Is PowerPoint evil?

Fresh SpectrumA colleague recently sent me yet another article about how PowerPoint is inherently evil and should be banned. I’m familiar with these articles. They usually point out that the templates are rubbish and encourage people to develop endless and meaningless lists of dot points which are not helpful to anyone, especially when you are not there to provide an explanation.

I always feel a bit silly defending PowerPoint, but I really do believe that PowerPoint is an awesome tool. It has its limitations, but it also has a lot of good points.

Things I like about PowerPoint

  1. It’s really easy to share. Remember the olden days when you couldn’t share your documents with someone unless they were also using a Mac? (Or windows as the case may be).  It was an absolute nightmare to continue working on a document at home after you’d finished work. By contrast, everyone in the world seems to be able to open a PowerPoint file these days, even Mac users.
  2. Most people have a basic understanding of how to use PPT. You don’t usually need to give people instructions about how to open and screen the slides. Most people can manage the three options of slide view, slide sorter, and normal.
  3. You can change the orientation of the slides. Actually not every knows that you can work in portrait view with your slides. I do this all the time to create documents. I don’t have any other options at work for creating documents with the words and pictures just where I want them. (Word is hopeless for this).
  4. You can create quite nice presentations if you put your mind to it, use a restrained and thoughtful approach to the design of your slides and you are clear about your messages.

I love the cartoon above which I have reproduced from a wonderful site called Fresh Spectrum. You should check it out.


Busy slides are rarely memorable

If you want people to understand and remember your message you should use fewer elements. Elements includes text, images, meaningless clip art and logos. When you remove unnecessary elements from a slide, this is known as removing noise. Too many things on your slides (including too much text) can be thought of as white noise, interfering with the clarity of your message.

I appreciate that not every message can be reduced to a few simple words and an image. Some concepts are indeed quite complex and require detailed explanations, but this doesn’t mean that you need to clutter up your slides and reduce their effectiveness. You need to work twice as hard to figure out what it is you are trying to say and how you can express this simply.

One way to do this is to build your slides instead of presenting the complete idea all in one slide. You can do this using the animation tools, or if this scares you, just use what I call ‘pretend animation’. This is where you duplicate your slide and add one element. Say, for example you want to explain the relationship between three chemicals, all of which have their own unique properties. If you put all three chemicals on the slide and speak about them one by one, your audience will be jumping ahead and may feel overwhelmed, especially when you get to the part where you explain how they interact with one another. So start with just the first chemical on the slide and then add the second element to the next slide. Imagine how you would explain the concept if you were drawing it on a whiteboard and just do the same thing in your slides.

Introducing and explaining each concept with a slide build is a great way to get your message across without confusing your audience.

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Best presentation designers

We all have days when we need inspiration, especially when the weather outside is wet and miserable. It may be sunny in your part of the world, but my little corner of the world is soggy. Today’s post features two of my favourite presentation designers.

Presentation Zen

When I started designing presentations, the first designer I discovered was Garr Reynolds and his site Presentation Zen. Garr’s work features big bold visuals with minimal text and a distinctive look and feel. I have bought most of his books and recommend them for people starting out. His blog covers not only design tips, but articles on presentation techniques, storytelling and audience engagement.

Duarte Design

Almost simultaneously, I discovered Nancy Duarte and instantly became a big Nancy fan. Duarte made her name designing the presentation slides for Al Gore’s ground breaking climate change keynote An Inconvenient Truth. The graphics created by Duarte for the keynote were later used in the award winning documentary of the same name. I strongly recommend that you check out her website and if you need a book on presentation design, buy this one.

 The downside

One of the problems with looking at other people’s work is that you can become disheartened and disillusioned, especially if you work in an environment that doesn’t really appreciate creativity. Your efforts to do something even a little bit different might be met with indifference or derision. You may not be able to get away with using big bold graphics or full screen images.

If this is the situation that you’re in, I suggest you try to make small changes rather than trying something radical. Sometimes it can be a major achievement to simplify your slides and make them clear, short and to the point. This is relatively easy to achieve and doesn’t ruffle too many feathers.

Make a start today

Changing the culture in a workplace is a long slow process. Managers need to be convinced that simple, understandable presentations are far superior to ones which bamboozle and baffle their audiences. Try to make small changes and encourage everyone in your workplace to get to the point as quickly as possible and write clearly. Who knows, with time you may be able to add some relevant images!

Let me know if you have any challenges that I can help you with, or successes that you’d like to share.


