Presentation design ideas


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

Why SlideMagic is different

Why SlideMagic is different

I created a quick presentation (hey, in SlideMagic) that highlights some of the features I have put inside that you will not get in other presentation design apps. Some of them you will never find there (even if people try to copy them) because of the fundamentally different way SlideMagic works. Less designer freedom and more uniformity allows you to do great things!

  • Keyword search across all your slides, no more opening and closing files
  • Image-based search: "get me all the slides that contain this image"
  • Explanation slide-out drawer to turn an abstract visual presentation that needs verbal explanation into a document that you can email.
  • A strictly enforced grid that makes sure everything is always lined up and distributed properly. And the most tricky part: that includes the columns and bars of data charts as well.
  • Instant conversion from a light to a dark background and back (switch between a conference room and a keynote hall setting)
  • And, a template bank that is constantly updated by a McKinsey/Idea Transplant designer!

Give SlideMagic a try yourself, you can request an invite here.


Art: Albert Gleizes, 1912, Les Baigneuses, oil on canvas, 105 x 171 cm, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Published in Du "Cubisme"
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2x2 matrix clarity

2x2 matrix clarity

The 2x2 matrix is a favourite layout for differentiating yourself from others. 'We, the good guys, are in the top right corner".

But people sometime force the framework somewhat. If you are having trouble filling the bottom left box, consider using a Venn diagram (a "best of both worlds concept").

If it is going to be a 2x2 matrix and your axis choice is a bit tricky, write things out in full. Rather than "ease of deployment, low, high" consider ignoring the axis name and write the 2 categories: "Big system integration project", "Up and running in 5 minutes". You can also write explicitly in the 4 boxes what they are about (BCG did that with their brand matrix: "dogs, cows, stars, question marks")

Framework in pitch presentation are different from those in a micro economics Phd thesis.

P.S. Presentation software SlideMagic's grid structure makes it really easy to make 2x2 charts (or 3x3, 4x4).


Art: Peterka Vlada, Sunset at Liberty Square, Oil on canvas, 40x28 inches ( 100x70 cm ), 2012
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"We can skip the problem"

"We can skip the problem"

Often, this is what a confident sales rep says when discussing the brief for a sales presentation. For industry insiders, it is true that you do not have to elaborate much about issues they already know. But I think plunging straight into features, benefits, and solutions is the wrong approach.

It is much easier to sell a problem than to sell a solution. Almost all my sales and investor presentations elaborate on the problem.

  • For sales presentations, it is a good opportunity to discuss individual issues the client has. The best sales presentations talk about the client, and not about the seller. Even if it is old news for the audience, it is good to start your story on common ground. And most importantly, I often present the solution using a slide layout that I already introduced during the problem part of the presentation. "Here is that same slide we discussed before but now with that big messy part ripped out".
  • For investor presentations, you actually need to educate the audience about the issue that your innovation is solving. So here the problem section is actually very important.

So, next time push back when they tell you to skip the problem.


Art: Dalí Atomicus (1948) by Halsman in an un-retouched version
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The final clean up

The final clean up

Some things to check once you think you have finished your presentation:

  • Are the fonts consistent throughout the presentation? Are have default Arials/Calibris managed to sneak in? 
  • Are font sizes in comparable boxes the same?
  • Are the headlines all in the same place on every slide?
  • Are objects in each slide aligned, and properly distributed?
  • Are the proper colours used on every slide, including data charts, or do you still see standard PowerPoint colours anywhere?
  • Are all images in the proper aspect ratio, without distortion?
  • Did you include an attribution to creative common images?
  • In case you will be displaying the presentation on another computer, have you checked Windows/Mac rendering issues? Sometimes fonts are rendered in slightly different sizes, causing words to drop to the second line.
  • Is data properly rounded up?

Now you see why SlideMagic has 1 font, 1 accent colour, and a strict grid that makes it impossible to misalign objects or put titles in the wrong places.


Art: Berthe Morisot, Hanging the Laundry out to Dry, 1875
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Squarespace versus wix

Squarespace versus wix

There are two popular web site template providers: squarespace and wix. I like to think of presentation design software SlideMagic as "squarespace for presentations". Many other PowerPoint alternatives (such as prezi) are "wix for presentations". What is the difference?

  • Wix offers a lot of features, colours, fonts, pre-programmed templates for specific sectors (vets and pets for example)
  • Squarespace is muted, has far fewer choices, fewer colours, bells & whistles.

The great thing is that the design restrictions of squarespace actually result in better web designs. People have to think how (whether) to put that content on the page. A professional designer will pick a style and restrict herself to stay in that framework. That is why it looks so good. The layman designer cannot resist to add more stuff. Squarespace and SlideMagic protect the non-designer from herself.

