Presentation design ideas


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

Anticipating the next question

Anticipating the next question

We all understand that story telling is a better way to get an idea across than reading out bullet point after bullet point. Still, most presentations happen in a business context. And in business, people do not have the patience a movie audience has (15 versus 90 minutes).

One approach I use to plan a story flow for a business presentation is anticipating the next question of a smart audience. Each pitch, each situation, each industry, each vertical, each country, each type of meeting has their own sequence of questions:

  • What is it they actually do?
  • Will it work?
  • Why is this a big deal?
  • Why has this not been done before?
  • Can they pull it of?
  • Can people game the system?
  • Will anyone sign up for this?
  • What happens if Google enters the market tomorrow?
  • Can they make money?
  • Will people pay for this?
  • Can they sell it?
  • Are they focused enough?
  • How financially stable are these guys?
  • Do I like these people?
  • What is the accent?
  • When is lunch?
  • Do they have data to prove it?
  • Why did no one else invest?
  • Isn't this exactly the same as the idea I heard last week?
  • How can a 25 year old make this happen?
  • Can it scale?
  • Will the government agree to this?
  • What if a "Black Swan" event happens?
  • Why is she not answering my question?

Text book structures for business presentations follow a generic, logical sequence of questions. Your pitch might have to deviate from that.

Letter spacing in PowerPoint

Letter spacing in PowerPoint

"Kerning" is tweaking the spacing between characters in a word. Not to be confused with line spacing, tweaking the vertical space between lines.

Line spacing is important in presentation design. When you use very large font sizes, PowerPoint adds too much wide in between lines, you need to trim it.

As an amateur designer of PowerPoint slides for a business presentation, you probably never need to worry about kerning. The one exception is cleaning up the mess that other users and/or templates have created. On the Mac, select all the text on a slide, click the little-used icon shown below, and set things back to "normal"


Cover image from WikiPedia

Presenting as a teacher

Presenting as a teacher

I got to speak with a high school teacher yesterday and he made an interesting remark about the use of on-screen presentations in the class room. He uses pictures and very simple visual concepts to keep the attention of the teenagers focused. The charts' main purpose is not to transfer information, they are there to keep people focused and interested.

What a different approach than most of my teachers in the 1980s: copy a page from the course book on an overhead transparency and uncover paragraph after paragraph, slowly. Or, turn your back to the class and re-write the book on the black board.


Image from WikiPedia

Organising application windows

Organising application windows

Yesterday I wrote about how difficult it is to keep your application windows organised across two very large monitors. Colleague Nick Smith pointed me to this neat utility: Divvy. It creates a pop up grid that allows you to position windows quickly. Available for both Windows and Mac OSX. This features should be baked into operating systems as a standard feature.

5k screens

5k screens

I broke my laptop screen and was forced to rethink my IT setup. For the first time in 10 years, I went back to a desktop as my main computer: the 27" iMac and will fix up my laptop as a secondary computer for onsite client work or travel. My desktop is also connected to one additional large Thunderbolt display.

The difference between the 5k monitor and the Thunderbolt screen is amazing. After working for 1 day on the new screen, you can't imagine having had to deal with this grainy Thunderbolt monitor for a couple of years. (The Thunderbolt screen is long overdue for an upgrade).

Two big monitors work also better than one big screen and a laptop as a side monitor. Mac OSX is still clunky when dragging large application windows between different size screens. You always had to fiddle and resize windows. Now that the monitors are more or less the same aspect ratio I no longer have that issue.

Still I believe that the fluid window-based operating system where you can resize and position windows where ever you want them creates messy work environments. Mac OSX needs some sort of grid structure where you can snap things into place. Maybe an extension of the new multi-app feature that is now part of iOS.

When going back to desktop you need to budget for one more piece of equipment: a backup battery (UPS). The power goes down, your computer goes down. Apple should have put in a 5 minute battery that enables you to power down the machine orderly in case of a power failure. The latter we tend to have here in Israel in the middle of the summer when air conditioners drive the power grid to its maximum capacity, or in the winter when violent thunderstorms hit power lines.

 

One visual concept

One visual concept

I like to use one single visual concept as much as I can in a presentation. Two by two matrices, graphs, frameworks, they all require time to absorb by an audience. If you have to through in a new one on every single page, things can get pretty tiring. Management consultants tend to do this, and forget that the audience did not spend 3 months on the project but is hearing the story for the first time.

Luckily common issues in a presentation are often related:

  • Why is something difficult to do  (problem)
  • What is your solution
  • Why is the competition different

If you can fit all of this in a variant of the same diagram, you will save the audience a lot of time.


Art: Robert Antoine Pichon, Le Pont Aux Anglais, 1905

Note taking on iPad in 2016 (2)

Note taking on iPad in 2016 (2)

I now have spent more hours taking notes and sketching with my iPad Pro 9.7 + pencil combo (read the earlier post). Things are still not perfect.

