Design Tip of the Day


It has come to my attention that people are finding my blog after searching things like “amazing PowerPoint templates” or “professional PowerPoint templates for business.”  This makes me feel incredibly depressed because PowerPoint templates are my worst enemy and an enormous part of the battle I’m continuously fighting.  Seeing these search terms also gives me the energy to keep writing and spreading the presentation gospel of Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds.  My goal is to change presentations one slideshow at a time.  I want to pulverize the subpar standards for slideshows today and to encourage people to create gorgeous slides that help audiences connect, engage, and learn.

And here we are at our Design Tip of the Day:

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Never use a premade template in PowerPoint or Keynote ever again.  There will never, ever be an occasion in your life where a premade template is the correct choice.  A premade template in Keynote translates to a boring, terrible presentation.

If you use a premade template, at least one person in your audience has seen or used that template before.  It’s almost 2012… chances are that over half of your audience has seen or used that template before.  This means you are dead in the water before you even speak.  Your audience is going to take a deep breath, sigh, and prepare themselves for yet another terrible, boring PowerPoint presentation.  They’re going to take out their iPhones and start texting about how bored they are and how terrible their lives are having to sit through yet another terrible, boring PowerPoint presentation.

In her revolutionary slide design book slide:ology, Nancy Duarte says that we should “think like a designer.”  Thinking like a designer means starting with a blank canvas.  Premade templates are the box.  Thinking like a designer means thinking outside of the box.

Let’s look at the Keynote template above: Sedona.  We’ve heard of it, we’ve seen it, we’ve used it.  The slide shown above is exactly what we will create when we use “Sedona” because these are the limitations Sedona sets for us.  If you don’t fill in the entire slide with text, you may be able to throw a tiny little image on the slide.  Where will you put that image?

In the circle… Naturally.

Take it from me, your audience doesn’t want to see this garbage yet again.  Human beings are visual creatures.  We love movies; we watch television; we appreciate art; we admire photography.  A slideshow’s goal is to tap into that spark we all naturally feel when seeing something visually stunning.  A slideshow should be the visual presentation supporting your content.  Somehow, instead of visual presentation, we’ve put all of our presenter notes as a bulleted list on a slide.  The visual-ness is gone, and audiences are left with a document on a screen.  There may be a need for you to give your audiences a document as a handout.  A slide is not the medium for that.

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A slide is not a report or a document.  A slide falls halfway between a document and a visual story – a movie.  A visual presentation’s job is to explain information in a meaningful, visual way that audiences connect with and remember.  At the very least, your visual presentation should keep people interested and engaged.

So why does the template prevent people from connecting, remembering, and engaging?

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You’ve put text on your slide and displayed that text for everyone to see, so you are signaling to your audience that they should read.  Your audience will read all right; they’ll read all of your points and ignore you completely.  People cannot read a slide and listen to a presenter at the same time.  So if your audience is ignoring you and reading ahead, they have the material, and the need for the presenter is eliminated.  You could sit down in a chair, stop speaking, and click through your slides, and your audience would get just as much out of your presentation.  Why in the world would you want to do this to your audience?  Why would you want to give a presentation where you are irrelevant and obsolete?

That brings us back to our design tip of the day.

The next time you are in PowerPoint or Keynote, start with a blank canvas.  Your job is to think like a designer.  Start from scratch.  Think about how your message should be represented visually.  Do you even NEED a PowerPoint?  Would a whiteboard and markers be better?

So now that we understand a blank canvas is best, how do we know what to DO with that canvas?


What innovative, awesome things have you been creating since you kicked boring, terrible template-using to the curb?


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