Biting the Bullet: ending Death by PowerPoint, part 4: animation
I have long known students aren’t always listening to us or looking at our slides, despite the feeling that if they are paying for something, they’d want to know what it was they were paying for. This logic doesn’t follow: there are dozens of digital distractions in a lecture theatre. A quiet walk around one, whilst a partner was delivering his part of a shared lecture, revealed cell phones with Facebook and texts, tablets with Spotify, and one student was watching an Ultimate Fighting Contest, with her earphones in. We probably all have similar experiences. This blog is partly a reaction to that; an attempt to win back attention using simple biological reactions that PowerPoint can tap into.
The key issue for me is the motion involved. I understand that the eyes of predatory binocular vision creatures detect motion and look at it, to check for threats. Our eyes react to movement nearby, involuntarily as well as by choice. Making text move in PPT is a way that can draw students’ eyes,and therefore attention, sometimes without them realizing it. This may be a small way to compete with the range of distractions from what we are showing them.
First, I’d like to distinguish between animations and transitions. I think of transitions as movements between slides, and animations as movements within slides. The presentation literature (as opposed to any scholarship I have seen) generally frowns on transitions, because they are gimmicky but also, and much more importantly, because they interrupt the flow of slides, no matter how dazzling the transition. In fact, the more ‘exciting’ the transition, the greater the distraction. I’m inclined to agree. Most presenters use transitions, perhaps because they’re novel and because they can create great effects. I used to, but I don’t anymore.
Animations allow us to move text. This has been around forever: basic PPT allows us to bring in one bullet point at a time, meaning there is a simple way, even without taking any other guidance on this blog, to prevent suffocation by information and text overload. It seems few use even this. But these days, few respected professional presentations use bullet points.
I normally have 1 or 2 lines on a slide, with semi-transparent backgrounds to make the text clear without hiding the image. I animate the text lines individually, so when a new slide appears, the first text flies in automatically. Again, it’s easy and takes only a little time to master. Insert your text (insert; text box); right click on the dotted line of the text box; ‘animations’ on the top menu; choose your animation effect (I almost always stick with wipe or fly in); ‘effect options’ over on the top right; then go to start (further right) and ‘after previous’, or ‘on click’, whichever you prefer.
Left like this, the text will often not be visible against the image behind it, so I fill in the box with a partly transparent colour. I also use high contrast combinations, like red and white, dark blue and white and black and white. To do this, right click and then ‘format shape’; ‘solid fill’; ‘colour’; and finally, slide the transparency bar across, and watch it lighten and darken until you’re happy with the visibility of the text.
The effect is helpful indeed; students have commented on this. It’s possible, if time consuming, to take this further forward and have quite eye-catching text effects, and I would be happy to work with colleagues if they are interested.
Thanks for reading, and good luck 🙂