Taking notes

The big issue is instant availability of your canvas. Keep the screen on continuously and you drain your battery in less than an hour. Do auto-power off and you find your self do this for every single scribble you want to make 1) press home button 2) touch id 3) touch canvas to activate the writing surface. The latter is probably an issue in the Evernote Penultimate app, which has 2 modes: One where you view notes, and one where you can edit them.

Sketching ideas

  • The 9.7" screen is to small for sketching big, bold concepts, I need more space. (But then I don't want to carry an iPad Pro 12" around). You actually need 2 devices.
  • Current apps don't support erasing very well. You have to go into a menu, change the pencil to an eraser, erase, then switch it back again. Maybe Apple can put a sensor in the back of the pencil and make it an eraser, or could enable the use of multiple pencils in the same app. My creative process is rather paper intensive. I use a huge pile of old paper: make a bold sketch, toss it away, make another one, and another one, until I iterate to a chart in 10 loops or so. Even the pretty app Paper by 53 does not accommodate this workflow.

There is hope though. Most of these issues are solvable, and some even via software. We will get there in the end.


Image from WikiPedia

Convincing the centre

Convincing the centre

The presidential campaign is gearing up in the US, and opinion pages and social media posts are full of passionate declarations of support and/or disapproval of a specific candidate. Most of these are not going to convince people to change their mind though.  In most cases, the audience and the "presenter" probably agree already, they read the same newspaper, watch the same channel and are friends connected on social media.  

To make change, you need to convince the people that are doubters, the people in the centre. You don't do that by implying that supporters of the other side are not very smart or insulting them in other ways.

Think about the doubters, what it the final straw that might convince them to switch sides?


Image from WikiPedia

Making market analysis work credible

Making market analysis work credible

When there is not much information about a market available, startups sometimes commission new research to dig up the facts and make projections. The end result is often a slide with one number: "Our extensive research shows that the market will be $1,0234,654 in 2020, the full report is too detailed and we won't bore you with it".

Investors are not going to buy this.

Here are some things you can do:

  • If the research was conducted by a reputable consulting firm, put the source prominently on the slide. But not many startups can afford rubber stamping buy expensive consulting firms.
  • Round up your numbers. $1.0b is better than $1,0234,654
  • Break up your $1.0b in individual market segments (if you can)
  • Relate your $1.0b to something that exists today. Your precise market does not exist yet, but people spend money on activities that are related, similar.
  • Show a deep dive on one segment, one part of the analysis to explain the thorough methodology you have applied, leave out the other 325 segments.
  • Break down the $1.0b in things people can touch: # of customers, price per product/month/subscriber,  # of countries, etc.
  • If you are getting only 5% of the $1.0b market, think about who will have the other 95%. If you cannot identify them, go back to your market estimate.

The above is useful when making the presentation, but can also be handy when you brief consultants for a project.

Repetition = boredom

Repetition = boredom

In big presentation days with lots of decks you get the inevitable situation that some slides fit in multiple presentations. Some presenters double them up, and start presenting the slide (after the apology "you have seen/heard this before" as if it was the first time).

Don't. Repetition is boredom. Your audience can/will remember. You have 2 options:

  • A super short "taste" of what is about to come later. I.e., introduce what a certain company does briefly, without going into any detail or background. Do the full elaborate presentation the second time around with a quick reference to your earlier slide
  • Do the full presentation early on, and give a very small recap of the story later when it comes up the second time. One solution is to present a thumbnail screen shot of the original slide plus 2 bullet points (oops, yes I said it) of the key take aways of the slide.

 

Note taking on iPad - 2016

Note taking on iPad - 2016

Over the years I have written many reviews of styli and iPad note taking apps on this blog. I am a heavy user of notes:

  • Jotting down things during client presentation briefings. A very small part of this is actually to make sure I do not forget certain things (a correction on page 53, the total market for home insurance). For the most part I find that when I write things down, I remember them better. I actually never look back at the notes.
  • The second big use of a note pad is to draw sketches for charts. Almost every chart with a sketch.

Up until now, I have not found a good alternative to pencil and paper:

  • Tapping on laptops (and iPad screen keyboards) disrupts the flow of a meeting (you look like a note taking clerk)
  • Styli were physically unpleasant to work with (too small, too fat)
  • Handwriting recognition on iPad was not optimal (small strokes, palm interference).

The iPad Pro (I have the 9.7" version) and Apple Pencil changed a lot. I actually use the device now in meetings and leave my note book and pencil at home. I tried Apple Notes, Penultimate, and Paper by 53. Of these, Penultimate suits me best in meetings. Everything syncs to Evernote (they got me locked in), nice and fat pen strokes, and easy to add pages and scroll over your notes. The big issue has now become battery life. Watch out in long meetings where you leave the screen on for a long time.

I got the iPad keyboard cover as well, but like laptops, that setup disturbs the dynamics of the meeting. I find myself using the keyboard for writing blog posts on the road in between meetings.

For brainstorming charts, I prefer Paper by 53. Boxes, circles, straight lines, the user interface is just better. I don't want to buy 2 iPad devices, but my guess is that the big 12" iPad Pro will be superior for creative work. The 9.7 screen feels limiting for big, bold, creative efforts. Maybe I should get 2 devices.

