Friday, February 24, 2012

Space Too Tight? Use These 7 Tips to Slim Down Your Graphics

Sometimes no matter how much we try to convince our clients that less is more, we find ourselves shoving oversized content into an undersized space. Maybe your client wants to save money by only printing a two-page brochure, even though they have four pages of information. Maybe they could only afford a 1/4-page ad with enough text and graphics to fill a half-page space. Or maybe you are working on graphics for a page-restricted RFP and are over by several pages. If you are suffering from bloated content, then here are my 7 tips to trim down graphics and make them fit in tight spaces:
  1. Exclude extraneous words and descriptors. Change “Our Systematic, Quality Evaluation Process” to “Evaluation Process.”
  2. Use known acronyms. For example, “quality control” becomes “QC.”
  3. Use a sans serif, narrow font like Arial Narrow for graphics, tables, and callouts. (If your document does not embed the font, make sure the end user has the font.) Sans serif fonts are cleaner looking and easier to read for short chunks of text and small sizes. Narrow fonts shorten the width of each character, which allows more content in the same space.
  4. Decrease line spacing where possible. For page-limited proposals, I recommend using a .85 multiple line spacing in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and the same line spacing as font size in Adobe products (for example, 10-point line spacing for a 10-point font).
  5. Use short arrowheads.
  6. Remove all unused space.

  7. Delete extraneous imagery. If an image quickly communicates information, keep it. If, however, the image merely supports the information, delete it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

O' Caption, My Caption

To use a caption or not to use a caption with a graphic?

That is a question posed to me during the start of many projects—especially proposals.

I highly recommend using captions with your graphics. I am referring to the “title” of your graphic—also called a caption. This article does not address numbering graphics or referencing specific RFP requirements for proposals. (Of course, you want to make it easy for the evaluator to find and link your graphic to an RFP requirement, so why wouldn’t you do this?)

Good captions accomplish two things:
  1. Quickly and clearly share your graphic’s primary message.
  2. Give the reader a reason to care about your graphic.
If your goal is to influence or persuade your audience, your caption should be one sentence long and include a “benefit” and a “how” (often the solution). Place the “benefit” before the “how” to give the reader a reason to care about your solution. Whenever possible, include quantitative data to further validate your assertions. Professionals in almost every industry have a visceral, gut reaction to quantitative data, because what is measured is improved. Measuring or quantification tells the reader that your solution is tested, process-driven, repeatable, and lowers risk. The following is an example of a good caption.

If your goal is to clarify or explain (persuasion is not needed), your caption should summarize the content of your graphic. For example, “Company X’s organization.” Marketing materials (including proposals) are intended to influence, motivate, and persuade, and I always include a benefit: “To ensure an easy transition, Company X’s organization includes key personnel with 20 years of iFind software experience.”

To be successful, your graphic must be consistent with your caption. To confirm that your graphic is synonymous with your caption, remove the caption and ask others what conclusion they reach after reviewing the visual. If it is similar to your written caption, you have a successful caption. If not, modify your graphic or rewrite your caption based on your goal.

Sadly, most graphics do not communicate what the caption states. The solution is to write your caption first and then create the graphic based on the idea stated in your caption.

I use slightly different approaches for graphics in printed materials versus shown in a presentation:

Written Proposals
  1. Placement: Captions are shown beneath your graphic. It is the accepted convention and therefore expected. Your goal is to make it easy for the reader/evaluator to find what they are looking for.
  2. Style: The style should be different than the body text, so the reader knows it is associated with the graphic and not the surrounding body text. (You can certainly get away with a different color or size if it follows your template and/or RFP requirements.)
  3. Government vs. Commercial: The approach I recommend for Government proposals is not the approach I recommend for commercial props. Government proposals tend to require condensed line spacing (leading—the space between lines of text) whereas commercial proposals include more white space and can be a smaller point size.

Oral Proposals
  1. Placement: The caption should consistently appear at the bottom of your slides. Think of it as you “take away.” It is the final word or conclusion of the slide.
  2. Style: The caption is large enough and distinct enough to be readable and consistently recognized as the “take away.” I place my captions in stylized boxes no smaller than 14-point type (usually 20 point).
  3. Government vs. Commercial: For commercial proposals that do not have strict RFP stipulated outlines, I use an edited, shorter version of the caption as the title. I do so because the purpose of a good slide title is to make the audience care about the content of the slide. For Government proposals, place the caption at the bottom of the slide (see rule #1).
Follow these rules and match your caption to your graphic to ensure clear, concise, compelling communication and watch your success rate rise.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spark a Fire! Five Tips to Grab and Hold Your Audience’s Attention

Yaaaawn.

Even the best presentations lose your attention. Why? Because your brain is fast. Your mind drifts once you decide the information presented is unimportant or uninteresting; therefore, it is unnecessary to pay attention. You need to be engaged to stay focused. Your audience is exactly the same. The following are five techniques to capture and hold your audience’s attention throughout your presentation.
  1. Surprise. Say, show or do something that is shocking or unexpected. It can be as simple as a loud noise (a clap or a few notes of music) or an odd picture added to your slide deck. The purpose is to reengage the audience’s brain. Being unpredictable or incongruent snaps the mind to attention. For example, I attended a presentation where the hidden presenter “typed” sentences on the screen instead of speaking. The audience was dead silent and engaged the entire time.
  2. Cognitive Dissonance. Keep your audience guessing. Hold their brains off balance by feeding bits of information as opposed to revealing your point early. Build a graphic slide by slide as if assembling a puzzle. Slowly reveal parts of your graphic, briefly speak to each part and build your graphic so your point is revealed in the end.
  3. Story. Tell an interesting story that complements your presentation. Remember the saying, “Facts tell and stories sell.” Stories hook audiences from the start. Share a unique story to hold their attention but be sure the story ties into your presentation.
  4. Involve. Ask your audience to participate. Play a game, pose a question, solve a puzzle, or perform an exercise. For example, avoid telling your audience everything. Let them learn through trial and error. Give your group an exercise and ask what worked and what did not.
  5. Senses. The more senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch) you engage, the stronger the interest. For example, play sad music, show images of neglected animals and give your audience a cuddly puppy toy to pet while telling a moving story about animal rescue.
Combine these techniques for a winning presentation. During my graphic training sessions, I show the symbol on the right (allegedly created for the United States Department of Homeland Defense for use during disasters) and ask, “What does this mean?”

By doing so, I use two of the techniques listed above to capture my audience’s attention (“Cognitive Dissonance” and “Involve”).

Know your audience. If your audience feels manipulated and your approach held little relevance to the topic, you will lose their attention—and trust.

In the end, your goal is to affect your audience emotionally. Use these five techniques to spark a fire within your audience. Give them a reason care. Get them excited or concerned to engage their hearts and minds during and after your presentation.