On the Struggle of Locating High-Quality Images

I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for greater use of images in our evaluation communications. And while I can get most people to vow to halt the use of clip art, finding high-quality images can be a total pain. What’s at our fingertips (i.e., available on Google Images) is a problem because it isn’t often licensed for free use and it sort of sucks. I mean, lots of what’s available via Google Images are the cliche, emotionless images that actually work against the connection we’re trying to make with our audience. Here’s a sampling of what to avoid:

The alien dudes – totally un-connectable

The kumbaya symbol of diversity – so overused, it’s a turnoff

The handshake – cliche and ubiquitous

Susan Kistler, Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association, blogged about other free sites to locate high-quality images and I suggest you bookmark these places.

But oh! The time you can spend scrolling through images! Hours lost!

What’s the solution? Just like you wouldn’t wander around the grocery store aimlessly, you should go into the stockphoto site with a list of appropriate images in mind. Get really specific in the site’s search engine. Tell that thing what you want! Make it do your bidding! Which brings me to the most important point of this post:

You have to know what you want.

The most efficient method of high-quality communication in our evaluation reporting is to invest in 30 minutes of visual thinking. Take this as your hall pass to get out of the office with a sketch pad and just doodle. What images come to mind when you think about your topic, your client, your message? Brainstorm, sketch, and play. Grab a small group of people and ask them to do some free association with you (i.e., “What images come to mind when I say ‘connect'”?). Then you’ll be much better prepared to shop the stock photo site like you shop at the supermarket – as quickly as possible.

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Report Layout in PowerPoint?

I was recently workshopping with a group of evaluators who had bravely submitted their work examples for group critique. In one instance, they had admitted that what I thought were text-heavy slides was actually a full written report. That’s right – they’d used PowerPoint for written report layout. Mind. Blown.

Then I started asking around. As it turns out, this is somewhat common. People find PowerPoint immensely easier to work with, particularly in terms of arranging text and graphics, than Word.

I get it. Totally. Evaluators don’t have time (or money) to learn fancy new software programs that make report layout simple. We’ve gotta work with what we have. And if it’s all going to end up as a PDF anyway, I suppose the software doesn’t make much of a difference. Just be sure to pay attention to two things:

1. Long reports need to be presented in portrait orientation. And this is possible in PowerPoint. Here’s a screenshot:

You can actually turn the orientation of your slides so that it looks more like a written report. In PowerPoint 2010, this is under the Design tab, within the Slide Orientation setting. Pretty cool, eh?

Why is this so important? Well, we are used to seeing slides in landscape (and the occasional chart or table) but we are used to reading long text in portrait orientation. And if we want people to be able to pay attention to what we are saying, rather than get distracted by internal questions like “Is she trying to give me a full report on PowerPoint slides?”, we have to work with the familiar.

2. Because PowerPoint works through textboxes, evaluators need to make sure the narrative text is set at an appropriate length.

Headers, call out boxes, and graphics are places where one can stretch the boundaries of margins in PowerPoint a bit more. But when placing the narrative text, it should be done such that the lines are no more than 8-12 words per line. (That’s 50-80 characters, depending on the font, for you folks that like to labor in long words.)

When our lines are longer than that (super easy to do when filling a landscape-oriented slide with a textbox), it gets difficult for the reader to track the text. Tracking the text is when a reader tries to finish one line and start the next. When the lines are too long, readers mistrack often, getting confused about which line is the next (and this interrupts comprehension and works against our intentions as evaluators).

So I’ll remain agnostic about the proper software program for report writing, as long as we can agree to pay attention to the components of legibility and comprehension research wherever we are.

I Think Powerpoint Just Did Something Right

It is so awesome to see Microsoft addressing the misuse of Powerpoint (I mean, did they really have a choice? One of their main tools has been so badly knocked in the media for its contribution to harming understanding, it was either address it or repackage!).

Though the storylines were insulting and they mistakenly referred to only males in the first sentence, good gracious they got it right!

1. Keep your chart simple

2. Don’t overdo the animations – use them when you are changing sections or topics

3. You can kill your presentation by overdoing bullet points

4. Move supporting data you would put on the slide into the notes section or in a printout

5. Ask yourself: Can I make my point with an image (Hint: YES!)

6. Please don’t read off your slide

7. Cut slide text wherever you can (then go back and cut more)

8. Distribute your handout at the end of your presentation so the audience stays focused on you

9. Help your slide content stand out by using simple, unpatterned backgrounds (but avoid their recommendation to use the preloaded templates – everyone recognizes them as a template!)

10. Step away from the computer to see if your text is large enough for the audience to read (Hint: Pick size 30 or larger)

See all 5 short videos here: http://www.microsoft.com/office/powerpoint-slidefest/do-and-dont.aspx?WT.mc_id=oo_enus_eml_videos

Looks like you can also submit your best slideshow for a contest starting soon. I’d love to see how this gets judged because in my view the best slideshows are completely uninterpretable without the presenter. If a slideshow can stand on its own, you need to cut text.

Nevertheless, it looks like the folks at Microsoft have finally figured out what some of us have been screaming (and begging and pleading) about for a few years now. Sweet! The more, the merrier.