Lack of planning is killing your presentations.

You start your presentation, or you're about to, and your beautiful Powerpoint doesn't look correct. The spacing is a bit off, the font looks different, and some words are overlapping each other. Not to mention the giant black bars on either side of the screen. Hopefully nobody notices.

We do.

Or just start off your presentation with an apology, "Sorry, something must have gotten mixed-up with this computer".

Great start.

Not that long ago I had an introduction meeting with a potential client that is looking for some help designing their Keynote Presentation. They were a large Southern-California based tech company about to have their CEO present to a large group of investors in China about their product(s) and services and wanted a professionals help. The meeting went well, but I couldn't believe how little they were prepared for everything surrounding the actual pages of the presentation. So here you go, this is basically the conversation we had about creating a Keynote that had very little to do with design.

By the way, this knowledge came from a terrible job I had years ago where I traveled in a bus on a nationwide corporate tour setting up event spaces all around the US for months, We went from small boutique spaces in Atlanta to huge conventions in Puerto Rico with over 2,000 attendees.

Set the presenter and designer up for success

A successful presentation isn't just the deck and charisma, you need to plan for success. There are 2 environments for every presentation; the physical space where the Keynote or Powerpoint is taking place, and the digital medium of the actual presentation. Let's take a look at the physical space.

Questions you should be asking:
  • Is this presentation for 1 location or multiple?
  • What is the screen ratio at each specific location? 4:3 or 16:9
  • Where in relation to stage is the screen?
  • Is the screen front-lit or back-lit?
  • Will the presenter be using a clicker? Or will someone else be transitioning slides?

Here's why you should be asking these and the implications.

Presentation for 1 or multiple locations? If you are only presenting at one location you only need to prepare for ONE location. If this is going to be utilized at a few or many venues you need to ensure all of these questions are asked for ALL locations.

Aspect Ratio? Is the screen on location 4:3 or 16:9? Simply ask the venue this simple question on your first conversation. You will save on a tonne of time and your designers will love you. It's not a simple fix to switch from one to the other, so most people don't do it, and now you have black bars on either side and you can't read the copy because everything is small or squished, or both.

Where is the screen? Some screens are huge, floor to ceiling, or small and off to the side on a stand. Find out where the screen is so you can avoid common mistakes like: your presenter being blinded by the projector, the presenter blocking critical content because its on the lower half of the Keynote and he/she is now standing in front of it, is the copy large enough on this small screen where the audience is far away.

Back-lit or Front-lit? Some screens have the projector in front of the presenter (over the audience or in an aisle) and other are projected from behind the screen. Front-lit projectors cause shadows and can be a nuisance for the presenter, so have them present off to the side. Back-lit projectors are great but make sure important copy isn'g being blocked by podiums, equipment, etc.

Presenter in control of slides or someone behind the scenes? Practice, practice, practice. In either scenario you need to do a few runs as if it was live. If the presenter is in control and using a clicker, do a few trial runs and have a backup plan! Remote clickers can be tricky and like to not work 2 minutes before a presentation, so bring a backup hard-wired clicker just in case.

'Is the screen on location 4:3 or 16:9'? Simply ask this questions the first time you speak with the venue.

So you have all these questions answered? Great! Now the rest of the process is simple and you're more prepared for the design process and will get a more accurate estimate on cost and time. Here are some things to think about.

Important reminders when designing a Keynote or Powerpoint:
  1. Do I need 1 or 2 presentations? If your presenting on both a 4:3 and 16:9, you need 2 versions of the same presentation.
  2. How intricate are the transitions/animations? If the presenter is in control of slide progressions, simple is always better.
  3. What computer will be used? If you designed the presentation on one computer, there is no guarantee it will look the same on another, Fonts, images, links, all could be affected. So if you have to use the computer on-site. Give yourself time to make sure it looks and acts as expected.
  4. End with a black slide! Nothing worse than seeing the computer desktop at the end of a presentation. Make your last slide completely black. No copy, no logo, nothing. That way everyone (including the presenter) knows the presentation is done.

If you have any suggestions or think we missed anything important, we would love to get your feedback in the comments below. We hope this was informative, but most of all hope we see more professional presentations out there.

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