A new SlideMagic user interface

A new SlideMagic user interface

We just deployed a new, more minimalist user interface for presentation app SlideMagic. Have a look!. Some of the things that have changed over the past weeks:

  • Simpler menus: a very short set of tabs on the left side to help you switch between the application modes
  • A more intuitive approach to the slide clipboard where you can import single slides or entire decks
  • Smart insertion of rows and columns in the grid: new rows/columns will now copy color/layout settings from their neighbors

Let me know what you think.

The trouble with 16:9

The trouble with 16:9

This tweet by a highly competent designer flashed by:

It is work in progress on a presentation. You see what direction he is taking: the big headline on the left, rather than across the slide, and a paragraph of very small text.

I think this might be a format that many presentations will use:

  • More and more display devices are now wide screen (which is a great format for movies)
  • Headlines that stretch all across very wide screens are unreadable.
  • The best visual compositions / layouts are not very wide ones
  • Increasingly, we use presentations to send beforehand, without actual presenting/verbal explanation, hence the need for explanatory text

In my presentation app SlideMagic, I stuck to the 4:3 aspect ratio for slides, enabling you to put the headline across the slide, and added an optional slide out panel for plain text that turns the 4:3 composition into a 16:9 one.

What freelancers should watch out for in NDAs

What freelancers should watch out for in NDAs

I know this blog has a big audience of fellow freelance designers. Here is my attitude towards NDAs, non-disclosure agreements, that many clients want me to sign.

NDAs especially come up in conversations with long-distance clients. In the absence of face to face meetings, people are looking for reassurance that the other person is OK. As the project gets underway, trust starts to build and NDAs are usually not brought up anymore.

VCs typically do not sign NDAs, and they see a lot of competing companies, share documents freely internally among partners, and probably forget in coffee chats where they heard what exactly, and whether it is confidential or not. But, they have a position of power: meeting with NDA, or no meeting, you pick.

Sometimes there are actually valid reasons for having an NDA in place. If you file for a provisional patent and your "art" was out there without NDA protection, you cannot claim your status as inventor anymore. Startups might want to prove to their investors that their IP is really theirs, and some obscure subcontractor cannot claim it later. Big corporations might have very strict policies for sensitive financial information.

I am not sure how many NDAs actually ended up in court. It is a big hassle, expensive, and usually there is not much to collect from an independent freelancer. The biggest cost to a freelancer is actually reputation. So maybe the threat in an NDA should not be confiscation of all your assets, but a 20 second television ad with your name being shamed on prime TV: that is pretty much the end of your freelance career.

So what to watch out for:

  • Sign NDAs only when there is an actual project. Ask your prospective client to enable you to write a project proposal without seeing confidential information. Most of the times you don't need it. Or use a video conference with screen sharing instead of having emailed documents that sit on your hard drive.
  • The most important advice: sign NDAs that are capped in time, usually for a couple of years. As a designer you sign a lot of these, and you don't want open ended legal exposure by the time you retire and you have all forgotten about past agreements. Yes, that means that you are legally free to publish all your confidential client work on the Internet after 3 years, but 1) the information will be outdated by then and of little value, and 2) your reputation as a designer is pretty much done when you do that. Watch out for sneaky clauses that say that things like that the obligations in this contract survive the termination date, or this contract last until you give formal notice. You will forget, so if you cannot get this paragraph out, give formal notice that you end the contract in 2 months the moment you sign it.
  • I don't sign non-competes. Confidentiality is protected by the NDA, so there is no need for another layer of protection. Definitions of what makes a competitor are vague, and it becomes impossible to trace and remember who you can work for or not. 
  • Most NDAs are written for a software developer full of clauses that are not relevant for a presentation designer, insist on taking the useless stuff out. "Hey, it is not relevant for you anyway, so what is the problem signing it?" Make that: "It is not relevant, so let's take it out".
  • Part of the above is IP, intellectual property. Yes, if you are a software developer for hire, you need to sign over the inventions you make to your client. But as a designer, you could interpret that a clause that prevents you from re-using the IP means that you cannot use the concept for a chart (not the content) for another client. Nobody will sue you, but still.
  • Make sure that there are no things you have to remember in the contract. For example a requirement to complete wipe your hard drive and burn any document you received might easily be forgotten, which puts you in breach of contract. Instead, add to the clause that you will do all of this, if the company asks you to do it. Nobody ever has in my case.
  • Check the jurisdiction. If both you and your client are in Tel Aviv, it is expensive and complicated to use NY state law.

So, here you. The most important advice, insist on the time cap. Even in case you signed something bad, it will all be gone after a few years.

