Damith C. Rajapakse is a faculty member at the School of Computing, National University of Singapore. He has a deep interest, and many years of experience, in presentation design and the craft of software building. He is the project mentor for the PowerPointLabs project and other similar efforts.
In this conversation, Damith discusses the Animate in Slide options the currently free PowerPointLabs add-in for PowerPoint.
Geetesh: Your Animate in Slide option does something that was very painstakingly slow in just an instant – can you explain this feature and what motivated you to automate this?
Damith: When presenting a detailed slide, moving a shape (e.g. an arrow) around the slide in multiple steps can help the audience follow your explanations. Here are some examples:
As you pointed out, creating such an animation used to be a painstakingly slow process. We thought it was time we did something about it. With the PowerPointLab’s Animate in Slide feature, all one has to do it is select the shapes and click a button. It takes just a few seconds only and the results are always perfect, which was not the case when using the traditional method.
Geetesh: Animation does receive a lot of criticism and people complain that it often distracts the audience rather than holding their attention. However, there’s a purpose behind animation – how much animation is sufficient and when do you know that you have crossed the limit?
Damith: We are here because our ancestors were good at detecting movements, which helped them to detect dangers quicker, which in turn helped them survive longer so that they could pass down their genes. That is why we are hardwired to pay attention to moving things, so much so that we cannot ignore movements even if we wanted to. It is in our genes. That is also why animation can enhance or ruin the audience’ experience, depending on how it is used in a presentation. For example, animation is a great tool for catching and directing audience attention (as in the example animations above), but when used excessively, it becomes a distraction. When used for directing attention, it should last no longer than it is enough to catch the eye of the audience.
In addition, we can use animations to convey meaning. For example, the animation below (also created using PowerPointLabs) shows how a bad cell embeds itself among good cells, which may be easier to understand when animated like this than when showing a static diagram only. When using animations to convey meaning, we should still make it as short as possible, and strictly use only animations that convey the right meaning. An animation that neither directs attention nor conveys meaning has no place in a presentation.