Last week’s post about why I don’t recommend Prezi got a lot of people talking, and the consensus seems to be that even if you do find some uses for Prezi, the use of excessive animation is at best distracting and counterproductive, and at worst actually nauseating for the audience.
Animation should only be used when it helps the audience to understand a point – i.e. the movement or effect should be meaningful. Text does not need to fly in from all parts of the screen – it can just appear, or fade in, at the right time. Building up a slide point by point is fine and in fact often highly recommended – just don’t have things moving around for no reason.
‘Animation’, of course, means different things. It doesn’t just mean moving things around on the projector screen. While that kind of animation should be strictly rationed, another kind should be strongly encouraged. That’s the animation of people: specifically, you and your audience.
As you communicate with your audience, you need to be animated. I don’t mean that you should be jumping all over the place like Steve Ballmer on hot coals. But in your movement, your body language and your intonation, you need to be animated in order to keep people awake, and more than that, to animate your audience.
Move around the stage (if possible) with clear, deliberate movements, stopping in certain places, speaking for a while, then moving to another part of the stage. This has the effect of breaking up what you are saying into ‘verses’, each of which is easily digested. Make sure, therefore, that you are moving at logical break-points in your speech, and not in the middle of a paragraph. Each movement then awakens the audience to the beginning of a new ‘verse’, so it does not seem like one long monologue.
It also won’t seem like a monologue if you animate your voice. There so many ways you can modulate your voice – faster vs slower, higher vs lower, louder vs softer, excited vs dead-pan, one accent vs another, etc. – that there is no reason at all for you to use exactly the same voice (speed, pitch, volume etc.) throughout. That’s called monotony, and there’s a good reason why it is synonymous with boredom.
At the end of the day, your aim is to animate your audience. The more awake they are, the more interested they are, the more likely they are to listen to your message and do something with it afterwards. So get them involved. Get them to think. Ask them questions. Ask them to do little exercises in pairs. Ask for a show of hands on a particular point. Ask them all to stand up, and then sit down if they meet a particular condition, e.g. “you may sit down if you have never seen a boring presentation” (continue with additional conditions until only a few are left standing).
If you and your audience are more animated than your slides, then you’re doing something right. If however you spend all your time worrying about animating your slides, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Animate your audience – not your slides.