design PowerPoint Presentation

Slide Design: Try this ‘Simple’ Game…

I love working with talented professional designers. They can help you create slides that not only look beautiful, but really help enhance your presentation.

However, most of the time, I don’t have the luxury or budget to hire a design team to produce my slides. For many business presentations, slide design becomes a do-it-yourself effort.

When designing slides, I need to remember my limitations! I’m not a professional designer, so I need to keep my slides simple. And as luck would have it,  simplicity makes for great slide design.

Stingy Design Restrictions

Ironically, simplicity isn’t as simple as it sounds. It often means using restraint. Holding back can be really difficult when you’re using slideware that offers you zillions of design options. Like a kid in a toy store, you can be tempted to play with all these distracting features — and forget to connect to your audience with solid content and excellent presentation skills!

And that’s a key concept when designing with simplicity — avoiding distractions. When you approach your slideware, try playing this eye-opening little game. Start by giving yourself some very restrictive rules.

To begin, let me give you a set of design rules that may seem really harsh. Remember, think of this as a game. Your goal is to design your presentation using 5 very spartan rules:

  • Use 1 font types and 2 font sizes, max.
  • Use black, white, and grey: no color on your slides.
  • No bullet points or 3D.
  • No more than 10 words on any slide.
  • No pre-packaged design templates, clipart, animation, & transitions.

That’s pretty harsh, right? Go ahead and give it a try. You’ll find that giving yourself some very restrictive rules can really open up your creativity. You may or may not like the way this presentation looks in the end, but this is only round one of the game. Save your presentation, and let’s try round two.

Open up your B&W presentation, and save it as another name — maybe something with Part 2 in it. Now, let’s loosen up the rules a bit. This time, you can follow these 5 rules, instead.

Loosen Up Design Rules

  • Use 2 font types and 3 font sizes, max.
  • Only one color other than black, white, and grey.
  • Use up to 3 bullet points — but on one slide only.
  • No more than 14 words on any slide.
  • No pre-packaged design templates, clipart, animation, & transitions.

That’s only a little less harsh, right? But notice what happens when you start from a place of restriction and gradually open yourself up to a few new features. You’ll start to see what’s really essential — and what might be distracting.

This approach is almost in direct opposition to what we see with most slideware. Instead of giving yourself access to every tool in your design toolbox, start by limiting yourself. Gradually, add a few techniques in each iteration.

For your third and final iteration, go a little crazy. Open up your design restrictions to these rules:

  • Use up to 2 font types and 3 font sizes.
  • Use unlimited amounts of color on your slides.
  • Limit yourself to seven bullet points on three slides.
  • You can put up to 20 words on any slide.
  • Still no pre-packaged design templates, clipart, animation, or transitions.
Go nuts with design

photo by Euromagic

Try this exercise. You’ll discover some surprising insights when you do. You may even find that you like your black and white presentation so much, you’ll be inclined to keep it!

Remember, simplicity is often best in slide design. You may feel that it’s impossible to keep to the stringent rules I’ve outlined. But, your mind will love a creative challenge. And remember that giving yourself design limitations may help you design a more polished presentation.

content ideas PowerPoint Presentation

Use super sticky notes for super sticky ideas

After a longish brainstorming session, I heard Mac Fowler quip, “I should buy stock in 3M.”

He was referring, I reckon, to a perceived uptick in the use of 3M’s ubiquitous sticky note. It was true that I had flung a pack of these little devils on the table during our annual aimWest planning meeting. I carry 3M Post-it notes almost everywhere.

I might go so far as to say I have a severe Post-it note addiction. And it’s not just the regular sticky notes.

I’ve quickly moved up to the Super Sticky. I can’t even consider buying the regular kind in my line of work.

post-it notes, sticky note

I do quite a bit of online content development. The sticky note is an indispensable tool for content developers and editorial calendar creators. If you’re brainstorming ideas with a team, give a different colored pack to every team member. We jot down ideas on sticky notes and slap them on the big editorial calendar that we keep on the wall (think of a giant grid sectioned off by time and editorial topics).

I recommend the Super Sticky notes over the regular stickies. Sure, they cost a bit more — but if you’ve ever been vexed by sticky notes losing their stick and falling like so many multi-colored snowflakes over your war room floor — you’ll easily see how these bad boys are worth the extra pennies. You can move them around several times — and they still stick.

We move Post-it notes around in content brainstorming sessions. A story headline idea that seemed perfect for, say, a July 6 online post may get usurped for a much larger breaking news story. We’ll move our originally planned story to another day.  The Super Stickies give an editorial team flexibility.

Further, I use the sticky note approach for quickly story boarding speeches and presentations. I’m not one to memorize speeches word for word, so I might rehearse a speech by staring at something like this:

post it note storyboard

Oh, sure, it looks like gibberish to you. But I can assemble a quick speech by arranging symbols that represent stories for my opening, main points, and closing. It doesn’t matter that you know what these little notes stand for. I know that when I see the guy with the top hat, that’s my cue to tell the story about that one time in New York when the guy with the top hat and tails got caught…

…well, you get the picture. This approach works for me. Way better than memorizing a script. Plus, the images and headlines I scratch are for MY head and MY rehearsal. I don’t have to subject an audience to PowerPoint. I can remember a series of pictures in my head way better than a prescribed set of words.

And even though Post it notes may line my desk, office walls, and car interior: I still get a little flak from my high-tech lovin’ friends. A few pooh-pooh my old tech Post-it note habit. With so many software applications available that emulate the sticky note, why do I persist in cluttering up my environment with low-tech paper and pen scribblings?

post it notTweet credit: Bruce Abernethy | @babernethy

My answer is simple: I like interacting with the physical world. I enjoy touching things beyond my keyboard and screen. The physical world inspires me.

I like to consider sticky notes as colorful, highly tactile playthings for work. Like Play-Doh or alphabet blocks, Post-it notes are fundamental toys for modeling ideas in the physical world.

It can be no coincidence that Play-Doh and alpahbet blocks also grace/litter my office… what colorful toys do you use for idea generation, collection, and management? How do you use them?

ps — to my knowledge, I own no stock in 3M. Nor have they paid me to write this post…

PowerPoint Presentation Twitter

PowerPoint Pet Peeve: The Passive Voice

Which sentence do you like better?

  • A PowerPoint presentation was given by the CEO.
  • The CEO gave a PowerPoint presentation.

Both sentences relay the same information. So why do you like the second one better?

  • The first sentence is longer. It uses the passive voice.
  • The second sentence is shorter. It uses the active voice.

When I listen to speakers who almost exclusively rely upon the passive voice, I go a little bonkers. Why?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jacob Garcia

The passive voice is mushy and weaselly. It signals that the speaker is trying to hide something. When someone says, “Mistakes were made ,” I instantly want to spring up and scream, “By whom?”

If one more benefit shakes out of using Twitter, let it be a giant reduction in people using the passive voice. Active voice is shorter, swifter, and more powerful. It takes responsibility. It’s the stronger, nobler choice.

I have no idea why so many presenters use the passive voice. Do you?

And what are your grammatical presentation pet peeves?

(Of course, it might be a fun exercise to write your blog comments, exclusively using the passive voice. That might help me exorcise my peevishness!)