Design Tip of the Day: Stop With The Faceless Alien Creatures


Dear Presenters,

It has come to my attention that a horror worse than 1990s clip art lurks among presenters today.  This horror appears in over 90% of slideshows that I see, and it is not only hideous but also terrifying and just plain weird.  That horror, Dear Presenter, is…




You can find the faceless alien creature doing almost any task: teaching, jumping, writing, skydiving… As you can see from the images above and below, you can also find the faceless alien creature joining with others to hold gigantic puzzle pieces and putting them together AND joining hands around the globe and enormous arrows to promote recycling.  Yeah… I just threw up.

Despite the faceless alien creature’s activity, one thing is always the same.  The faceless alien creature is completely nude, appears in one color from head-to-toe, and, of course, does not have a face.  If you are presenting to people with clothes on, with natural human pigmentation, and with faces, I’m not sure how faceless alien creatures connect…  But you probably didn’t think about connection, Dear Presenter, because faceless alien creatures come from a hasty Google search of things like “collaboration” and “academic integrity.”  If you’re too busy to create an audience-centered slideshow with audience-centered images, I’m not sure why you were asked to present in the first place.  You sound pretty selfish.



Dear Presenter, I’m sure you might argue that there aren’t enough hours in the day to find good images or that you’re too busy to care about pretty slides.  I’d ask you to count the number of people in your audience and to ask how much overall time those people will be spending with you and your terrible presentation.  If you have 30 people in the audience listening to you for 30 minutes, that’s 900 total minutes you’re wasting with your hideous slides.  And if you don’t care after doing the math, I’d strongly suggest you find someone who DOES care to present instead of you.

If you do care, Dear Presenter, I have two simple tips for you: 1) Stop using tacky faceless alien creatures in your slideshow.  2)  Find images of real people.  Try Compfight.  It’s a winner.

I will leave you with one final thought, Dear Presenter.  Every time you use a faceless alien creature in your slides, a real faceless alien creature from outer space begins his journey to Earth to kill you.  You may be able to take on one or two, but if your number at this point is nearing 50, you might as well call it a day.


Alex Rister


The Resistance Continues: Combating Bad Slides And The People Who Use Them


“When I’m presenting, I think it’s important for people to hear what I’m saying AND see it on the slide.”

“I use a lot of vague bullets when I present.”

“My slides are text-heavy, but they are fine the way they are.  Audiences love my presentations.”

These are comments I’ve actually heard from people regarding slide design.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been wondering where the resistance to audience-centered slides comes from.  Who is telling people that it’s okay to design slides filled with bullets?  What research, which experts, and whose studies prove that slideuments work?  Better yet, find me one audience member who enjoys a document written on a slide and a presenter reading that slide…

There aren’t actually multiple approaches to slide design.  There isn’t a “bullet way” and a “non-bullet way.”  There’s the audience-centered way and the presenter-centered way.  The selfless way and the selfish way.  Yes… the right way and the wrong way.

Garr Reynolds explains it like this: “Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the “slideument” (slide + document = slideument). Much death-by-Powerpoint suffering could be eliminated if presenters clearly separated the two in their own minds before they even started planning their talks.” (Source).

Nancy Duarte elaborates, “PowerPoint is the most pervasive visual layout tool in business, and it works beautifully for arranging words and associating them with pictures that support a topic. Unfortunately, it becomes a barrier to effective communication when used improperly. Because people prepare their brilliant work in presentation software, they feel obligated to verbally present these “documents.” The result is a meeting [or presentation] that becomes a read-along instead of time spent in productive conversation” (Source).

I’ve spent a lot of time explaining presentation design to students, teachers, colleagues, family, and friends.  Most people get it.  For example, my husband is going back to school at UWF for his graduate degree, and he had to sit through his first lecture last week.  He shook his head at the terrible template filled with bullets and said, “Alex, I wish I’d never overheard you talking about slides or seen examples of your slides.  I’ve never seen a good presentation ever since.”  My mom, a high school foreign language instructor, immediately got it and did some slide tweaking of her own in teaching her students Spanish and French.  My dad, my #1 fan and the single most devoted reader of my blog, marvels at the work of Duarte and Reynolds (and others), and we talk a lot about documents versus slides.

