Presentation design ideas


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

Google uses "glow" to put its logo over images

Google uses "glow" to put its logo over images

I don't think it looks very good. Adding a glow around an object always makes it look "dirty". The better solution in my eyes is to create an all-white version of the logo and put that over the image.

Experience versus facts

Experience versus facts

During my holiday, I visited the rebuild house of Nelson Mandela in the Soweto township just outside Johannesburg. The house was turned into a museum and full with information, awards, factual information, and artefacts in glass vitrines. It was a museum, not a house.

I would have designed the exhibition differently. Mandela's presence is so huge that very few visitors would need the facts about the honorary awards he received. What is interesting of the place is the incredibly small and modest surroundings he used to live in (he tried returning there after his release from prison but the press attention made it difficult for him to stay there).

The best way to design the museum would be a simple replica of the house, including furniture to give an experience what it would have been to live there. People would take time to soak it up and take the impression with them. No facts needed.

 

The one-way-communication tour guide

The one-way-communication tour guide

On one of the trips I did in South Africa I encountered the one-way tour guide.

  • "You can stand here"
  • This was followed by a rehearsed, line by line, explanation of what is on display. I know it is literal because she repeated it exactly the same way later on without realising that we already heard it before
  • End the explanation with "Right, any questions? [no pause] Let's move on"
  • This process repeated about 12 times

This tour guide was obviously new, very young, and mostly concerned that she could remember her lines, and serve the maximum amount of visitors in a day. I doubt that any of the readers of this blog would present slides in this way.

Still, when potential clients run a first pitch of their project to me, it is surprising to see how many ignore body language and simply press on with the story as if they were rehearsing in front of the mirror.

  • One group of presenters fails to see obvious questions (elephants in the room) that almost any audience will have, and proceeds with a general pitch (problem, solution, etc. etc.). For example, you ignore the obvious question: "this sounds exactly what Google started doing in 1998".
  • The other group of presenters spends too much time on concepts that are common knowledge among an expert audience (i.e., the basics of "the sharing economy").

Art: War Elephant by an anonymous artist, 1558

Investor presentations are not (exactly the same as) TED talks

Investor presentations are not (exactly the same as) TED talks

TED talks have done great things for presentation audiences. They set the standard for minimalist slide design, carefully thought through story lines, and well-rehearsed on stage performances. These are great things for investor presentations as well. However, there are differences.

  • TED talks have a broad general audience, investor presentations face highly specialised, knowledgeable audiences that will have heard dozens of similar pitches by similar companies trying to do similar things
  • TED talks have big audiences without Q&A, investor presentations are dialogues before a smaller audience
  • TED talks are watched live or via online videos (i.e., the presenter is there to explain), investor presentations are often read on a screen without someone present to make the points
  • TED talks aim to change the audience behaviour or stun the audience with a new/little known fact/innovation. Investor presentations aim to get you through to the next round of a due diligence process
  • TED talks do not require detailed information, audiences of investor presentations might obsess over the value of very specific benchmarks (web site visitor behaviour, clinical research results)

In short, use all the good things that you learned from TED performances, but don't copy a TED format blindly when pitching investors.


Image by urban_data on Flickr

I am back

I am back

I just returned from a fantastic holiday in South Africa and will pick up my daily posting schedule soon. Apologies for the radio silence.


Art: Henri Rousseau, The Hungry Lion, 1905.

Can you test the new color picker in SlideMagic?

Can you test the new color picker in SlideMagic?

We have just deployed a new color picker in my presentation design tool SlideMagic. It extracts suggested colors from images. By default, it takes your logo image and offers a menu of accent colors that can be selected with one click. 

You can also select any image that is in your SlideMagic image library.

This feature had some especially stubborn and unpredictable bugs. It would work on one machine, not on another. Maybe you can check and let me know if it works (well, especially if it does not) together with your OS/browser combination that you used.

Not a user yet? You can sign up here for SlideMagic.

Apologies for infrequent posting, I am driving through beautiful South Africa at the moment. 


Art: Vincent van Gogh, The Yellow House in Arles, 1888

Product structure versus presentation structure

Product structure versus presentation structure

Product architectures evolve over time. For you the owner of a company, or the manager of a product category, there is no easier way to structure your story then the structure along which you see the world: the product architecture. Customer issues, competitors, customer segments, it all fits brilliantly together.

