Improved search

Improved search

Slowly, slowly, I am moving closer to the goal of creating a searchable slide bank bank that is actually useful. Here are the various steps that I have gone through:

  • Designing a slide template that looks good/professional AND blends in easily with existing corporate PowerPoint templates
  • Creating a "boxy" design language that is easy to manipulate and edit, even for non-designers
  • Cutting down the universe of slides to come to a collection of basic slides that can cover almost every possible common business concept that is out there
  • Anticipate the majority of possible search queries to find layouts for every possible angle
  • And now: find a smart grouping slides that creates a really smart way of suggesting related/similar slides

Below is an example of a product page in the store now:

Now that I have automated subscriptions, plus sorted out the search algorithms it is time to clear the last automation hurdle: VAT management globally for both consumer and enterprise customers (the EU has created a nightmare for small digital content stores as it is going after tech giants such as Apple). After that, all attention will be focussed on adding more slide content.

Cover image by Anthony Martino on Unsplash

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Between a rock and a hard place

Between a rock and a hard place

This variation on a 2x2 matrix slide can be a good way to visualise being stuck in a choice between two poor alternatives. Two balls move in a corridor and are trapped so they cannot reach that ultimate, best of both world position which sits at the top right of the chart.

In a follow-up chart you could use the exact same design as a basis, but have the corridor break open as you introduce your solution. Other layouts to show a best-of-both worlds situation are Venn diagrams or 2x2 matrices. You can download this trade off chart here, subscribers can do so free of charge.

Cover image by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

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Good slideocuments versus bad bullet point slides

Good slideocuments versus bad bullet point slides

PowerPoint (and Keynote) can be very useful alternatives to word processors:

  • It is easy to set up a document quickly, using empty pages with headers to organise your ideas
  • It is easy to move things around
  • It is easy to combine text, graphs, images, and data
  • It is easy to collaborate with others in this well-known user interface

As a result, many of my clients use "slideocuments", presentations that are meant for reading, discussing, and decision making, rather than being the backdrop of a stand-up presentation in front of an audience.

A good slideocument slide with dense text is different from a poorly designed bullet point slide (with dense text). It follows the layout principles of print design: white space, text in readable columns. Poor bullet point slides usually have a font size that is too small for a live presentation and too big for reading. Text runs from left to right across the entire screen, which makes it hard to read, especially in wide screen format. The structure of bullet points is not clear. The text of the bullet points is too long to be a headline, and too short to be a clear paragraph.

I added a few slideocuments to the SlideMagic store recently. Feel inspired to copy the design, or click on the images to purchase a ready slide. Of course, subscribers can add the slides to their collection at no cost.

Cover image by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

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Should you use "one more thing" in your presentation?

Should you use "one more thing" in your presentation?

Here is the cross post of an answer I gave on Quora:

No, don’t use Steve Job's famous "one more thing" at the very end of your presentation

  • When you are starting out with pitching your venture and you do not have the track record of Steve Jobs (yet), it is not smart to leave your biggest point to the last minute
  • It is very hard to assess whether using humor in a presentations will work given the meeting dynamics. Hard-wiring a “joke” in the sequence of your slides removes the flexibility of playing it safe and pulling the joke when the mood in the room just does not feel right
  • Around most of Apple’s releases there was some sort of anticipation of something big and new that was coming. Often, details of product were leaked in the press. The product had actually already been pitched before the presentation started. The audience was just hungry for the details. In a pitch or interview this is probably never the case.

Cover image by Ben Miller on Flickr

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"There are people who get it, and people who don't"

"There are people who get it, and people who don't"

The other day, one of my clients simply wanted to give up on explaining his concept to the typical 50% of people who "simply did not get it". 

In life there are many situations where you "give up" on certain people. Students who fail the entrance exam of a university, job applicants that did not make the cut, athletes who miss the qualifying threshold for the Olympics, contestants who did not make it to the next round of American Idol.

When presenting your company, you need to put the blame not on the audience, but on your presentation. Your targeted audience should understand your message. And that audience can differ: a presentation to a general audience, journalists, scientific experts can build on different levels of pre-existing knowledge and background.

