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Consistency in Presentations: Why Does It Matter?

Consistency is a hallmark of professionally produced presentations. A presentation's visual and written attributes are the direct result of a company's regard for consistency, which is a company's desire to speak to the world with "one voice." This one voice is important because it elevates the company above individuals within the company, giving customers/clients the assurance that they are doing business with a company rather than with individuals – very powerful.

Presentations should reflect – either exactly or complementarity – the overall look and style of marketing collateral and other company communications. The starting point is developing presentation templates, including a correctly set palette of colors and text defaults. Without this foundation, it is impossible to achieve consistent adherence to a company's branding. Many companies stop identifying standards once the template has finalized, but the bulk of standard setting has yet to be addressed. Establishing consistencies standards in how presentations are written and look need much more clarification.

Consistencies in how presentations are written

Establishing standards for writing presentations is not difficult; it just takes a little time and thought. Here is a partial checklist of the types of preferences companies can establish.

  • Style of writing – use a single style of writing. The narrative style is generally used by companies. It's good to be aware of writing styles when there is more than one contributor to the presentation. Be sure to make a point of checking the text to be sure only "one voice" is being used.
  • Quality – maintain a consistent level of quality in documents. An error-free presentation conveys that the company is detail oriented and committed to quality? Proof to a standard level of excellence in all presentations.
  • Use of names
  • Refer to people in like manner. Look at this sentence, for example: "Mr. Harry Dobson, George, and Dr. Jerrod Robards, PhD, were all at the film festival." George may or may not be as accomplished as Mr. Dobson and Dr. Robards, but the manner in which he is referred is somewhat diminishing. Avoid classifying people by their titles.
  • Alphabetize names in lists. List groups of people in alphabetical order unless a specific sequence or hierarchy is needed. This practice safely sidesteps any political situations.
  • Don't split names in a sentence. Keep title (Mr. Mrs., etc.) and first and last names together on a text line. Also keep multiword place names together on text lines. For example, keep the words "San Francisco" together, but let California flow to the next line.
  • First referencing – use acronyms only after they have been explained. All industries have their acronyms, but it is not appropriate to assume that everyone in the audience understands them. Acronyms should be spelled out the first time they appear in a presentation followed by the acronym in parentheses, for example: First Referencers of America (FRoA). From that point on, always and only refer to First Referencers of America as FRoA. If the term only appears once in the presentation, just use the spelled-out version and don't bother to place the acronym in parentheses.
  • Use of terms
  • Refer to objects in consistent manner. Always refer to, for example, rocks as rocks instead of as stones, large pebbles, or cobbles. This keeps your audience focused on what you are saying instead of trying to interpret the new term and determine if it means something other than "rocks." A consistent use of terms promotes a solid understanding of the material you are presenting.
  • Maintain same order. Keep the same order in lists. For example, if you are discussing "sales and marketing," use the order for these terms consistently instead of switching to "marketing and sales" periodically. This type of consistency also promotes message clarity.
  • Punctuation and sentence structure
    It's preferable to structure like sentences in the same manner. For example, notice that the explanatory phrase is punctuated differently in each sentence. Try hard to avoid this.

  • Resources

The way a presentation is written becomes part of the brand identity of the company. The best way to establish a standard for consistency is to identify a set of resources. Below are a few good choices for you to consider.

  • Dictionary: these references do not contradict each other
  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, updated annually, is a great choice for business
  • Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, Third Edition, is a good reference to have in your office library as an in-depth resource
  • A good complimentary resource is the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (free) and can be accessed when away from your office.
  • Business grammar style and usage: choose one the two below
  • Business Grammar, Style & Usage by Alicia Abell – very popular right now.
  • The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th Edition, by William A. Sabin. We like this one the best and it compliments the dictionaries listed above.
  • References for industry terminology. If you are a presenting to a particular industry, it behooves you to use the terminology for that industry correctly, as it will underscore your credibility. The Barrons Guides are a great resource, but make sure you update them with most recent versions.

