I was reviewing a technical presentation for a client. The topic was the latest dental procedures. Every few slides a cartoon popped up. Cartoons about people with bad teeth. The cartoons were tangentially relevant to the topic of the presentation – but didn’t help to promote the message of the presentation. When I asked the client why she had included the cartoons she said: “My presentation is soooo boring. I need something to keep the audience awake.”

Can you relate?

Philippa Leguen de LaCroix

Philippa Leguen de Lacroix

It’s a great temptation to do this. But is it justified? This list of pros and cons regarding using cartoons in your presentation by Philippa Leguen de Lacroix of Cornerstone Presentations will help you decide:

“Why you shouldn’t include a cartoon in your presentation

1. The cartoon can be a distraction

If the cartoon is at a tangent to the topic, it may remove your audience’s focus away from you and your message. You risk losing attention with each audience member going off into their own daydream provoked by the cartoon. For example, including this Dilbert strip in a presentation about creating better PowerPoint slides:


2. The complexity or subtle humour of the cartoon may be lost on the audience

In the case where half the audience laughs and the other half doesn’t: were they not amused or did they just not get it? In either case, you may have lost rapport with some of your audience members.

3. Your credibility may be undermined

If the cartoon is misunderstood, or is inappropriate to the subject matter, then there is a risk that your presentation won’t be taken seriously and that your credibility will be undermined.

The style of cartoon needs to be appropriate too. For example, adults are likely to prefer the Far Side to Mr Men.

Why you should include a cartoon in your presentation

1. You can reinforce your point

If the cartoon is “on-message” you will be reinforcing your point with an apt and powerful visual – this is priceless and highly likely to be retained by the audience.

2. The cartoon is a mind-break

A well placed cartoon can perform the role of a “mind break”. Mind breaks can be essential to keep your audience’s brains focused. By letting their grey matter have a rest now and again, you’ll be more likely to get them focusing again on your real content. The cartoon acts as a punctuation mark or breather for your audience – ensuring attention is refreshed when you start your next topic/message: this is more relevant when your content is particularly complex of course.

3. Cartoons are entertaining!

The role of comedy and humour can make a boring experience become a whole lot more fun. This will relax your audience, have a welcoming effect, which could make the presenter seem friendly and approachable – which would hopefully then result in a more productive meeting.

4. Communication and learning works best using a combination of images and narrative

Cartoons (and well designed presentations) fit this mold. Ideally an entire presentation follows a story, and this makes a presentation extremely powerful. It’s possible to go a step further and illustrate an entire presentation with a cartoon story (essentially all the slides would form a long comic strip). In this case, a well crafted narrative, with well built themes, and fleshed out characters and situation would be a powerful presentation.”

What would you add to Philippa’s list of pros and cons?

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