How to make your presentations look great in less time

September 12, 2020

There is a high chance you spent sometime this week or last week working on a presentation and there is also a high chance you spent a lot of time designing your presentations yourself.

In this article, I will share how you can potentially create effective presentations faster without spending that Sunday in office to "spruce up your presentation".

Do NOT start working on powerpoint /Keynote at the start - NEVER - NADA - NEIN

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The point of a presentation is to share an idea or a concept or a story with an audience. It is simply a tool and not a thing in itself. Microsoft powerpoint, Keynote or Prezi or any other presentation software is simply a tool. If you directly start working on the tool, the story that you want to share will get lost.

I have seen people directly jotting down pointers on PowerPoint itself before creating a strong narrative content.

This is generally the root cause of you spending a lot of your employment time and overtime on PowerPoint presentations. It is because you are first working on a tool that is about layout and presenting your story and not spending enough time building your story itself.

If you directly start attacking the presentation layout, you will be spending nearly 2-3 times more than if you first wrote down your narrative.

Write a complete story first | Build your narrative

This is where you should start; write the complete story of your concept, idea or strategy so that you have a clear and compelling narrative. You can do this in many ways, jotting down points and ideas on a notebook, creating a mind-map or freewriting your thoughts on the subject.

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I use the draft mode of Medium to freewrite on any idea or concept that I want to present to clients or partners or my internal team before I figure out the form I want to present it in. Evernote is a great tool too. Medium doesn't allow others to edit drafts but Evernote works really well. The picture above shows the zoomed out view of some of my latest medium drafts.

Share your story with co-workers / team-members / boss / spouse / friends - Get feedback and re-write your story

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Once you have your narrative in place, take feedback from people who will give you new perspectives to your story.

Check your data points and see if they are on point.

Feel free to add and edit your narrative till it starts taking a final shape based on the feedback. I generally re-write my draft articles a couple of times before it becomes final.

Save your drafts so that you can keep tweaking as and when required.

Get out now and hire a presentation designer

Once you have the final content in place and you want to now lay it out visually, ideally goto a visual designer who can lay them out for you.

Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash

If you are not a visual designer, it is not only tough but more importantly it is time consuming for you to layout everything visually. It is a drain on your energy, working hours and overall peace of mind to start designing presentations yourself. Ideally you should be doing what you are really good at.

However, I understand that in many instances you have no option but to design your presentations yourself. This can be because of budgetary constraints, it might be an internal presentation and your boss might be okay with you spending that extra time creating a good looking presentation at the cost of your Saturday beer night with friends.

If you are in that scenario, you need to start paying really good attention from here on.

If you just have to design your own presentations, start following these steps carefully

Start referencing

Again, do not start with opening your Microsoft PowerPoint / Keynote software yet. Get a sense of the layout that you would like by researching references.

Pinterest, Google are good enough for most cases. You can also visit Behance if Pinterest or Google is not able to help you.

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Also, your existing website or previously professionally designed presentation might be a great place to look at. In many cases, the layout design and overall structure of your existing company website can give you clues as to how to go about your own presentation.

Also, it is always a good idea to involve your stakeholders in the reference stage too just so that there is agreement on the colour schemes, layout patterns and overall theme. You do not want to get back to this on Monday and re-work after spending your entire Sunday laying out everything.

Sketch slide layouts

Now that you have a clear idea of the overall theme, layout structure and colour scheme, you can get down to laying out your content and data points in a way that you want them to come out.

There is just so much literature out there on how to create effective presentations that I am not going to spend any time on that here.

The only thing I want to tell you is that doing rough sketches to understand where everything will go with pen/pencil and paper is the fastest way to get a rough sense and again a great way to solicit feedback from people who matter so that extensive re-work at the PowerPoint stage is avoided.

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Side note: You do not need to have great sketching skills here. All of you know how to do what is in the following picture. It is from creative confidence, a book I highly recommend you read on your commute back home.

You finally have permission to finally open PowerPoint / keynote or whichever presentation software you are using

Now that you are on point with your complete narrative, reference and sketches along with having a clear understanding from everyone who matters that you are going in the right direction, you can finally open that damned presentation software and start laying out your sketched slides digitally.

You might want to only work on 3-4 slides so that the font, colour scheme, layout is set to an extent so that you can again take help of that familiar feedback process. Again, may I remind you, you do not want to spend your Sunday re-working the complete font of your 38 page presentation just because your boss had a brain wave on the fonts you used on a Saturday evening.

Repeat slide layout - the fun continues

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Once you are clear that everyone who matters is on-board with your first 3-4 slides, this is the phase where you are in your zone, laying out slide after slide without caring about time or any external events going on around you.

You look up from your computer screen after your 22nd slide and you find the office empty, the sun has set and 18 coffee cups around you with a few unhealthy chips packet hanging outside your cubicle dustbin.

Pay from your own pocket to get a designer, it will lead to a better work life balance

If you still haven't figured this out by now, it is just simpler to hire a visual designer even if you have to shell out money from your own pocket.

You can take that weekend off while the designer sweats out the visual details on your presentation.

Final visual tips

However, if you got till here and you really need to make your presentation, then here are some tips to make your presentation look visually pleasing.

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  1. Use one font and use it throughout. Make sure you have a standard font size for the headline and one size for the body copy. Google font is a good place to start looking for a readable and unique font for your presentation.
  2. Headlines usually read great at the top
  3. The body copy remaining at the same place throughout all the slides is easier for the eyes to adjust and read
  4. Use complete lines for all your presentations. Read why Amazon has banned bullet points and powerpoint here.
  5. Use contextual images, unsplash is a great resource for free images.
  6. Less is more when it comes to a presentation, otherwise, if you have a lot to say, you can always write a complete written 1400 word narrative like this article that you are reading now. However, we did try a presentation version here.
  7. Get a designer friend who can atleast give you tips over the phone. Also, sometimes 70% of your time goes in designing 30% of your slides, this is where you can get targeted help from your designer for a few slides.

Today is still Thursday, got out while you can before the weekend is upon you. Get in a meeting with your boss and hire a visual designer who can ace your presentation. Everyone wins including your spouse and kids.

I will love to hear from you about your personal presentation mishaps. Do comment below.

P.S: I know that your company might not want external designers to work on sensitive content, however, you can always hire a designers in-house for this. However, a strong NDA works fairly well with external designers.

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