Why creating presentations can feel like a baptism of fire

Why creating presentations can feel like a baptism of fire
Photo by Elisa Ventur / Unsplash

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve created a presentation at some point in your career. Whether you’re using slides to communicate complex information, tell a story or persuade internal or external audiences; a well-crafted, well-designed presentation demonstrates a high level of professionalism and will help enhance your message.

For just the highlights of this post, glance through the accompanying deck here.

This is why presentations have become the mainstay communication tool for most organisations across the world  — with the most popular being PowerPoint. One poll suggests that around 35 million PowerPoint presentations are given each day with PowerPoint having at least an estimated 500 million users!

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Photo by Austin Distel / Unsplash

But let’s face it, for many of us unless you have a bit of an eye for graphic design, and a fair amount of time on your hands, traditional tools like PowerPoint can be unwieldy for everyday use. While presentation tools represent a great way to easily construct a narrative arc and then iteratively bolster with detail, creating a simple presentation can take hours of crafting and finessing to get it looking good enough.

That first, empty slide…

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using your run-of-the-mill presentation package for authoring. But doing it efficiently, and well requires a bit of discipline on your part. Firstly, most of the tools require you to first add the basic design elements you need (such as text boxes, lists, images), and then fill in the blanks.

Woman's hands drawing on ipad with apple pencil
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash
This means that it is easy to spend a lot of time — one slide at a time — thinking about how to present what you need to communicate before you’ve actually composed the words. A creative process that can easily make you feel uninspired, hindered and ultimately frustrated with your progress when all you want to do is get this done.

So a good way of dealing with this is to leave any design touches till later. Use the software to your advantage. Start by constructing generically styled, simple slides that focus on content, re-order and arrange as needed to quickly get to a solid arc.

Templates aren’t necessarily your friend

It’s equally tempting to think that by committing to a template with some tastefully designed slides that you can focus on authoring. But it may not help matters much, because you’re still in a frame of mind that is more centred on presentation than message. For example, have you never found yourself looking at an inspiring template with some great examples but struggling to adapt it to your content? Well, you’d not be alone.

The fundamental issue is here that the more engaging the visuals are, the more specific and demanding they tend to be with regards to input, e.g. certain length of text, number of examples, charts and graphics etc. So the risk is that once you’ve simplified or suitably adapted your content that they lack a bit of their former lustre. Conversely, from the designers’ standpoint the more generic the template the harder it is to make it visually striking. So we are left with a bit of a catch 22.

And the problem is not the software or the template per se but the risk is that by framing your message to fit a certain design you lose the impact of your original message. In actual fact, it should be the other way around. That’s the real issue.

So as we outlined above, once you have your ideas jotted out, then you consider the design. Remember, there’s a time and place for fancy animations and transitions — rather stick to one easy-to-read font, consistent colours, and some visual media like images or charts when creating engaging slides. The solution here is more akin to a theme than a pre-made set of master slides.

The bigger picture

Creating a strong, linear narrative also relies on you having the sort of overview that simple textual (or other long-form) documents afford you. Once you’ve broken things up into distinctive slides many of the dominant presentation platforms struggle to give you a quick way to glance through the whole and edit as you go. This makes it even more crucial to feel like you’ve nailed the story before you commit to the actual slide design.

What about alternative tools?

While PowerPoint continues to dominate the business world, there is an increasing move towards alternative online tools, with Google Slides pioneering collaborative authoring representing a huge leap forward.

But despite the upgrades and the introduction of new features, it still manages to fall flat for some teams with organisations like Amazon and LinkedIn advocating foregoing PowerPoint presentations completely. But perhaps the problem there is not the software or the medium, but rather what it represents, how it is used, and most crucially what it lacks.

We suggest experimenting with other online presentation tools to find the one that best suits your particular needs and does most of the work for you but keep in mind to try and stay laser-focused on content and narrative before worrying about the specifics of formatting it.

In an ideal world…

The ultimate goal is for you to spend less time worrying about design and formatting, and more time delivering meaningful content. You shouldn’t have to fit your content to a restrictive template when the optimum is the other way around.

Most presentation tools fundamentally operate according to the same “build one slide at a time” principle. Whereas in practice I preferred starting from a text outline (think indented lists) and tackling layout and visuals later. This made me think that it would be great if we could speed all this up by being able to get fully formatted slides while I typed and added the more fundamental content pieces.

So, having just crossed the t’s on our previous startup journey we set about creating Dropdeck, an alternative presentation tool that a fundamental level allows you to quickly construct visual content without having to wrangle elaborate templates or feel like you’re having to essentially “draw” each slide.

As you type, Dropdeck constantly analyses what you’re writing or contributing and automatically designs your slides for you, essentially picking layouts and designs that match what you’re communicating. This means that you’re free to focus on what truly matters: getting your story, your ideas or your message down quickly, and communicating clearly without feeling like you’re sacrificing good, solid, design aspirations.

If you’re ready to give it a try, just click here to create your first deck. We’d love to hear what you think and how we could build something that would make your life easier.

For more presentation hints and tips also check out this blog post.