Like most things in life, I didn’t take a direct route into presentation design. Most people don’t. I’m not sure there even is one.
I was working in the Marketing department for an internet security company a number of years back. I had just started and I was trying to find my niche. I had some design and creative experience from previous years working at a media production house so I was asked if I could help “clean up” some of our presentations our executives were going to deliver at our annual client conference. I knew how to use PowerPoint from a technical perspective, so it was my pleasure.
I guess I did okay, so more and more PowerPoints started coming my way. I figured if I was going to do it on a regular basis, I should learn how to do it effectively. I poured my energy into presentation books like Presentation Zen and Slide:ology (affiliate links), blogs, workshops, and more. I’m still learning every day, but I had carved out a niche at that company because everyone knew I was the go-to-guy for presentation advice and design help. Of course I had many other responsibilities, but in an economy like this, isn’t it great to make yourself increasingly indispensable? If you’re already designing the presentations in your office, don’t you want to be a superhero instead of just a sidekick?
While becoming a superhero doesn’t happen overnight, here are a few tips to get you on the right path. Consider it the spider bite…
- Speak Up – If you’re reading my blog then you already understand that there’s a fundamental problem with the way most presentations are designed today. While myself and many others continue to lead the Presentation Revolution, we’ve still got a ways to go. You can do your part by speaking up. Let others in your organization know that their presentations are ineffective and you can help. Start offering to help others design their presentations and teach them the presentation basics.
- Defy the Template – It’s rare to find a corporate template that actually works. So it’s likely that your company’s template falls into this category. Defy the template – Pull the logo off every slide. Get rid of slide numbers, website URLs, phone numbers and other similar brand identifiers and utilize the entire slide. If your clients and prospects are forgetting who they’re talking to, you’ve got bigger problems. Instead of just a template – a treatment of one or two slides with corporate branding – create a system. Include imagery (see #3), graph treatments, font treatments, color palettes and more.
- Find and Establish Corporate Imagery – Raise your hand if any of these images are in your company’s standard PowerPoint presentation – businessmen shaking hands (possibly in front of a globe), a smiling customer service rep (possibly with a headset), puzzle pieces, or a group of businesspeople in suits all smiling. They’re stale, uninspiring and unoriginal, and you don’t want to be like everyone else, right? Instead, invest time (and possibly money) in finding vibrant imagery that truly encompasses what your company and its product/service is trying to accomplish. You may be able to find some of these on low-cost stock imagery sites, but try searching Flickr (via CompFight) or other alternative image sites to find images and photographers that will uplift your presentation. Of course, ensure that you follow all copyright laws.
- Remove the Crutches – When you’re moving your audience to act, particularly when that action means opening their wallets, audiences expect a certain performance level. If your colleagues are using bullet-points to act as a script and a crutch, you’re insulting your audience. I would guess that many of them don’t need it, and they’re only on the slide as a formality for the one or two who actually do need them. Talk to them – ask them if they really need the bullet points or mounds of text. I suspect they don’t, and if they do need to read their slides then your company doesn’t have a PowerPoint problem, you’ve got a hiring problem. If they do, send them to this post.
- Establish the Story – Maybe this should have gone first so you’d know that it needs to be done before any design work starts, however it’s integral to establish your story (especially if it’s a standardized presentation that multiple people present). Gather all those who you think can provide the proper input to your company’s story, get off the grid, and start asking questions. What’s the current landscape your audience lives in and how does your product/service change the world? What need does your product/service solve for your customers? What’s your big idea? What is the potential reward for your audience if they decide to buy your product/service? Only then can you start crafting an effective presentation.
- Never Stop Learning – The presentation design landscape is changing every day. Continue to learn the most effective presentation design techniques by reading books/blogs, attending workshops and conferences (like those at Duarte Design or the Presentation Summit), watch TED presentations and find opportunities to present for yourself.
Are you already the PowerPoint superhero in your company? If so, how did you get there? Let me know in the comments.