What the template says about you

What the template says about you

These food packaging make overs illustrate what is wrong with many of today's presentation templates: they make you look like you are "that kind of company". But remember, the hipster customer segment is likely to be a lot smaller than the mass market. Think about your audience, and whom you want to look like. 

A bit of this, a bit of that

A bit of this, a bit of that

The company positioning can be ambiguous, especially for startups. Things are constantly moving. The environment is changing. The team is learning. Users give feedback. So, Board documents show options, subtle adjustments ("we are going to be a bit more B2B").

Investor presentations can contain some of that ambiguity. "Some" shows that you are not holding on to a sinking ship, open to change, constantly re-evaluating. Total indecision will of course show the opposite.

In customer presentations however, things should be crystal clear and sharp. A customer presentation can only have one positioning, one company story. The decision to get to a position can be hard, the execution into a sales presentation is straightforward: pick your story and pitch it without ambiguity. Changing your positioning, means overhauling your customer presentation completely, not adding a few charts.


Image via WikiPedia

Learn slide design from Teletext

Learn slide design from Teletext

In The Netherlands the old Teletext system is still up and running online. Now ported to the web and mobile apps, the 1970s clunky graphics are still there. Its designs fits 2017 actually very well:

  • Simple but consistently applied fonts and colors create a recognizable visual identity and make things clutter, distraction free and clear
  • Text space limits are really credible, so content writers need to make sure that everything fits in. The result: well-written headlines, and clear paragraphs.
  • A 3-digit menu system that is remarkably effective to get to what you want to know quickly.

Today's presentations and web sites can learn a lot from that old UI.

What does the client logo list say?

What does the client logo list say?

It takes some time for a startup to get traction with major clients. Putting a logo grid slide in your pitch deck can say a number of things, and a smart investor will figure it out in 2 minutes:

  • These major global brands have put our solution on their mission-critical systems
  • These are companies you have never heard of, but believe they have all paid $500k for our product and are processing 500m transactions through it
  • These 15 major clients are using our product, but nobody is paying for it
  • We have done 3 really successful pilots with these local companies and they can testify that our technology is flawless
  • My uncle knows someone at this global brand and he has started a dialogue with them about using the product.
  • "That small logo with the Hebrew letters down there in the corner? Good question. That is the Israeli military that has deployed our firewall software on all their servers"
  • Apple, Google, Facebook, Porsche? Yes, we spotted these domains in incoming traffic to our landing page for our SAAS product.

A logo list on its own is not enough to tell your story.

Now that we are on the subject of logos. It can be tricky to create a nice logo grid where all the images line up correctly. My presentation design app SlideMagic makes doing that very easy. It is not possible, not to line up the logos correctly...

Ethics and the freelancer

Ethics and the freelancer

Many of my clients are concerned about confidentiality when we start working for the first time together. Especially after I ask them for the company financials, cap table, and product development timeline, all essential ingredients for an investor presentation.

Some clients require signing an NDA. Unlike VCs, I sign them if they are capped in time, and do not contain non-competes. But many clients, actually don't bother. Here is why your secrets might be safer with a 1-person freelance organization than a larger company:

  • The cost of a data breach is much higher. Even the slightest hint of an ethical issue will put me out of business. For big companies, it is a legal issue that can be dealt with in dollars. But, this is hardly ever going to be an existential issue.
  • One person firms are better at controlling information flow than large companies with lots of different departments, with lots of different subcontractors in lots of different locations.
  • Good freelancers probably have a 100% full work pipeline, and select work based on the interest or creative challenge rather than a need to fill the empty capacity of a bank of designers waiting for work downstairs. As soon as a prospective client really gets interested (wink, wink) in knowing more about the specifics of the work you did for a competitor, it is a good sign to walk out of the room.
  • A free lancer works directly with the client, so the eye-to-eye handshake is a personal contract signed with your consciousness. You are not wondering whether you violate a contract, but whether you are breaking someone's trust.

Image by We are Neo on Flickr

Not every competitor analysis is a 2x2

Not every competitor analysis is a 2x2

Most competitive analyses I see are plots of logos on some sort of 2x2 with the company in question sitting firmly and lonely in the top right corner. You have to think about whether this is the right framework to use though for your specific situation though.

The 2x2 is the sister of the Venn diagram. All other competitors have 1 of 2 things, and you have both, the best of both worlds.

But, maybe in your industry there are 3, or 4 things that matter, not 2. In that case use a simple feature table. Or, maybe it boils down to just 1 thing: a bar chart with cost per hour can do the trick.

