Good presentations start with good scripts

May 31, 2012

ScreenplayA gentleman once asked me to provide a quote on redoing a PowerPoint presentation. He provided a link to the presentation, which included a voiceover narration.  I had to explain to him that he’d be unhappy with the results if I just did the cosmetic fixes he’d asked for. Sure, the presentation would’ve looked better, but it wouldn’t have made it a better presentation. Redesigning the presentation in its current state would’ve done nothing to address the basic problem: the visuals didn’t match the script.

The script is what you as the presenter are going to say when you’re up in front of the audience, or what your narration will be on a mobile presentation. Some people create PowerPoint presentations first then write the script to match the visuals. This is absolutely the opposite approach you should take. Think about how all movies start with a script. It would be absurd to shoot a movie without one. Just as it’s absurd to create a PowerPoint presentation before you write your script.

The script is what drives the PowerPoint visuals. It tells you what words, if any, to use on each slide and suggests images that would help to convey your message. It can also suggest the use of animation to emphasize or illustrate key points.

PowerPoint presentations should enhance good storytelling. And you don’t get good storytelling without a good script. So here’s a simple graphic to remind you of the correct four-step sequence you should follow when creating your next PowerPoint presentation:

PowerPoint process

Your turn

Do you write your script before you design your PowerPoint presentations? If so, how well has that worked for you?


Six reasons you should pay for PowerPoint design

March 12, 2012
A very ugly PowerPoint slideI make a lot of prospecting calls to tell people about my presentation design services and to ask for their business, so I hear many variations on “We don’t want any,” such as, “We already have a template,” “We do all of our PowerPoint in house,” and “My admin takes care of that.” Maybe you are thinking along the same lines as you read this. But sometimes it can be beneficial to look for a presentation design specialist outside one’s organization. Here are six good reasons why:

1. Your time is valuable.

Do you change the oil in your car? I don’t. Sure, I might save a few bucks doing it myself, but it’s much more convenient for me to bring the car to the shop. They perform this service all day every day and have developed work processes to speed things along quickly. Even a simple job like this might take me two hours, including finding all the proper tools, doing the actual work, and locating a place that will take the used oil.

If you don’t use PowerPoint all day every day, there are probably a few things that hold you up, that take a while to figure out. The thing is, every minute that you spend working with technology you’re not thoroughly familiar with is a minute you’re not making money for your company. You hire specialists for other business areas, why not presentation design?

2. Good design communicates ideas better than poor design.

I’ve worked with a lot of people who are professionals in their respective careers. They are really good at what they do and they know their stuff, as is evidenced by the wealth of text and data they stuff into their presentations. But slides full of text, bullet points, busy charts, and complicated tables require an audience to spend too much time sorting through information and not enough time paying attention to the presenter. Even the best ideas get lost in the confusion.

Presentation designers can transform boring data into effective infographics, find and use photographs that do a better job of communicating than bullet points, and ensure that your deck looks like the rest of your marketing materials, thereby strengthening your brand.

3. You don’t want a bored audience.

How exciting is a slide full of text? It’s like watching paint dry, right? Loading up slides with text might make it easier to remember what to say, but it’s miserable for the audience. They’re too busy reading slides to listen to the presenter or, worse, they’re seething because they know how to read so they resent this huge waste of their time.

Do you think a roomful of irritated people will want to fund a venture? Buy a product or service? Attend a class? Probably not.

4. Designers have created the other components of your marketing mix.

Logos, websites, catalogs, data sheets, business cards, uniforms, vehicle graphics, brochures…these are all components of a company’s marketing mix. All of these were likely created by professional designers to create a cohesive brand. By using off-the-shelf PowerPoint templates and default colors, you introduce a jarring element that detracts from your brand and can make you look unprofessional.

5. Well-designed presentations make you look better prepared.

Presenters who read off of their slides are viewed as time-wasters who don’t know what they’re talking about. If you were presenting and the power suddenly went out, would you be able to continue? Do you know your presentation so well that you could keep talking? You should.