Often, as a presenter you suffer from the curse of knowledge, you are so deep into your own story that you cannot possibly imagine how someone who is new to the subject cannot get it. Another reason for the disconnect is different types of reasoning/thinking of people. When people frown in disbelief, it might not be because that they did not understand what you are trying to say, they might have a valid different approach to evaluating your pitch that you have not yet covered in your presentation.

When you leave the room, your chosen audience of high school students or elite academics should understand your message. Whether they agree with it, that is a second challenge, but they understood where you are coming from.


Cover image by Khara Woods on Unsplash

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Subscriptions are now done properly

Subscriptions are now done properly

That was an interesting effort. The subscription platform for SlideMagic has now been put in place. Given that many payment platforms are not available in Israel (a tiny end user market that is a low priority for most tech companies), I have incorporated in The Netherlands, and integrated a subscription payment platform, a subscription app, and a pricing app into my store platform. The result: you can now subscribe to SlideMagic, after which all prices in the template store drop to zero when you log in (no more discount codes to enter), and you manage all your address details, credit cards, invoices, (and yes cancel your subscription) from a panel that is integrated into my site.

It is incredible that in 2018, a 1-person operation can pull this of, a few years ago this would have required a very substantial development team.  I will continue to focus on developing the content of the SlideMagic store (which makes it unique versus the 1000s of cosmetics-only templates that are out there) while I monitor how the technology is holding up, keeping marketing efforts modest at the moment.

If you want you can still join the beta subscription program for $100 by going to the subscription page


Cover image by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

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The grass hopper slide

The grass hopper slide

Now and then I use an empty slide with small grasshopper at the bottom to visualise an underwhelming market response to a major announcement. The lonely chirping of a grasshopper is often used in the The Simpsons and other movies to represent an (awkward) silence.

Here is an example of a slide design that might be too simple to buy on my store (you can if you want), you can easily recreate it yourself, subscribers can simply snap it up at no cost. Cover image by Elegance Thika on Unsplash

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McKinsey's presentation template

McKinsey's presentation template

I did not know this, but McKinsey has put its entire visual branding guidelines online. Beyond the usual instructions about fonts and colours, there are interesting documents about formatting exhibits and data charts. Most of it seems to be focused on print or web content, but overall it provides an interesting insight into template management of an organisation which basically produces presentations as its main product.

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Using bullet points...

Using bullet points...

Reading out endless slides with endless lists of incoherent bullet points is the ultimate disaster presentation. But bullet points can happen to the best of us, and I admit that I am still designing bullet point slides here and there in my client work. But not all bullet point slides are born equal.

When to use bullet points. Bullet points are a list or a ranking of some sort. When a product has 3 features; it is fast, cheap, and beautiful, or an agenda has 5 discussion points, or a project plan has 4 steps, or you have 3 key priorities for next year, it does not make sense to spread each point out as a different slide. The message of the slide is: we have 3 competitive advantages, which is different from: 1) we are fast, 2) we are cheap, 3) we are beautiful.

A bullet point chart is often a set up for more elaboration to follow. We introduce the 3 points, then immediately click through to the next 3 slides that will take each of these points in turn. 

When you know you should not use them. There are a number of pointers that tell you your bullet point slide does not express a message of a list or ranking, but rather it is a list of speaking points.

  • The points are merely paragraphs in a story. And then this..., but that..., taking into account this..., we tried these...
  • The points are not roughly the same length, bullet 2 is 3 sentences, bullet 5 is 2 words, the bullets are not similar
  • Related to this, the bullet points start to become complicated sentences / stories in their own right, you are not able to understand them in a second.
  • Again, related to this, you are in the wrong territory when your points take a lot of time to explain. Bullet one: "we are fast" followed by a 10 minute elaboration on acceleration times of competing vehicles with the "we are cheap" and "we are beautiful" still on the projector is the wrong slide for the message.
  • Most of my bullet point slides have 3-5 points, with 5 already pushing it. If you need more, you are writing speaker notes, instead of designing a slide.

How to design a bullet point slide. The standard PowerPoint layout for a bullet point is really poor. The key thing is to stop thinking of bullet points as sentences, and instead consider them a grid of text boxes that take an equal share of the screen. Below is a screenshot of a search for "bullet" on my template store, which gives you some pointers on how to make bullet points still beautiful.

