Presentation design ideas

Daily inspiration to design better presentations (try them in our new presentation app!)

Market sizing in startup pitches

Market sizing in startup pitches

Where to put the market size in your startup pitch? It depends.

  1. Option one is early on in the pitch, when you are convincing investors of the need for your invention. In many cases however, investors will not doubt the size of the market, they doubt whether you can get a share of it. When you claim you have a cure for cancer, the issue is not whether there will be demand, the issue is: does it work. The exception is for cases where everyone thinks a market is small/non-existent: you might have to pull out stats about the number of patients that suffer from a rare disease x the amount of money that people spend on a therapy.
  2. Option two is to put the market sizing towards the back of the presentation together with the business model and revenue scenario forecast of your company. Market size is used to sanity check your financial numbers, rather than convincing investors of the need of your product. For most businesses a bottom up market forecast, works better than a $1b top down number copied from a random research report.

Art: Jean Siméon Chardin, La Brioche, 1763 - sign up for SlideMagic - subscribe to this blog - follow on Twitter

Little productivity hacks in SlideMagic

Little productivity hacks in SlideMagic

Recently, I have focussed most of the development work for SlideMagic on improving the workflow. It is the small differences that can make a big difference. Here are two features that you might not have discovered yet:

You can select multiple boxes and edit their design (colours, font size, etc.) at the same time. Great for creating tables quickly or clean up inconsistent font sizes.

In the shape change menu you can tackle multiple shapes in one go. Click another shape and you can adjust its perimeter as well without leaving and re-entering the menu.

You can give SlideMagic a try yourself, the beta version is free to use. Sign up here.

Art: Rabbits by Johann Georg Seitz, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter

Ban social media speak

Ban social media speak

Self-proclaimed social media experts have taken all credibility out of buzzwords such as engagement, social, conversation, sharing, etc. etc. Clean your investor pitch from social media speak or you run the risk of sounding like a social media expert.

Instead, to describe what users actually do, use human language. To explain how your business gets traction use really hard, quantitative, measures that add up to the bottom line. "Buzz" does not necessarily bring dollars.

Art: Shepherdess With a Flock of Sheep, Anton Mauve, sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter.

Kawasaki: the only 10 slides you need in a pitch

Kawasaki: the only 10 slides you need in a pitch

Guy Kawasaki (the person behind the 10/20/30 rule) listed these 10 slides as the only ones you need in a startup pitch to investors. I agree and disagree with him.

I agree that these are more or less the 10 points you need to hit. But in order to hit these points, you might need more (visual) slides. Especially number 2: the problem/opportunity. A one slide explanation might not make the point emotionally. Or number 4: the magic, might take more than one slide.

The biggest problem is not which slides you need, the challenge is how to design them. Design is easy for the straightforward slides: title, business model, go-to-market, management team, projections. The other ones are a bit more tricky.

Art: Rothko number 10, sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter

Investors read the blogs as well

Investors read the blogs as well

When pitching your startup it is a waste of time to dwell on educating investors about things that you can pick up by reading the major tech blogs: smart phone penetration, sharing economy, etc. etc. A smart investor is likely to read the same posts as you do.

Put in a place marker slide to make the generic point in 10 seconds, then move on and explain why your particular application of the sharing economy (or another major trend) is so innovative and clever?

If the idea is good, you might convince investors of this point as well very quickly. Then, we move into the territory if you, your partners, and your plan to make it all happen. And that is the toughest part of the pitch. Not from a design perspective (it is easy to draw a few Gantt charts), but the difficult bit is getting your plain straight and convincing investors that you can pull it of.

Art: Old Woman Reading, Rembrandt, 1655 - Sign up for SlideMagic - Subscribe to this blog - Follow on Twitter

What did you remember?

What did you remember?

It is a good exercise to go back in your memory and try to recollect presentations you saw, and what you still remember of them.

Chances are that you forgot:

  • The names of the 7 forces affecting that guy's industry
  • That complex logical argument structure
  • The mission statement
  • That inspirational quote
  • The benefits: flexible, scalable, cost efficient, and customisable
  • Etc.

There is a good chance that you still remember:

  • That personal story
  • That detailed but unexpected fact
  • That French accent
  • The Skype message notification icon
  • That image of a container ship that summarised the big idea
  • The button that was missing on the shirt
  • That clever analogy that ran through the entire presentation
  • That unexpected turning/break point in the story
  • The benefit that you get that whole thing up and running 7 minutes 30 seconds
  • Etc.

