PPP#9 — Clip art enhances my slides

Persistent Presentation Paradigm #9: “Clip art makes my slides look more interesting and sophisticated. A Dilbert comic can say more than thousand words.”

We know there is a great desire for that special ingredient that makes presentations look smart and professional. Learning how to achieve that is one of the all-time-top-five wishes of our seminar participants, and it doesn’t get easier to diappoint them with the fact that it takes far more than two seminar days to get there, and that there are no shortcuts. Clip art seems to be such an easy way out. We just put one of those funny little figures on our slides, and break the ice. If that does not quite meet our level of sophistication we can always take it a step further and use one of Scott Adams’ famous Dilbert comics…

But as for every element on a slide, we have to ask the one question: “What purpose does it serve?” As it happens, we ask that question often enough — and the answers we get are variations on the same theme: “It makes my slides look more interesting.” That is one of the most persistent presentation paradigms ever. Yes, we can dream up circumstances when even a cartoon on a slide makes sense (Barry Schwartz delivers some examples). But, and that is a big BUT, it has to serve a purpose other than being decorative, or funny. Our slides have to be free of any extraneous, superfluous, or irrelevant elements in order to be efficient. We should not use pictures — clip art, cartoons, comics, or even photos — only for decoration. Perception works in many different ways. Medium and message are deeply interconnected.

There is one more element to consider, the element of quality. People might not realize it, but they register the visual quality of images, and draw conclusions about the presenter. This is a powerful mechanism. Poor image quality can damage our credibility. If our listeners get the impression we have not put enough effort into our presentation we loose their respect — and we might never get the chance to win it back.

Paule Wendelberger