How to design bullet points in PowerPoint

How to design bullet points in PowerPoint

The big pain of the designs above (and the pain of PowerPoint templates in general), is adding and subtracting rows and spacing and distributing all the points again. In my template store I solved this by offering multiple designs, but the real solution is in my presentation design app, which makes this process incredibly fast.

Cover image by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

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How to present to the CEO

How to present to the CEO

I recently answered this question on Quora about presenting to your own CEO. I think the "what if you had to present a prototype of the iPad to Steve Jobs" is a good mind set. Your presentation should be very good, but a different kind of good than a deck for an external audience. Very clear, brief, and action oriented. (Click this link if the Quora embed is not visible)

Cover image by Farrel Nobel on Unsplash

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How to make your slides look elegant and "designy"

How to make your slides look elegant and "designy"

I came across this question on Quora: how to make your slides look elegant and "designy"?

I don't really like the word "designy" but I understand what people mean by it. My answer to this question: copy something you like. Almost everybody can see good design when they see it, very few can create good design from a blank sheet of paper.

And, most people are very poor at copying. They want to make the slide look like the one from Steve Jobs or that 1960s Swiss graphics designer, and while the example is pretty simple (gradient black background with a certain font), they deviate from it. It is like telling a young kid to draw a house in 3D perspective, they don't copy what they say (3D space perception is not really developed yet), but rather draw what they think they see. My advice, copy every design aspect: fonts, colours, white space, slide margins, the whole composition.

But in PowerPoint or business presentations in general, there is an extra problem: there are a number of different types of slides that are suited to different types of design. Sometimes you can use a big image, but sometimes you need a more traditional data slide, or yes, a list of 3 bullet points... And, consistency is very important in a well designed presentation. The slides all are visually related.

My solution to this problem: the framed slide. Even most of my image slides are framed in a white border. Some designers might think it is not very professional, but I find that it looks very good, and is very practical to cover a wide range of slides. When I can, I will drop in the occasional full-page image, or alternatively, I can play with the frame and have things "pop out" of it.

After you have created your own look & feel you need to stick to it, work with it, get familiar with it, and over time your slides become better and better, and consistently recognisable as yours.

Below is a presentation which contains what I consider 12 basic layouts that can appear in a business presentation. Your challenge is basically to copy a design, and get it to look good and consistent on these 12 slides. If these works, you are good to go with any presentation.

 
 

PS. I have uploaded this entire deck as a separate product here (PowerPoint 4:3 only), clicking the images will take you to the individual slides which are also availably in Keynote (most of them) and 16:9 aspect ratios. Of course, subscribers can download this deck for free.

Cover image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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SlideMagic data charts as a default in your PowerPoint

All my data charts have the same simple look and feel, inspired by the format that I started using on my first day as a McKinsey consultant.

mckinsey-data-chart.png

They are different from the default PowerPoint data chart templates:

default-powerpoint-data-charts.png

I have added the above 4 simple charts to the SlideMagic template store. You can set them as templates in your own PowerPoint applications (Mac screen shot, but I think Windows is exactly the same). Select the chart, click chart design, click change chart design, then go to the bottom of the menu and save the chart as a template. This methods is easier than sending you the actual template files and getting you to store them deep down in the computer's file directories.

saving-powerpoint-data-chart-as-template.png

Repeat this process 4x for each of the slide designs in the file.

Now, the next time you insert a standard PowerPoint chart, you can instantly re-format it to look like a SlideMagic chart by selecting it, clicking slide design, then clicking change chart design again, and now you will see a new option, templates, from which you can pick the file you just saved. 

Screenshot 2018-02-07 09.18.42.png

You can download the default data chart templates from the store here.

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All you can eat, subscription "closed" beta

All you can eat, subscription "closed" beta

Some blog readers have asked whether they could simply "buy all the slides" in the store. I resist selling a big PowerPoint file, because my ultimate objective for SlideMagic is to go to a subscription model for unlimited downloads with so many charts available, and new ones constantly being added that the service no longer becomes a place to buy slides, but rather is your personal inspiration chart search engine you open up for every new slide you create.