Now look back at the presentation you are working on.

Art: Gilbert Stuart's unfinished 1796 painting of George Washington, also known as The Athenaeum. Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter.

Fancy management theory

Fancy management theory

Your Group CEO has asked you to present her your strategy for the next 3 years. While you have a pretty good idea what you want to do, you are not sure how to present it on slides. You call in the Internet to the rescue and Google delivers an endless stream of Harvard, McKinsey, and other management gurus' perspectives of what a strategy should contain.

The problem is when you put it on a slide, your strategy sounds like a page out of a management theory book. All is in there: visions, missions, governance, change management, stakeholder involvement. In the middle of all the buzzwords it is hard to find your own story.

The other way to present it? Do not use the frameworks to tell the big idea behind your strategy. Tell it in your own way. Once you have done that, use the fancy frameworks as a check list to compare your full strategic plan against. Have you thought about everything?

Frameworks are great for work planning, not for making convincing presentations.

Art: Nicolas de Largillierre, (Details of artist on Google Art Project), Portrait of a Boy in Fancy Dress, 1710. Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter.

Do you have MacBook screen stains as well?

Do you have MacBook screen stains as well?

The anti-reflective coating of my late 2013 MacBook pro has started to peel of. Posting on Apple support forums has not given an answer. I am glad to see a web site, that collects images and serial numbers of affected users. I you have the same problem, please add yourself to the list.

Art: Vassily Kandinsky, Composition 6, 1913. Sign up for SlideMagic. Subscribe to this blog. Follow on Twitter.

The lone column

The lone column

Most of the time, numbers in graphs look better than numbers in a table. There are exceptions though: when there is just one number, and when there is very little variation among the numbers. During my time at McKinsey, I have seen many examples of "lone columns", column charts with just one number in them, or tables full of tiny column charts with hardly any variations among them.

These charts are not only difficult to read, but they are also very hard to create in PowerPoint or Keynote SlideMagic's grid structure does it in a snap though, but hopefully users won't abuse the app for these type of consulting charts. Sign up for SlideMagic here.

Art: Painting of Trafalgar Square (c. 1865) by Henry Pether. Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter

The only data charts you need

The only data charts you need

I have been designing presentation slides for over 20 years now (scary) and over time stopped using more and more types of data charts.

  • Pie charts: I don't like the way they look, it has to place data labels, it is hard to compare two of them side by side
  • Line charts have ver little presence (duh, a thin line) and I use column charts where possible to visualise time series. Yes, for correlations and hard core scientific data I might have to resort to them
  • Clustered column charts, I find them confusing, it works better to just put 2 column charts next to each other
  • Hybrid charts with 2 axes, very confusing. Again, I split them up into 2.

So, as a presentation designer you can get away with a very limited arsenal of data charts. Here is a quick run down of the ones I use: columns, stacked columns, and bar charts. (You can can guess which ones ship with SlideMagic)

Screenshot 2015-03-15 17.21.32.png
Screenshot 2015-03-15 17.21.01.png
Screenshot 2015-03-15 17.21.12.png

The key to designing good data charts is careful, manual design (the opposite of copy pasting from a spreadsheet). What is the one single message that you want to pop out. What are the 10 to 20 data points that support this. Where to drop the accent colour, to what number of decimals should you round up the numbers. What breakdown categories should you group consolidate. Do I need a graph, or is it clearer to put the numbers in a single table? Data charts take time to prepare, but once you figured out what you want to show, can be produced in 5 minutes.

Art: Willem Claeszoon Heda, Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie (1631), sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow on Twitter

New PowerPoint 2016 for Mac can beat Keynote

New PowerPoint 2016 for Mac can beat Keynote

The preview of the new Microsoft Office 2016 is out (finally) and I have installed it on my production machine letting it do all my presentation design work for clients. (You can download the Office 2016 preview here)

