Presenter’s Manifesto: Animate With Purpose

Much like the villain Loki of Avengers fame, animations should be burdened with purpose. Perhaps not glorious purpose, but purpose nonetheless, because gratuitous animation wears out audiences quickly. Tip 11, Animate With Purpose, states that animations should be carefully chosen to help the audience better understand the information being presented.

Chuck Jones, my favorite animator, at work

Chuck Jones, my favorite animator, at work

 As humans, we are wired to notice motion. When something moves within our range of vision, our attention is instinctively drawn to it. For this reason, animations – every one of them – should be intentionally and carefully planned. At best, careless animation unavoidably directs the audience’s attention away from the presenter, which is contrary to our purpose. At worst, it can lead to confusion.

Here are a few basic guidelines for effectively using animations:

  • Plan each animation. Have a purpose in mind for each animation. Every one. How will it help tell the story better? If if can’t, don’t use it.
  • Use comfortable motions. In the western hemisphere, people read from left to right. Consequently, animations that enter from the left tend to feel more natural. In like manner, we are quite accustomed to the effect of gravity pulling things down. Vertical slide transitions that move from top to bottom therefore feel more natural as well. Putting these two together, diagonal motions that move down and right will feel the best. Read Van Sijll’s work for more detail on this.
  • Keep it simple. Complex motion requires more of the audience’s attention, and if used too much, wears them out quickly. Revolving slide transitions, for example, are busy and get old quickly. Simple push transitions, on the other hand, are subtle yet effective.
  • Animate to reveal content gradually. When using bulleted lists, it’s often best to use a simple “reveal” or “appear” animation to uncover the bullet items one at a time as you address them. If they are presented on screen all together, the audience will be focused on reading the bullets instead of listening to you.
  • Be in sync with the slides. Since the audience will notice whenever something moves, you don’t want to waxing eloquent on one point while they’re viewing content that’s making a different one. With animation, there is always a risk of getting out of sync with the slides, so adequate practice, and an occasional glance at the screen during the presentation are good habits to form. It’s a good to know where the “back” button is on your remote in case you have to quickly recover.

Tip 11, Animate With Purpose, reminds us that animation can either be a great help or a great hindrance in communicating our message. We must plan each animation with purpose and care.

This post is part of the series “The Presenter’s Manifesto”.  You can find the beginning of the series here: Presenter’s Manifesto – Prologue

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