Has anyone ever said you should make your slides more consistent? What was the issue, and how did you respond? (Feel free to join all the other people who’ve left a comment below with their thoughts and experiences on consistency.)
Last week, speaking coach Susan Trivers wrote a short post called “Avoid uniformity for the sake of uniformity”. It resonated so much with me – and consistency is probably a hot topic for you too – so I hope you find both this post and Susan’s helpful.
“During a recent discussion …people were pushing for [several slides’] titles to read either Improvements or Innovations, even though what was being proposed [on the slides] were neither all of one or all of the other.”
Here’s my 1st thought on those slides:
If the audience sees several slides in a row headed “Innovations”, ironically they’ll start to feel that the content doesn’t seem so innovative any more! (To the audience, what looks like a list of similar items has a hard time seeming innovative.)
I often struggle with how far to take consistency
Looking beyond that specific example, I must admit I often struggle with how far to take consistency myself. Usually people use “consistent” to mean keeping things the same. But our brains are wired to tune out to sameness, and to notice differences. So, consistent design elements (like using just a few colours throughout your slide deck) can be a good way to de-emphasise your slide design so your slide content stands out.
Our brains are wired to tune out to sameness
But if your content is consistent (meaning repetitious, as with slides all headed “Innovations”), your audience will be turned off and will tune out. In fact to me, making your content consistent is like saying to your audience:
I don’t mean you should make your content chaotic
Please understand: Like Susan, I don’t mean you should make your content chaotic. I mean you should use consistency to make your audience tune out from things you don’t want them to focus on (like your choice of fonts or colours). Conversely, use contrast to emphasise differences between items (such as clearly separating one topic from the next), or to periodically kick-start your audience’s focus.
Even if you fill every slide with a different photo, that still gets samey
Yet, even with the good practice of using consistent design elements (like layout and colour), it’s easy to go too far. For instance, if all your slides have the same layout, your audience will get bored. And even if you fill every slide with a different photo, that still gets samey after a while. In an extreme case (which is all-too-common), if you use the age-old “title+bullet list” layout, you’ll likely bore people on your very 1st slide, never mind your 10th!
Use the same design elements, but in a different way
Use contrasting slide layouts. For instance, it’s a good idea to use a distinctly different design for your section title slides than for your other slides. That way, people can easily see when you move from one topic to the next in your presentation, which helps them understand your thinking.
(One way to make your contrasting slide layouts still look like they belong together is to use the same design elements as on your other slides, but in a different way. For instance, if your slides use a slightly textured background, your section title slides could use the same texture but with a different background colour chosen from your colour scheme.)
- Use these 7 content types (such as charts, quotes, and full-screen photos) as appropriate, to help keep people focused.
- Try using the word “cohesive” in place of “consistent”, to promote the idea of your slide designs (and your content) “going together” – rather than achieving what I call “cookie-cutter consistency”. To help you, here’s an analogy that I hope makes the difference between cohesion and consistency both clear and “clingy” (that is, memorable):
A set of jigsaw pieces can make a beautiful picture (due to their cohesion), whereas identical bricks just make a boring brick wall (due to their consistency). No prizes for guessing which is more appealing!
Over to you
So, how far do you take consistency, and when do you mix things up to keep your audience focused?
As I said, I often struggle with knowing how far to take consistency – or how far to leave it out! And I’ve had no formal training in graphic design, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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