(What’s the Story) PowerPoint Glory: Side A - An album of songs to improve your slide decks

Updated: Jan 30



 

PowerPoint® gets a bad rap. Many people roll their eyes when they just hear the name. I get it, I do. We’ve all been subjected to PowerPoints filled with screen after screen of words, bullet points and stock designs which feel like an assault on the eyes. I get it, I totally do.


Some people turn to alternative tools, such as Prezi®, Visme® and Beautiful.ai®, just to stand out and make their slides look different or a little more visually interesting. But, even when using these tools, when a presenter just plugs words into stock templates, the end results can still be uninspiring. I’ve witnessed presentations created in these “PowerPoint alternative” tools which are just as difficult to look at, and follow, as bad PowerPoints.


Slide decks CAN be gorgeous, regardless of the tool used to create them. I’ve seen many PowerPoints which were a true joy to behold! Where the presenter created some visual delights that added power, sophistication and style to support their message.


You might feel that stunning slide decks are out of your reach. Perhaps you don’t have a natural eye for design, don’t have a budget to hire a presentation designer or simply can’t justify spending a lot of time on slide decks because you have much more pressing demands. So, instead you might just resign yourself to using stock PowerPoint templates and filling in the blanks because it’s the easiest thing to do (and everyone else seems to do it).


Here’s the great news. You do not have to be a graphic designer (or even hire one!) to create beautiful and effective slides. Beautiful slide decks don’t necessarily take any longer to create than wordy ones. In fact, as I reason in my book Before the Mic, if you approach your presentation the right way, the creation of a delightful deck can be the quickest (and most fun!) part of the whole preparation process.


In Before the Mic, I share some simple principles that anyone can apply which will improve your slide decks immediately, regardless of your design aptitude or whatever your presenting software weapon of choice is. Because I use an analogy throughout my book likening presentation writing to songwriting, I thought it was interesting to present these principles through a playlist of songs.


In this blog post, I discuss the first four songs in this list and will follow up with part two. If you’d like to follow along by actually listening to these songs (and maybe discover some new music along the way), you can listen along on Spotify here.



Before I begin, a quick aside. I have a new (and increasingly expensive) hobby rebuilding my vinyl collection and I’m rediscovering my love of albums and listening to them start to finish. A great album is a beautiful thing, typically 7 or 8 songs of musical expression from an artist designed to be listened to together. I’m listening to the album Permanent Waves by Rush while writing this if you are interested!


So, in the spirit of this newly rediscovered love in my life, I am calling this an album with my posts being the “Side A” and “Side B”, rather than “part 1” and “part 2”. On Spotify, the terminology is “playlist” so I didn’t have a choice there and I’m choosing to ignore the fact that playlists don’t have sides!


So, go ahead, fire up the accompanying album, turn it up, and let’s get stuck in principles 1 to 4 to help you forever improve your slide design game via a series of cool songs!


SONG 1: “SIMPLE AND CLEAN” BY HIKARU UTADA

It’s the title of this song, by Japanese-American songwriter Hikaru Utada, which says it all. It’s what all great slide decks should be—simple and clean. Many corporations use slide templates that are full of unnecessary visual clutter. Why does every slide need to contain a corporate or conference logo? Will people suddenly forget what meeting they are in if some of the slides don’t have a logo? Why do the lines, swoops, or bubbles of a corporate brand have to appear in every slide? The simple answer is they don’t! If your brand is so fragile that every slide in every presentation must remind people of it, then you might have bigger problems to address than can be fixed by any single presentation.


Does the slide really have to have a line underneath the title? Does the slide even need a title in the first place? If you’ve successfully introduced your topic, perhaps you don’t need anything at the top of the slide announcing what else is on it at all! Try starting with a completely blank slide, either white or a solid color, and going from there. Great design is simple and clean, so go with the “less is more” principle and you are on the right track.


Principle 1: Keep your slides simple and clean.

If you take away the “classic” structure of a slide though, what do you put on the slide? Let’s consider the second song on the list.


SONG 2: “MORE THAN WORDS” BY EXTREME

This classic ’90s song proclaims that using more than words is all it takes to make it real, and the song is right. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. When you choose the right images to accompany your words, you can convey a much deeper meaning than your words alone. Try to replace as many words as you can with pictures, graphics, icons, diagrams, and photographs.


It takes a little more thought, and some imagination, to select graphics but it’s worth the time.


Principle 2: Use more graphics than words.

This principle shouldn’t be over-applied though. I’m not suggesting that you abandon the idea of including words on slides altogether, otherwise, your slide deck will turn into a photo slide show which might distract the audience for different reasons. Let’s balance this out by listening to the song by Loreen.


SONG 3: “STATEMENTS” BY LOREEN

If your slides have every word on them that you are going to say, you may as well print them off and let people read them. When you embrace the idea that words are what you will be saying, and what your audience will be hearing, you realize that what they are looking at should be a little more visually interesting.


Keep this in mind: your slides should never contain full sentences unless it’s a direct quote for a specific reason.


If you do need to include explicit wording for some reason, use statements instead of sentences. Loreen proclaims “Statements!” in this song, and this is an excellent thing to keep in mind while creating your slides.


Principle 3: Use statements instead of sentences.

Ok, so we have distilled our ideas down to statements. What do we do with them now, slap them against some bullet points? No! Let’s hear what the Smashing Pumpkins have to say.


SONG 4: “BULLETS WITH BUTTERFLY WINGS” BY SMASHING PUMPKINS

Although this song is clearly not about creating slide decks, the title of this song provides a brilliant idea for what to do when you want to list some words on a slide—make them pretty!

When you need to include a list of statements, instead of using boring bullet points, choose an icon to match your words. Iconography will make your slides look nicer and help you to convey a deeper meaning behind each statement. When listing a few ideas on a slide, you do not need to list them top to bottom. Why not list your key points left to right with a statement beneath a well-chosen icon?


Principle 4: Use icons instead of bullet points.

So there you go! We’ve covered principles one through four via four interesting songs. To recap, these are:


Principle 1: Keep your slides simple and clean.

Principle 2: Use more graphics than words.

Principle 3: Use statements instead of sentences.

Principle 4: Use icons instead of bullet points.


You are well on your way! Flip over to the “Side B” of this album where I will share the next four songs to help you improve your slide decks forever.


Did this post inspire you to think of any fun tenuous-presentation-related songs? I’d love to hear them, and I may feature your submission (Giving you full credit obviously!) in a future blog post and playlist!


Thanks for reading (and listening!) Glenn.

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