  • It looks beautiful. PowerPoint 2016 for Mac looks exactly the same as PowerPoint 2013 for Windows. A calm flat user interface. Working in a beautiful software environment always encourages you to create beautiful presentations.
  • The whole interface feels faster, snappier, and smoother, somehow. This is especially true for Excel. The current version of Excel for Mac has a highly annoying latency when entering data in cells. 
  • Subtle changes to the default colours and fonts. Gone are the boring olive greens of the old PowerPoint colour scheme. Calibri light looks great on Retina displays. Gone are the default gradients and drop shadows. Gone are the tick marks in data charts.
  • The commenting infrastructure is nice for collaboration with other people
  • Full integration with OneDrive cloud storage (if Microsoft has guts they should add Dropbox as well, and maybe even Google Drive).
  • Now PowerPoint gives suggested snap lines to place objects, automatically distributing and aligning things on your screen. 
  • The grid behaves more normal with a centimeter ruler. If you accidentally move a grid line (yes, this still happens) it is easy to move it back to the right position. 
  • Now text and shape backgrounds have the exact same colour rendering, an annoying bug in PowerPoint 2011, where despite selecting the same RGB value, colours on text and shapes would render differently.

There are a few important things that are missing:

  • The ability to customise the toolbar at the top (here is where I put my align and distribute buttons for example) (this was possible in PowerPoint 2011)
  • It is still not possible to embed fonts with a presentation saved in PowerPoint for Mac (it works on the Windows version)

I think PowerPoint 2016 is so good that it has gained the edge over Apple Keynote. Recent user interface changes in Keynote have made the workflow a bit slower. You need to navigate around too many menus to do basic things such as colour changes. Keynote looks nice and clean, but this organised UI comes at the expense of usability.

But before PowerPoint can take the trophy, some bugs that are still in the preview need to be ironed out. I am confident that Microsoft will be able to do this over the next few months until the official release. Here wo go:

  • Font rendering: The software UI looks clean and crisp, but the presentation fonts look a bit fuzzy. In Excel, there is an inconsistency of fonts across the spreadsheet. It looks fine towards the top and bottom of the screen, but not in the middle. 
Fuzzy fonts on the slide (not in the software user interface)
Screenshot 2015-03-12 09.59.56.png
  • The colour picking is not completely fool proof, especially when you want to use it define new theme colours for your presentation
  • There are frequent crashes, save your work
  • Font variations to not come through as in PowerPoint 2011. For the Apple Helvetica font, the bold condensed variant does not pop up for example

But hey, you are developing a PowerPoint killer?

Correct (and therefore my review is biased), I think that PowerPoint and Keynote have too many features, and leave too much design freedom to a layman designer. The result: boring bullet point presentations. My presentation app SlideMagic is trying to address these issues. But that is a separate discussion.

UPDATE: This post was corrected, shape booleans are still present in PowerPoint 2016

Art: Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, Facade (sunset), harmonie in gold and blue 1892-1894 Musée Marmottan Monet Paris, France. Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter

Fitting a data chart into the grid

Fitting a data chart into the grid

Strategy consulting emerged in the 1930s by blending techniques from mathematics, engineering, and economics and apply them to improve company performance. The profession also pioneered new ways of business communications.

  1. Tables, frameworks, and drawings were used to visualise strategic trade offs. A departure from the long-winded corporate memo.
  2. Line, column, and bar charts were simplified and focused on a specific message. A departure with data-loaded scientific graphs

In my management consulting charts, tables and data charts are blended. Often the most important statistic in a table is visualised using some sort of bar chart. See the example below.

Many consultants push this technique too far. I have seen many charts were many, many columns were represented by bar charts. These bar charts had become so small that it is more clear to just stick in the value. If there is very little variation among your data, then using a bar chart does not make the chart much clearer: you get a bunch of bars of roughly the same size (I do not believe in breaking axes). And the worst consulting mistake is the famous bar chart with just one data item.

Screenshot 2015-03-11 12.33.29.png

Getting data charts to line up with text in PowerPoint and Keynote is very tricky. SlideMagic is built around a very strict grid and this data chart grid alignment was one of the hardest things to get right in the design. I think we cracked it and the SlideMagic templates contain a number of slide compositions where data charts and tables are blended.

Art: Sir Anthony van Dyck, Charles I 1600-1649, Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter.

"Let's start with the slide headlines"

"Let's start with the slide headlines"

This is often how a manager starts a presentation design exercise. For her, it feels very comfortable: the 20 slides are in production, just fill them out, everything is under control. In the next meeting we can check against the agreed headlines and point out empty spots that still need to be completed.