That is, it makes sense to you, not necessarily to your audience. Product structures tie your hands and force you to follow a certain story line. Not all products are interesting, not all products are relevant. 

Maybe it is time to take a step back from how you organise your internal reports and take a fresh look at how to tell the story of your company.


Art: Paul Signac, Railway Station near Bois Colombes, 1885

Summer posting schedule

Summer posting schedule

I will be spending more time with my family, and less time at the computer over the coming weeks, so blog posting will be irregular and unpredictable. Going straight against the rules of good social media behaviour, I do not build up an article bank and auto post new posts at the optimal time for maximum impressions. Most of my posts are spontaneous and written "live". I hope all of you have a good summer.


Art: Caspar David Friedrich, The Summer, 1807 

Lots of data in one chart

Lots of data in one chart

You hear it from a presentation designer: busy charts can be useful. Take this one from the Economist for example. It shows a ranking of country populations over time.

The chart contains a number of dimensions:

  • A ranking
  • Three different moments in time
  • Information about the continent of the country (colour)
  • A rough indication of the population number (the length of the bar)

It is especially interesting to see how the designer integrated the labels of the bar chart in the bars itself. Connecting lines guide the eye over the three time periods.

A number of conclusion jump out:

  • India / China are still going to be the most populous, they just get a lot bigger
  • Europe is vanishing, Africa is coming
  • Especially in 2050, there are a number of countries in the top 10 that you would not have expected there, based on the attention they are getting.

A chart like this is OK to present in a document that is meant for reading/pondering, on a big screen in front of a live audience it is a bit hard to digest. In the latter scenario, I would present the chart in full, apologise for the data complexity and then start covering up specific parts of the chart so that it supports just one message. You can have 3-4 instance of the same chart.


SlideMagic update

SlideMagic update

My presentation design app SlideMagic is slowly making progress. I filed a full patent application for the design UI concept with the US patent office and added new features plus many bug fixes:

  • The UI colour of the app now changes to black if you pick an accent colour that is close to SlideMagic blue
  • CTRL clicking multiple cells enable you to copy paste formatting quickly
  • PDF exports now have page numbers

We are working to make the user interface for the stack chart the same as the bar/column one, add a colour picker that allows you to extract the accent colour from your logo image and enable drawing arrows. With these updates we can start something that we have not done before: marketing the app to a larger audience.


Art: Arthur Streeton, The Golden Summer, 1889

People catch up quickly

People catch up quickly

In many investor presentations, startups want to educate the audience first on a big trend that is happening. But, especially in consumer/internet, people catch up really quickly and you will loose the audience attention and your credibility of you spend time and slides on explaining things that everyone understands. 

Some examples I can remember (some of them from my time at McKinsey):

  • Home pages
  • Sticky eye balls
  • Portals
  • Market places
  • Social networks
  • Social media
  • Viral videos
  • Location-based services
  • Online video and the growth of bandwidth
  • Sharing economy

Smart VCs read the same blogs as you.


Art: Student at his desk, Pieter Codde, 1630

"This is how we always start"

"This is how we always start"

Your company changes rapidly, your pitch stays the same. I meet many company CEOs that started their company years ago, often at some startup pitch event. The story opening then was about them, in the absence of a real company. Years later, that same intro can often still be found in the presentation, just with an update of the sales and employee numbers.

Your pitch presentation should be one step ahead of your company, not one step behind.


Art: Lautrec, Woman at her toilette, 1889

Facebook is a bad way to read this blog

Facebook is a bad way to read this blog

If you are following this blog through facebook, there is a big change that you will have missed many posts. Since I am investing my funds in SlideMagic features and not yet in marketing, I cannot afford to buy facebook ads. The best way to follow the blog is via a good old RSS or email subscription. You can add yourself to the list here: subscribe.

That email list is purely for blog updates, only people who opted in for SlideMagic product updates after registering for the app might get the occasional product update email.


Art: Vincent van Gogh, Postman Joseph Roulin, 1889

Finding the bottleneck

Finding the bottleneck

If you are struggling to get traction with your investor presentation, it is worthwhile to try to find out where the bottleneck is:

  • Do investors understand what I am trying to do?
  • Do investors understand that this is a big problem/opportunity?
  • Do investors understand that someone can make a big business out of this?
  • Do investors understand that I am the person who can make a big business out of this?

