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The Deck

Lesson 7 from: How to Create and Deliver an Impactful Presentation

Matt Stevenson

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Lesson Info

7. The Deck

Next Lesson: Presenter Notes

Lesson Info

The Deck

There is some really cool stuff that we can do with design that makes our decks extremely efficient to build. So this is what you would call your typical deck nowadays that you would see, a typical slide, where you're gonna have a header and some things here. And so I want to ask you what is this? We all know what this is. It is not, in fact, a bullet point. It is a bullet. And that's a big misnomer that people have. And we want to be allergic to bullet points, as much as possible. Now that being said, we're gonna have instances where we have no choice but to have bullets, they do have some use to them. This is a bullet. This is a bullet point. Bullet points have been around ever since printing has been around, but they really started to take off in about 1985, and they reached a zenith in about 2004, and since there, the use of bullet points has slowly been declining and I do not lament that one bit. Bullet points had their place in time, but I think we're moving past that. The reason...

that bullet points exist is because they are visual indicators, visual separators for list content. If you have lots of lists in your presentation, that is a form of content, but it's not necessarily that makes a good story, which is why a lot of designers and a lot of presenters have aversions to bullet points nowadays, because they realize that they can tell stories in a lot better ways, than just doing it with pieces of text that use a simple, small graphic to delineate the differences in their list. So it's as simple as maybe just changing that graphic, whether it's an arrow to show forward progression, or it's a small icon, just do something to shake things up, because bullet points in nowadays culture indicate a pretty formal type of list, and it will turn off your viewers. So if we're allergic to bullet points, or we just change them in the slightest way, it'll really raise the production value of our slides, and it's a really efficient way to do it, which means that you can do it at any level of presentation deck. In addition to just changing the bullet points themselves, let's look at the arrangement of this list. A list doesn't always have to be in a order from top to bottom. We can do some pretty interesting things where we're dividing the entire page in a way. If you look at this, the typical setup here, there's lots of space here that's not being used. Well, why not fill that with something that's visually interesting? Why not change it up a little bit. It's still a list. It's actually still vertical, but instead of doing a plain old bullet point or a bullet, we're using the page in a really creative and interesting way. You can stick images behind there, you can stick different colors, you can do lots of different things that again, we want to raise our production value, but we want to be able to do this stuff in yellow and red level presentations, too. The very first thing that I do, when I get a deck full of bullet points, is I identify and I sketch out how I can change this from a bullet deck to something a little bit more interesting. And the results are pretty cool. So we can do stuff like that. If we want to keep it a little more conservative, we can take those three bullet points and create sort of, these icon points around them, where each of these colors may be an icon, something that represents one single idea in the bullet point, but it's bare minimum effort for a lot of impact. You're getting a lot of value out of making small design changes to your decks, at a very quick pace. One thing that I also do is try to reuse some of this stuff. So if you're collecting a lot of icons, and using things in a different way, keep those in a place where you can get to them very quickly, and then you'll be able to do these small changes, and you're clients and your audience are gonna be super impressed. Just by saying, oh my gosh, thank goodness there's no more bullet points. How did you do that? One of the other things you could do, if you have a yellow-level presentation, you could take a couple more risks with your design, if you want to try to take some liberties with how these bullet points are arranged? Sometimes it's not always hierarchical, or it's not always linear in terms of going top to bottom or left to right, in the icon case. Sometimes you can treat these bullets as graphics in their own, where you're either taking the text and putting them into something interesting, you're arranging the page in a little bit more free-form of a way. If you notice, this page itself actually has, technically has four bullet points on it. We have the one that I started with, and then these three here, with my title. This is a version of a slide, but I've done it in a way that's a little less traditional, but it also didn't take a lot of time for me to do. All I did was just think a little bit outside the box, figure out what the bullet points actually are supposed to be doing, and then designing it in a way that is a little freeform, but still gets my point across. Here's a slide that I designed for a client a little while ago that was a bullet point slide. And I wanted to make sure that I really couldn't avoid it. They were pretty adamant that we needed to hit these specific points. And in the deck they actually animate in, one, two, three, four, five, six, as we talked about them. But in order to make the slide a little bit more powerful, I just added a graphic and then I slanted that and did just a little bit of typography. And this typography, this was something that I reused throughout the entire deck. So once I did it once, I was able to take this, and any time I had a bullet point slide, I could design it in this way, and even though it was repeated over and over again, it was still a lot more powerful than