Do You Really Need To Design a PowerPoint For That?
As a designer, one of my least favourite tasks is designing PowerPoint slides for presentations.
This is not because the interface sucks. Well OK, it’s slightly annoying when you’re trying to use Adobe and Microsoft interfaces together. And the animations are about as subtle as a house brick, with little control beyond dragging-and-dropping.
No, my main issue is that you end up designing these wonderful illuminating slides, crammed full of massive amounts of detail, that are on a screen for all of 25 seconds. And then basically ignored by attendees more focused on when they can break for lunch.
“Big deal, you pixel prima donna,” you may say. “Look at those poor souls who create artwork for television. Or headers and medium rectangle ad banners for digital. Their work is up for less than 5 seconds at a time and that’s assuming it’s not cruelly blocked by an ad blocker. You don’t hear them complaining”.
But the problem is that PowerPoint is supposed to be a cumulative, collaborative tool, developed to provide visual seasoning as you impart wisdom to an audience. Too often it instead sucks all the life out of an idea.
Wield PowerPoint with Purpose
Steve Jobs was probably the most outspoken critic of complicated PowerPoint models and slides for presentations, famously remarking, “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint”. Companies such as LinkedIn and Amazon also banned them in their boardrooms, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos arguing that they make things “easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience”.
This is not to say should never use PowerPoint (even if you do know what you are talking about). Besides, not everyone has a choice in the matter. But PowerPoint should never take the place of a human connection.
So, before you even open PowerPoint, here are some questions to ask yourself
Do You Even Need To Design A PowerPoint For This?
I know it looks ‘cool’ but so does a Lamborghini, and if you had one would you just drive it to the corner shop? Well yes, it’s a Lambo. But should you? The answer is probably no. It’s the same with PowerPoint: not every occasion needs it. At the big presentation in front of a packed room at a sales convention? Go for it. But it’s not a substitute for something like an old-school memo, which requires you to think deeper and organise your thoughts into coherent sentences.
What Is Its Role In Your Presentation?
Is each slide adding to your argument or is it just covering up a lack of understanding? At its worst, PowerPoint can reduce everything to bullet points devoid of knowledge. When Steve Jobs did use PowerPoint, it usually contained an image with a simple line of text that introduced the discussion. It was not an attempt to cram everything he was saying into a summary. You also need to consider whether all those lists will create the impression that each topic on a bullet point is equally important.
Do Your Slides Enhance Your Argument Or Make It Hideously Complicated?
You need to be wary of making something so convoluted that nobody has any chance of reading the small font it requires, let alone processing it. In 2010, the New York Times reported on the US military’s PowerPoint dependence, highlighting a slide with a graphic depiction of America’s complex Afghanistan strategy that was such a tangled mess of linking arrows it looked like an explosion at the spaghetti factory. “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” one general remarked.
Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Audience?
PowerPoint is used in a range of environments, from pitches to education and training. And yet most presentations follow much the same format. If you sent your child to school and discovered that the teacher gave them a sales pitch instead of lessons, you’d probably be straight down to the principal’s office. So why would you do that here? Pick a structure and style that gives the person receiving it what they need.
Are You Just Using Your Slides As Giant Cue Cards?
You need to marshal your thoughts about what you’re going to say in your presentation, but the place you’re marshalling them to is not your slide deck. Too many presentations are just someone standing up and reading what’s on the slide to the audience – while they’re wondering why they can’t just read it themselves. Outline your presentation and then distill it into a slideshow.
Could Your Time (Or Your Designer’s Time) Be Better Spent?
If you’ve ever fallen down a hole of playing with fonts and layout, you know they can suck up boggling amounts of time and energy. It comes at a cost of diverting resources from something that’s potentially more useful to your business than an image with a very brief existence.
Could It Go On To Live A Long And Happy Life?
If you do decide the deck is worth pursuing, think of ways you can prolong its longevity. You’re going to go to the trouble of creating a nicely-designed slide, so maybe it can be broken out and shared as a talking point on social media or repurposed as a blog post?
Like all design, your PowerPoint (and design in general) should aim to enhance your argument and simplify complex ideas. When you’re creating one, it’s a balance between simplifying your ideas and delivering something meaningful. And save the complex ideas for supporting documentation.