Here is why I usually skip this stage of a project:

  • The slide headlines you can come up with at the start of a project are usually, hollow and descriptive: the market, the competitive advantage, the financials, the team. They do not contain any content
  • Even if you were to push them one level further (3 meetings later), you focus the attention of your manager on editing headlines and shuffling slides. There is the hard to resist urge to word smith the language for endless flow iterations. Still without the actual meat of the presentation.
  • "Empty" slide headlines are great to carve up a piece of work. Team member A gets this data, team member B focuses on that. But, creating the logical fact pack that solves the problem is different from creating the emotional presentation that will convince people to act upon the audience.

So, I actually dive straight in. Create the key slide that hammers home the key point of the presentation. I add backups that support this point (for example a new way to look at the competitive positioning in detail). I add place holders for less important stuff: the work plan going forward, the financials. These can be filled out later.

Meetings that discuss substance are so much more interesting and useful than meetings that discuss process, empty headlines and story flows of empty slides. 

Art: Gray and Gold, John Rogers Cox, 1942. Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter.

How to pick a nice accent colour

How to pick a nice accent colour

You can't argue about taste when selecting your colours for your look and feel. There is a practical consideration though. Try picking a colour that gives enough contrast with both white and black characters. It creates a lot of possible colour combinations without a lot of colours. Example: SlideMagic blue.

Art: Van Gogh, self portrait, 1889. Sign up for SlideMagic, subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter.

Are you comfortabie with work in progress ambiguity?

Are you comfortabie with work in progress ambiguity?

Over the years I have discovered that different people can tolerate different levels of work in progress. Some clients freak out if I send an incomplete draft, others welcome the opportunity to discuss my work early on in the project.

My own preferences:

  • Incomplete headlines and text: For me text is a mental place holder for a concept in a slide. I actually need to force myself to get into the detail and get the wording of a line exactly right. I think visual, not verbal
  • Provisional story flow: again I do not mind that much, story flows can be fixed quickly. 
  • Ugly, early slide designs: this is a huge deal for me. The wrong photos, a misaligned composition, it bothers me very much.

When working with new clients, I need to find out quickly how they respond to incomplete work. Most clients have the opposite preferences:

  • Very worried about the exact formulation of text
  • Very worried about the exact flow of the story
  • Not that concerned about slide design early in the project

This client set of preferences puts you in writing mode (sequencing bullet points and slide titles), my preferences puts you in visual design mode. As a result, most of the times, I finish a presentation almost 70% before showing it to a client. In this way we can discuss visual design. Otherwise we might be stuck in story line editing forever.

Image: J. S. Bach's The Art of Fugue breaks off abruptly during Contrapunctus XIV. Sign up for SlideMagic. Subscribe to this blog. Follow me on Twitter.

You do not really need animations in presentations

You do not really need animations in presentations

As professional presentation designer, I hardly use animations, and my presentation software SlideMagic does not have animation functionality.

  • Animations do not show well on mobile devices and/or in PDF files
  • Most animations are used for slide transitions or spectacular intros and exits of slide objects. These just distract the audience and reduce the level "seriousness" of your pitch. Flying text boxes work in MBA class, but giggling venture capitalists are less likely to invest in you.
  • Layered animations are a pain to edit

If I need to build up the content on a slide slowly, I duplicate a slide multiple times and add a bit more on each page. To the audience, it looks like an animation, it shows on mobile devices/PDF, and it is easy to edit/change.

Art: Georges Seurat, The Circus, 1891. Sign up for SlideMagic. Subscribe to this blog. Follow me on Twitter.

Presentation or procrastrination?

Presentation or procrastrination?

A bit more elaboration on yesterday's post.

A lot of time is spent on presentation design in corporations. There are many mid-level managers and analysts that have PowerPoint open on their screen all day. For the wrong reasons. Here is a strong statement: I think managers are using PowerPoint as a tool to keep subordinates busy. Boom, I said it.

Big corporates work in the leveraged hierarchy model. Commands trickle down the line. Every manager has a lot of issues to worry about and subordinates to manage. It is like a giant juggling exercise. The key idea is that a manager could do each individual task faster/better herself, but can't complete all of them. It is more efficient to delegate work to others, check in now and then, spot mistakes or correct the direction. Although the total amount of time spent on a task is higher, and there is a lot of work wasted (someone going down the wrong track before being corrected), overall - at a company level - things get done faster. 

