By Ken Molay
In order to think about designing for web presentations, you need to understand the three ways that web conferencing programs may show your visuals:
- Screen sharing. The software continually “scrapes the pixels” displayed on your screen, sending it to audience computers and reassembling it. The illusion of motion is created by having very rapid redraws, much like successive frames on a film strip.
- Conversion to dynamic content. You upload your PowerPoint file to the web conferencing server before your session. The conferencing software converts the PowerPoint to a dynamic format that attempts to preserve animations and/or slide transitions. How many effects are retained differs from vendor to vendor. The converted content is stored in the cloud and is accessed by attendee computers.
- Conversion to static images. Each PowerPoint slide is saved as an image. The slide images are stored on the web conferencing server and are cached for rapid display on attendee computers. Of course you lose all animations and slide transitions.
These display methods and the ways that remote attendees interact with a web presentation dictate the key considerations for slide design in a web conference.
Design Tip 1: Reduce or Eliminate Motion Effects
Restrict yourself to appear/disappear animations or fast fade-in/fade-out of elements. Method 3 throws away all your animations and transitions anyway. Under method 2, you are relying on the software’s conversion algorithm to faithfully reproduce the PowerPoint effect. Many of these algorithms have problems with newer Office 365 animations and transitions.
Morph is particularly troublesome, for instance. And with screen sharing, smooth motion taxes the ability of the software to simulate the effect without jittering and lost frames.
Design Tip 2: Stick with “Safe Fonts”
Julie Terberg recently updated her list of commonly-installed fonts for Windows and Mac. If you venture outside these suggestions, you may run into problems with conversion algorithms or proper display if a conference moderator or host runs your PowerPoint on their computer.
Design Tip 3: Change From a “Title Slide” to a “First Slide” as Soon as You Begin Speaking
If an attendee is having trouble with their audio, this is their only indication that you have started talking. I sometimes see presenters do two minutes of introductory comments while sitting on the title slide, followed by attendees writing in with: “Have we started yet?”
I often design a pre-conference slide including: “The conference will begin on the hour. There is no audio yet.” Then as I begin, I change to a slide saying: “You should now hear audio.”
Design Tip 4: Aim for an Average of One Slide Change per Minute
This is a very rough average, with plenty of room for variance. You don’t want a Lessig-style presentation with slide changes after every other word, as the conferencing software will have a hard time keeping up. But you also need more visual changes than when speaking in-person, as the slide progressions help to retain attendee focus when the audience can’t see your body language and motion on a stage.
Design Tip 5: Plan for Mobile Device Viewing
You already know that a good presentation should use large fonts and high contrast colors. Some people assume that this is less important for web conferences where each audience member is in front of a computer screen. But as we see continued growth in mobile attendance rates, people may be watching on small screens in harsh lighting conditions. Use the same design criteria you would choose for slides in an auditorium context. Big fonts, concise text, and highly distinctive color choices (no graphs with lines in turquoise, teal, and lavender!).
Ken Molay is president and founder of Webinar Success, a consulting firm that assists companies in producing and delivering effective and compelling web seminars. Ken combines a technical background with experience in corporate marketing and public presentations. He is a prolific blogger on the subject of web conferencing and its applications and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and industry publications. He is a frequent public speaker on the topic of more effective webinars.