6. Other companies are doing it.

Smart companies invest in their marketing to create cohesive brands and messaging. Al Gore didn’t design his own slides for An Inconvenient Truth, they were created by a presentation design agency. And I’m guessing that Steve Jobs didn’t create his iconic presentations himself.

Professional presentation design gives you an edge over your competition. A presentation designer can create a stunning deck using the latest techniques of animation, video, and audio enhancement. The designer can also let you know when less is more.

Your turn

Do you create your own PowerPoint presentations or do you hire out? What about your keynote, annual meeting, and conference presentations?


Do you read your PowerPoint slides to the audience? Knock it off!

March 2, 2012

Tweets about boring PowerPointAccording to a recent survey conducted by PowerPoint designer Dave Paradi, the number-one PowerPoint annoyance is when presenters read their slides to the audience. In fact, “reading from the slides” has been one of the top five most annoying PowerPoint habits since he started conducting this survey in 2003! So why do people continue to do it? It’s simple.

Presenters read from their slides because they are unprepared.

Do Broadway stars read from scripts on opening night? Did Steve Jobs have a fistful of index cards at the ready during his legendary Apple keynotes? Of course not. Great presenters know what they’re talking about, know their lines, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

If you are guilty of reading to your audience from your slides, stop it right now. Though they might not come right out and say it, inwardly they’re seething, counting down the seconds until the end of your presentation, and tweeting snarky comments about #DeathByPowerPoint.

Why you shouldn’t read from your slides

If consistent survey results over the past nine years and nasty anti-PowerPoint posts in Twitter don’t convince you, here are five more reasons you shouldn’t be reading from your deck:

  1. You look unprepared. The only reason to read from a PowerPoint slide is if you don’t already know what’s on it. If you don’t know your subject inside and out, then why are you presenting?
  2. You waste people’s time. If everything you want to communicate is on each and every slide, why are you asking people to give up the time it takes to attend your presentation and listen to you read? Wasting people’s time costs money—estimate the hourly salary of each attendee in your presentation, add it together, then multiply that amount by how long it takes to read your deck to them. Do the world a favor and if you’re gonna stuff all your text into your deck (which you shouldn’t do, by the way), just email it to people. They read the deck on their own time and get your message. Maybe.
  3. You waste your own time. You have a captive audience in the room with you, listening in silence to your every word. Don’t blow this golden opportunity to tell your story, to lead people to the conclusions you want them to reach, to add your perspective and insights, and—most importantly—to engage with your audience.
  4. Your slides look ugly. PowerPoint is a visual medium. When you cram loads of text onto a slide, it just looks bad.
  5. You look stupid. The bottom line is that if all you do is read your slides to the audience, you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Your turn

Have you ever sat through a boring presentation where the presenter reads directly from his slides? If you have read from your own slides to an audience, why did you do it and what was their reaction?


How do you show bad news in PowerPoint?

February 15, 2012

Sometimes it’s necessary to tell your audience something that’s not so great. Most presenters really don’t want to be the Bad Guy, but it’s important that their audiences have all the facts about what’s going on, whether it’s an underperforming fund, a bad quarter, negative ratings, or flagging sales. If people don’t know what’s wrong, it’s hard to develop a plan to fix the problem.

But you don’t want the whole presentation to be a downer, so you need to temper the bad news with some good news:

“Yes, sales are down 4% this quarter, but we have hired a sales mentor who is working with our team to bring their numbers back up.”

“We received some negative feedback on Twitter about our widget, so we contacted every unsatisfied customer and fixed their problems.”

“Fund X did not perform to expectations, so we are diversifying our holdings.”

You should address bad news but you don’t have to lead with it. Here’s what I mean.

I recently met with a medical product client who showed me his “Pitch Deck,” the presentation he gives to venture capital firms and other groups when he seeks funding for his company. One slide showed a table that compared their company’s product against similar products being developed by two competitors. My client had a lot of great things going for him:

  • His company already had products in the marketplace
  • These products were making money
  • They had big-name partners

This product also had a slight problem: it causes a medical condition in 85% of its users.