If you are struggling to find the right graph, you can try the following. Write down the list of competitors, and jot down in very short words, why they are inferior. Take a new piece of paper and group competitors that are similar together. Try to find common descriptors (not real time, not location-specific etc. etc.). Draw a first table. Re-draw the table with competitor rows (groups) and descriptor columns so that the "Y" and "N" marks form cohesive blocks. Group descriptors together if they are the same. Repeat this process a number of times. Then make the descriptors positive and invert the "Y" and "N"s if you have to.

You can do this on whiteboards, with yellow stickers, but I somehow prefer to blast through a lot of paper while doing this.

The standard slide insertion templates of my presentation app SlideMagic contain a lot of frameworks for competitive analysis: yes, a 2x2 or a 3x3, but also tables and even a Venn-like diagram (a slightly boxy one).


Image via WikiPedia (GIF alert)

Slide layout secrets

Slide layout secrets

Here is the secret to coming up with a pretty good slide layout for any situation:

  1. Give up on your ambition to make a highly sophisticated composition, instead treat every slide, every slide as a basic 2 dimensional grid.
  2. Identify what the one, (yes one), idea is that your slide should communicate and figure out what the "visual verb" of the point is: I am listing things, comparing things, showing a trend, showcasing things, showing a transition, mapping a process.
  3. Count your grid elements: I have 3 things to list (3x1), want to show 5 team members with a photo and a name (5x2), need to forecast across 10 years (10x1), compare 3 options across 5 dimensions (3x5)
  4. Decide the emphasis of each grid cell: a text/title box, smaller text, an image, a data column, a data bar, etc.
  5. Lay out your grid and rewrite, cut, polish your text until everything fits in nicely. If there are issues with fitting text in cells, go back to counting grid elements (maybe you can combine/split things), or reconsider the emphasis you have chosen.

My presentation app SlideMagic makes the above steps incredibly easy. The slide layouts that are suggested to you when you want to insert a slide probably cover 90% of concepts you will ever need. 


Art: Mondriaan, Broadway Boogie Woogie

Over-summarizing

Over-summarizing

You had that magical slide sequence a few years ago that you used to pitch your product. But as you got more confident with your story, and more importantly, as you got bored with hearing yourself say the same thing over, and over again, you start cutting things down to your current page that collapses the whole thing in just 1 slide with 3 words that can be presented in 5 seconds.

But your audience is likely to still be at the level you were 3 years ago... What would happen if Disney strips the magic out of their stories and just presents you the generic dry plot line?


Image via WikiPedia

Too informal

Too informal

From multiple VCs I have heard this scenario:

Highly confident entrepreneur walks in the conference room, sits casually next to the VC rather opposite the table, leans back relaxed in the chair, rocking back and forth, savoring his coffee, suggests to do a different style of pitch, life is too short for boring pitch decks, let's just have a more intimate and informal chat about the tech world at large and the entrepreneur's specific venture in particular, the entrepreneur-investor relationship is all about dialogue, conversation, and exchange of ideas...

"Multiple VCs", means 2 VCs, and both of them were women. (No, it was not the same entrepreneur).

This approach might be a bit too informal to work. Have your traditional pitch deck ready, and make things less formal if you sense the right dynamic in the meeting. 

 

 

Persistence

Persistence

If you have to say for the 3rd time in a presentation "be patient, we will get to that in slide 42", it might be time to switch to the topic of page 42, even if you only got to slide 5.

Your persistence gave you points as CEO for not giving up easily, but you also lost some because of lack of flexibility as a person to work with and give feedback to. Or worse, the investor think that you will continue to drive down the planned road even if circumstances have changed and require a change of plan. 

Afterwards, think again about the order of your slides, maybe slide 42 needs to come up earlier. Maybe it addresses an "elephant in the room", big question. For example it is unusual to put the competition analysis on slide 1 of your presentation, but for example, If you are planning to build a website where people can search the internet, you might have to.

Obviously, going of script works only in small settings, switching the flow of a major keynote address in front of 100s of people is a bit harder to do.

Conversation or attack?

Conversation or attack?

When an investor asks a question, many pitching entrepreneurs, don't finish listening to the question, interrupt the investor, say she is completely wrong, and then unload a torrent of words, facts, and slides to squash the issue now and forever. (Israeli entrepreneurs often display this temperament)

Before unleashing, count to 10:

  • Is this really a fundamental deal breaker for the investor, or maybe an opening into a conversation about your company? Is she trying to attack, or actually be helpful in a constructive way?
  • Does the investor have the credibility to ask the question (i.e., could she actually be right)? Listen carefully what she bases her question on.
  • If you don't know, or if she made a good point, you might be better off acknowledging it. The presentation is a test case about how you are as a person to work with on a day to day basis. Explosive reactions to feedback does not give you points.
  • If the investor is wrong, and you have good evidence to show it, answer the question politely, showing people they are ignorant, possibly in front of her colleagues is not very good for your relationship.
  • If the question is very fundamental, you are unlikely to win the argument within the 30 minute time frame of a pitch. Better to leave that debate for later.

