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?


Why you should never send your PowerPoint decks to people who ask for them

April 9, 2012

Sending PPT by email

How many times have people asked you to send them your deck, either after or (worse) instead of your presentation? On the surface it seems like an OK idea. It requires minimal effort and we don’t want to appear rude by saying no. And it’s a common enough request, so why not, right?

Don’t do it.

The minute you send your deck to someone you lose control of how they experience the presentation.

Presentations aren’t about the slides, it’s all about the presenter: how she’s dressed, the tone of her voice, the excitement she generates, her interaction with the audience. The deck is just a backdrop to the speaker, supporting key messages. Take away the presenter — the most important component of the presentation — and much of the impact is gone.

The presenter’s biggest job is to guide the audience through the story so that they arrive at the inevitable conclusion she wants them to reach. That’s why presenters use remotes to advance their slides, to control when information is revealed. When you send your deck to someone, all of that timing is lost and the viewer has a number of ways to display your slides, some of which are better than others. All of the suspense and big reveals get lost in the Slide Sorter view.

Animated slides can present problems, too. Complicated animation can make slides look really awful in any view but Slide Show. And viewers might breeze through the animation just to see the effects play out, rather than absorbing your message with the timing you provide during your live presentation.

As a good presentation designer you’re putting all your text and bullet points into the Speaker Notes, right? So if you send your presentation out, then the person who receives it has to know enough to look at the Speaker Notes to understand what’s going on. And if your slides have a minimalist look that you’ve spent a lot of time to achieve, it will all be ignored when the viewer decides it’s easier to simply read your notes.

Then there’s the fact that PowerPoint files are source documents which means that they are editable. What if someone decided to use your deck as the basis of one of their own?

Early in his speaking career, Brandon Dunlap of Brightfly, a Seattle-based computer security consultancy, was asked by the organizers of a conference to send them the PowerPoint file of his presentation. “I was just starting out, and I didn’t know any better, so I did it,” says Brandon. “Turns out the conference organizers put everyone’s presentations on USB sticks, which were given to all the attendees.”

The following year Brandon presented at the same conference. He was approached by one of the previous year’s attendees and was dumbstruck when that man told him, “I gotta thank you, man! I got your presentation at the last conference, and it was great! I’ve been using it all year, you know, spreading your message.”

“Now when people ask me to provide my deck I give them PDF files of the Slide View,” reports Brandon. “Since my decks are just a backdrop to what I’m saying, they don’t have a lot of text and bullet points. All that’s in the Speaker Notes, so my deck can’t be presented by anybody else and I maintain control of the message.”

All of this sounding good? Still want to send out your presentations?

When somebody asks you to send them your deck, what they’re really saying is, “I want to view your presentation when it’s convenient for me.” The good news is that there are several ways you can create a presentation that not only can be viewed anytime and anyplace, but which can be created in such a way that you control how your message is delivered. And isn’t that why we present in the first place?

Next: How to make your PowerPoint presentation mobile

Your turn

Have somebody ever asked you to send them a deck? If you did, did this act come back to haunt you later or did everything turn out all right?


March Slide Makeover of the Month

March 30, 2012

This month’s slide comes from Design Dispatch subscriber Bob Carpenter of BidRx. His company wants to become the eBay or the Priceline of the pharmaceutical business. By logging on to BidRx, people will be able to get competitive pricing on their prescription medicine and save a bundle in the process!

Before

BidRx slide: before

There are some pretty compelling data in this table to support Bob’s assertion that people will save money by using BidRx, but this layout makes it hard to find. Tables are usually a bad idea to show an audience because with so much to analyze you lose people’s attention.

There’s a lot of extra information in this table. Showing the prices down to the penny might be accurate, but it clutters the table and doesn’t help to show the overall trend that BidRx’s prices are lower than Medco’s. And is it important for people to know the exact dosages of each medicine?

The biggest takeaway from this slide is that consumers stand to save up to 86% on this prescription. That’s a huge discount and is the key value proposition. So why is it so tiny and at the very bottom of the slide?