The slide looked a bit like this (The data have been changed to protect proprietary information.):

Medical product slide before

I asked him about it, and he said that it is a common side effect for this kind of medication and that it is easily treated during outpatient surgery with great results. So the story he’s trying to tell is Great News, Great News, Great News, No Big Deal. But when I look at this table as a member of the audience might, I see this story: Great News, Great News, Great News, Slam-on-the-Brakes Major Problem!!!

While it’s important for investors to have all the facts, it’s crazy to present the data in a table that doesn’t stress the positive and provides any relief for the negative.

Here’s how I would redesign this slide:

Medical product slide: Great News!

This slide focuses on the positive by including a well-known partner logo, making the yearly profits stand out with large type, and showing the product name, which has been trademarked and is on the market. The first panel is green, which implies “go” and “cash,” and the competitors’ panels are drab by comparison. Look at how they lag behind! Who wouldn’t want to fund this guy?

But it would be unethical to withhold the bad news, so here it is:

Medica product bad news

Here, I’ve emphasized the fact that the side effect won’t kill patients and can be corrected fairly easily. The presenter would discuss the side effect and its treatment in greater detail when he’s in front of the audience.

Your Turn

Have you ever had to give bad news during a presentation? How did you do it and how was it received?


Slide numbering in PowerPoint is stupid. Discuss.

December 7, 2011

boring slide numberingMore often than not, people ask me to include slide numbers on their decks. Maybe it makes them feel like they’re accomplishing something if they glance at the screen and see that they’re on slide 92, I don’t know. But putting slide numbers on your decks is a holdover from the last century and if you do it you should stop immediately! Why? Consider the following:

  • PowerPoint is not a print medium. How many times have you watched TV and seen a counter ticking down the minutes until the end of the program? Answer: never. Since PowerPoint is primarily a visual, on-screen medium, calling attention to the passage of time by including sequential slide numbering is pointless. To the audience, PowerPoint presentations are measured in the length of time it takes to deliver them, not the number of slides they contain.
  • Animations can inflate the size of the deck. It is often easier to break animations across a series of slides so that elements can be edited easily. To the audience it looks exactly the same as if everything’s on the same slide…except if the slides are numbered. In this case, slide numbers can be confusing (“How did we start on slide 3 and end up on slide 10? Did I miss something?”).
  • Slide numbering is distracting. How would you feel if you were at a presentation when suddenly you noticed that the speaker was on slide 110? Would you think “Boy, this presenter sure has a lot of knowledge to impart!” or “Holy cow, 110 slides? How much more of this do I have to endure?” By numbering slides, you bring your audience out of the moment and give them an opportunity to speculate on how many slides they’ve seen and how many are yet to come. Don’t distract your audience (Squirrel!); allow them to focus on the most important part of your presentation: you.
  • PowerPoint already keeps track of slide numbering. All slides in a PowerPoint deck are numbered in the Outline, Slide Sorter, and Notes views. So my clients can tell me “Please change the image on slide 5” and I know exactly where to go in the document.

So if slide numbering detracts from visual, kinetic storytelling, makes it look as though the audience might have missed something, is distracting, and doesn’t help during editing, why do it?

Your turn

You know where I stand on slide numbering, now I’d like to hear from you. Do you number your slides? Why or why not?


Should my logo be on each PowerPoint slide? No.

October 16, 2011

I'm Bob Jones of Bob Jones InvestmentsNow, I know you’re probably thinking along one of these lines:

“We paid a lot of money for that logo, and I want people to see it!”

“I’m reinforcing my company’s brand by showing my logo on each slide.”

“That’s the way our template was designed.”

I would counter that if you start and end strongly during your presentation, with a good title slide that has your logo on it and an ending slide with your logo and contact information, then people aren’t going to suddenly forget that they’re at the XYZ Company presentation during slides 2-48.

Branding has many aspects; logos are just a part of it. A company’s brand identity comes across in the designs they choose, the typography, the style of photographs and/or illustrations, the color palette, the type of messaging they employ (e.g., playful, serious, trustworthy, irreverent), their jingle, uniforms or clothing color, etc. etc. etc. These things come into play in all components of a company’s marketing mix, including the PowerPoint presentations.