There are a few technical and legal hurdles I need to clear before I can implement a scalable subscription service (I actually need to incorporate outside of Israel to be able to use common software platforms). But I see some readers buying so many slides on my store already that they might not be that happy to start paying the subscription after having downloaded/paid for half the store already.

So this could be a temporary solution. I have created manually a $100 yearly subscription product on PayPal. After I receive payment, I will email you (manually) a discount code that will give you a 100% discount on any slide you purchase in the store which will stay valid for 1 year and gets renewed if you renew your subscription. The minimum value of this is "buying the whole store" for $100 (if you cancel the subscription in a year), but I hope it will be start of a longer relationship as I am expanding the product adding lots of more slides, bundles, and story line ideas, and maybe a closed community where we can talk presentations and you can request new designs that are missing in the store.

I have not finalised pricing yet (I might put it higher in the future), the solution is manual and not very scalable, but it is an opportunity for frequent blog readers to get in early (a sort of closed beta). I will close down the beta subscription link again sometime in the near future as I prepare for the real thing that I can market to a broader audience.

It can be a win-win for both of us. You get the whole store, can call yourself a founding member, I get some financial support, and a lot of data about which slides you actually use, and which ones not. I hope you want to help.

UPDATE: I removed this temporary Paypal link, the proper subscription page is now live at https://www.slidemagic.com/subscribe

After subscribing, please go the store and create a user account (if you have not done so already) so I can find you and link the discount code to this account. Please be considerate of time zones (EST + 7) when waiting for your discount code as this is a manual process.

The SlideMagic content license is similar to most stock photo and template banks: slides are free to use, but please don't resell them unmodified, back-to-back in a competing slide template business, and (there are many consultants and other service providers who buy my slides for use with their clients), add a new license for a new client project you use the slides for.


Cover image by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

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How to format tables in PowerPoint

How to format tables in PowerPoint

Tables can carry more data than a data chart and as a result can be less effective in a presentation. For some situations though, there is no point trying to avoid using a table in PowerPoint. For example, when investors want to see the quarterly numbers, they expect to see a table.

The way you format tables can make a huge difference in how your chart looks. When done well, a table can actually be an effective presentation slide. Have a look at the simple P&L table below.

A PowerPoint table to present a P&L

A PowerPoint table to present a P&L

This might look like a super simple slide design (it is), but a lot of thought and little tweaks have gone into its design. Let's take them one by one:

  • Colours have been adjusted to your own colour template, not the standard PowerPoint colours
  • Fonts have been matched to your current template (table can be stubborn sometimes and stick to Arial)
  • Instead of dark lines around boxes, I used lines that match the background colour, making cells a light colour of grey to stand out (or dark, black if you use that background)
  • Totals are bold, and a bit darker
  • The row labels are right aligned
  • The row labels are a bit darker than the cells
  • The data cells are right aligned
  • Numbers are rounded to the same amount of digits, so the dots line up
  • There are not too many digits in the table, enough to convey the data, but not too much to make it cluttered. If the numbers get too big, switch to thousands or millions.
  • There is a bit of inset in each cell, the text does not touch the edges
  • All the rows have the same height
  • All the data columns have the same width
  • The column headings are centered
  • The unit of measure is put at the top of the chart, not repeated inside the data values
  • The table covers the entire frame of the presentation template
  • Double check by hand/calculator: the numbers add up...

Excel can be an excellent starting point for a table. Pull the data values you want to show with the correct rounding into a new worksheet (tables for presenting are different from tables for analysing). Think hard about what rows you want show, consolidating/combining values that do not add to the overall message of your slide. Then copy-paste the whole thing into PowerPoint where it will show up as an ugly table. Go through the steps above to clean things up. Alternatively, you can apply a lot of similar formatting already in Excel, making your spreadsheet tables good enough to put straight on the projector. This is handy when your numbers update frequently.

Feel free to copy the design, or download this table from the template store. You search for more slides with tables as well.