P.S. Squarespace powers the SlideMagic landing pages and blog.


Art: The Stadhuis under construction, by Johannes Lingelbach, 1656
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You cannot force creativity

You cannot force creativity

I tend to work on presentation design projects in bursts: dive in, get stuck, put it away, work on another project, get back to it, put it away again.

Even when you stop working on something consciously, your subconscious mind continues to chew on things. This article discusses recent research that proves that the subconscious brain can solve real problems.

There is another benefit of this delayed approach. When you get back into things some details of the story have faded to the background a bit. It is this "numb" state of mind that is useful to piece together the story that really matters, you have to explain it to yourself again and it might come out clearer without the distraction of these details. In addition, other details might come to the forefront which you thoughts were not important.

All of this explains why presentations that are created at 3AM at night before the 9AM meeting are not very creative (most management consulting projects). It also explains why an outsider or senior executive/partner can walk into a room and articulate a story much better in 3 minutes than an entire team who has been working on it 24/7 for the past 3 months. It not all experience, it is also being able to take some distance from the subject.

What to do? Start thinking early about the presentation of your results. The problem of how to communicate your project, is a different one from the problem that your project solved (read that sentence again). While you still might end up finishing your presentation at 3AM, if you started early enough to think about it, your presentation will be much more effective. 


Art: The Inspiration of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, 1602
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Should you work for free?

Should you work for free?

I design a lot of investor presentations (hey, Google views me as the #1 investor presentation designer!), including pitches for startups. And companies that need to talk to investors are by definition short of budget. Many startups ask me whether I consider working for a delayed fee. Usually, I say "no" and that sounds harsh to a boot strapping startup. Here is a ruthless profit seeker trying to extract money from a small, fragile, company that could do amazing things for the world.

Here are some points to remember, and I invite all freelancers to use them where appropriate:

  • Deferred payment is real money. Yes, you are not selling a physical product (nobody would walk into a car showroom and have the guts to ask for free vehicles with payment after the next fund raising round, if it happens), you sell time. But there is a real opportunity cost to working on one project: you cannot work at the same time for a client who does pay cash.
  • Deferred payment is your own money. Most startups have some sort of funding, which means that they benefit from OPM (other people's money). Freelancers cannot. It is their own cash. (In my case where I am funding SlideMagic from own personal savings this argument is especially true).
  • Startups do not equal charity. Startups want to become a commercial success. Doing pro bono work fore a cause you belief in does not equal providing free work to a company that is raising money.
  • Success fees have to be so large that no startup will pay them. Venture capitalists require that their investments need to return 3, 5, 10 times their money. And VCs invest in a stage of a company where at least one risk has been eliminated: funding risk. The designer working on an investor presentation comes in before that, which would merit an even higher return. No startup has agreed to pay 10x the price of a regular project.
  • The carrot, we will generate lots of work for you in the future does work for a big company that needs to feed a big fixed cost infrastructure. A successful freelancer will have no problem filling her work pipeline with other clients.
  • This startup is not the only one. I get these type of requests every week. If I would say yes, I could spend 120% of my time working on a deferred payment basis. Why should I say "yes" to this startup and turn down the other 10?

And finally, there is a psychological argument here. Over the past 10 years, I have had very little success with deferred payments. Usually the startups who believe in themselves, pay cash, and stay happy clients for many years. The ones that seek deferred payments somehow don't make it, as if they know something already.

What is the solution? Some startups are happy to pay for a good investor presentation and see it is a crucial investment to get through the very first stages of their company. In other situations, I try to find a working model where I can be involved less to get to an acceptable result for a much better price.


Art: Giacomo Francesco Cipper - Peasant Repast with a Young Beggar, 1725
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One story

One story

There are two ways that a presentation that originally had one story can get diluted with a second one.

  • Old slides are not replaced. As soon as you say, "this is an old slide, I still like to use it, but now things are a bit different, let me explain". It is time to chuck it and design a slide that does represent what you want to say
  • Not deciding on a clear story/audience. Most startups do not have a clear market positioning yet. It can be this, it can be that. This doubt gets reflected in the slides. The result a confusing story with 2 messages that are diluted. Best solution: pick one. Second best option: explain the basic idea and/or underlying platform, and tell 2 stories one after the other and be honest about the fact that you have not decided yet.

Art: Painting of Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, by Edward Wadsworth, 1919
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Benefits versus features: the cart before the horse?

Benefits versus features: the cart before the horse?

