Drive-By Inspiration

If you’re looking to jump-start your creative engines, look no further than right outside your windshield. That’s exactly where you might see some very interesting creative concepts looming high and wide across your view, in the form of very large visuals called billboards.

A well-designed billboard will catch your eye, communicate some information, make you smile, and prompt you to act. That sounds to me like pretty decent criteria for any particular PowerPoint slide, too, so let’s give it a try:

billboardHere’s a picture of a billboard I snapped at the intersection of Hollywood and La Brea in Los Angeles — it could be at the intersection of any two streets, anywhere. I thought it was interesting because it has a very simple composition, yet manages to be striking at the same time. Plus, it’s a good example of how we can translate visual inspiration from any outside source into our own PowerPoint communications.

Let’s say I’m a VP of sales & marketing getting ready to present to my team. I want my audience to remember a single specific datapoint from a recent survey — that 87 out of 100 customers said they were interested in trying out a new product. This information is very important to our business, because it indicates very high customer interest that we should act upon right away.

In earlier posts, we looked at ways we think outside of the grid, and stretch our visual canvas, so let’s apply those two ideas and see what we get:

This PowerPoint slide contains only a few elements — two black boxes that create the illusion of a wide and narrow canvas, a red box with text in it, and a red circle with a number in it. Very simple, yet it can be powerful in its delivery:

White text box fades in: “I suppose many of you are wondering what we learned from our recent marketing survey. You can download and study the results for yourself after our meeting today, but one point stood out clearly out of all of the valuable information we collected. I knew some of our customers had been asking about our new products, but I had no idea how strong the demand was.”
Circle with number fades in: “An incredible 87 out of 100 customers said they wanted to try our new products. This is very important information, because it means we need to quickly shift our resources so we can get the product samples out to the field.”

By pulling out the key datapoint from the survey, you’ve applied your critical thinking to an information problem (out of all this information, what is most important?), and your graphical solution guarantees that no one will miss your point.

Of course you could customize this slide any way you wanted, making the boxes blue, the circle a square, or any other adjustments. But the big picture here, is that you’ve opened up your perspectives to include the endless stream of big visual innovations that you otherwise just might be driving by.

Tip: Grab your digital camera the next time you hit the road, and when you see a well-designed billboard, pull over somewhere safe and take a snapshot. When you get back to your computer, take a look at the picture and see if you can duplicate the layout with your PowerPoint tools. Now take a look at your presentation and pull out the most important information you want people to remember — is there a way you can visualize your idea, as in the example above? Give it a try, and see if you can translate your drive-by inspiration into a more powerful PowerPoint.

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