Imagine that you are sitting in an audience watching one presentation after another. Each presenter follows a precise formula and uses the prescribed corporate PowerPoint template.
Each presenter has 25 slides to share with you on the big screen, all using the same chart and graph templates, with the only difference being the actual numbers that they show. Each presenter must move through quickly because time is tight and there are many more presentations that you need to hear.
- How likely are you to retain anything from these templated presentations?
- How likely are you to enjoy this day filled with look-a-like presentations?
- How likely are you to be energized by this day of non-stop similarity?
- How likely are you to be motivated to act upon anything you hear or see on this day of corporate presentation uniformity?
“Sorry, but we are mandated to use this corporate presentation template.”
This is one of the most frequent comments/excuses/apologies that I get from my clients whom I am coaching for presentation and public speaking effectiveness. They are required to follow an organizational template for their PowerPoint® decks.
They cannot deviate, under penalty of …..? I can hear the fear and anxiety in the voices and see it in their faces when I challenge them to innovate, using more creativity and originality to make their points.
Who creates these templates and what were their original intentions?
I often wonder who creates these corporate templates and how I can influence their thinking and decisions. Are they aware of the hidden costs that come with templatized presentation mandates?
I understand the need for brand consistency. I appreciate the value of tying things together so that there is continuity. And I respect the desire for efficiency by creating PowerPoint decks that can serve multiple purposes for many people (e.g., visual slide support, handouts, briefing document replacing reports, reusable slides for downstream presentations, etc.) These are the upsides of using corporate templates in your presentations.
What are the downsides of uniform presentations?
- Presentation decks that are way too long and detailed.
- Busy slide designs with many elements. Corporate logos taking too much slide real estate
- Ineffective use of slide headlines. Too much category, not enough take away.
- Lack of emotion (other than boredom from too much text and bullet points)
- They all look and sound the same. No one stands out and no messages break through.
- The audience becomes confused and fatigued
- Presenters feel confined and limited
What would Garr Reynolds or Nancy Duarte do?
Lots of Noise (not a lot of signal)
I frequently use Garr Reynolds’ book, Presentation Zen, in my presentation coaching and training workbooks. In fact, I refer to his book as the “Safe Sex Guide to Using PowerPoint.” Starting on page 134 of this terrific book, Garr outlines his Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) principle for creating effective visual slide support. SNR comes from technical fields such as radio communications and electronic communications. In Garr’s world, SNR measures the ratio of relevant to irrelevant elements and information on a slide or other display.
“The goal is to have the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio in your slides,” Garr explains. “People have a hard time coping with too much information. There is simply a limit to a person’s ability to process new information efficiently and effectively.”
“Ensuring the highest possible SNR means communicating (designing) clearly with as little degradation to the message as possible. You can degrade the visual message in many ways, including selecting inappropriate charts, using ambiguous labels and icons, and unnecessarily emphasizing items such as lines, shapes, symbols, and logos that do not play a key role in support of the message.” (Page 134 of Presentation Zen)
I love the BEFORE and AFTER side by side comparisons of PowerPoint messages that Garr shows you in his book. Here’s a quick snapshot I took while reading his marvelous book. To see more compelling comparisons and instruction on how you can clean up your PowerPoint act, buy the book, Presentation Zen.
Don’t let templates get in your way of effectively communicating and persuading
So what can you do when you have one hand tied behind your back, corporately speaking? No one wants to get fired over something as silly as not using the corporate presentation templates. But you can take a few calculated risks and help your organization re-examine its own status quo.
Here are a few ideas on how you can infuse a little more of you into the presentation to create an audience-focused, compelling presentation (even if you have to use the corporate template):
- Open and close your presentations without showing the template.
- When in PowerPoint Slideshow view format, you can hit the letter B or the period (.) key to have the screen go to black out. When you want the slides back up, simply hit the letter B or period key again to return the image to the screen. It’s like magic!
- Tell personal stories to help make important points.
- Minimize the number of slides that you use in any given presentation (strategically cull the unnecessary ones)
- Put a moratorium on what Nancy Duarte calls “Slideuments.” Nancy is the author of Slide:ology and is a modern thought-leader in the art of presentation. Never use your PowerPoint slides as handouts. It is a waste of paper and ink. It’s bad for the environment and your personal brand. Instead, create separate pieces of before/during/after communication:
- focused memo for audience members to read before to prepare for your presentation;
- visual slide support during your live presentation;
- more detailed handouts that encapsulate the important infiltration for your audience after the presentation. Spend the time to create quality communication for each of these three phases of your presentation. Yes, it will take you more time, but you will have far greater impact and you will better serve your audience.
- We give PowerPoint too much power and more credit than it deserves. Stop referring to your “PowerPoint deck” as the presentation. It’s not your presentation; it’s only part of it. It can’t stand alone without you, the presenter. If I create PowerPoint slides at all, I refer to them as my “visual slide support” or the “visual support to my presentation.” It complements my message, it doesn’t replace it.
Finally, remember that you are the messenger. You are the presenter. It’s your job to communicate effectively. You are paid to distill all of the data into simple, concise and focused messages that inform and activate people and improve outcomes. If the corporate template supports you in that work, then fine. If not, you are going to have to work a little harder to complete your presentation mission.
note: PowerPoint is presentation software from Microsoft.