"That took no time at all"

Many younger employees in big corporations have now understood that presentations with many slides that cover one point each are more effective than short presentations full of dense bullet point slides.

Their bosses might not be there yet.

I found an effective strategy to convince them: design the deck the way you want it, and have a test run. In 25 minutes, your boss understands that it takes the exact same time to present that longer presentation.

Visual shelf life

The other day I pointed out to a client that the colours of the corporate sign on top of the building were starting to fade. No, not that many customers of the company drive by the building every day (HQ is in Tel Aviv, customers are all over the globe), and yes, you can still read the sign and understand what company occupies the building. But still, it is the more subtle cultural signal of how the company sets its priorities, mostly influencing the employees who are making things happening every day.

The same applies to the look and feel of your presentations, if it looks worn out and tired, the audience might just think that the same is true for the company as a whole, and maybe their suspicion is right...

Zooming without Prezi

If you save your PowerPoint or Keynote file as a PDF and use an iPad with a PDF viewer to project your presentation, you can pinch and zoom into slides without sophisticated slide design techniques or special tools such as Prezi.

PowerPoint for iPad does not support it (yet).

The bar is rising

Compared to 10 years ago:
  • Your audience has sat through many more presentations
  • Your audience has watched many TED talks
  • Your audience has eliminated the patience to waste time digesting formal communications (big wordy business documents)
  • Your audience has probably seen/heard many ideas that are similar to yours
  • Your audience has become better at digesting information from multiple channels, devices, quickly
The bar is rising.

Bad form

Most form designs are a total disaster. Full of text (long prose) and cluttered, it is impossible to find the information you actually need. Especially if you are a non-Hebrew reader living in Israel, and need to pay a water bill online. The basics of 1) which web site to go, 2) what numbers to enter on the site, and 3) by when to pay are totally unclear.

There is a strong parallel with poorly designed presentation slides. Most forms are designed with the issuer in mind: it follows the structure of the IT infrastructure. Most forms follow a classical form template that has been used for decades, nobody is challenging whether a different layout might by more effective.  Most forms lack any form of human language.

Scientific slide analysis

Here is a piece of research that extracts the font sizes, fonts used, lines per slides, slides per presentation of a 1,000 random presentations downloaded from the Internet. Lots or Times New Roman, lots of text, tiny fonts, endlessly long presentations. We knew it intuitively, but now there is the hard data to back it up. Research by Tim Theman.

Place holder and data charts

I realised that most presentation slides I create fall in two categories:
  1. Data charts that have information in them that would be impossible to convey verbally (a graph, a table with financial information, a ranking of competitors)
  2. Place holders with some powerful visual (picture, typography) and is merely a placeholder for the story told by the presenter
Things go wrong if you mix them: showing hard core data with a cute picture will not work, putting up a detailed consulting framework as your place holder will not work.

The big idea slide

I usually start a presentation design project by digesting all the available information, listen to a verbal version of the pitch, Google for market and competitor information, create a slide template based on a straightforward slide (the profit and loss account for example), and let the whole thing cook in my mind for a while.

I know when I leave the “cooking” phase when I am able to draw up the key idea of the presentation in one slide. That one takes a long time to design, but when it is done, all other slides follow really quickly.

Skipping the manual

When buying a new product, nobody reads the manual from beginning to end. People are curious, they try things, go back to a specific page in the manual, and then try again.

Many subject experts want to write the definitive, descriptive manual of their idea. Instead, considering the audience wanting to skip it. How would they go about understanding your idea in a probing dialogue? Anticipate that thought flow and make it the structure of your next presentation.

Aide memoire

Many speakers use bullet points to remind themselves what story to tell the audience next. Turn back to audience, say “Uh, and also...” Read out bullet point. Turn back to the audience. Then, improvise (often a very engaging) story. These people actually do not need slides at all. The story is in their head, they just need to be prompted to get the flow going. Two solutions:
  1. Use simple speaker cards instead, and forget about slides all together
  2. Create highly visual prompts: a picture, a slide with just one word on it and use presenter view to avoid having to turn your back on the audience

Do not overdo it

A VC complained a about a Prezi presentation today: a combination of motion sickness and impatience (using 30 slides to make a totally obvious point that could be made in 1).

There is nothing wrong with Prezi if it is used right:
  • Use zooming effects to support your story: zoom in on a technical diagram for example, hop in and out of a time sequence, focus on parts of your product, highlight different areas of a map. Zooming for the sake of zooming is not helping anyone.
  • If you are in a small meeting, leverage the non-linear navigation to have a good interactive discussion. Random story sequence shifts for a big audience makes everyone miss the plot.
Everyone knows that 30 slides with 1 message is better than 1 slide with 30 bullet points. However, obvious points can still be made in 1 slide. I see a lot of presentations on Slideshare that use one spectacular photograph after another to [click] make [click] a [click] totally [click] obvious point (especially social media and/or mobile cliches).

Romanticising without apologies

After you told a story, try to avoid downplaying it: “Well, maybe I romanticised things a bit”, it is like a cold bucket of water for the audience. Decide the level of romanticising beforehand, and then stick to your choice without apologising and/or blushing.