On Software and Trust

“I don’t see how a software tool can create trust.”

“I am fascinated by your analysis of trust and how animation contributes to it.”

My last post, The Phenomenon of Attention, generated no small bit of commentary, including the two above. This doesn’t surprise me: the Animation engine within PowerPoint has been blamed for everything this side of 9/11, and I’m going to credit it with something as powerful as creating trust with an audience? Granted, just like PowerPoint shouldn’t be blamed for the bad things that people do with it, credit for the good things rests with those who use it properly. Still, hear me out…

It is rare that I ever lead a presentation skills workshop without discussing Animation. That holds true for the upcoming California series in April and a free webinar I’m hosting on April 24. I know how insatiable your appetite is for creating motion on a slide. And that’s the rub: so many people find this tool irresistible, abuse of privilege is bound to occur. Few things are more emblematic of Death by PowerPoint than checkerboarding photos and spiraling text. We’re all just so used to these types of dreadful treatments, we just roll our eyes and laugh.

The benefits of effective animation

This sets the stage for the person who knows how to use animation properly during a presentation. Animation finds its highest form when you use it to sequence dense, chunky data, like complicated bar charts, diagrams, and tables. When you bring audiences along gradually and allow them to appreciate the arc of your story, they develop an immediate sense that you’re different. When you resist the temptations and limit yourself to tasteful wipes and fades, you create a completely different experience for your audience members. Here are a few of the good things that happen when you use animation properly:

Your audience really gets it: I’m a proponent of separating form and content to promote understanding. Offering up the empty chart is a great way to prepare your audience for the rest of it. Showing just the topics helps frame the conversation before you give the information within each topic.

You control the pace: Most dense slides are displayed too quickly, leaving audience members feeling as if they have just drunk from the fire hose. If you suspect that members of your audience are not clear on what it is you’re about to show them, you can wait until they understand before continuing.

You become more confident: When you prepare a slide with intelligent sequencing, you have control of your audience in the palm of your hand—literally, if you use a wireless remote. Confidence is one of two transferable commodities that can make a presenter more confident.When you are confident about how you handle your technology, you will become more confident about the content of your presentation.

You create trust: And now for the biggie, the second transferable commodity. PowerPoint audiences are so often on guard in case a presenter does something ridiculous with animation or obnoxious with content, it’s amazing that they remember anything. When you take your audience members through a difficult topic with a friendly pace and a well-conceived plan, you tell them that they can relax, lower their guard, and just take in the information. They can trust that you won’t do something stupid and annoying.

And when your audience members begin to trust you with the way you use the software, they will be inclined to trust you with your message. And trust, I submit to you, is perhaps the most powerful emotion of all. It could be the promised land for presenters. How ironic that animation, the tool derided by so many for so long, could be the very thing responsible for real, measurable audience engagement and appreciation.

Imagine that…


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