Powerpoint & takeaway food, the art of presentation design

In our profession, presentations are the core of our work and the way we present, visually, verbally and physically, is key to our job. A presentation is our face, the frontline of what we’re selling, no matter if it’s a budget, a brand strategy, creative stuff or a social media editorial plan. Even the tiniest and least important project deserves to be presented properly.

Why are presentations so important? They illustrate our projects, so they help us making money. They’re our first selling tool.
In an analogy, presentations are like take-away food, because:

  • Our clients take them home with them, and their taste remains;
  • They are branded;
  • They can be used anywhere, with anyone.

They travel hundreds of computers, emails and last many years. This is why their quality must constantly be top level as they remind to the client who you are, what you’ve done and your way of thinking.

Let’s now focus about the main presentation design tools: Keynote for Mac and PowerPoint for pc. In order to reach acceptable results, you need to master the usage of at least either of them and be able to use it quickly and proficiently.

PowerPoint was born in 1987. In 2005, it was banned from the US Marine Corps, during the Afghan War, because it drove the military crazy. General McChrystal said “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bulletizable.” Jokes aside, this presentation apps can in fact be very dangerous if used inappropriately. If not used with the proper skills, they can become a problem, a hurdle.

I would ascribe the main abilities needed to master the art of presentations to three main sets of skills – which should not be relevant to a specific role but become cross-role skills within your organization: writing, design and strategic skills.

With this I’m not saying that you should master all three skills at the same level: if you’re a creative you’ll be very good at choosing the right font, size, colors and images. If you’re a copywriter, you’ll be great at choosing impactful titles, etc. In the paragraphs below I’ll try to explain each one of them more in-depth.

1. Writing

Writing doesn’t mean “typing” a presentation, but rather building the logical structure of the presentation. Every presentation should be jotted down on paper before being created on Keynote or PowerPoint. A very common mistake is to open your presentation software with absolutely no idea about your content structure. Of course, you don’t need to be a strategic planner to create a good structure, you just have to put some thinking on it.

When I work on a presentation document with other workmates, I often write an email to the team involved and list some bullet points, corresponding to the main sections, as well as the relevant editors for each section. In that way, each one of us can proceed autonomously to then collate all our contributions in the end.

2. Design

The presentation software design tools need to be used properly and wisely, bearing in mind that the output should be appealing, consistent and nicely organized. If you’re not a designer but have to work on a presentation, the ideal scenario is for you to be able to rely on a presentation template, including options and modules that can be easily “copied”. You shouldn’t have to worry too match about the template, but rather already have it at hand on your pc, nicely designed by one of your designer colleagues. Having said that, you should be aware of some technical aspects, such as typography, positioning, shapes, masks.

3. Strategy

The hardest skill to acquire, as it goes beyond writing and design – it is the element that makes your presentation a success and set off fireworks in the client’s meeting room. The point of this aspect is to bring your pitch to the next level, and it can take different forms: it could be simple changes of pace or details that raise a smile, spark further discussion or show your added value.

And here are three facts about what presentations should and should not be:

  • A good presentation must never be read;
  • A good slide can deliver its message in 3 seconds;
  • Show, don’t tell.

The perfect presentation should therefore feature a structure where the message is conveyed in a clean, seamless and professional way, combined with a consistent and relevant visual. A good structure should include:

  • A clear title;
  • The initial brief;
  • The reason-why of your project;
  • The phases of the project;
  • The expected results of your project, with big fat numbers;
  • Next steps;
  • Economics.

While a good visual should be:

  • Simple;
  • With the text kept to a minimum;
  • With quality photos;
  • With text styles;
  • With fixed text positions.

All this considered, I’d like to conclude with some final tips that recap my thinking and that I find useful pretty much in all stages of my presentation designing. A very frequent question I ask myself is “will they understand it”? Also, my suggestion is to always plan before you start writing or designing, and, last but not least, the golden rule of the perfect presentation: keep it (beautifully) simple.

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