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Slide makeover – Remarkablogger case study


remarkablogger (Photo credit: johnscotthaydon)

Michael Martine from Remarkablogger runs a business aimed at helping people create and improve their business blogs. I like his attitude and his work. I was looking at his site recently and I noticed that he had created a presentation called ‘how to turn your about page into a secret freelance sales weapon’. You can take a look at it here. As you will see, it’s not a bad presentation, but it’s a fairly uninspiring, so I thought it would make a good case study.

Here are a few things to think about:

Your presentations are an important part of your overall brand.

 It struck me that the presentation wasn’t really branded in any clear way. I would develop slides (or preferably a template) with a colour palette that matched or complemented the colours on my website. The standard issue PowerPoint template that’s been used is uninspiring and clearly indicates that it was a rush job.

Use your slides to promote and advertise your business.

They are as important as your e-books, your newsletter or any other assets and should be given the same amount of time and effort. They’ll often have a long shelf life so it’s worth making them look as good as you can.

Use illustrations whenever and wherever you can.

In the slide below, Michael talks about the importance of your ‘about’ page, and should be illustrating his points using his own site as an example.



Reduce the amount of text on your slides.

In the makeover below, I’ve tried to pick out the key points and reduce some of the clutter. I should mention that there is an audio track with the presentation, so the text on the slides only needs to contain the key points. Reducing the amount of text on the slides will reduce cognitive load and make it easier for your audience to absorb the information.


You’ll also notice that I’ve emphasised ‘about’ by changing the font and the font colour. It’s important to let your audience know straight away what the slide is about.

Here’s another version with the bullet points separated from the image. This may appeal to you more as its a little cleaner.


Provide examples from other sources.

Michael could have used his own page (which is kind of a mixed bag as it contains a fairly lengthy manifesto), or he could have used some of the really great examples on the web. Here’s just one…

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 10.19.39 PM

In summary, you should endeavour to:

1. Brand your slides so that they are part of your overall package.

2. Use your presentations as a way to promote your business.

3. Use illustrations and examples as much as possible.

4. Reduce the amount of clutter and minimise the text.

Any other ideas? Comments and feedback welcome.






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I’m just about to do something really brave (or silly, depending on how you look at it).

I’m transferring my blog from this site to a self-managed host. This shouldn’t affect you and shouldn’t make any difference to how we communicate, but it’s risky because I am quite likely to muck it up and lose all of my subscribers (that’s you) in the process. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen, but if it does I wanted to thank you for coming along with me on my little journey over the past 12 months or so. It’s been fun and I’ve learnt a lot.

I thought that I would end the year with a few thoughts and some suggestions for next year, but first of all I might explain what I hoped to achieve by starting this blog and why I am moving it.


About 12 months ago I started running a training course called design basics (focused mainly on helping people to improve their PowerPoint slides) so I had plenty of ideas and content to share. Starting a blog seemed an ideal way to connect with a wider audience as well as providing some ongoing tips and advice for people who had completed the course. I decided that it was better to jump right in, rather than just thinking about it and made this quick and easy. It’s user friendly and it’s free. I recommend this as a way to start if you want to share your ideas or practice your writing.

I’ve covered a number of topics over the year, ranging from tips on clear writing, using colour and some other advice about improving your communication skills. I have a background in teaching communication skills, so communication design is just an extension of my interest in this area. I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments and feedback although at times, I have been at a bit of a loss to know what you might find useful and interesting, so I’ve just posted about stuff I find interesting and hope that it strikes a cord with some of you.

My main aim is to help people communicate clearly, whether this be in a PowerPoint presentation, a written report, a diagram, a graph or an image. I often observe people struggling to deliver information effectively and I really believe that there are some simple ways to achieve this. I think that writing and speaking clearly is important, especially when you are delivering messages that make a difference to people’s health, safety or wellbeing. I guess you could say that I am on a quest for clarity, both in what I do and say and in helping other people to be clear.


The time has come to play with the grown ups and explore some new pastures. Moving this blog to a self-hosted site will give me more freedom to try new things and will be more of a challenge for me as I’ll need to learn a little bit more about websites, coding and other mysteries that pertain to managing a website. It’s an area I want to explore and I think jumping right in and giving it a go is a wonderful way to learn. It may be a disaster, but I hope not.


Do you have something exciting planned for 2013? I hope so. There are so many interesting things to do and learn that I can’t imagine how anyone could be bored. I recently discovered a wonderful organisation called Coursera where you can enrol in an online course on just about any topic that interests you. The courses are delivered by leading universities in the USA and are absolutely free. Amazing and wonderful.

