Non-stock stock photo sites

A friend of mine posted a question on her facebook timeline: where to get stock images that do not look like stock images. I am shamelessly copying the list of URLs that were posted in response:

If your edge is the team...

...well, highlight it. In most presentations the management bios are all crammed on one page in the presentation. If you are starting a company and your team is the only asset, you might as well spend a bit more time/space on it.

Then the usual blah, blah, blah

And after that we come in with the usual “blah blah blah” pitch. I hear this often in briefing meetings.
  1. You are offending your audience
  2. You probably do not believe in your own story
  3. You have become tired of given the same pitch all over again
  4.  You are probably winging the story, a true blah, blah, blah experience for your audience
Invent a fresh approach to telling your story, believe in it, and stand for it. No more blah, blah, blah in the story outline.

The opposite of a job interview

Y Combinator, a successful early stage investor, is opening its applications for the Winter 2015 program. Their advice on how to apply successfully (2009) is full of valuable advice that I apply daily when helping people to design investor presentations.

The advice is targeted at the first phase of the investment funnel: sending in a cold email with your pitch in the hope of getting an opportunity to talk in person. Paul Graham mentions a few times that writing a pitch to an investor is different from writing a CV to an HR person in a huge company.
  1. Be extremely concise. Cut fluff, buzzwords, jargon. “every unnecessary word in your application subtracts from the effect of the necessary ones” These people read about 100 applications a day.
  2. Say what you are doing, people need to put you in some sort of box to start thinking about your idea. Even if this means that you run the risk of limiting/narrowing down the upside potential of your idea.
  3. Realise that your write-up is an excuse to figure you out, see how smart you are, how good you are at getting things done. It is not about your idea, it is about the insight you bring with the idea. Did you anticipate the obvious questions any intelligent person might have?
It is well worth to read the whole article.

Slide negotiations

There are different uses for a PowerPoint deck. One is to serve visuals for a live presentation. Another is a replacement for a word processor. I currently use it as a user interface design tool for a web app (the irony: PowerPoint is designing its own successor...).

In big corporations, a PowerPoint file is often the working document that different stakeholders use to negotiate on strategy, budgets, or planning. Through a series of meetings, a document iterates towards a solution that is acceptable to all parties involved. The slides do not have to be attention-grabbing, emotion-triggering, memorable calls to action.

Instead, often the most important part of a slide is the detailed footnote that summarises the compromise that has been reached after 3 weeks and 6 meetings. Others: the order in which the boxes are placed on the slide, the relative position of the boxes, dotted lines versus straight lines, preliminary versus final decisions, etc.

Use PowerPoint for whatever you want to use it, do not mix things up though. Budgeting presentations should only be used in budgeting meetings.

Who do you need in the briefing?

Many clients suggest to bring all experts that contributed to a project to the presentation design briefing meeting. I actually prefer to have a briefing meeting with just one person: the presenter. The experts have done the work and delivered the solution. Now it is time to focus on how to tell the story. A one on one conversation is the best way to bring it to the surface.

Mentioned in Forbes

See an article on Forbes by Mark Fidelman with 20 tips to make better presentations. Due to the format of the article (an email interview with presentation design experts including me), the suggestions are slightly random, but useful nonetheless.

What software did you use?

That question is a big compliment for your PowerPoint presentation: you have succeeded in making your PowerPoint not look like PowerPoint. Here are some simple steps that can help you:
  • No hierarchical bullet point texts (if you have to put three messages use 3 grey boxes with a short sentence)
  • Switch the standard Microsoft Office font Calibri typeface for Arial (other exotic fonts will cause issues on tablets)
  • Avoid the standard Office colours (blue, faded red, faded olive) and use your own colour palette, also in data charts
  • No dirty gradients, drop shadows
  • No heavy graphics and/or colours behind the title or at the bottom of your slides
  • Create many slides with page-filling images
  • Remove the default clutter of data charts (tick marks, etc.)
The same applies to Apple Keynote. Although a standard Keynote slides looks a bit better than a standard PowerPoint slide, Keynote also has ugly defaults (colours, texture fillings of data charts). 

The new

Slides has updated its slide editor. It is another example of people moving away from 1990s drop down user interfaces. The UI is simple and looks great. It has very powerful capabilities to insert HTML code in it. Still - as with all presentation design software - the average user is likely to use it to create bullet point slides... Check out the demo here

1st impression web page

For most companies, a web page is a store front, a shop window. It should look professional, give a basic sense of what you are about, and provide instructions how to get there/contact you. Sophisticated visual effects, carefully crafted strategy paragraphs, mission/vision statements, marketing buzzwords might be important to you, but not to the reader of your home page.
  • Cut back the amount of content
  • Ditch the sophisticated custom design for a good looking template (such as
  • Make sure the basics are up to date (address information, management bios, the "news" section)
It is that simple.

Upstream like a salmon

A few days ago I saw a National Park Ranger present in this setting below: 200+ getting and eating their lunch, continuing their conversation, while the ranger used a microphone to top the noise level of the crowd, reading from a piece of paper. A bit like Alaska salmon swimming up river, or the jazz band that is ignored in the background of a cocktail party.

A better approach: shorten the talk to focus it solely on the memorable facts: how big this National Park is, how powerful the 1964 earthquake/tsunami was and what permanent changes it made to the landscape. The philosophy behind the National Parks is less interesting for the hungry crowd.

Photo source:

Writing for skimmers

Busy investors do not have (want to make) time for long verbose cover letters/emails for your presentation. Write for a skimmer:
  1. Keep it really short
  2. Cut out all management buzzwords and padding (synergies, engagement, strategic, flexible, ROI, etc.) that everyone else is using and which have become verbal white noise. Use conversational, human language
  3. Say how you got to her (our dads were in high school together)
  4. Say what you want early on (advice, money, intro to someone), and ask for a very specific next step.
  5. Prioritise interesting content of the pitch (unusual facts, case example, unexpected advantage over a well-known competitor (2x as many users as Facebook, etc.) over a well structured, complete, business school essay. You are not trying to get a grade for your mid terms, you are trying to get a follow up phone call. 
  6. Make it highly/relevant/specific to her: complements portfolio company x, y, z, matches what you spoke about at a conference last week.
  7. Use typography to break the text, to make it easier to speed read: big concept, 3 (short) supporting bullets, another concept, supporting bullets.