Benefits of enterprise high tech products are usually pretty similar: you save cost, time, increase productivity, security, scalability, flexibility. Starting your presentation with these benefits will not really make them stick. Everyone is saying exactly the same thing on their page 1 of the their presentation.

You have to reveal a bit of what it is you do before plunging into the benefits. "We automate all manual processes in order picking". Right, now I can see where all these benefits come from and tell me how big they are.

In business and marketing seminars we are always told to talk benefits, not features. Talking product gets you boxed in as too detailed, too middle management, too engineering, too much missing the big picture.

I disagree, people who have a story with real substance have an edge here. There is too much hollow marketing speak out there.


Art: Edgar Degas, Aux courses en province (At the Races in the Country) c. 1872; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 
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Convincing the center

Convincing the center

Here in Israel the election campaign is in full swing with mud slinging and charged advertising campaigns everywhere. The surprising thing is that very little effort is targeted at convincing the voter at the political centrum, because she will decide the election.

Targeting your existing supporters with messages they already have bought in to will get you lots of likes and support, but will make little impact on new potential voters. Think about those voters that sit on the edge, how can you tip the balance in your favour?

The same is true for almost any presentation. Your followers are already on your side. The haters will never agree. You need to target the ones that have not decided yet. 


Art:  Annibale Carracci, The Choice Of Hercules, 1596
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Rediscovering Evernote

Rediscovering Evernote

I was an early user of Evernote on a PC (a couple of years ago) and used it to organise bookmarks for reading later. Then I stopped using it for some reason until recently. Not as a bookmarking service, but to organise life across multiple devices. It has specific advantages over bookmarking sites, Dropbox/Box/iCloud/Google Drive, online presentation apps

  • My demo presentations. It is easy to maintain and access a folder with all my demo decks ready and up to date on all my devices. This is the folder that I set to sync/download to my devices so it is available without internet connectivity. I have run pitches on my iPhone to potential clients.
  • On the go note taking. Away from the office it is hard to capture stuff and not lose it. I use the Penultimate hand writing app for iPad that gets synced into Evernote. Evernote itself has notes screen where you can jot down quick thoughts (an idea for a blog post for example). The Evernote scan app (Scannable) is perfect for capturing receipts, doodles, and white boards. It is actually faster to search through hand written notes than typed ones.
  • Screenshots have become a big part of my design workflow. I just can't be bothered to convert between different image file formats. Skitch, the Evernote screen shot app has a very used cross hair few that the standard Mac function is missing.

I did not get paid a single $ for writing this (unfortunately).


Art: The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst. Oil on canvas. 125.4 x 107.9 cm. Tate Gallery, London
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The catch up slide

The catch up slide

Here is a concept that you can use in many investor and/or sales pitches for technology:

While [a] and [b] have moved on, [c] is still pretty much stuck in the 1950s despite a lot of technological development. Our company is going to fix that.

I have added a slide to the SlideMagic startup pitch template library that reflects this idea, Two "arrows" moving to the right, and a third one which is catching up. Look at the simplicity of the graphics which exactly fits the philosophy of SlideMagic. It looks pretty, it gets the message across, is easy to design. A new business language that does not need arrows, drop shadows, and gradients. It is almost a Lego-like abstractification (is that a word?) of a complex visual.


Art: Le derby d'Epsom, painting by Théodore Géricault, 1821
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Smaller screen, better presentations

Smaller screen, better presentations

There is a nice side effect of people ditching their laptop and carrying a small tablet device instead: presentations get better. But it has nothing to do with technology, it is the setting of the presentation that has changed.

In the absence of a big projector screen or LCD monitor, that small conference room just changed from a mini cinema theater to a discussion table. The attentions is shifting back from the screen to the presenter. The presenter vaguely points at the device and continues "what this chart wants to say is [and out comes the story]". Only when you have to, the iPad gets passed around the table to show that important piece of data on page 37.

Good stuff until Airplay-enabled projects are hooking up our mobile devices to projectors again.


Art: Roy Lichtenstein, The whole room, 1961
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Your requests for SlideMagic templates

Your requests for SlideMagic templates

I am keen to make the templates in presentation software SlideMagic as useful as possible. Let me know if you have specific requests for templates and/or story flows that I should include. Two conditions for this free presentation design help:

  • You do not get angry with me when I could not find the time to work on your request and prioritised another template 
  • The result of your request will be publicly available for everyone to use, so strip it of any specific/confidential information

Send your requests to jan at slidemagic dot com, start with TEMPLATE PLEASE in the subject line.


