Do I need a PowerPoint template?

One question that I often ponder is ‘Why are corporate Powerpoint templates so crap?’ It really bugs me! In my experience a lot of the templates produced for the bigger companies come from their branding and design agencies. I know someone who worked in one of these agencies and I asked her why she thought it was, her answer surprised me. They don’t have presentation specialists in house, what they do have is a hierarchy of designers and artworkers, with the most senior and experienced working on the interesting projects, and the juniors and interns working on everything else. It seems that when it comes to PowerPoint templates, this falls somewhere below making the tea and cleaning the toilets. They get left to the most junior of juniors to knock together – no wonder they never work!

I recently found myself making a new PowerPoint template for a client. They’d had a template for years, it served a purpose, they quite liked it, but all their presentations that used it were a complete mish-mash of styles and layouts with the only common theme being that they all had the same background.

Part of me thought, “Great! Everyone is expressing their individualism and creating content that suits themselves – good for them!” The other part of me took my clients perspective and asked, “How are we going to build something that enables all these various people to build content that at least looks like it’s come from the same company?” They wanted the template to work in a multitude of situations, for internal presentations, external presentations, conferences, slideuments and also a number of different page formats such as 4×3,  16×9, letter and A4 too. No mean feat to pack into 1 template.

A quick look under the hood and I discovered that like so many templates, it had been made by someone with very little knowledge of PowerPoint. In this case, if there was a mistake to be made, they’d made it.  All in all it was no surprise their presentations didn’t look very corporate, they really weren’t doing anything to help.

So, off I started making all the various layouts they had suggested using content that they commonly produced as a basis for these layouts. What I hadn’t realised when I started was how many they had sent me to be included in the template. We ended up with over 70 layouts that they could choose from, a huge number! On completing the job, I had this nagging doubt that maybe i’d done them a miss-service, does a really big / broad template actually help or hinder in the creation of a presentation?

I think there are 2 answers to this, and it depends on who you are and what your perspective is.

Do these templates help them communicate more effectively?

No, not in the slightest. The real problem is that it’s ingrained in them to use PowerPoint in a particular way, with lots of technical content, lots of text, charts and tables, it works for them, they’re happy with it and they don’t see a need to change. Could they gain a whole lot from freeing themselves from template prison, releasing their inner creativity, and communicating on a deeper level rather than just trading facts? Absolutely! But I don’t think they’re ready for that. I don’t have the kind of relationship with this particular client where I can go in and tell them that everything they know and believe about what makes a good presentation is wrong…one day maybe, but not yet. I think this is the case for a lot of companies.

So if a good template doesn’t help you communicate more effectively, then what good is it?

I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone say ‘I’ve been working on these slides for days, trying to make them look good, and now I wish I hadn’t bothered; you’ve done in a few hours what would have taken me all week.” I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, my point is that people waste so much time working up their presentations when they should be doing their day jobs. I wish I had a stat here that shows how much time is wasted by businesses every year on hashing together presentations, but my guess is it’s a BIG number. So what are they doing when it comes to making their presentations that’s taking them so long? It only takes a few minutes to write a some bullet points or to turn a spreadsheet into a diagram, so why?

They spend the bulk of their time trying to make it ‘look good’, messing around with font styles, positioning text boxes, colouring pie charts, adding unnecessary animations and generally making changes so small that no one will ever notice or even care.

And this is where a good template can really help. It becomes a painting by numbers game, here’s a predefined layout, with predefined fonts, sizes and colours, all you need to do is enter the content. So a good template is a massive time saver, it can really help users to get back to focusing on their content, and then their jobs, and not on what their slides look like.  On top of that, content that has been built using layouts and placeholders is so much easier to put in another template or theme later on.

So what’s the answer? Hire a PowerPoint pro to make your template, they may not agree with you that using a template is the best way to be creative and produce great content, but they may just save you a small fortune in wasted time.

And if you can’t find the budget to pay someone, coming soon is ‘The complete guide to fixing your PowerPoint template’ …

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