Moving Emphasis

As much as I advocate for minimalistic slide design, sometimes that just can’t happen. Sometimes you’ve gotta have a lot of words or a logic model or diagram to show. I previously showed one strategy for handling this – the Slow Reveal. But incrementally revealing parts of a complex image might not work for you. So here’s another strategy – Moving Emphasis.

Let’s say I was trying to explain to an audience how they can submit a proposal for the American Evaluation Association 2012 conference. My slide might look like this:

I need to show the whole screenshot here so I can illustrate the proposal submission process while also talking about the individual pieces. But instead of projecting this single screenshot, which would lose visual interest quickly, I can begin using arrows, circles, and other emphasis techniques, like this:

This was as simple as inserting an arrow shape in PowerPoint. Then, as I talk about the next bit, I move to the next slide. Same screenshot, different part emphasized:

I just inserted a text box and a circle shape to draw the viewer’s attention where I want it to go. This way, I can help my listeners better track my own words because the visual matches my verbal pace.

I like this red because it is so good at drawing attention (image how the effect would be lessened with black, for example), but you could even customize the moving emphasis to match your project’s colors.

When we use Moving Emphasis as a technique, it allows us to keep the same visual – which is really helpful in some circumstances, like websites. So we capitalize on attention-grabbing elements like circles and arrows to guide attention and maintain visual interest. Have fun!

Handling Colorblindness

Dealing with potential audience colorblindness isn’t as mysterious as it seems. (And as an added bonus, by way of handling colorblindness, you’ll also fortify your work against the dim bulb in the projector or the color settings on the presenter laptop that skew your established color scheme.)

One product, Color Oracle, can be downloaded right to your computer – it’ll run through your selected documents and show you what it would look like to someone with the various types of colorblindess. (Howeva, I couldn’t get it to download when I tried.)

Vischeck can do the same sort of thing online or on your computer. I uploaded a line graph produced with the default Excel colors:


As seen with red-green colorblindness:

This simulated image is pretty hard to follow, isn’t it? All the better to have good legend labeling. Or highlight the most important line with one color and make the rest of them gray. You can handle it.

Here I Vischecked a slide I replicated from all the others I’ve seen that make me cringe. The slide on the right shows what it would look like with red-green colorblindness (deuteranope).

Yeah, that’s terrible. But the original image on the left is pretty bad in the first place! So it isn’t really about the red-green color combination – it’s about the contrast of the two colors. Below I still used red and green to make my original slide, but note how much more readable it is both before and after Vischeck:

So don’t be afraid of color combinations – but do focus on making sure you have a light-dark pairing that will hold up no matter the projector quality, presentation laptop color settings, or audience impairment.


Here’s a procedure I use all the time to help me select color combinations for my reporting. It makes use of this great, free, online program that takes all the scientific color theory stuff and translates it for those of us without a MFA.

First, I head to my client’s website and take a screenshot of their logo.

Then I go to this cool program, called Adobe Kuler (pronounced “color,” I’m pretty sure) at This is a color picking website. Once you sign in, you can upload your image. Here I have my client’s logo I just stole from their website. And the program picks out the exact colors from the logo.

Once I save, I can click a little sliderule icon that gives me the RGB color codes. With those color code numbers, I can customize the palette of my word-processing and presentation software programs to match my colors to those of my client.

I just write down those RGB color codes and head over to Word. Here I’m showing a screenshot where I transferred the RGB codes from Kuler into the Custom Colors option (right-click on, say, Heading 1 in the Styles menu and select Modify, then click on the arrow by the color menu, go down to More Colors, and click on the Custom tab).

In the same area you can modify the font, justification, etc. Once you have set up your page layout the way you’d like, go to the Themes button and select “Save Current Theme.” This will allow you to access to these settings on other Word documents and even in other Office programs like Excel or PowerPoint. I like to name the theme after my client and use the theme consistently in all of my work with them.

Why go to all that trouble? Because now you have an intentional tone that communicates consistency and belonging with your client’s work, and that’s what evaluation should be.