just having title at the top, bullet point, you know, one through six down there. The smallest bit that you can do will have larger impacts further down the line, even in your yellow and red presentations. So let's take that one-step further. Instead of bullet points, what if we take each bullet point and we make it into its own slide? Now there are some things about slide timing that I want to talk about. Sometimes you'll have, some experts will say no more than ten slides, or something like that. Regardless of how long your presentation is. I am of the impression that you can never have a hard and fast rule about the number of slides that you can have in a presentation, because it's gonna change wildly. Sometimes you're gonna be going from point to point to point, and you want to be able to illustrate that very quickly and you have an extremely visual deck. And that is gonna create a lot of engagement with your audience and it's gonna amp them up and they're gonna wait to see what the next thing is that you're gonna show them. That's one technique. Another one is you may have a slide that takes a lot of time to talk about that's gonna be a lot more involved. And you want the same visual up at all times. That's completely fine, too. But what you want to do is decide, if you're doing a lot of slides, make sure the slides have very little content on them. If you're doing very few slides, they're gonna have more content on them, so make sure that the content that is on the slide is relevant throughout the time that you're talking about it. I'll give you an example. I'll go back to this slide here. This slide was relevant during the entire course of when someone was talking about everything from the media reviews down to the market research. And every time they switched to a topic, it just brought in another point. Another way to do this is to split up each bullet into its own slide. All this is is a single image, a logo and some typography. But the way that we did the typography is that it brought out a very specific word. And that was relevant to what we were talking about. So at this point, we were talking about the future of the company. So for the next couple of seconds, we talked about the future, and then we moved onto the next one. So we're actually treating each individual slide as one bullet point to a larger series of ideas, which again is okay. You want to take pauses at the end of each idea to make sure that you've grouped them in your audience's brains, and that they are aware that you're gonna sort of move on to the next subsection. Some of the other things that you notice that I'm doing on this slide, there's no headers and there's no footers, which is something that I also want to talk about. Often times we are presented with decks that we need to design, either for someone else or for our own companies, that have a lot of peripheral stuff on them. This is what I call template bloat. This is where you have so many things that have come from other designers or other firms that become part of the template of what you're designing, and you're required to add it in there. I would say definitely push back on template bloat. Here in this case, we have a header, we have even a subheader kind of little graphic line, we have our logo up there, we have some sub-logos of some organizations that have maybe partnered with this group. This block here was reserved for some branding graphics that went along with this company, and then a footer and then all of our footnotes information, things like the title of the presentation was on every single page. And there were page numbers. And the only place that I had to put content was in this area here, which equated to about 20% of the final space of the slide. Although this slide may meet a lot of requirements when you're designing it and when it has to look like this, what you sacrifice is your impact. This is an extremely boring kind of slide. Because, every single one of these elements will not change, they will always be there. So what has happened is you've designed a hand-out, instead of a slide. And that's something I want to talk about. And it's actually really important for yellow-level presentations. Red is a bit different, so we'll get to that. So if you're working with a yellow-level presentation, where you have some risks involved, there are some requirements that you need to address, and you're sort of limited on time. What I want you to do is if you have a slide that has a lot of template bloat in it, consider keeping only the key elements of that brand that are required, say a logo or a title, and eliminate everything else. And the reason that you're gonna give for that is because you brought the brand across with the messaging, with the logo, and everything else you're gonna put in a handout. And the way that that works is you're gonna take your outline, and go ahead and put it in the template, because that's what templates are for, they're easy to apply to all pages. And you're going to use that as something that you bring into the room to hand to your audience in a way. In doing so, your trade-off is they're going to read ahead. I've never given a handout in a presentation where people have left it on the table until I'm finished talking. That just doesn't happen. The first thing that they're gonna do is pick it up, flip through a couple pages, maybe stop on a couple of images, maybe even make some notes on it, and then they're gonna put it down and wait for you to talk. So if you're okay with your audience previewing a little bit of what you do, this is a great way to keep impact in your visual slides and still be able to show your audience the things they need to see. Very often, slide numbers, I personally do not like putting slide numbers in my slide, because unless I tell them how many slides are in the final deck, there's really no point. If I'm showing something here, and I have a little 10 down here, you don't know if that's 10 of 100 or 10 of 15. So the only reason for slide numbers to be there is if someone