Just because something has niggling faults doesn’t mean you can’t still love it. Even the most ardent Powerpoint-er would still have a list of annoyances the length of, well, the average presentation.
One of the most commonly raised gripes is that Powerpoint is extremely difficult to design for. The default layouts invite text rather than images, and text never translates well with an audience. This usually combines with a complaint about the average Powerpoint-er having the design sensibilities of a half-hundredweight of deep frozen octopus eggs. The result is a blog-post about choosing fonts or paying for some decent photography.
This isn’t one of those posts.
We have created a beautifully simple and thoughtfully designed Powerpoint template. If you just want to grab it and go, then help yourself.Grab a beautifully-simple-and-thoughtfully-designed Powerpoint template and Go
If you want to find out what makes it so special, read on.
Powerpoint produces pages. We really shouldn’t lose sight of that simple fact. We call them ‘slides’ because they are meant to be projected onto a screen. However, it is increasingly common to find ‘decks’ are emailed around organisations so that executives can absorb the information more quickly than they would be able to from reading reams of paper written out long-hand. They are documents that encourage a visual shorthand and bulleted lists They are basically pages, though. And over the centuries lots of people have put lots of thought into how pages are laid out and presented. There is a magic in good page layout.
Gutenberg didn’t just invent moveable type and printing as we know it. Along with his acolytes he developed a visual language for the printed page. The language was only taught to those young men apprenticed into the printing and book making businesses. Nobody else needed to know it. Freedom of the press was at that time limited to those who had one. You certainly didn’t need to understand the aesthetics to understand the words.
Here’s a page from a Gutenburg bible.
We could have chosen a page from any of thousands of early printed works. They largely shared the same balance, regardless of the size of the page. The proportions of the red box to the page size were always the same, and lengths ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ and ‘d’ were always in the same ratio. Outside of the printing world, however, these things weren’t widely known. In fact, the geometry wasn’t well understood at all until the mid 20th Century when printing became available to a wider population.
The so-called “Secret Canon” of page layout was first demonstrated by J. A. van de Graaf (not to be confused with Robert van de Graaff, the American physicist who liked school-children to have crazy hair). Using only a straight edge and a knowledge of geometry he came up with the following construction for facing pages.
There’s a lot going on here. It is explained in greater depth over here. We’ll not detain ourselves further.
Now, while this layout works brilliantly for books, with Powerpoint we have to make certain concessions. The margins in the Van de Graff canon allow the reader to hold the book at the bottom corner of each page while reading. This puts plenty of whitespace underneath the text area. Powerpoint slides typically require a title section. Because the eye is first drawn to the top of an object, it makes sense to put the title at the top of the page. So let’s rotate the page 180°.
We now have space at the top of the page for the title to live. But now we need to place it such that it ties in with the rest of the layout.
Happily, the layout fits beautifully in a 9×9 grid. If we take the same proportions but just focus on the area above the text area we end up with our bog-standard, instantly recognisable two-column slide.
Once we have the two-column slides, we can take the same set of proportions and create single-column slides. Of course, because of the ratios of the margins, we get a large column, which we have aligned to the left and to the right. Here’s how we made the left-aligned slide.
We then used a similar method to create title slides, this time turning our two column construction on its side.
Grab a beautifully-simple-and-thoughtfully-designed Powerpoint template and Go
I like each presentation I give to be unique. This harks back to a time when I would have to give two, three or even four sales presentations each and every day. That’s a lot of talking. Especially over a ten year period. And I desperately wanted to avoid sounding like a member of cabin crew from a low-cost airline rushing through a safety briefing for the umpteenth time.
More to the point, I wanted to preserve my own sanity. Now it’s a stuck behaviour.
So if, like me, you want each talk to be fresh and engaging, you’ll spend a huge amount of time searching for pictures that support your stories. This is where Haiku Deck comes in to its own.
Fire up the app and you’re immediately in an intuitive place. Give your deck a name and you’re straight into choosing content.
Hit the picture icon and you get to search a creative commons library:
Once you’ve chosen your picture, you can add your headline and crunch your deck together in no time:
But the thing about restrictions is that they encourage creativity. You only have room for maybe a dozen words and one picture – I find that exciting.
So, for a quick and dirty pitch round a coffee table, Haiku Deck is terrific. For 99% of your other presentations, it’s not too shabby either.
I love Family Guy. Many people do. If you’ve ever seen more than one episode you’ll be familiar with the plots punctuated with a constant stream of asides, prefigured with the phrase “It’s like that time when…”
Now, much as I love Family Guy, we all know that the fastest way to get from one point to another is in a straight line. If the stories that you tell follow this path (i.e., moving from the beginning, through the middle and on to the end without swerving off at a tangent), then they are linear.
In natural conversations with friends and family, our stories tend to wander. They take detours, they get interrupted, bits get forgotten, good bits get stretched out (sometimes beyond the bounds of truth). Occasionally, they end up in places we never expected to go to when we started the journey. It’s like that time when I was talking to Tony Wilson and Frank Sidebottom about how Northside would save pop music*. These are non-linear stories.
The business world loves a story teller. Particularly an authentic story teller. So now there are now lots of bits of software that let you amaze audiences with a non-linear presentations. We talked about some of these a while ago. We even hoped that they would improve. Sadly, they haven’t. And there are new entrants to the market, such as projeqt that let you pull in blog posts and feeds from the social web to help your story spin round with increasing non-linearity and, it’s makers hope, authenticity.
The sad fact is that when we plan a presentation we still think in linear terms. More to the point, audiences crave linearity. They want to be able to follow the flow of your thoughts. And if you want them to accurately re-tell your stories, it makes sense to present them as logically as possible. If your story has a defined beginning, middle and end, it is much easier to recount.
I can only imagine what the ultimate non-linear presentation tool might look like. Perhaps it would require us to dump everything we have ever known or thought about or heard onto a server somewhere. It would have been trained to follow our usual set of stories to conjure the required audio-visual aid onto the screen behind us in perfect synchronicity with our diatribe. It would know who was in the room with us and whether they were secretly willing us to slip in a vignette about the first ever football match we went to. And it would always earn us a standing ovation.
In the meantime, it’s back to thinking in straight lines and putting in the hard work to be engaging and authentic people.
*Actual, honest-to-goodness true story. Don’t forget to ask me about it next time you see me.
The French have a saying; “There is no such thing as a quite-good omelette”.
The French, of course, are very proud of their omelettes. It is a staple of life in a French kitchen and the first thing that cooks are taught to make. And they are ridiculously simple – a couple of eggs, a knob of butter and a searingly hot pan are all that is needed.
If the French Academy still allows the creation of new sayings, I’m sure they would also say, “There is no such thing as a quite-good PowerPoint presentation”. And I would have to agree.
The same rules apply to omelettes and PowerPoint. You need fresh ingredients. You need an awful lot of energy. You need speed and efficiency. And above all, ridiculous simplicity.