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Strategic Animation

Animation in presentations has been getting a lot of attention lately – but a different sort of attention. The recent focus has not been on the how-tos but, rather, on the why and when-tos. The initial excitement about being able to make things fly around on screen is tapering off (thank goodness), and PowerPoint users are growing more discerning about how to use animation for control and purpose.

First, of course, the presenter has taken care that the content is correct and relevant and laid out in a clear and appealing manner. No amount of animation or slide transition glitz can compensate for a weakness in this area. Solid content is always step 1. Skillful animation of the content is step 2.


Great presenters carefully manage the pace and focus of their presentation and create sense of anticipation. In other words, they control the audience's attention.

  • Use reveals to keep the audience in pace with you. As you make each point in your message, reveal it in stages on screen to match your narrative. Don't let your audience get ahead of you by providing everything on screen at once.
  • Blank out the screen when you want the audience to focus back on you. You're the presentation, not what's on screen. This is a very simple method for reclaiming the focus.
  • Don't speak immediately when you transition from one slide to another (unless you're going to a blank screen or something that cannot stand on its own). Let your audience have a few seconds to absorb the new visual. Create a sense of anticipation.

Only the first point has to do with animation, but the other two were too important not to mention.


Animation is a tool, and tools should always be used correctly and carefully so no one gets hurt. Let's look at how a craftsman works with animation.

  • Animation should underscore the messages within the presentation. Carefully applied animation can help your audience visualize the concept your describing better and, therefore, increase their understanding and retention of the material.
    • Apply animation that supports the flow, e.g., if an arrow is pointing to the right, apply animation that wipes from left or comes in from left; grow columns of data from the bottom with a wipe.
    • The more impactful statements should have bolder reveals, e.g., zoom in, fly in (but use this carefully). Change the color and bold key text for emphasis.
    • Animations for like charts should be consistent. Slide transitions should be consistent as well.
  • Don't be afraid to let animation deliver the message.
    • Replace one element with another with fade in/fade out combination. This type of animation formatting requires that fields overlay other fields, a practice with which many presentation developers are uncomfortable. Try to get over this and build fields and animation in layers when it tells the story better. If you need a printout, you'll need to develop a companion presentation when this technique is used.
    • Look for opportunities to use visual metaphors that work well with animation. In fact, the animation can actually tell the story.
      • Propellers with pinwheel entrance (see animation scheme for cn007)
      • Cogs that spin (see animation scheme for fr009)
      • Organizing objects (see animation scheme for sg021)
      • Funnels with animated input and output (see animation scheme for fr001).
  • Set the animation speeds thoughtfully. Don't automatically accept the default speed. Avoid instances where you might startle the audience with fast-moving objects (unless that's your intent – and do this sparingly if you need to do it at all).

Become animation craftsman instead of using the running-with-scissors approach to animation. Correctly used animation can elevate the quality of the presentation by enhancing the perception of the material being presented.

Animation Truth

Add pizzazz by way of content, not by adding sparkly accessories like flamboyant animation. Don't be tempted to overlook or trade away this powerful tool away frivolously.