is following along with a handout, or they have a question about the part of your presentation that they want to talk about, and then they'll use the page number as a reference and then you can go back to it. But rather than putting that in your visual presentation, go ahead and put that in something that you can then give to your audience. Another way to do it is, and this is why it's a yellow presentation method and not a red one, is you're gonna be creating two different decks. Start with the template-heavy deck, and then strip everything out, create a visually impactful deck, and keep that template one to give to your audience. The reason why we don't do this in a red deck is because you are then editing and creating content for two separate decks. And that's just not something that, to be honest, we're gonna be able to do in a red-level presentation. So in those cases, I would, if you're not allowed to change any of the slide template bloat, that's fine, we're gonna just go ahead and work with what we can inside of the actual content section, but still see if you can get away with adding some dividers. If the people that you're creating this presentation with require this, ask if you can add some things that look a little bit different, that look a little bit more like these guys, to stick in between. And then what you're doing is you're breaking up the visual monotony of that template with some of these a little bit more impactful slides. And it's also a great method for your audience to see, okay, I'm going into a separate section, they've denoted it with a visual, and the next time they see one of these visuals, they're going to then know, great, divider, that section's done, I'm moving on to the next content. So to review here, you're gonna encounter template bloat. It's just sort of a natural process of creating presentations. If you can avoid it at all costs, I definitely recommend that. If you have to deal with it, there's a couple things you can do. You can ask to make divider slides inside of the content, or you just have to work with what you have. There's another little trick that I like to use. When I'm creating decks that are showing real-life examples of things, or they're showing websites, or apps, often times I'm handed screenshots of those things or I'm asked to take screenshots of the website and of the application. Instead of just putting them right on a page, try to put them in context. This is a really easy trick that will elevate the level of design of your slide, and can be done in any of the levels, red through green. And what's gonna happen is, over time, these elements which are separate, by the way, these are separate png files that you can find pretty much anywhere online. You're gonna start collecting them. And what I recommend is having a place for reusable design files. And what's gonna happen is you'll be able to pick out the ones that you need a lot quicker, and you'll have them ready so that you can elevate your design to another level, without having to spend a lot of time looking for these things. Spend some time gathering as much as you can, just go through and get a whole bunch of devices. There's also, for you designers out there, there's a lot of Photoshop mock-ups of T-shirts and bags and things like that. Go find them. There's lots of free ones. Start gathering them, and then when you need to present work or a portfolio piece or a design or a brand, or whatever it is that you're going to be putting on your page, put it in context. Don't just throw up a logo or a design up there, put it in a way where your audience is gonna be able to see what it looks like in real life, and they will definitely appreciate that. And plus, it doesn't take a lot of time to do. As soon as you find that template or that mock-up and you know how to work with it, you do it once, you'll be able to do it over and over again. And it looks really great. So here are two other slides that I've designed as examples. And I wanted to point out a couple of things about them. One of the other ways that we can decrease the amount of words on our slide, or make them more impactful if we have to keep them, is to pull out the key idea of a slide. And that's important to note. That's singular. In a slide, or a portion of your talk, should have one idea to it. You explain the idea. You can explain context, whatever it is, and then you move onto the next one. The ideas are gonna relate to each other, but if you have more than one idea per slide, that's going to cause you to take more time with that slide, which means that people are going to, it's gonna be up longer, you may lose some interest. So if you can divide a slide, I definitely recommend it. This is a good example. These were two bullets under a slide that didn't really have any header to it. So I've divided them. I've actually copied the template. So if you notice, I only did this once. I designed this once, and then I copied it. And all I did was change a color in the image and number in the text. So which means that I didn't really have to change anything else. It's a really efficient way to call out the kinds of slide. The other things you're gonna want to do, while you're doing your outline, and you're saying split, divide, you know, put a hero image here, is start making kind of fun names for the types of slide templates that you're going to have. And then reference them later. This was called an arrow slide. And it was named because of the arrow that I used, and this slide design, I did it once, and then it was used consecutively throughout the deck. So we must have repeated this about a dozen times. Again, really, really efficient to design a slide just once, and then repeat it over and over again with different colors and graphics. Here I've also called out, and each on of them has a singular idea behind it. So I read through and I picked out some things. Some of it's a little bit hard to visualize, but I did land on agency culture. So in order to talk about convincing us that the agency model will help us