These are slightly different questions than the ideas entrepreneurs often have:

  • My slides do not look "slick" or professional enough, let's add some colour
  • The story flow is not completely right, let's talk about the market earlier
  • We have not put in aggressive enough financial forecasts, let's bump it up to $100m
  • We did not put in that Gartner total market number for 2016
  • We are not mentioning the right buzzwords, let's add a few
  • The deck is too long, let's cut it down to 5 slides by combining pages
  • We should use Keynote or Prezi, PowerPoint is stale
  • We should invest in a video clip
  • The deck needs more animated slides
  • AirBNB raised a lot of money, let's copy their pitch deck

Keeping things up to date

Keeping things up to date

Some presentations contain a ton of data that needs to be updated all the time. Quarterly results, LP updates of VC/PE funds, the latest sales data. Updating the numbers is time consuming and errors can easily sneak in (especially problematic with presentations to investors).

I do not recommend cutting and pasting Excel data into PowerPoint. You need serious PowerPoint skills to format the data correctly, and most spreadsheets are not build to present data, they are build to analyse it. Hence my approach of cutting the link between the spreadsheet and the presentation software, and creating a data chart from scratch, 100% focused on the audience, not the analyst.

How to deal with the updating?

I would suggest to create a special spreadsheet alongside your presentation. A new worksheet pulls the required numbers from the big "data dump" worksheet, rounds them up correctly. Place the numbers exactly as they should show up in your presentation slide. Now it is easy to update your presentation data. Add check sums to see whether percentages add up to 100%, and breakdowns go back to the total sales figure.

When the new quarter arrives, you over-write the data dump worksheet, and fix any broken/misplaced links.


Art: painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

Windows 10 is great

Windows 10 is great

In an earlier post, I have already declared Microsoft to be cool again, and the release of Windows 10 this week proves the point.

Microsoft products in the past looked like the inside of boring office cubicles that they were most used in. Fuzzy gradients, drop shadows, it all blended perfectly in the surroundings. That started to change with Windows 8. Windows 8 looked great but was hard to use for people that grew up with Windows since the mid 1990s. With Windows 10 Microsoft has got it right. A nice clean look, flat design, no gradients, monochrome app icons, fantastic. It looks better than OSX. (If you switch off the live tiles)

The whole operating system is built around apps and has the feel of a mobile device. The minimalist mail app can easily be set up with my gmail account (it misses some functionality though). Beautiful Twitter and Facebook apps.

Some 1990s features that I miss in OSX are still there. Windows resizing/maximizing/minimizing is more intuitive. I like the bread crumb threats when browsing through file hierarchies. While other 1990s features have gone. The messy control panel is still there, but there is now a more friendly, simpler way to access basic computer settings.

The Edge browser is great, minimalist and beautiful. Browser innovation always starts with a basic, fast browser that then gets loaded with features over time (Firefox, Chrome). Hopefully Edge stays simple.

I installed Windows 10 on top of a Parallels 10 virtual machine. The install was not yet completely smooth. Microsoft complaints that the Parallels display adaptors is not compatible. After a few hacks I managed to bypass this bottleneck, but after installing Windows 10, I see the issue. The screen resolution in some apps is not there yet. I am sure that Parallels is working hard to fix this issue. It is strange that it still pops up, Windows 10 has been released to developers for some time now.

With great Office apps for desktop, Android, and iOS, Microsoft will remain the environment of choice in enterprise productivity I think. Apple hardware is still ahead, but Microsoft has caught up on the software side. Here, I said it.

The loooong Executive Summary on page 1

The loooong Executive Summary on page 1

The 14 bullet points with they key messages you want to give in a presentation is not a summary slide, it is the entire presentation.

  • Those 14 points are not messages, they are pieces of content, story elements. A presentation usually has 2-3 big points that qualify as messages
  • Nobody can remember 14 things
  • If you cram 14 points on a summary page, you have to write them down in a way that is too short, too generic, too vague (= not interesting)
  • If you discuss 14 points on a summary page, you have to spend too much time on each of them to explain things

What to do? Use the summary page to set the stage of your presentation, give a hint at an interesting, counter-intuitive, surprising conclusion, and say what it is you actually want. Then dive into the 14 story elements one by one, slide for slide, without summarising them beforehand.

