Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top 10 Qualities of An Über Presentation Specialist

"Every presenter has the potential to be great; every presentation is high stakes, and every audience deserves the absolute best.
Nancy Duarte

In 1997, I was working at the UBS Swiss Bank Presentation Center as a Mac designer. Part of my job was to assist the presentation artists in recreating logos, plotting graphs and charts in Illustrator and creating background images in Photoshop. The center was divided in 2 departments, the PC artists who worked exclusively on MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint; and the Mac designers working with Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator.

I decided to learn the PC applications to become a cross-platform operator and a more valuable asset to my employer (flagrantly looking for a promotion). To make the story short, I wound up hating PowerPoint because my learning approach to this application was based on my graphic background (totally wrong), and not as a presentation software. It was so frustrating that I even joined the band wagon echoing "PowerPoint sucks!" Needless to say it took me a while to figure out why it doesn't have a visible kerning and tracking feature like the rest of the applications I used to work with.

And the answer is simple, PowerPoint is not for typesetting. It's a Presentation software. And please stop blaming the software for your badly designed slides.
I wanted to share my story with you because this particularly wrong approach kind of summarizes the history behind why there are so many bad, terribly-designed presentations in this world.

In the quest to find the über presentation artist, I used LinkedIn, Behance, Indeed, Monster, and some other job sites and I was able to gather a considerable amount of CVs with the tittles 'Presentation Artist' and 'Presentation Specialist', so I gave priority to the best-designed and well-written ones. It's a no brainer, if you are in the presentation and design business you must show it off in your resume. However, a good-looking resume does not guarantee the owner to have what it takes to be an 'uber presentation specialist.' With that said, we're going to move to the next step: the interview process. You can see below a list of the qualities I was looking for in the interviewees. I classified them into 3 different categories: Technical Knowledge, Design Sense, and Communication.

1.-Before start working on a deck the presentation specialist must know if it's going to be a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. (you better get this one down if you don't want to work twice).
2.-Identify what computer platform is going to be used and make sure there won't be any issues with fonts or movie files. Testing is required to ensure presentation will go smoothly.
3.-Anticipate if any of the slides from the presentation will be re-purposed as a board to make sure resolution is not an issue.
4.-The specialist should be proficient in all the major slide ware applications (PowerPoint, Keynote, SlideShare and Prezi); and the Adobe Creative Suite to process and create custom artwork to avoid falling in the trap of using those cheesy native graphics.

5.-Design with simplicity in mind. Put meaning and purpose as the main focus of your design. Even when the requester wants to stuff a slide with lots of copy, charts, and/or graphics, you should suggest a better way to represent the information. Either by using a provocative and powerful image that tells a story (remember the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words") or by creating more slides or builds, etc. Your input is greatly appreciated, specially when you're adding value to the presentation.
6.-Color should flow consistently across the deck (graphics, charts, photos, solid backgrounds, etc.,) following your selected color scheme. Make type visible by creating contrast with color.
7.-Creation of templates on demand. The uber presentation specialist should be able to create a few templates (at least 5 slides per template) at the beginning of a project, so the presenter can have options to choose from and determine a final look and feel. He/she must also be able to create a full-fledged template that covers all the possible slide situations if requested to do so. These templates usually have over 30 slides.
8.-Thorough knowledge of diagrams, graphs, maps, charts and infographics structure. You should be able to represent data and to bring abstract information to life via visual graphics.
9.-Attention to detail is paramount. An uber presentation specialist will make sure graphics and specifically logos are not out of proportion. Even when you didn't do it, the minute you start working on a presentation, you own it.

The uber presentation specialist recognizes the importance of getting involve with the presentation. When in doubt will ask questions. Understanding and feeling the message embedded in the presenter's sketches is absolutely necessary to deliver a top performance. The more you understand the story behind those slides, the better you'll communicate with the team.The presentation specialist must be assertive and at the same time respectful when suggesting an idea or issuing an opinion. Don't ever try to impose your graphic 'genius' to the presenter. As long as they feel comfortable delivering their message in a particular way, it's always good to remember they are the ones facing the audience, not you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Finding the Über Presentation Artist

 “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.” Paul Rand

In the middle of the Summer of 2009, I found myself searching our servers—looking for all the presentation work (PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc.,) our studio has done since 2005 to date. The studio director during that time had already scheduled a meeting to scrutinize all these assets to determine what we had delivered so far, and what we should do moving forward.

It was pretty obvious to everyone the need to raise the bar in our presentation delivery.

By looking at the big picture, we realized most of the presentations were using a corporate-look and dated template. No disrespect to corporate style templates, but we are in the business of selling creativity. We definitely could have done much better than that. We also found out that some of the best work was done in Indesign and presented as interactive PDFs, which can probably make you think the solution to achieve better-looking presentation slides is creating them in Adobe CS since this is the preferred designer's tool and everyone in the studio is proficient using Adobe. It sounded like a good option, but the reality is that almost all the time the requesters of these projects ask for either PowerPoint or Keynote because they can do last minute edits to their presentation. 

I left that meeting with one goal in mind, to leverage my social media and resource management skills to find the Über presentation specialist. And you bet I found not one, but a handful of über presentation specialists that became part of the pool of freelancers we call on a regular basis.

Stay in touch for the continuation of this story in my next article: “Top 10 Qualities of An Über Presentation Specialist.” A list similar to The Über Production Artist.


Ernie Arias is an Advertising Studio Manager at Hogarth WW. Social Media enthusiast. Dad, husband. Opinions are my own.