Until Aldus Persuasion and PowerPoint came along, we gave talks using 35mm slides or used overhead projectors. Transitions did not exist unless you count sliding acetate sheets on and off the OHP as a transition. We simply gave our talks using static slides that changed when we pressed the advance button on the slide projector.
Then along came computer software which made life “easier” and more complex at the same time. Suddenly creating slides with text and simple images was easy but the software companies added in lots of options like shadows, backgrounds, transitions and animations that meant we could waste hours of our time playing with all the options.
Other companies designed templates to “help” our cause but these always seem to detract from our message rather than enhance it. No longer did we have to use boring backgrounds – we could use dramatic scenery behind our words and impress people even more! There is even software that projects spinning world globes or clouds moving across the sky as we talk. The complexity has increased so much that most of our time designing slides is less on the message and more on the glitz. I think this detracts severely from the presentation.
Slideware has improved hugely since the early programs were created. New programs like Keynote help to keep slides fairly simple, whilst making it easy to incorporate some animation and transitions without totally destroying the presentation.
So which things are acceptable and which are not? Most of the transition effects (i.e. those seen as one slide moves to the next) are a bit cheesy. Those with very complex graphic effects are worst. Apple introduced the cube effect with the first version of Keynote. This effect shows the 2 dimensional slide change to a cube which rotates through 90 degrees as you move to the next slide. This does look impressive but only if it is used occasionally. There are loads of other transitions which are quite nice but my advice for all of these is: use them sparingly. They are best used when you move from one section of your talk to a new section rather than randomly through the presentation.
What about animations? So many people use the standard text animation which lets you show the text of a slide one bullet point at a time. This is a sort of gradual reveal and I guess it’s meant to stop the audience reading all the text at once. Occasionally people use this well, but too often there are 10 bullet points and we have to wait painfully for the lines of text to slide in from the left or the right. Personally I hate this form of animation. Why not just use less words and have them there on the screen? It looks much better.
So my view overall is use one type of transition between sections and keep all the other slide changes to simply “Appear” and use static text where possible.