So, the mistake of the 14 bullet point slide, is not the slide design. (The correct summary slide might actually consist of 3 bullet points), The mistake is the way you structured the presentation.


Art: Flaming June is a painting by Sir Frederic Leighton, produced in 1895

Filter your VCs

Filter your VCs

Fred Wilson discusses a blog post by the CEO of eShares about his fund raising experience. Let's throw in my experience as an investor presentation designer (both for startups and VC/PE funds themselves).

  • A decision in 5 minutes. Yes, most VCs will make a decision whether an investment merits deeper due diligence in 5 minutes.
    • This might actually be good news for startups. If you have a good deck, you can get to a decision without travel-meeting-travel. 
    • It proves again that a 5 minute pitch is not 5 minute filled with fluffy buzzwords.
    • If the feedback from a phone call is "no", it is probably highly unlikely that banging the VC on the head for 60 minutes in a meeting or coffee chat is going to change her mind. Better spend that energy on another investor. If you ask why, and she says "the market size" politely, coming back with 50 slides about the market size is not going to change her mind. Market size is probably not the real reason
    • That coffee chat, is actually a meeting that is further in the due diligence process: you passed the first stage (you seem to have an investable idea), now things have moved on to checking you out as a person/CEO. There is no better way to do that then a brief meeting. Even if you just talked about the weather, the investor will make up her mind about you.
  • Risk-related questions are a sign that you are moving in the right direction. An interested investor is trying to figure why she should not invest in you, much better than a bored investor trying to fill the 30 minutes with asking questions why she should invest.
  • Combine the above points and you can see the implication for your pitch deck: very focused, highly emotional, visual, charts to get the big idea across in a few minutes, and actually more charts for those risk-related questions, to take the obvious questions out of the investor who has bought into the basic idea.
  • Investors are increasingly specialised and have a specific mental model against which they evaluate opportunities. If your business does not fit a specific model/investor profile, find a different one rather than forcing let's say a semiconductor business into a CAC/LTV/churn SAAS spreadsheet
  • One more point about the 5 minute pitch. I had client briefing meetings where I only go the point of the pitch after 45 minutes of discussion. I tried from the left, from the right, tried again, thought it was just me who was to ignorant not to see something, until finally the coin drops. Be very perceptive when someone in front of you who is willing to grant you the 45 minutes, this might just save your 5 minute pitch.

Reading body language is important skill that can save you a lot of time and wasted effort.


Art: Company of ladies watching stereoscopic photographs, painting by Jacob Spoel, before 1868

Boring updates

Boring updates

Many presentations contain updates: sales results of markets, investment return on portfolio companies, productivities of plants. If the list of markets, portfolio companies or plants gets pretty long, the presentation gets pretty boring. How to cut the boredom?

  • Instead of a sequential flow (market, after market, after market) break things up and compare repeating elements of data: the sales ranking, the profit ranking, headcount ranking for each market. It is much more interesting and insightful.
  • In update presentations, people feel obliged to create slides, even if there is not that much to say. Don't. Update people about things that stand out, are counter intuitive, are really important. 
  • Put the factual slides as an appendix in the presentation file and leave the audience to read it.
  • Cut the length of the meeting to make sure everyone is focussed on getting the updates that are really important, and can spend time on the really important decisions
  • Don't be too restrictive with the presentation template. If all the slides for all the markets look exactly the same, people get bored. Make sure the right content is covered, but each market is different and might require a slightly different visual approach.

Art: Barbara Takenaga, Forte, 2011. Acrylic on linen

How to make a sankey diagram in PowerPoint

How to make a sankey diagram in PowerPoint

Sankey diagrams can be useful to show flows.

They are tricky to make in PowerPoint. The width of the arrow needs to correspond with the value of the stream. The curves of 90 degree arrows in PowerPoint are hard to control. If there is no escaping (maybe you can create a waterfall diagram instead), I create Sankey diagrams using boxes and triangles, see the example below.

Yes, you got me there, it is not possible to make Sankey diagrams in SlideMagic.


Art: Minard's classic diagram of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, using the feature now named after Sankey.