evolve our agency culture, I actually had a picture of the agency office, which represented its culture, and I used that in there. Again, one single graphic. I'm not using multiple graphics. It's still all one idea on one slide. And then we flipped it and I just did a number two, and said convince us to help elevate our cultural platform and increase social engagement. So I latched onto the word social engagement, and then added that really simple picture of a phone. Again, the smallest things that you can do that will become repeatable, will help you design your entire deck, because you'll be able to say, that's an arrow slide, that's a divider slide, that's gonna be a bullet slide, there's no way around it. That's gonna be a chart slide. And then you can lay these out and start visually looking at the pattern of your deck really quickly. Again, we do not have a lot of time to decide, oh, I need to design an entirely new kind of slide for this. No, you want to pick about four or five kinds of slides up front, and then put those in there. It's very similar to the idea of templates, but unfortunately, the way templates work nowadays in our slide programs, they end up giving us that template bloat, because you're trying to design a slide that works with everything, and what you get is something that's just visually monotonous. So do your own type of template building when you're designing these slides. Create about four or five of them, and then make sure that there's enough space that you can change some of the elements around, some idea space, that you can change the elements around to fit the different items that you're talking about. So the next thing that I want to talk about is what I call distraction triage. When we're going through a deck and we've done a design pass on it, we want to make sure, very quickly, that what we're presenting is exactly what we're talking about, no more, no less, and we're getting rid of some of the elements, we're gonna trim some of the fat, a little bit. And to do that I have this slide up here, which is a great example of trimming the fat. So this one has a pie chart on it, which the client was pretty insistent that we do a pie chart. I'm not completely averse to it, it can come in handy. But one of the things I noticed about this pie chart was that, first of all, the numbers were wrong. The percentages did not add up to 100 percent, so I had to do a quick design pass and change that. And the second thing that I talked to the client about, was this idea that it was not necessary to show the number of the chart. And this is a type of distraction triage, where you're skimming through your deck very quickly and if anything stands out to you that either makes you stop and think that's not about the core idea, or it's a little bit distracting, you're gonna want to take care of that right away. And you can do it quickly. The easiest way is to get rid of it. Cutting is my favorite way of doing something that trims up things. I'm a minimalist in that sense. So all I did was delete those numbers. And it still got the idea across that these three things, the positioning, the integration marketing and the audience, that they were all still equal. So I went through the entire deck, and I looked for everything like that. Again, this is something that you'll especially want to do in a red deck, because as you're creating a red deck, you're gonna have more and more of these things. You're adding in content, you're changing words, you're moving things around, you're changing orders of stuff. So you're gonna want to do some distraction triage. There is a point in your deck creation where distraction triage works best, and that's after you've done a single design pass. So we've gone from outline, to design, and then we've done gone through and touched every single deck, and then we've done distraction triage. There is also a couple smaller techniques that I like to do when I'm building decks. One of them is if you have a lot of slides that you're working through in your outline, sometimes I'll do a little marker or a little shape or something in the upper corners to designate whether that slide needs to be addressed or not. You'll notice, if I go back here really quick, great, so here you can see, I've actually labeled in the outline itself, who's working on them, whether they're complete or not. And this is great, especially if you're using a program that allows you to have live editing, because then you can be designating work to other folks. Or, if you're the only one working on a slide, you can at least say, these slides are done, these slides are not done, and you can keep the order of them, which is really important. One of the last things that you're gonna want to do as you're doing your design passes is spell check. I hate the fact that I still have to say this when I'm giving presentations, but I naturally need to spell check all of my documents.

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Ratings and Reviews

Jude Temianka

Great course with lots of handy tips. I often find myself having to prepare and give presentations at short notice, and a lot of the preparatory advice that Matt gives falls by the wayside as I frantically jump straight into production mode. I often have the feeling to overwhelm my audience with too much information because I don't take the time to step back and determine what content matters most. Super tangible advice that I will be implementing!

Tomas Verver

As a presentator designer I think Matt has an interesting approach on how to create and deliver impactful presentations. Presentations are important part of you career. Presentations can change the company's future, your own future and the world. Making them impactful is very important. At the moment we have still many presentations but many can improve big time. And we have more presentations online (at) the moment.


Found this course concise and informative. Would recommend to all who have to do presentations.

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