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Developing an Optimized PowerPoint Template

It's not acceptable to present slides on standard, generic templates any longer. Audiences are sophisticated nowadays. They expect to see presentations that reflect a company's brand, attitude, and professionalism. It has gotten to the point that audiences may even undervalue the content if it is presented poorly – the company's credibility has not been underscored by the way the message has been packaged. It's rather like showing up to an important business meeting in beachwear.

WHAT TO CONSIDER AS YOU DEVELOP A TEMPLATE

It's important to approach template development by factoring in several considerations:

  • Company brand: presentation template color and graphic choices should blend with other public-facing collateral
  • Use of template: will the template be projected, printed, PDFed, posted as a flash on a website, used in webinars?
  • Image: design and style choices can either support or detract from the image your company is trying to project
  • Structure: how much slide real estate is devoted to design elements and how much is devoted to content?
  • Clarity: contrast between background and text/graphics has a direct impact on readability
  • Industry affiliation: is it important to tie your company to an industry?

After we consider all of these issues, you may decide that you want to develop several templates to best represent your companies in all media and to all audiences.

Company Brand

Every slide should identify the company making the presentation. Presenters are representatives of the company and should not receive the credit for the company's information, products, or services. Therefore, it's important for companies to own the content, which is done by placing company logo, graphics, and color schemes within the design elements of the presentation. It's important to synchronize the
presentation template with other marketing collateral, which changes from time to time. Therefore, it is in a company's best interest to update presentation templates whenever identity graphics change.

Use of Template

PowerPoint templates are currently used for onscreen and projected presentations, webinars, highly-detailed documents meant to be printed out and left behind after a presentation, converted to flash documents for use on websites, etc. PowerPoint presentations are not limited to their original intended use any longer. Many currently available software products now recognize PowerPoint as an important application and strive to provide compatibility and extended functionality.

  • Onscreen and projected presentations can and should have colored backgrounds. These types of presentations usually have less content and make one point per slide. Therefore, the chart content area can be smaller.
  • Printed presentations should have a white background with conservative design elements and branding. These types of presentations usually contain more highly descriptive and detailed content, so the content area needs to be larger. Resist the urge to place a print-out presentation on a colored background, regardless of "how good it looks." Normal printers cannot handle pages that are 100% utilized. The ink densities change and lines can appear, making consistency and quality an issue. You will many times have no control over what type of printer is used to print out your presentation, so give your presentation the best opportunity to be crisp, clean, and clear on the page – a white background with minimum design elements.
  • Webinars and flash presentations should be developed so that they are not overly large. Very large presentations (many, many MBs) may look very nice and are responsive when clicking through animations and transitions from a computer, but over the internet they may be sluggish and slow. A template can add unnecessary size to these types of presentations. Since you cannot control the types of connectivity people have when logging into the webinars, smaller-sized presentations tend to work best. If you are using a PDFed presentation in a webinar, the original document can be beastly large, with a complex template background and full of size-intensive content (photographs, graphics, design elements, etc.). PDFed documents reduce the size of the presentation, but cannot contain any slide animations.

You need to consider all of this when choosing or designing a template. While you are in the template development phase, you may want to create several templates that are similarly designed but suit specific uses optimally.

Image

Companies have images, e.g., financial institutions want to appear rock solid and conservative; creative design companies want to appear innovative, cutting edge, and highly polished; and insurance companies want to appear friendly, caring, and approachable. What image do you want to convey with your company's design and marketing collateral. The colors you choose, the types of graphics, formatting styles, and the photographs all work together to create that image. Don't create a template quickly if image is important to you. Create variations and test them within your company and outside your company if you can.

If you wish to appear conservative, choose stately colors – slate blue and gray, forest green and tan, and design minimal elements. If you company provides entertainment or recreational options, you can choose fun colors – bright turquoise, orange, yellow, green, etc., and design elements can be flowing and abundant.

We're not trying to provide guidelines for colors and styles for all of the image possibilities; we are simply trying to heighten your awareness that there is a psychology involved with color and style choices. Be clear on the image you want to project and then gear the design elements to support that image.

Structure

It's easy to identify really bad templates: the design elements take up too much of the slide real estate so there is very limited space for presenting content. The design is so overpowering that it is the most prominent thing on the slide. The message and content of a slide should be what draws the eye. The template's design should be the "plate onto which you serve your signature dish."

When designing a background, decide on where and how large you want the content area to be. Decide also where you want the title for the slide to appear. Do you want the title to be placed over a design element? Decide how much space on a slide you are willing to donate to your branding. Block out these elements before you begin thinking about design.

Clarity

Message content clarity is the most important consideration. Design should never impact clarity in a negative way. Backgrounds should be either very dark or very light. Light text is highly contrasted when placed on very dark backgrounds and dark text is highly contrasted when placed on very light backgrounds. If you use mid-level colors as a backgrounds, neither dark nor light text will contrast well and will be less readable. Never sacrifice clarity in favor of design.

Industry affiliation

Is it important to visually align yourself with an industry? New companies may wish to use graphics like photographic collages of industry icons to help establish their identity. Many company names do not provide an indication of what the company provides. Design elements that help in this manner may be a good choice. Be aware that if you choose to use this device, you'll need to be willing to make changes if technology changes, for example. Photographs can define but they can also date your company.

Have a strategy when going into your template design process. Don't rely on a professional to make those decisions for you – or if you do, make sure you provide enough usable and actionable information so that you will end up with optimized templates. You work very hard and spend a lot of time on crafting the correct content messages for your presentations. Do not skimp on the time you spend developing the template that will deliver these messages. Consider the types of presentations you will be performing before you begin developing templates, and decide whether a set of templates will better suit your needs.

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