Let’s face it, we all spend too much time making presentations. That’s true whether it’s a small part of your job, or whether it is your job, like it was mine. I’m going to share with you my list of tools & tips that I used to use everyday to spend as little time as possible on making presentations for my clients! Some of them are obvious, others not so, but each should save you a bit of time, and added together, maybe a lot of time!
1. Some paper, a pen and some post-it notes.
ALWAYS start with a clean sheet of paper. NEVER start with an old deck of slides. Slides are cheap, but paper is cheaper. Scribble, draw, write, shuffle, discard, leave gaps, and pull together the structure of your presentation first. Only then, once you’ve built the outline, should you open your laptop and fire up some software.
2. A good template
Before I tell you what I mean by this, I’ll tell you WHY you should use one. One word: ‘time’. Having a proper template will save you a ton of time, and most people spend far too long on their presentations as it is. A good template is one that when being used, you spend most of your time inputting content, and not having to think about styling the content. When I say template, it’s really about having predetermined styles in all the default modes rather than a coloured background with a logo in the corner. Most corporate templates are overbranded with a restricted space for the content – a slide should be all about the content, not the branding! A good template should be simple, but with all the default colours, shapes, chart styles, font styles etc pre-determined so that when you add a new element to the page, it’s styled straight from the word go (this is the bit that most templates fail to include).
3. A well laid out toolbar
Coupled with a good template, a good toolbar will enable you to cut in half the amount of time you spend making slides. Add the most common tools that you use to the toolbar to save you finding them in the menus. If you really want to go ‘pro’ you should consider learning all the keyboard shortcuts too!
4. Google Image Search
Before all the IP lawyers come knocking, it’s worth pointing out that I use Google image search to find inspiration before I use a stock photo library – NOT to find unlicensed images. The beauty of Google is that it always returns something unexpected, something clever, something amusing or something closely related to but a bit left-field of the original search. These are the kind of images that you want to use, particularly if you’re trying to convey a concept or emotion. You can then use these images as a guide for the things you search for in no 5.
What did we do before iStock came along? I use iStock all the time. There are plenty of other libraries out there, but I find they’re the best mix of quality images, affordability and find-ability. Remember, 30 minutes trying to find the right image is 30 minutes you could have been doing something else. People get fixated with finding the right image or getting the layout perfect, but you have to remember that most images & layouts on a slide presentation are seen for a few seconds to a few minutes at the most – they don’t have to be perfect, just good enough.
6. Photoshop / Adobe Creative Cloud
Once upon a time, buying Photoshop, Illustrator and all the other goodies that Adobe has to offer was a HUGE investment. I seem to remember shelling out the best part of £2000 every time I needed an upgrade. Now you can get all of their software for a small monthly payment, and you can buy individual licenses for even less. If you can only afford one, get Photoshop, it’s incredibly powerful, and there are plenty of tutorials on the web if you’re a novice. There are a bunch of free alternatives – from the complex such as GIMP (http://www.gimp.org) to the simple such as Pixlr (http://pixlr.com). Useful for simple tasks such as cropping & resizing images, removing backgrounds from logos and other everyday tasks.
A little known tool, but brilliant for turning ropey low resolution logos that have been downloaded from the internet into crisp sharp ones on a transparent background. You can do this in Adobe Illustrator too, but the results from Vector Magic (http://www.vectormagic.com) are way better (and it’s a lot cheaper!). Why use vectors? Vectors can be recoloured and resized without any loss of quality or pixelation.
8. An organised folder structure
If you’re making a big presentation, you can end up with hundreds, if not thousands of resources such as images, videos, spreadsheets. Get in the habit of naming things and filing them away in a way that will allow you to find them later. I’ve used the same folder structure for years, so I can always get back to an image to change it in a matter of seconds – and you WILL need to change things, even when you think you’ve made the FINAL_FINAL_v4!
- 01_ppt – all the finished presentation files. Old versions don’t get deleted, just put in a sub-folder called X_old
- 02_jpg – all the ‘ready to import’ images after they’ve been cropped / resized / etc
- 03_resource – stuff downloaded from the web before it’s been cropped / resized / etc
- 04_from_client – stuff the client has sent over
- 05_art – Photoshop and illustrator files, or any other ‘working’ file that’s used to produce files for the jpg folder
Using underscores is an old habit from the days when moving files between a Mac & a PC needed them, but as we move more and more to a world where all our content is stored in the cloud, it seems like a good habit to keep!
9. A library of images
This one took a long time to build up. Over the years, you get to see the same business issues occurring again and again across different industries at different times. I now have a ton of shapes & icons that i’ve drawn that can be re-used for any presentation I work on that cover these common themes. I’ve made them available for free on Present.me – they can be viewed and downloaded here: https://present.me/content/freeicons/
10. PowerPoint / Prezi / Keynote
Some people are in one camp or the other – they prefer Keynote to Powerpoint, or Prezi to Keynote. I think it’s a real case of horses for courses. If it’s a big conference speech with a lot of video embedded, it would be Keynote every time because of the seamless way you can run Quicktime video in the slide. If it’s a pitch where there’s likely to be a Q&A, and the need to drill down into a topic, I’d go for Prezi to make use of the non-linear capabilities. If it’s an everyday internal presentation, with lots of data from charts and tables then without a doubt I’d use Powerpoint – it’s a very mature and feature rich product. Choose the right one for the job in hand and you can save yourself a lot of pain later on. Whichever you choose, all will suffer from badly designed content, so make sure you’ve thrashed it out with your pencil and post-it notes before you load up one of these babies.
This is just my top 10, if you have any time saving ideas that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.