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Best Practice

Is it time to develop guidelines for your company presentation's visual style?

Here's a presentation truth. Remember it.

The visual impact of a beautiful presentation template is minimized by loading slides up with badly styled content.

For the most part, companies have downsized and redistributed/consolidated responsibilities. This is the result of trying to survive in today's (and probably tomorrow's) economy. This means that fewer people in companies are preparing presentations, not that there are necessarily fewer presentations. Therefore, It might be a good strategy at this point to develop presentation style guidelines that best reflect your company's image and culture. It will take the same amount of time to decide on and develop the guidelines whether you have many or few employees, but companies now have fewer presentation-development employees to train and monitor. Additionally, it's important to put the best face possible on your company when presenting, especially when everyone seems to be scrambling for the same dollar. The visual quality of presentations is an important component of doing just that.

When developing presentation style guidelines, the style choices should support the company's overall branding look and feel. For example, if the presentation template is open and airy, use of heavy beveled boxes should be avoided as a design element. Some of these choices are intuitive, and some are based on trying different formatting to see what looks the best and complements the company's other marketing and identity collateral. If a design consultant was hired to develop the website, the presentation template, etc., then it might be a good idea to run the preliminary style choices by that consultant.

If you're going develop guidelines, do it right and do it completely. Below is a list of style choices to get you started:

  • Font choice, size, color, and placement of title text on title pages and content pages. Decide whether the text should build from bottom or top based on your template design. Decide whether the text size should be reduced if the titles are long, or should the text wrap to a second line? Decide what titles should do: simply describe the content, summarize and deliver message, act as a tracker in the presentation, etc. Decide whether you want to use subtitles and, if so, where will they be placed and how will they look?
  • Content and label text: the same considerations as above for the most part. Develop a text hierarchy and decide on what bullets would be best – don't just accept the default that happens to be in your presentation template. Should the content text have built-in line spacing, or is this something that is dictated by what works best as content is developed and laid out on the slides.
  • Decide what types of transition graphics should be used. Should it be an arrow, a chevron, a bracket, a triangle?
  • Should drop shadows be used? Drop shadows can be on every graphic element as a style choice or only used when it helps the content make more sense, i.e., putting a drop shadow on a graphic that represents a sheet of paper lifts the sheet off the slide and makes it look more three dimensional. This is a different type of drop shadow and not necessarily a style choice.
  • Should boundary boxes be used to contain elements on slides? If so, do the boundary boxes have square or rounded edges?
  • Decide on size, placement, and structure of slide notes, footnotes, and sources
  • Decide on preferences in terms of photographs, clipart, WordArt, SmartArt. Some companies forbid the use of clipart and SmartArt for various reasons
  • Should bevels, glows, etc., be used as a standard design element or reserved for use in special instances?
  • Data-driven charts. Here is where a company can make a significant statement. Most companies do not take the time to develop a chart style guide. Therefore, everyone's charts tend to look the same, and the default style choices are less than optimal. When developing your chart style preferences, clarity and the absence of redundancy should drive the decisions. For example, it is clearer to the audience when values are placed on top of column charts rather than letting a Y axis do the work (clarity). If you have values a the top of a column, you don't need a Y axis (redundancy). There are several articles, tutorials, and examples on PowerFrameworks to help you make these decisions – and understand why you are making them.
  • Animation and slide transition are important components of a presentation. Decide on what types of animation is acceptable and which are not. Some of the animation/transition effects appear frivolous in some applications, so make sure you do not lessen the impact of your message by formatting it in a way that detracts/distracts. Also, avoid using animation to add interest. Animation is a tool that helps deliver, control, or underscore your message.

This about covers the basics, but as you begin developing guidelines, more choices will become apparent and decisions will need to be made. The style guide is a living thing. Don't be afraid to change it periodically to include new technological capabilities or formatting choices.