After

BidRx slide: after 1

The first thing I did was to change the title of the slide. I like to think of slide titles as headlines, so they should be attention-grabbing and interesting. Next, I presented the data as a column chart, which makes it easy to compare Medco’s prices against BidRx’s.

The color choices I made are deliberate. In a financial setting, red = bad, so I’ve set up Medco as the “bad guy.” The BidRx columns are blue, a soothing color associated with health care.

The second image is what the slide looks like after the animation. I don’t want to leave it to chance that the audience will understand that BidRx’s prices are lower, so I tell them and I circle the amount people will save.
Next, I created a second slide to call out the even greater savings that could result from a competitive bidding situation:

BidRx slide: after 2

I copied the chart from the previous slide, then animate the bars going down on two of the medicines and point out the lower prices with green arrows. Then the same summary box appears.

Want to get your own slide makeover? Design Dispatch subscribers each receive a free slide makeover, a $100 value! The Design Dispatch is your monthly guide to great PowerPoint.

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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?


How much does it cost to redesign a PowerPoint deck?

February 28, 2012

The money questionPeople always ask me “How much is will it cost to redesign my presentation?” Every design job is different so the costs vary from project to project. I’m not trying to hide a trade secret here, it’s just the way it is. Only after I’ve had a conversation with a potential client and reviewed his deck can I give an accurate estimate on the project cost. In designing PowerPoint presentations for the past twenty years I’ve had projects that have cost between $500–7,500 depending on a large number of variables.

The good news is there are many ways to help keep the costs down on your next PowerPoint redesign project.

It’s all about preparation

Time = money. The more time the designer has to devote to your project, the more it’s going to cost. Here are some things you can do to make sure the designer doesn’t have to spend a lot of extra time on your deck.

  • Do your own copy editing. If you have 500 words on a slide, the designer has to read the slide, determine the main message, take away 99% of your text, then come up with a striking visual to convey your message. Multiply that by the number of text-heavy slides in your deck to get the number of extra billable hours.
  • Have a script or an outline. It’s much easier to design visuals for a script than it is to design a script around visuals. A strong story is essential for a successful presentation.
  • Have just one main idea per slide. Often, people will load tons of text onto a single slide (see above). The designer’s job is to clarify and simplify messages, so each text-heavy slide will need to be broken down into two or more new slides. Again, more copy editing equals higher cost.
  • Give the designer a finished draft. Make sure you and your team have done all you can with your deck before giving it to the designer. If the designer works on slides that you later decide to cut, you’ll still be charged for the time it took to redesign them.
  • Provide a single point of contact. You and your team should discuss edits with each other, not individually with the designer, which causes confusion if conflicting instructions are given.
  • Give as much lead time as possible. If a designer has to work nights and weekends, hire extra staff, or cancel previously scheduled work to meet your tight deadline, it’s going to cost you.

Getting an accurate estimate

The more upfront you are about your needs and expectations, the easier it will be for the designer to provide an accurate time and cost estimate for completing your project. Let the designer review the deck you want redesigned so she can predict any additional costs like those outlined above. And if you are able to provide a cost range that’s within your budget, it will help the designer to figure out how many resources to allocate to each part of the project.


February Slide Makeover of the Month

February 16, 2012

With February comes Valentine’s Day so I thought I’d draw inspiration from William Shakespeare to address a common problem in slide layout: How do you format a quotation?

Before

Valentine's Day before

Snore.

Apart from the pleasant background color and graphics, this quotation is about as florid as a wet dishrag. This font, Verdana, works well when you’re after a clean, corporate look, but it’s a total flop when used for this particular quotation. I think that this slide could really benefit from a picture, don’t you?

After

Valentine's Day after 1

Now we’re talkin’!

The addition of the violin and sheet music evoke feelings of romance and beauty and speak directly to the words in the quotation. I’ve also used a more playful font.

Look how I can change the mood by using a different image and font:

Valentine's Day after 2

It’s not likely that you’ll have to illustrate Shakespeare any time soon, but you can use these ideas the next time you include quotes in your presentations. You could use a picture of the person you’re quoting or images suggested by the quote. And play around with how the type is positioned; for this style you want to break away from the template, if just for a little while.


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?


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