SlideMagic 2.0

SlideMagic 2.0

I have been incredibly busy with client work over the past months, but over the summer, I plan to turn my attention back to SlideMagic, my presentation design app. Two ideas have started to form in my head:

  • A smart way to get you to select the right basic slide layout depending on the sort of message you want to deliver
  • A tool that helps you select and stitch a story flow together, depending on the type of story you want to deliver

Obviously I could also focus on making existing features better: a more accurate PowerPoint conversion, better rendering on iPads for example.

For beta users out there, what do you want to see? You can let me know via jan at slidemagic dot com.

iPad Pro review

iPad Pro review

While I have been upgrading my phone fairly frequently over the past years, my iPad has pretty stayed the same for a long time. I got the first one with Retina display (the 3 I think), got frustrated with its weight and got a Mini as soon as that one was equipped with a Retina display. Last week, I got an iPad Pro 9.7. 

Why? I will be honest, screen size. I subscribe to many iPad magazines in niche categories (mountain biking, synthesizers if you are interested) and these smaller publications do not always have apps that adjust to small screen sizes. At 46, I found them increasingly hard to read. 

Also I was curious about the Apple Pencil and keyboard. The big iPad Pro tempted me, but I held out long enough to read the reviews of most users who found its size too bulky. So, here I am with an iPad Pro 9.7. 

The first thing that strikes you is the incredible screen this iPad has. My iPhone 6S looks poor next to it. Second is its weight. Feels the same as my old Mini, despite a much larger screen. 

The pencil is the first one that actually works for an iPad. Over the years I have tried many, many styli, and always found myself going back to paper. All my slide designs start as a sketch on a piece of paper, I like to make them big, so I burn through many trees in a month. I am hopeful that the pencil will finally end this waste. The real answer will come after a month of use or so. The pencil works nicely in the Apple Notes app, but really shines in the Paper app by 53.  The only drawback of the pencil is that there is nowhere to put it. I reviewed a leather designer cover I got for my iPad 3 to carry everything around.

Multi-tasking looks useful: you can now open 2 app windows side by side.

Finally, the keyboard. I never had a problem with typing on their iPad screen, what did bother me was the pop up window for the characters. That is now gone. Attach the keyboard and you have the full screen real estate of the app. I am writing this blog post on my iPad as we "speak". 

It is this keyboard that really makes my presentation design app SlideMagic work on an iPad. The text dialogue box is gone. More and more I am starting to think that SlideMagic could actually be the first presentation app that allows you to create slides on a tablet for real. 

I will report back after some time for the 10,000 km review

Presentations are not the only issue

Presentations are not the only issue

Communication in the work place in general has its problems:

  • Email wording
  • Making a point in a meeting
  • Trying to get to a decision in a meeting
  • Annual feedback sessions
  • Handing over web/app designs to the implementation team
  • Product one pagers
  • Press releases
  • Keyword-loaden blog posts
  • Marketing slogans
  • User manuals
  • Travel policies

In presentations, the issue is most visible but it is sitting everywhere. People are used to transferring ideas in a dialogue where the recipient asks questions to help her understand what is being said. All this breaks down in one way communication.


Art: Tower of Babel by Pieter Breughel the Elder

The largest amount of text

The largest amount of text

The eye wants boxes on a slide to be equal in size. That is why I am always battling with the box with the largest amount of text, it determines the shape size and/or font size of all the boxes on the chart. Here you need to be a newspaper front page layout designer/editor and cut down the text of that box carefully without diluting its meaning. It will improve the look of your entire slide.

I really don't like the word "management" for example. You need it a lot in business presentations and has all these wide letters, which makes it hard to fit.


Image from WikiPedia

The shortcomings of application windows

The shortcomings of application windows

The main reason to design a new presentation app that is an alternative to PowerPoint (SlideMagic) is the flaw in the windows/mouse-based user interface design that has been with us since the end of the 1980s. Users can drag, move, place, distort, objects as they see fit. Inexperienced designers will get it wrong and put things in the wrong places.

Over my holiday, I have been listening to this Andreessen Horowitz podcast that discusses whether tablets are finally ready to eliminate the laptop:

Some other interesting points that came up:

  • "Where is my mouse?", the mouse pointer is actually not the most logical computer input device. After 2 decades we have gotten used to it, but is not perfect. In the 1980s, engineers combined multi-tasking and windows as one user interface concept. They are different.
  • Arranging and resizing application windows as actually not that user friendly. Most of the time, you want 1, 2, maybe 3 applications open in a convenient grid. (Similar to placing objects on a slide).
  • One of the big shortcomings of tablets today is the ability to create presentation slides (making small edits is not a problem). Maybe it is time to expand SlideMagic to work with touch screens :-)

Image from WikiPedia

Lower post frequency

Lower post frequency

I am on vacation with my family at the moment, posting might be a bit unpredictable. Going against good blogging practice, I am not working with a big post content pipeline but rather write entries almost all "live". You read it five minutes after I wrote it. Authentic and raw, but less good at incorporating family holiday schedules. Apologies.