In yet another sign that the future is digital, presenting work in-person is happening less and less. But there are trade-offs–connecting virtually via the tubes and wires of the internet is an entirely different ballgame than meeting face-to-face. Among its many impacts, the lack of in-person interaction puts added pressure on the material to make a great impression.
When you aren’t there to give a presentation in-person, you lose a bit of control. You lose the ability to elaborate or explain, or even to compliment a board member on his choice of bow tie.
But in the current age, it’s probably a good idea to approach every presentation as if you won’t be there to present it–in person or otherwise. Here are just a few of the ways you can do so:
Gabriela Silva is a Creative Director and designer in the San Francisco Bay area. In her current role as a Senior Communications Designer at Pinterest, she helps make sure all sales presentations and collateral remain on-brand. According to Gabriela, an effective presentation starts prior to picking up a mouse or tablet.
“Before you or your design team gets started, make sure to immerse yourself with appropriate brand guidelines whenever possible. You should also make sure the primary message is clear, that way you can pick the right visuals to support this.”
It’s also a good idea to get everyone on the same page when it comes to the audience. Having a clear picture of who will be consuming your presentation will help make sure you set the right tone. As Gabriela puts it, “Always consider the audience. What will resonate with them? If at all possible, work closely with a copywriter to figure out the best tone, structure, and narrative of the piece.”
Pay attention to brand guidelines
When it comes to tone, always keep your audience in mind
Tell a better story
Boring content is bad. This may seem obvious, but that doesn’t mean everyone actively considers captivating their audiences a “must” for presentations.
As our article on storytelling techniques says, “It’s not as simple as starting with ‘Once upon a time’ and closing with ‘The end.’ But there are some classic structural elements that can be incredibly useful to marketers.” Just like in the world of fiction writing, you want to grab your audience by the lapels and keep your grip until your presentation is done.
Remember to keep the basic story construct in mind. Hook your audience right away, give them enough action to keep them on the line, then show them how their lives will be better.
Think beginning, middle, end
Boredom = your enemy
Despite being told not to countless times growing up, most of us do judge a book by its cover–at least enough to make a call on whether or not to read it. The cover slide is therefore a crucial component of a presentation, and may mean the difference between your deck being opened or ignored.
With more and more presentations taking place online instead of face-to-face, a strong opening is more important than ever. The quick wit and smiling face of your presenter is much more captivating in person–without that added element of showmanship, your opening image has to be that much stronger. And since there is an excellent chance that at some point your presentation will have to stand on its own, it needs to shine whether or not there is someone to set it up or add color commentary.
Think about it this way: if you were presenting in person, you would choose your outfit carefully. Your cover slide is now the “outfit” of your presentation. Pick an ugly shirt and you make a lousy first impression–but sport a well-fitting, crisply-ironed number with silver cufflinks, and you send a different message altogether.
Cover slides are more important than ever
Consistency, consistency, consistency
We’ve talked about keeping things interesting and engaging, so the word “consistency” might seem to fly in the face of this advice. However, there are rules you should adhere to so your presentation doesn’t look like it was cobbled together from 25 different sources.
Writer, content producer, and SEO expert Julian Droste has written hundreds of articles designed to help entrepreneurs produce better content. When it comes to visual design, Julian recommends that you “pick two or three primary colors for your deck and use shades of the same color for variation. A highlighter color to showcase relevant content is also a great idea.”
Julian has similar advice when it comes to fonts: “Choose no more than two font sizes, one for headings and another for everything else. Make sure all fonts can be seen from across a room but are not so large that words are split between one line and the next.” You can read more tips from Julian in his Blog for Entrepreneurs.
Stay consistent with your font and color choices
Play to the “cheap seats”
Any theater director worth his or her weight in greasepaint will tell you to project your voice, so that everyone in the room can hear what you’re saying. This is sometimes referred to as “playing to cheap seats”–in other words, being sure that those in the nosebleeds understand the subtleties of your soliloquies just as easily as those in the front row.
Y Combinator, a seed money startup accelerator currently worth over $155 billion, states that “if they can’t read it, they won’t be able to understand it. Legible slides are ones that even old people sitting in the back row with bad eyesight can read.”
So while a seat in a room with a billion-dollar-valued Venture Capitalist isn’t ever going to come “cheap,” the thought process remains the same. Legibility becomes even more applicable when decks are viewed on a mobile device or presented online, where you have little or no control on exactly how the presentation will look to the audience.
Make sure everyone (even the folks in the back, or those with bad eyesight) can see everything clearly
Context is king
Working for a company where decks are the bread and butter means David Mack, SketchDeck’s Head of Marketing, has seen (and created) more than his fair share of presentations. In his experience, context is an oft-overlooked consideration when it comes to creating successful decks.
“You really need to consider if the deck will be projected, or printed, or viewed on a phone, et cetera. Where will your audience be viewing the presentation? How invested are they in consuming your information?”
Presentations are often sent to a client ahead of time, and also left behind once the show is over. One mistake marketers often make is creating just one piece of collateral to act as the send-ahead and the leave-behind. Instead, you might want to work with your design team to create a one or two page summary of your presentation. As David says, “Only a minority of marketers create a one-pager but they are a good idea. These can act as a pre-read or a leave-behind, or both.”
Find out ahead of time how your presentation will be consumed and design accordingly
Consider creating a separate, condensed deliverable as a send-ahead and/or leave-behind
Even if you are the brightest marketing mind since Don Draper, presenting a deck full of only words will have your content falling flat. Humans are visual creatures, and therefore visualized problem solving is often the best way to get your point across.
SketchDeck’s David Mack is also a fan of presentation eye candy. “Graphs and visually memorable widgets are a great way to break up monotony. When done well, they can make a presentation easy to digest and more memorable.” Creating a style for your visual icons creates consistency in your collateral, branding your presentation as coming from your company and your company alone.
In addition, images are a great way to liven up a presentation–but double-check that everything stays on brand. That picture of a monkey on a skateboard might seem hilarious in the office, but could fall flat in the boardroom. Not everything needs to be super serious all the time–but unless you’re pitching Nickelodeon on the next great tween sitcom, leave the animations, memes, and wacky photos in your hard drive.
Make it pretty!
Use humorous images sparingly, if at all
In-person presentations may not be dead, but there is no denying the staying power of a great presentation, period. One measuring stick is the ability of a deck to be great on its own, without any finely-tuned presentation skills to accompany it.
So before kicking off design for your next presentation, remember to keep the following in mind:
Know the brand. Getting your design team familiar with brand guidelines can save a ton of time and money.
Tell a good story. Keep your audience engaged by paying attention to structure. Think problem then solution, as well as beginning-middle-end.
Factor in context. How a presentation will be viewed should factor into all design decisions.
Make it pretty. Words are great–after all, you’re reading them now! But you’re creating a presentation not a book, so remember to keep things interesting visually.
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Ben Pierce is an Oakland-based writer who may or may not be losing his hearing from years and years of standing too close to crash cymbals.