Pitch perfect or 10 presentation best practices
I’ve been creating content (marketing campaigns, apps, websites, etc) for big brands for 11+ years and every single piece of this content had to be presented in a deck. Ironically, no-one thought of the deck as another opportunity to market its content. 99.9% of the focus was on the content itself and only 0.01% on the deck (not surprisingly). But what is a delicious meal served on a dirty plate? Websites, apps, billboards, TV scripts and brand identity, all had to eventually look good in a Keynote, but they didn’t. They were beautiful pieces of work in an ugly frame. Decks were either designed by blurry eyed (caused by overnighters and weekends of rushed pitch prep deliverables) Art Directors / Designers or “designer wannabes” in the production department (no offense, the work was greatly appreciated, but these are people who’d never even attempt to get a real Design job so they flex their muscle in deck “design”).
"Imagine a modern, pixel perfect website, displayed on a 1990s desktop? Well, that’s impossible! So why allow decks to look the way they do? Specially since websites are “faceless”, no-one stands next to them to pinpoint failures, presenters stand next to their decks."
Here are a few things to help support you as a speaker instead of distracting / taking away from what you have to say on stage and otherwise:
1. Less is more:
Presentation format is for quick, complete, supporting thoughts of the speaker, not a speech script to read off of during a presentation. It’s there to summarize what the speaker is saying (each slide is a simple takeaway, a complete thought the presenter voices over). Use the “notes” section for longer format thinking/reading.
Each time a slide flips and the headline jiggles a little, or the pagination is not the same on every page, images and icons are sourced from all over the web (filled in, outlined, various line and style thickness) and fonts are in 10 different sizes, the voice of the brand / speaker is diluted and mixed in with the rest (think in the context of a conference). A presentation does not have to be beautiful (though that helps), it just has to be visually consistent.
3. Break it up:
If you have more than 3 points to make on a subject, edit or move on to the next page — 3 is the magic. One word on a slide, or just one image, is more powerful than a slide filled with text and charts. It speaks confidence, clarity, and effectiveness. (don’t overuse it though)
4. Pagination and other master theme elements:
Use master theme slides to make quick edits to the entire deck instantly. Use them to paginate so you can easily reference content without aimlessly flipping through slides. (ie “slide 10 has a typo” or “slide 21 should move to the appendix” is better than describing the content of a given page because there is no number to reference). Use small text (on the edges of the slide) to label each page with your name / company name, dates and presentation title to quickly align the audience who may have walked into the room mid-presentation and have no idea who you are or what the topic is (in the context of a conference for example). This is especially good practice because presentations take a life of their own, outside life demos (Someone snapped a shot of it at a conference? Boom, your credentials are on every page!). Now, it’s ready to circulate the web with a proper label / context / source — a watermark of sorts.
5. Best tools:
In order of my personal preference (1) If you’re working with a busy team spread across several offices, but collaboration is essential — Google Slides outshines the competition. (2) If your content is done and polished and you’re ready for a designer to take it into an asylum and build a beautifully animated deck — Keynote is your friend. (3) If you need a deck that everyone in a big corporation using firewalls and lots of PCs can open — PowerPoint has been redesigned and is actually not a terrible option anymore. (4) If you don’t want a linear story, but have a few points to make, use — Prezi.
6. Story arch:
Start with engaging the audience emotionally. It doesn’t have to be Steven Spielberg epic, it just has to get everyone in the room to agree and bond on a universal truth (ie. “There is too much paper in the world.”). Once you have everyone’s attention, dive into the details, but don’t iterate (appendix is for deep dive and leave behind decks). Examples of how great the product is can be done well via a persona (“Meet Jack. Jack is a 30 yo designer looking to… He selects X option…”). Every opportunity is more enticing when it can be tied to looking like a real profitable business and why you and your team are the best at solving it at this point in time. This topic deserves its own post, and I’ll dive deeper into it later.
7. Provoke thinking, not questioning:
What I mean by that is, don’t use blanket statements or inflated (unbacked/naive) numbers. Source your data and use appendix for those who want to dig deeper at the end. When you say/show something too outrageous and hard to believe (i.e. “1 trillion dollar opportunity”), the audience gets stuck on that one thing instead of continuing to follow your story. So instead of getting attention, you lose it.
8. Emotion vs. data/facts:
Thinking big is not the same as naively making things up. Graphs can be made of Popsicles, when that’s appropriate, and still be grounded in facts (true story). Don’t forget to break the ice now and then. “Checking if you’re still listening.” A great designer can help with that:
9. Presentation IA:
Write out your presentation in prose, the way you would write about it if you were sending a long email to someone. Refine it, edit it, make sure it’s a well thought out story. Voila, each paragraph will end up as a slide (sometimes a couple of paragraphs). Now break down each of these paragraphs into key ‘objects’ you’d like to call out vs. ones that can be said as a voice over (group similar ideas), now we’re starting to think like presentation designers. If I were to break down this paragraph into a presentation format, I’d put a flow graph on the page that would say the following:
“a) Rough Story b) Refined Epilogue c) Presentation”
10. Beginning and end:
This seems obvious, but starting with a page that simply says “Hello.” It‘s a powerful way to get settled/set up/introduced while not giving away the fun stuff (company logo and the date should be on there as well). Leave your contact details or team names on the concluding slide; don’t forget to say “Thank You.”
If you hate deck design and need help or wish to learn and ask questions, feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org