In all of this the opposite can also happen. A quiet, introvert investor might just ask a quiet question, looking worried, then might ask it again later in the meeting, and maybe again "are you sure"? This could be the tell-tale sign of a deal breaker issue that sounds like a casual conversation. Still, pounding the investor on the head in reply might not be the best solution, but this is one you need to squash somehow, either in the meeting or via follow up.


Image by Steve Collis on Flickr

Slides = training script

Slides = training script

This quote applies to telephone sales people, but it is relevant to presentations as well.

When a presentation is still fresh, the presenter clings on to her slides which contains the flow of her presentation. Good presenters get away from stage 0 (reading the slides aloud) and can fake spontaneity by really knowing them by heart. The next level up though is feeling so free and immersed in them that you can almost leave them out al together.

A bit like a guitarist, play the song, memorize the scale and improvise, and in the end, just flow with the music. 

Chart chooser

Chart chooser

There are endless types of data charts out there: lines, bars, scatters, pies. Which one to pick depends on the type of data you have, and what message you want to convey. Here is a new handy tool that can make life easier for you: chart chooser.

A box of handy cards that guide you step-by-step through a selection process. Excel templates are an optional add-on that could be useful, some of these diagrams are tricky to recreate.

How important is the logo?

How important is the logo?

Many early stage startups that need an investor presentation do not have a proper logo and graphical identity yet. Is this a bottleneck for a presentation?

Not really. I do not believe that you need to put your logo prominently on every page of your presentation. Hence, it is not very important in presentation design. The most important design element for a presentation is color. The color scheme will decide how your slides look.

So, pick a color scheme you think is appropriate for your business. It can be done very quickly. Every investor will forgive you if you decide to change it later. In the early days, you can simply use a text logo without any design to show your project's name. If you are not sure, a temporary project name can be a better solution than a poorly chosen brand name. That brand you chose late at night while brainstorming with the founding team might work great for you, but could be less optimal for your target audience.

Obviously if you are launching in the market than logo, identity and picking the right color becomes (a lot) more important.

All the slide templates you will ever need

All the slide templates you will ever need

With my presentation app SlideMagic I aim to change the communication culture in corporates. People spend too much time preparing slides. They produce documents that are unattractive to look at, and spend far too much time falling asleep in conference rooms.

The solution: splitting the communication tools: Excel and PowerPoint for logging the analysis, and a new tool 100% focused at communicating an idea and getting to a decision. A super simple visual language does not allow you to get lost in crafting complicated slides, or worse - give up all together and just use bullet points on every chart.

In a business presentation you need very few visual concepts:

  • Listing and organizing stuff (yes, the dreaded bullet points)
  • Comparing, contrasting, things
  • Showing growth, trends, forecasting
  • Showcasing things (products, people, clients)
  • Linking one thing to another, impact, cause/effect, from-to

When you hit "insert" in SlideMagic, you get presentation with this list of slide templates. In my opinion they can cover 99% of your business presentation needs. Think about what you want to do (listing, comparing, forecasting, showcasing, linking), pick a template and adjust row/column counts and you are done.

If you want, you clone this entire slide deck in your own SlideMagic account via this link. Let me know which concepts that I have left out you cannot live without. Maybe processes, timelines?

"Messaging"

"Messaging"

People ask me whether I take care of the "messaging" of presentations as well. I do, but I do not really connect to the concept. Maybe it is because I come from the world of engineering and consulting, not advertising.

"Messaging" is often used in a marketing context for a consumer audience, not an investor audience. Should we emphasize that this gadget is beautiful, or powerful? In marketing presentation you would say "now in 3 gorgeous colors." In an investor presentation you would put a competitive analysis that show that the marketing strategy will focus on esthetics. 

"Messaging" is often the basis for a design process that revolves around words and sentences. How should we call the benefit exactly. What slogans to use. I tend to think visual, and like to brainstorm concepts visually.

"Messaging" can sometimes come in the form of a prescribed flow of a presentation, we finished the messaging, now "just implement it". Not my kind of brief.

"Messaging" can also mean sorting out the company/product positioning. This is a big piece of work that usually falls outside the scope of a presentation design project. No story, no presentation.

Source: http://tpdsaa.tumblr.com/post/3106513440/submitted-by-copyguy

Source: http://tpdsaa.tumblr.com/post/3106513440/submitted-by-copyguy

So do I do messaging? It depends.