And then we have the resistance.

I teach at a tech-savvy art and design school, so most teachers are on board with the presentation revolution.  Most people confronted with the “right” way to design slides get it and say, “MAN!  I wish I had known about this years ago!”

A few people protest.  These are few and far between, but, BOY, do they protest.  Some people insist that their slides are great just the way they are.  Some insist that slides are meant to include a ton of words.  Some know about Duarte and Reynolds and brush off the slide revolution as fluff.  These are the people who get under my skin because I want to figure out a way how to reach them but have, time and time again, come up short.

I do notice that the protestors have a few things in common.  First, a lot of them have a lot of experience seeing presentations relying on text-heavy slides.  Slideuments are an everyday norm for them.  Second, the opposition does tend to be more business-y (come from business schools, work for big business, etc.).  Third, the members of the resistance are very aggressive.  They are firmly set in their beliefs, and they have absolutely no desire to change.  I’ve encountered downright hostile people arguing that bullets are the way to go.

While I would love to create a pitch for these naysayers, I don’t think it will be me who reaches them.  I think the world will need to change around them before they change… if they EVER change.  According to Shane Snow, the #1 business skill of the next five years will be effective storytelling.  Snow says, “Unfortunately, in the era of PowerPoint and status updates, many of us have forgotten how to tell a good story” (Source).  And it’s true.  While some people are clinging to their bullet-riddled slides, other people are focusing on the visual story, and those people are transforming the way we’re thinking about communication and presentation.

Snow continues, “Stories make presentations better. Stories make ideas stick. Stories help us persuade. Savvy leaders tell stories to inspire us, motivate us. (That’s why so many politicians tell stories in their speeches.) They realize that ‘what you say’ is often moot compared to ‘how you say it.’ (Again, for better or worse.)” (Source).  When it comes to slides, shoving content down people’s throats doesn’t actually work.  You can have 17 bullets filled with the most amazing information in the world on your slide, but no one cares because IT’S BORING!  Storytellers are the people who resonate, and learning to tell a story with your presentation is a necessary skill for any effective communicator.

Keep in mind that death-by-PowerPoint is only as old as PowerPoint.  Slides were meant to be visual, and they were visual before PowerPoint’s reign of terror began.  In fact, slides used to look a little something like this.  Check out Mad Men Season 2, Episode 11 “The Jet Set” for an example of a 1962 slideshow on nuclear weapons.  If these two presentations got it right in the 1950s and 1960s, how have we gone so far in the wrong direction today?

Angela Garber coined the term “death by PowerPoint” in 2001 (Source).  Since then, an army of presentation revolutionaries have tried to change the way we think about, design, and present information.  Most people are listening, and most people get it.  But then we have the resistance.  Do you know someone who is on the dark side, someone who peppers audiences with more bullets than one can count?  Maybe, just maybe, instead of trying to convince them to communicate more effectively, perhaps we should sit back and let them suffer the consequences…

How do you combat bad slides and the people who use them?

You Don’t HAVE To Use PowerPoint…


For my Legal and Ethical Issues in Communication graduate course, we wrote our final papers and are having “poster sessions” tonight to explain our research and our findings…

I love the idea of a visual presentation that is tangible.  Simplicity, unity through color and typeface, and an application of the rule of thirds are key to a successful posterboard.  Remember making these for the science fair back when you were younger?  I wish we could go back to these days!

When is the last time you created a visual OTHER than PowerPoint or Keynote to support your presentation?

Design Tip of the Day: Create Your Own Template


Earlier this week, a reader asked a great question:

“I bought into the presentation revolution concept and looking to create a series of presentations soon. I completely agree with the advice ‘don’t use a pre-loaded template,’ but I also know I need unified design elements for a cohesive look… Where are these ‘presentation revolution 2.0’ templates that leave out the worst of the old-school PPT flaws but help me as a non-designer to create a unified look?”