I’d like wish you all the best for the year ahead and I hope you maintain your curiosity about the world and set yourself some goals that are achievable and fun.

See you next year!


Being creative


Lilya Brik shown editing film in 1928.

Lilya Brik shown editing film in 1928. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have spent most of my working life doing the same sort of work in different settings. My first real job was as a photographic printer. I worked in a small studio for two groovy commercial photographers who did a range of advertising work. I was not only the printer, but also the delivery girl, receptionist and lunch getter. I may have even done the invoicing. I remember that one of the photographers spent most of his time in between jobs stripping down a rather large motorbike in the middle of the studio. It made a lot of mess.


I was queen of the darkroom on those days. I chose the best shots from a roll of film, developed and printed them and delivered the best of the best to the agency.  I was seventeen at the time. Later I worked in London as a colour printer. I had one client who was a big shot in the art world. He took photos of famous art works and my job was to reproduce these as colour prints that matched as closely as possible to the originals. One night we went to a famous private gallery after it had closed so that I could colour match the sample prints to the originals. It was a lot of fun.


My next job was in film editing. At the beginning there was not a lot of creativity or discretion, but as time went on I was able to make decisions about shots that worked and select music that brought things to life.


More recently I have worked as an educator, writer and presentation designer.


I have also done some training and coaching along the way, but despite my background, I persist with the idea that I am not terribly creative. Weird isn’t it? How many people get the chance to write and edit presentations and documents and get paid for it? What exactly does it take for someone to imagine themselves as a creative person?


Every day I hear people telling me that they can’t come up with ideas because they are ‘not creative’. If only they realised that the difference between a creative person and a ‘not very creative’ person is merely self-perception.


I know that my work has not been about coming up with original ideas for new films or books or web designs, but I honestly think that my decisions have been creative in their own small way. I think of myself as a backroom creative rather than one of those ‘out there’ types. More to the point, I think that it’s entirely possible that you are also quite a creative person and you’ve just undersold yourself.


I’ve been doing a little bit of an experiment at work. I’ve been pretending that I’m creative in an effort to see if the idea takes off. And amazingly it is! People have actually starting saying ‘you have lots of good ideas and that’s alright for you, but I’m not really that creative’. I find it hilarious. If only they knew that I’m not really that creative, I’m just pretending. The weird part is that the longer I pretend, the more prone I am to imagining that I am creative in my own little way.


If this strikes a chord with you, consider re-imagining yourself as a creative person.  I know that you probably feel a bit shy about commenting but I would really love to hear from you.





4 ways to improve your presentations

Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have been asked to develop a presentation for your manager about a new HR policy. You begin by opening up the corporate template and start typing using the default settings in PowerPoint with its obligatory bullet points. Blah…blah…blah….

Before long you have lots and lots of slides loaded with text and you’re bored with the whole process.

It’s more than likely that your boss has provided with little or no guidance about what the point of the presentation is, or why it needs to be developed, or even who it’s for.

You want to create something professional. You’d like it to be a bit different, but not zany because you don’t want people to think you are weird and it won’t do your career any good to be thought of as too ‘out there’.

So where do you start with creating a presentation that is effective and gets the message across? Here’s where I can help.


If possible sit your manager down and ask him or her the following questions:

  • Why do we have a new policy? Does it solve a problem or clarify a situation?
  • Who is the presentation for? If she says everyone, you might need to make two versions. One for staff, one for managers.
  • How are people likely to respond to the new policy? Will they see it as an improvement to their working conditions or a hindrance (you really need to know what the target audience is feeling about the issue that the new policy is attempting to address).


Start your presentation with the reason why there is a new policy. For example a policy on working from home has been created because the organisation recognises that work doesn’t just happen at work, and that workers have complicated lives. Always start from how the policy will affect the people in the room and what problem it is trying to solve.


Put your key points on the slides. One point per slide please! Make every effort to avoid corporate speak. Be straightforward and direct. So for example, instead of saying that the organisation has to rationalise their resources because of competing priorities, just say ‘we have limited funds and we need to use them wisely’. People really appreciate clear messages that get your point across.


Be very specific about this. Tell them exactly what you what them to do, don’t make them guess. Using our working from home example, ask them to read the new policy and speak to their manager if they are interested in working from home.

And that’s it. You will have created a presentation that is clear and helpful. It will tell people why they need to know and what they need to do. You’ll be a star!