Need more convincing? Well, let’s think of the logo-on-every-slide deck as a real-life conversation:

“Hello there, I’m Bob Jones of Bob Jones Investments. Thanks for visiting Bob Jones Investments today! I’m Bob Jones of Bob Jones Investments. How can I help you? I’m Bob Jones of Bob Jones Investments. I specialize in retirement planning. I’m Bob Jones of Bob Jones Investments.”

You see what I’m getting at here? People don’t need a constant reminder of where they are, who you are, why they came there, and what company you’re from.

You need more convincing? Well, how about this: your logo’s taking up a lot of real estate on the slide, room that could otherwise be used to get your message across.

Slides with and without logo in footer

Take a look at the slide on the left. Because the logo is part of the footer and must remain separate from other slide elements, it is taking up about a quarter of the slide! It’s competing visually for our attention with the graph because of the clashing colors and all that white space surrounding it.

In the slide on the right, the logo is gone so the graph can be bigger, placing the emphasis on the data.

So, not insulting the intelligence of your audience and having more room for important information on each slide. Pretty compelling reasons not to put your logo on every single slide, eh?

Your Turn

What do you think? Is it important for you to have your company’s logo on every slide in the deck? Why or why not?


What is the number-one PowerPoint annoyance?

October 4, 2011

The history of the PBJ

If you think that a core dump and recitation of your entire store of knowledge on a particular subject makes for a captivating PowerPoint presentation, think again. According to a survey conducted by renowned PowerPoint expert Dave Paradi, a whopping 73.8% of the 603 respondents chose “The speaker read the slides to us” as the number-one most annoying thing that can happen at a presentation.

There’s a time and a place for reading things verbatim to an audience. As a matter of fact, I’ll be doing it all the time as a volunteer in my son’s Kindergarten classroom, where my audience will be learning to pair my vocalizations with those squiggly marks on the page. But when you do this to an audience of people who already know how to read, such as college students, seminar attendees, or the prospects you’re trying to win over, you are communicating very well. But you’re probably not sending the messages you think you are.

Here’s what you’re telling your audience by reading off of your slides during your presentation:

  1. I have no idea what I’m talking about. People will be able to tell if you’re doing a cold read off your slides, and they’ll conclude that you not only have no knowledge of your subject but you’re unprepared.
  2. I don’t value your time. In Galaxy Quest, a sci-fi comedy about a TV show much like Star Trek, Computer Officer Tawny Madison’s only job is to repeat what the computer says to the rest of the crew. At one point in the movie she yells that she knows her job is stupid, but it’s the only thing she does on the ship and she’s gonna keep on doing it. Similarly, if you aren’t improving the presentation experience then why are you in front of your audience? Why not save everyone’s time and just email the presentation to everybody? Oh, and by the way, create it in Word so at least you’ll have a little more control over formatting, page flow, and layout.
  3. I don’t have a compelling story. Some of the best presenters don’t use PowerPoint at all. (Yeah, I know: “GASP!”) But if you have a great story and are animated when you tell it, then you sure don’t need to read it to your audience. Memorize the fundamentals and then improvise each time you present, changing little details here and there but basically sticking to the script. Your knowledge and passion for the subject will stay with the audience a lot longer than ten bullet points per slide ever could.
  4. I need to use my deck as the handout. No you don’t. Your presentation is the teaser, the invitation to your audience to learn more. When they need more information, you can direct them to your Web site, send them documentation (professionally designed, of course), or schedule a one-on-one meeting.
  5. No, my boss said I have to use the deck as the handout. What, your boss hasn’t seen a TED talk? Ok, then put all your information into the Speaker Notes and distribute that. Then tell your boss to stop hassling you and let you do your job as a stunning presenter.

So stop reading and start communicating!

Read the interview with Dave Paradi on the Indezine blog to discover the other top four biggest PowerPoint annoyances.


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