Even though these resources may be in place, you still need to stay aware of the changing preferences for word usages and spellings. For example, "e"words are now currently considered correct without a hyphen,e.g., email, ecommerce. They have evolved to a standardized and recognized proper usage.

Caution: there is a tendency these days to rely solely on the spell checker in PowerPoint to make all word usage choices. Spellcheckers are fine for preliminary scans for misspelled/misused words, but it should never be the last word. It overlooks too many errors. One error that the PowerPoint dictionary consistently makes is hyphenating words incorrectly. Words that contain a prefix are not hyphenated, e.g., pre, post, pro. The spell checker wants to hyphenate them. Use the standard resources established by the company to make the calls on word usage and punctuation.

Creating an environment where consistencies between presentations within an engagement and between engagements are valued helps to encourage compliance to the company-set writings standards. The inconsistencies that can arise from multiple team members contributing to a presentation cease to be a big problem when the company makes the call about styles and preferences. Not only does the company gain stature from publishing consistently written documents and presentations, but leveraging pages from other presentations becomes much easier and less time consuming since the writing styles and preferences are the same.

Consistencies in how a presentation looks

Developing a consistent look within a presentation requires a deliberate and thoughtful strategy, beyond the simple application of a template's text and color default preferences. The following points will help you make good choices in this area.

  • Types of shapes – take a stand and decide whether you want to use wings or not on all of your arrows, and then be consistent in using them.

  • Color assignments and fill effects
    Color choices should be dictated by the type of presentation being developed. If it is a print-out, then it's smart to stay away from large fields of really dark colors due to printing issues. If developing an on-screen presentation, choose colors that provide the most contrast against the background and with overlaying text. These choices are made from colors within your palette, but make them carefully. Companies can help employees make these types of decisions by providing guidelines for each type of presentation use.

    Below are a color palette and a palette applied to a set of pyramids. These are only a few of the many variations that can be created using the palette of colors. You don't necessarily want all that variation within your presentation(s), however. It's smart to choose a fill color and effect and stay with it until there is a good reason to add another variation.

  • Formatting
    Set up and adhere to best-practice formatting techniques when developing documents and presentations. Time spent at the beginning of a production process formatting the contents so that edits are easy at the end of the process (near deadline) always makes sense. Having a consistent approach to developing content always always has a direct benefit on the quality of the end product and whether you meet the deadline. One example of this approach is something you've probably encountered: deciding early in the development process to use a noneditable schematic (maybe a jpg) instead of redrawing it so that it is editable. If the jpg stands as is and no one wants changes, then no unnecessary effort was expended and the deadline is not impacted. But if one of the reviewers wants to change colors or layout at a point close to the deadline, there may be a problem. If time was spent at the beginning of the process making sure that all elements and fields within the presentation are available for edits, any last-minute changes can be accommodated. It's a good idea to anticipate possible "surprises" and position yourself to handle them. A consistent approach to developing presentations may create work on the front end, but save time on the back end when time is precious and deadlines loom.
  • Layout
    Selecting layout preferences prior to going into production saves time and makes it easier to create consistency. The examples below all contain the same text, but they are laid out differently. Look for ways to bring consistency into layouts, especially when presenting similar or associated information.

  • Structure – similar or consistent structures, particularly when the audience remains the same for a series of presentations, create ease in navigating the presentation/document. This type of repetition not only creates consistency, but it schools your audience on how to find the material in the presentations.
  • Preferences with graphics
    Do you prefer to use photographs or clip art in your presentations or both? Whatever you decide, be sure that what you use is consistent in style. Mixing clipart styles will scream "unprofessional." Photographs also need some scrutiny, but they aren't as difficult to mix and match.

    Also, be sure that you use horizontal flows with the arrows at the same angle. This seems like a small thing, but attention to this type of detail makes for a very nice looking presentation.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, consistency is not the opposite of creativity. Creativity can live and thrive in a consistent presentation.