A manager's day gets divided up in meeting slots (see Paul Graham' post). In every unit of time, the manager has an opportunity to provide input into one of her issues, talk with one of her subordinates. If there is not a lot of time, meetings get shorter, and input gets more cryptical. PowerPoint is the conduit. "Make it a bit more polished, add a section on the competition, combine these 2 slides into one, show the breakdown by month" All instructions that cost of a lot (PowerPoint time) but add very little to the story or the decision the company needs to take.

Subordinates love it as well. You can work really hard on the PowerPoint slides, sit there until late in the evening and everyone around you sees how ambitious you are. A good employee delivers the goods the next morning, all changes are perfectly incorporated in the deck. But is this really energy spent right? No real decision has been taken. And a lot of discussion among the team is usually about "what does she mean?", trying to interpret the cryptical instructions of the senior manager. People's own thought and input have been switched of.

I think there is a bigger revolution going on in the corporate world, where mid-level management positions are eliminated and/or outsourced to freelancers (I built my presentation design business on this over the past decade). Slowly corporates see that this paper/PowerPoint shifting army of middle managers adds a lot of time/cost to a company, but not a lot of return on investment.

Presentation software SlideMagic is my attempt to help end this "presentation procrastination". It is goes beyond a software solution, it is a platform for a different, more effective corporate communication and decision language. If presentations become more uniform, do not contain bullet points, and are really easy/quick to make, there is more time for things that really matter.

Art: Workers in the canteen, Ethel Léontine Gabain. Sign up for SlideMagic. Subscribe this blog. Follow me on Twitter



What takes the time?

What takes the time?

Presentation design can take a long time. But most of that time is not spent on the physical activity of putting slides together. The time consuming bit is to come up with the design itself. 

Now we have hard data. A SlideMagic beta tester deleted the wrong presentation and had to re-create it from a PDF export. Time spent to create the presentation: 6 hours. Time spent to recreate it from the PDF example: 30 minutes. (Of course, SlideMagic's grid structure made it easy...).

Think about how you can spend those 6 hours most productively.  I would take 30 minutes to start thinking about your presentation way before the deadline. Then drop it. Spend time sketching ideas on paper, and then putting the whole thing on slides. And maybe you could have shortened that 6 hours a bit?

I think business presentations should have more standardised slides (a list, a transition, a contrast, an overlap, a growth path). You might say that that will will cause all presentations to look the same. But remember, that standardisation is already happening today: most PowerPoint users only know how to make bullet point slides, even if they wanted to be more creative.

That is what SlideMagic is trying to do: offer easy customisable slide building blocks that are more creative than bullet points but less complicated than hard-to-modify PowerPoint templates.

Art: Henri Rousseau – The Football Players (1908). Subscribe to this blog. Follow me on Twitter.



"On each slide we have a line with the key message..."

"On each slide we have a line with the key message..."

...but it is not the headline.

Over time, many slide decks becomes so cluttered and messy that I have seen people adding a sentence or a bubble on each slide with a sentence that summarises the message of the slide. (I have even seen them in the footnotes on every page). "What we really want to say is this".

Why do this last, instead of first? If you start with the sentence, and you build your slide just to support that message, the slide will be a lot more effective.

Why not write this as the slide title? Many PowerPoint templates are so poorly designed that people do not use the headline. The headline is set in such a big font that you can only write 3 words. Two thirds of the headline space is taken up by the corporate logo. The elaborate graphic background of the title makes it hard to read what is written there.

In short: clean up the template, start with the headline, and write it where it is supposed to be.

Art: Hans Krell, Battle of Orsha, 1525. Subscribe to this blog. Follow me on Twitter. 

SlideMagic is in public beta, anyone can sign up

SlideMagic is in public beta, anyone can sign up

Two years after having the first idea about creating a PowerPoint alternative from scratch, I now have taken the invite wall down on presentation software SlideMagic. Anyone can now sign up for the beta version.

Here is how to get hooked:

  1. Go to the "templates" tab and clone one of the template presentations to start
  2. Customise your own accent colour and logo
  3. Go all the way to the end (beyond playing around) and create one real presentation for your next meeting. It can be a short presentation. It can be low-risk presentation.

Step 3 is the important one. You will see how incredibly easy it is to create a presentation, especially when you think you should go back to PowerPoint for your next presentation.

Let me know your thoughts and share SlideMagic with like minded people who you think might enjoy it as well.

Art: Claude Monet, La rue Montorgueil à Paris. Fête du 30 juin 1878. Subscribe to this blog. Follow me on Twitter. Sign up for SlideMagic