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Creating an infinity symbol in PowerPoint

Creating an infinity symbol in PowerPoint

It is tricky to create an infinity symbol (or lemniscate) in PowerPoint, it is a shape that needs to overlap with itself and requires Escher-style (impossible) layering of shapes. The only way to do it is cheat, and construct the final shape of many individual shapes that are grouped together cleverly.

I managed to get it done, and you can see the final result here (hmm, those arrows point the wrong way around though):

An infinity symbol in PowerPoint

An infinity symbol in PowerPoint

I don't have the exact workflow anymore that I used (I made some destructive edits), but below is a screenshot of the PowerPoint file in slide sorter mode that I used to create the shape, starting with 2 circles and a square.

How to create an infinity shape in PowerPoint

How to create an infinity shape in PowerPoint

This shape is useful to show concepts that keep on going, or loops that you can't get out of. You can download the infinity symbol here, or find other slides with loops. There are Apple Keynote versions available as well.

Cover image by Mark Asthoff on Unsplash

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PowerPoint vs Keynote in 2018

PowerPoint vs Keynote in 2018

Over the past few days I converted all the slides in the SlideMagic store from PowerPoint 4:3 into PowerPoint 16:9, Keynote 4:3, and Keynote 16:9. That was quite a bit of conversion and uploading work... As a result I got an even better understanding of the differences between PowerPoint and Keynote. Here is the 2018 version of the comparison.

Overall both programs are excellent, as you would expect from software that has been around this long. Bugs have been ironed out, and both programs have "learned" from each other to get to a good workflow. So the differences are not that major.

Where PowerPoint is stronger

  • Workflow for advanced users. I can customise the top tool bar with the functions I use most (aligning, distributing, moving things to the back, etc. see my full list of toolbar short cuts here). Also in Keynote it can get confusing at high speed to change colours of text and shape fills, too many clicks, and too many opportunities to get it wrong. The interface looks elegant, but it slows you down.
  • Data chart editing is better in PowerPoint with the full power of Excel behind it
  • Stretching of (groups of) shapes is predictable in PowerPoint: you can distort aspect ratios. Keynote is more restricting and protects the novice designer with stretching images. But, it does the same for large groupings of objects, as soon as you have a few connectors inside, it is no longer possible to stretch complex diagrams across the page, without also increasing its height. This cost me a lot of time to clean up my flow chart template for example. I could not understand when Keynote decides it is OK to stretch, and when not.
  • Complex connector diagrams run more smoothly in PowerPoint. Keynote is "smarter" and helps you pick/decide/suggest possible connector lines between shapes, but because of that, it is harder to convince it to something you want against its own suggestion. In more complex diagrams this becomes a problem.

Where Keynote is stronger

  • Cropping of images is more intuitive in Keynote
  • For the first time I really worked with the file manager (duplicating instead of "save as") and went into the version history of Keynote, no need to worry about saving, which was actually really convenient.

There are some charts which PowerPoint can make and Keynote not, I found out the hard way with my conversion effort:

  1. Slides that use 3D positioning of objects and text distortion
  2. Slides that use bevels and 3D lighting/shading. I am sure it is possible by carefully selecting the gradients, but there is no 1-click solution

Both of these are not crucial to presentation design. In fact, too much 3D fire power in the hand of the layman designer might not beneficial to the quality of the slides. Below are examples of charts from my template store which are not available in Keynote because I simply could not covert them. (Click the images to be taken to the template store).

Balls bouncing on a big wave

Balls bouncing on a big wave

Domino pieces in PowerPoint

Domino pieces in PowerPoint

Proliferation of options

Proliferation of options

The start line: comparing two optionis

The start line: comparing two optionis

Black hole

Black hole

Squeezed

Squeezed


Cover image by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

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Puzzle pieces in PowerPoint

Puzzle pieces in PowerPoint

Although you could consider them a presentation cliché, puzzles can work really well in a presentation:

  • Show how things fit beautifully
  • Show how your are missing (hopefully just one) critical piece
  • Show that you finally managed to plug that last gap

Puzzle shapes can also work great when you use them in combination with images. You can go back to this blog post about making Photoshop-like image cut outs in PowerPoint.