When you are designing a visual presentation in Keynote or PowerPoint, you definitely want to avoid selecting a premade template.  Why?  First, everyone else is using one, so you won’t be able to stand out in a positive way.  Second, those premade templates lead to death-by-PowerPoint.  Garr Reynolds explains that many people “assume that using PowerPoint […] means using it the way the Microsoft templates suggest (title, bullets, small charts and graphs, etc.) rather than as a simple digital storytelling tool that can amplify a person’s live message with full screen video clips, easy to see quantitative displays, high quality photography, good type, and so on” (Source).  In order to join the presentation revolution, we must actually stop thinking about PowerPoint the way we currently do.

So what do we do?  Where are the “Presentation Revolution” templates?  The point is, as I explained to the reader question in a follow-up email, to create your own template.  For non-designers, this is really, really hard because we’re so used to relying on Sedona, Craft, and Industrial.  Where in the world do you begin?

Most presentation designers suggest first “going analog” to brainstorm slide design ideas.  Instead of pulling up Keynote, close your computer and think about what you’re trying to convey with your slides.  Do you even need slides?  If not, distribute a handout to your audience and speak without that crutch.  If so, it’s time to think about your own template.

Let’s say that I’m giving a presentation about dogs.  I obviously don’t want to take this approach:

Instead, I want to create my own template.  I decide on black-and-white images with black and white text.  The repeated elements (all black-and-white pictures; the same font/typeface; the same color text) work together to unify each slide.  Slide 1 will flow into 2 and 3 all the way to 25.  In Keynote, I select a “black” template and remove all premade elements such as text boxes.  I am in control of my template – not Keynote.

After considering what “template” I want to create, I search for images of dogs in Compfight, the only place I use to find high-quality images.  I make sure I’m searching “all text” (not just “tags” from the image’s owner) as well as “Commercial” images (research what type of license you need to be using).


I save some great images for my slideshow and get to work applying the template I decided upon.  Click on the video below to see me work on breaking up the slideument (above) into four separate slides:


If you’re interested in going above and beyond the standard fonts in Keynote or PowerPoint, check out DaFont.  Two great resources to help you select a color palettes to unify your slides are Design Seeds and Kuler.

What is your burning presentation design question?  What can I help you with this week?

Slideshare Superstar: Chiara Ojeda’s CRAP


Chiara Ojeda, my colleague and work bestie, is a Slideshare superstar!  Her latest presentation is featured as one of three “Top Presentations of the Day.”  Check her out on the front page of Slideshare here.

“How To Create Pro Slides in Less Time: Don’t Worry… Be CRAPpy” can be viewed in its glorious entirety below:


Congratulations to Chiara!  This is her fourth “Top Presentations of the Day” on Slideshare.  She is an amazing visual presentation designer, and if you’d like to hire her to create a visual presentation for your next speech, contact her here.

My favorite picture of the two of us was taken in our natural habitat (work, of course):

Chiara Ojeda on Six Minutes: Creating Effective Slides


Chiara Ojeda, my Professional Communication and Presentation superteacher partner in crime, has a newly published article featured today on Andrew Dlugan’s Six Minutes.  “How to Create Pro Slides in Less time: Don’t Worry, Be CRAPpy” will teach you the basic steps to creating an effective slide.

Image Credit

Chiara Ojeda is the author of Tweak Your Slides: Musings On How Presentation Design Will Change The World.  Check out her blog here.

A Florida Public School Student Knows More About Presentations Than His Teachers


When I have an amazing student, I call him or her a “precious angel.”  This is something my co-workers laugh and joke about at work… They’ll ask, “How are your precious angels this month, Alex?”  Many factors go into whether or not a student is a precious angel… or “PA” for short.  At the top of the list include a tenacious work ethic and a passion for learning.

Daniel Thrasher, a former Florida public school student, would be at the tip top of the PA list:


Even though this young man has never been a student of mine, and even though I’ve never met him, he is the definition of a “precious angel.”  Even the Ms. Nastys of the world would agree.

My students and I were talking this morning about WHY the Nancy Duarte/Garr Reynolds method of visual design emphasizing visuals works for students.  And I think this PA explained it better in his video than I did in class today.