Olivia Mitchell, who writes the Speaking about Presenting blog, has organized a group blogging event on what we’d like to see in PowerPoint design in 2009. (And “design” rhymes with “2009!”)
Her inspiration was a blog post by Laura Bergells, called “PowerPoint, Propaganda, and You,” in which Laura talked about what she’d like to see in 2009, and challenged the current PowerPoint design fashion vogue as being “overly simplistic.”
I’ve been writing about effective presenting for quite a while but the chance to talk about what I’d like to see in 2009 is too tempting to pass up.
(In that post, Laura used a slide that she created for a webinar we did together, called “Stop Boring Your Audience: Create Presentations for the Post-Template, Visual Era.” That webinar was based on another of Laura’s posts, “Create Presentations for the Post-Template, Visual Era.” I loved her expression, “post-template, visual era,” and invited her to do a webinar with me on the topic.)
At the bottom of this list, you’ll find a link to 40 other similar blog posts and responses!
I’ve been writing about effective presenting for quite a while but the chance to talk about what I’d like to see in 2009 is too tempting to pass up. So, without further ado, here’s my list:
Design for the audience
I’d like to see presenters do some research on their audience, if possible, and design (and write) for their audience. More or fewer details; emotional or intellectual; logical or inspiring? People are different.
Many presenters assume that the audience understands their jargon and technical terms. This also applies to both writing and design. In design, it affects labels on diagrams and their complexity, for example. I know that I can fall into this trap.
Let’s say I write in a tip, “Choose Slide Show> Custom Animation to open the Custom Animation task pane.” Does my audience have any idea what a task pane is? Maybe, maybe not. But if I say, “… to open the Custom Animation task pane on the right,” they see something open on the right and rightly figure out that it’s a task pane.
The only effective way I know to deal with this problem is to test the presentation on someone with approximately the same level of knowledge as the audience. I did this recently with an article I was writing and the process improved it immeasurably. (Thanks, Leslee Goldstein, for being my kind testee!)
Most presenters write and design for themselves, but a presentation is supposed to inform or persuade or motivate the audience, not the presenter.
Write the content before designing
Many people start the process of creating a presentation in PowerPoint, by entering text on the slides. Bad idea. The content should drive the design. So, in 2009, I’d like to see presenters start by writing down their goal for the presentation, their main points, and the data, stories, and images that will back up their points. And only then start to write. If they must use PowerPoint, they can use the Outline tab in the left pane.
See “Create a fast-moving presentation” where you can also download a Presentation Overview Form created by Claudyne Wilder, author of Point, Click & Wow! I think that this form is so important, that it could transform presentations in 2009.
A better idea is to sit with a pen and a pad of paper, or use Microsoft Word. Presenters can write out a detailed script or create notes.
Get approval for the content before designing
In 2009, I’d like presenters to get approval (if needed), before they start designing, because if they find out that they need to make changes, they’ll avoid major, time-consuming ones. Even if they don’t need to get approval, I’d recommend that they run their ideas past some colleagues, who may come up with some great ideas that can be incorporated from the start. The tip, “Create a fast-moving presentation,” uses a presentation that makes this point.
Storyboard the content, including design ideas
Often design has nothing to do with the content.
So, I’d like to see presenters do some storyboarding in 2009. Once the content is set, it’s helpful to start putting some design ideas next to the notes or script. For example, presenters can sketch out some diagrams, note which data to use, and think of some meaningful photos.
I’d like presenters to remember that visuals are to help the audience understand and appreciate what they’re saying. Not to be pretty. Not to be fancy. Not to impress. Just to elucidate and elaborate on the message.
Practice the speech before designing
In 2009, I’d like to see presenters speak out the presentation before going into PowerPoint. If it’s too long or short, adjust, so they don’t have to add or subtract slides later. Here again, presenters can save a lot of time with a little planning. How long should a presentation be? Allow 5 minutes for an introduction, for pleasantries, and to get started. Allow 5 minutes, at least, for questions at the end. So, if the allotted time is 30 minutes, the presentation should be over in 20 minutes. How come nobody gets that?
Design with intent
Too often, people use a background and accept the default colors for everything else. Are they the right colors for your message and audience? Doesn’t it make sense to use different colors and fonts for high school students than for accountants? And the default colors and backgrounds are so old and tired now. Doesn’t our audience deserve better?
Consider design important
I’d like presenters in 2009 to know that design is important. Good design provides a professional, custom look that says that the presenter cared enough about the audience to do more than slap on a default background. Good design improves results by not adding distracting elements that hinder understanding and retention. Good design makes information easy to grasp. See my tip, “The importance of design.”
Companies hire professionals to design their Web sites and printed brochures; why not their presentations, which are just as important? However, when there isn’t the budget for a professional designer, I’d like presenters to know that backgrounds aren’t even necessary, that the top designers are using plain white or black backgrounds and sometimes adding a little design to that. Why is this important? Because, with a little attention, non-designers can do an acceptable job of creating effective presentations if they keep things simple.
Presenters can find some guidelines for designing their presentations by going to “Simplicity and understatement” and “Try design variations.”
Put one point on a slide and the Tell ‘n’ Show (SM) method
Presenters can completely transform their presentations from boring bullets to high-impact visuals by putting one point on a slide, and using the Tell ‘n’ Show (SM) method of designing the slides. If there’s one thing I’d like to see in 2009, it’s this type of transformation. These are techniques that non-designers (the artistically challenged) can easily use. I’m one of those, so I’ve come up with these techniques out of necessity.
Presenters can take a slide with 4 bullet points and convert it to 4 slides, each with a title and an image, diagram, or graph. This is appropriate even for technical presentations.
For further information and instructions, go to “Put one point on a slide” and “Tell ‘n’ show (SM) slide design.”
Design to create a positive effect in the world
Finally, I’d like to see presenters design with the benefit of the world in mind. I’m not trying to be saccharine, so I’ll elaborate.
When showing examples, presenters can use visuals that show people getting along with each other or a healthy environment. They can connect their point to a higher goal, to inspire the audience. For example, a presentation with a goal of selling paper products can mention that the company plants trees to maintain and improve the environment. Corporate social responsibility can benefit both the world and the bottom line.
For example, Olivia Mitchell, who writes the Speaking about Presenting blog, offers a free e-booklet, “The Quick and Easy Guide to Creating an Effective Presentation,” which I highly recommend. (You can get it here.) In that e-booklet, she talks about identifying a key message for a presentation. What’s the key message she uses as an example? “Use Kiva.org to lend $25 to a poor person so that they can start a business.”
Keep presentations succinct
I’d like to see presenters keep to their allotted time and be succinct. And use any extra time to have a conversation with the audience. As regards articles, like this one, the same applies, and I see that I’ve blown that one already!
Impressively, Olivia received 40 contributions to her request to write about design in 2009. Read the responses.