

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
French aviator and writer

As the designer for your presentation, your task is to take everything out that you possibly can at every level; nothing extra talked about and nothing extra on the slides. The latter is especially important as cluttered, text-heavy slides are tiring and make things feel complicated. Well composed, visually pleasing slides feel simple.  So ditch the decorations: the clipart, the superfluous image, the logo on every page, if it can be removed, get it off the slide. If you can do without the slide, delete it.

Reducing your content is a process of filtering stuff out leaving only that which is crucial to your message.  The first filter is audience—do these people need this information?  Maybe they know it or maybe they don’t need the details, whatever, you need to filter the content to what this audience really has to have. The second filter is purpose—is that slide, topic, or data really supporting my message? do they really care about it–why? if it’s removed will the message still get across?

In reducing the content, please don’t do what I’ve seen a few times–reduce the slide count by just cramming it all on to fewer slides! That has the opposite effect of what you want (and gives me a headache, too).  Instead you need to be creating “white space.”  That’s a concept out of the printer’s world and refers to the parts of the page with no text on them.  Just because white space looks empty doesn’t mean it’s useless or wasted.  Instead what happens is that you create a simpler page and one where the important stuff you left there now has a chance to stand out because it’s not competing with the clutter.

This is hard and painful. It’s going to feel like your getting rid of really cool stuff you want them to see, the great tidbit you ‘need’ to tell them about. It also means you really had to do your homework to understand just what your core message is, why the audience cares about it and what they’ll need to see and hear to “get it.”  Yep, hard and painful.

Tip: A useful trick to reduce the pain and maybe impress the audience as well is to pull all those cool bits out but put them (and the rest, too) in a nicely formatted leave-behind paper.  I often use this to great effect. You can refer to having more details in the paper or a specific tidbit that’s in there–and if they do read it later you got another chance at helping them understand, remember and be inspired.

For me at least I can’t do this as I build the draft presentation. I get it roughed out and then go back and take several passes through it weeding everything out I can–lots of cut-n-paste into the document that will eventually be the leave-behind. When I think I’ve gotten it down the minimum it’s time to focus on the other way to make it feel simple: organization. And that’s next.

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