Stock image sites are flooded with millions of puzzle piece designs, but they are not very practical for the average PowerPoint designer (especially late at night working for tomorrow's deadline). Almost all these puzzles pieces are vector objects or images that are impossible to edit in PowerPoint. Moreover, all these puzzle pieces have wildly irregular shapes that make them hard to fit in your slide composition that requires exactly nine of them.

This PowerPoint puzzle slide solves the problem for you. The pieces inside are fully editable PowerPoint shapes, you can change their colour, you can put text in them, you can reconfigure and piece them together as you see fit. Yo'u can download the finished slide by clicking the image (An Apple Keynote version is available as well).

You can try to create the pieces yourself if you want, I used simple square shapes and circles, either joining or subtracting the shapes. Circles and squares might not be the most realistic shapes, but they are very practical when have to piece things together. There is a little bit of math homework to do to determine which type of puzzle shapes you actually need, and which ones you can create by rotating existing pieces.

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Concentric circles in PowerPoint

Concentric circles in PowerPoint

You can create very beautiful compositions by just using basic shapes and a few colours. Below is a presentation slide with concentric circles, and an image that shows how it is constructed. Feel free to borrow the design approach, or you can download the finished slide here.

This technique was often used by the Swiss graphics designers in the 1960s. You can use the slide concept below in a number of ways: show some sort of layering, show multiple layers of security or protection, show a whirl or rolling dynamic. You can take the labels of and just use the circles.

Concentric circles in PowerPoint

Concentric circles in PowerPoint

How to make concentric circles in PowerPoint

How to make concentric circles in PowerPoint

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Quote slides in presentations

Quote slides in presentations

Quotes can add credibility to your presentation. If experts, celebrities, and/or customers agree with you, you must be right. But, not all quotes have equal weight. They have been overused in many PowerPoint decks. (Anyone can find a picture of a serious-looking person and get her to say what you want her to say in a few mouse clicks).

Here is a check list:

  • The person needs to be relevant and credible (third tier social media "experts" do not carry much weight)
  • The person needs to be identifiable ("Senior marketing executive at major high tech firm" can be anyone and is most likely you)
  • The quote needs to be interesting, cut the buzzwords and marketing language, cut the cliches ("Wow,  these guys really have a targeted value proposition that resonates with my medium-term return on investment objectives")
  • The text needs to be long enough that it is specific, and short enough that it reads like a headline. A full page of verbatim will not come across 
  • The quote needs to be relevant, a generic motivational quote might not help close that enterprise software contract.

Quote slides are (and should be) pretty simple: a nice big image with a big text overlay. Still there are some things to watch out for. Below is a quote slide that I have added to the SlideMagic template store. Let's go through the design process.

  • The image should have a calm background with enough "white" space for text. You don't need to be a Photoshop guru to extend the background of an image in PowerPoint, it is easy to add a black or white box next to images. You can use the colour picker to match the precise colour, or use semi transparent overlays for the best effects
  • Make the quote symbol stand out. Regular quotes are too small, and the layout does not look good, as the quote pushes the start of the paragraph in. There are endless ways to do it and I settled on this one. One big quote at the beginning of the paragraph with a text indent. Take some time to find a quote in a good font. In the above slide, the text font is the Microsoft Office standard Calibri, but the quotes of this font don't look that "fat", I used Arial.
  • This slide is a framed image slide, which gives me the opportunity to add a big headline at the top of the slide with the main message (the headline can say "Customers are really happy", the quote can say "With product [x], I no longer need to use a pencil".

Feel free to borrow the suggestions above, or you can download the finished slide here. The template store has related designs for quotes, or customers.

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Blue ocean strategy in a presentation

Blue ocean strategy in a presentation

Most investor or sales presentation have some sort of slide about the competitive environment. (Here are earlier blog posts about how to present the competition). Usually, people use tables, or 2x2 / 3x3 matrices to show how they are different.

The chart below might a completely different take on the subject. The Blue Ocean strategy concept developed by INSEAD argues that is often better to define an entirely new market rather than battling with all the existing companies that go after well-established market segments. You can download the slide here.

Visualise the competition using "Blue Ocean Strategy" in a presentation

Visualise the competition using "Blue Ocean Strategy" in a presentation


Cover image by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

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