Art: Henri Matisse, The Open Window, 1905
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Learning from Swiss graphic designers

Learning from Swiss graphic designers

Most presentation design software today is the result of someone in the 1980s thinking: "hey, this mouse is cool, you can use it to draw things!". We can move, drag, stretch, place things freely across our drawing canvas.

Presentation software SlideMagic aims to close this tangent and go back 20 years earlier to the 1960s when graphics designers in Switzerland developed a clean and crisp style of communication and design that does in many cases the exact opposite of the freedom the mouse offers: tight grids, limited font choices, limited colours. simple shapes.

Eyeball the posters on this Pinterest board by Misswyss and see what you can learn form them for your own designs. Which one do you like? Which one does a better job at communicating than others? Why is it that some of these very simple designs look very pretty?

Examples of posters designed in the Swiss style

Examples of posters designed in the Swiss style

Some of the features they have in common:

  • Limited number of colours
  • Sans serif font (only one)
  • A strict grid alignment throughout the page
  • Relatively small headlines
  • De-emphasising (making things grey) rather than emphasising (making things bold) text
  • Flat shapes, no gradients, drop shadows, textures
  • Big silhouettes, simple shapes

Why not steal some of these ideas in your slide designs?


Art: Albert Anker, The walk to school, 1872, 90 x 150 cm
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Working with data charts in SlideMagic

Working with data charts in SlideMagic

Data charts in SlideMagic work a bit different than in other presentation software:

  • Charts come in a beautiful, simple, formatting without the clutter of value (y) axes, tick marks. Charts are automatically adjusted to your own branding (the right colours, the right font). 
  • SlideMagic only supports those data charts that I regularly use in my own presentation design project. No pie charts for example (sorry)
  • Best of all: SlideMagic data charts line up with the grid of the slide. In most business presentations, data charts are part of a broader slide design. There is an extra column on growth percentage bubbles next to the bar chart. There is more than 1 bar chart on a page. In PowerPoint it is very tricky to get these things to line up properly. In SlideMagic, it is not possible, not to line them up

Click through the slide sequence below to get an idea of how you can work with data charts in SlideMagic. Feedback and comments are welcome (comment below, or email me at support @ slidemagic dot com).


Art: Melencolia I. Print by Albrecht Dürer, 1514
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Alcohol against stage fright?

Alcohol against stage fright?

The supply of liquor in this tweet below probably was more symbolic than functional, but I have heard other stories about people getting offered a drink back stage before appearing in a major TV broadcast.

A bit of alcohol relaxes nervousness, but it is actually not the sort of relaxing you want on stage. You need to be sharp and switched on to remember your story and react to audience feedback. Some other things you can do to deal with nervousness:

  • Know your story inside out, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Seth Godin suggests that you can even start with dogs as your risk free audience. Work especially hard on the opening of your presentation, since these are the most difficult moments. Once you are on a roll, the rest will follow much easier.
  • Remember that everyone (including the pros) is a little nervous before going on stage, remember that a bit of nervousness gives you the right alertness to deliver a good performance (alcohol does the opposite), remember that the audience wants you to succeed there, remember that for most people stage fright is like that first chill when jumping into a pool, it is over in 2 seconds once you get going.

Art: Edgar Degas, L'Absynthe, 1876
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Investors, it is your track record

Investors, it is your track record

Many of my clients are venture capitalists themselves who need to go out and raise money from big pension funds or wealthy individuals.

There are usually two big components in their own investor presentations:

  1. The concept of the fund (where/what/how much it invests)
  2. The investor track record of the team.

Investors tend to spend a lot of time on number 1, but the thing that really matters is number 2. Unfortunately, most investors cannot say that they were seed investors in Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Uber. So the challenge of the presentation is to convince institutional investors that you can be trusted with their money.


Working with templates in SlideMagic

Working with templates in SlideMagic

Many beta testers ask me how to use templates in presentation software SlideMagic. The series of screen shots below explain how you can access and use them. You can:

  • Clone an entire template presentation into a new presentation
  • Import selected template slides into your presentation

SlideMagic stores all presentations in one big database which created the opportunity for a really cool feature: the ability to search through ALL your slides like a Google web search. And not only with keywords, you can also ask SlideMagic to return all slides that use a specific image.


Overpolishing

Overpolishing

Some stories are best served raw. The other day, a client pitches a wonderful startup idea to me. The company solves two broken issues (sorry for the cryptical language), and has a solution that changes something that has not been changed since the 1950s.

During the design process I felt somehow that we made it too polished, adding too many "and also, and also, and also" points. It is the full story, the full picture, but the additions kill the energy of the pitch. I think we should go back to the raw version and accept that in a 20 minute pitch we do not have time to cover everything.


Art: Vertumnus, a portrait depicting Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590

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