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Proofing a Presentation: The Basics

How much time should be spent proofing a presentation? There is no short answer. There is only a basic set of guidelines to help direct the proofing for each presentation-development process.

Presentations should be developed so that the messages are from "one voice." The one voice is not only the presenter standing in front of the audience, but it is the on-screen text and graphics that support the presenter. The one voice is also the company's voice, not the team's or individual's voice who developed the presentation. Proofing is the insurance policy that all your presentations have "one voice." Proofing is also the insurance policy that the presentation is error free, because the presenter's credibility is directly connected to the quality of the material being seen on screen.

Proofing content

First and foremost, the content needs to be accurate. Every effort should be made to ensure that the ideas, data, quotes, references, interpretations, and concepts are researched until a fairly high level of comfort can be reached that the message is without flaws. Proofing content happens in a few different ways.

  • Data in charts and tables. Just because the spreadsheet is solid before it is input into the table or chart does not mean that it will be solid after if it is input. Proof all tables and charts against the input-ready materials to be sure that the translation has been accurate. Also proof to make sure that the units are identified and the data is sourced and dated. Additionally, you'll want to perform specific types of proofing for charts and tables.
  • Proofing charts. Proof for numerical rounding issues. Be sure that the values for the bar, column, and pie segments actually sum to the total amount provided. Be sure that the labels are correctly applied to the data sets. Use colors consistently and as a tool in data-driven charts: assign colors to recurring segments so that a theme is established.
  • Proofing tables. Make sure the data labeling is correct and the vertical and horizontal alignments are accurate. Incorporate any color schemes in charts into the data presented in tables.
  • The trickle effect of data. Numerical/statistical data that trickles through a presentation needs to be proofed for accuracy. Making sure that the data is solid is sometimes more difficult than you would imagine. Research, calculations/recalculations, and modeling impact numerical/statistical data.

Many times calculations are being made and remade at the same time the presentation is being developed. This means that old data needs to backed out and replaced with the new data. Proofing for these types of errors/omissions/oversights is critical and sometimes difficult. Numbers that might be easily trackable on a chart may not be that easy to recognize in the text interpretation that accompanies the chart. Make sure that someone on the team is dedicated to proof for these issues.

  • Names of people and names of companies. Whenever individuals or companies are named in a presentation, be sure to honor them with an accurate spelling. Check individuals' names and companies' names in case studies being cited, sources, quotes, lists of individuals or companies, etc. You can be sure that there will be someone in the audience that knows the correct spelling. Sloppiness in this area detracts from the credibility that you're trying to establish.
  • Errors of omission. Proofing doesn't only happen at the end of the presentation-development process. Errors of omission happen early on and usually when one person is inputting the writings of another. It can also happen during a cut-and-paste editing session, however. Proofing to catch these errors is important. Caught too late can sometimes impact a deadline. It's time-consuming to go back and find the original or early drafts of a presentation for the omitted text. The best way to catch errors of omission is double proofing, although it seems to be a lost art these days. Double proofing is two people sitting down with production style sheets, style-authority references, the original first-draft hand-drawn or faxed presentation. One person reads to the other; and the corrections and marked, possible edits are discussed, and questions posed for the team to answer/clarify. Many initial drafts are composed on a computer, so it is assumed that double proofing is unnecessary. It is still useful and necessary in the correct circumstances.

Proofing grammar and punctuation

Select style-authority references and make them available to everyone contributing to the presentation. This is the quickest and most productive way to impose consistency in grammar and punctuation styles in any company's written materials. Business writing is different than other types of writing, so a set of business-specific references is needed. Do not run spell check and consider that to be proofing grammar and punctuation.

  • Dictionary: these three references do not contradict each other. Be sure that everyone is "drinking from the same well."
  • 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. link to Merriam-Webster online dictionary .
  • Business grammar style and usage: choose one the two below:
  • Business Grammar, Style & Usageby Alicia Abell. Very popular right now.
  • The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th Edition, by William A. Sabin.We like this one the best, and it syncs up well with the dictionaries listed above.

These references eliminate lengthy debates and settle contests of will on teams – where grammar and punctuation are concerned anyway.

Political proofing

It's always best to take the politics out of a presentation. Alphabetize lists of people or companies (when an associated numerical ranking is not a factor). No interpretations or inferences can be made on alphabetized lists.

Proofing for consistency

Consistency is one of the hallmarks of a professionally produced presentation. Consistency can be applied to many aspects of a presentation.

  • Consistent use of terms
  • Be sure that terms are used consistent throughout the presentation (good idea for the presenter as well). It is a kindness to the audience to use terms consistently. They appreciate it when they don't have to interpret a new term and decide whether it is another name for something else in the presentation or if they need to keep track of it mentally as something new.
  • First referencing is another way to be consistent with terminology. It's okay to use industry acronyms, but it is not okay to assume everyone in the audience knows what they mean. Use the full name the first time and then introduce the acronym. Use the acronym consistently from that point forward.
  • Layout proofing

Like charts should be presented in like manner. Similar concepts should be presented similarly. Develop small themes within the presentation so that a consistent look can be achieved.

  • Keep the standard fields on each slide uniform. All titles should be the same size font and in the same position on the slide. Try to use the same font size throughout. Place recurring fields in the same position on each slide. Be very regimented about this.
  • Balance the content on the slides in a similar fashion. Decide the boundaries for the content field and try to stay within those boundaries. Don't go to the edges of the slide if at all possible.
  • Format proofing

Just because you have a lot of formatting options available to you doesn't mean that you should use them all. Understated is usually a better bet than in-your-face formatting.

  • Alignments: be sure that all alignments are perfect. Aligned and consistently sized objects carry a subliminal message to the audience: "these objects are part of a group and on the same level of importance."
  • Styles: use gradients, 3D, shadows, and any other type of formatting styles consistently as part of an overall style for the template. This style should complement the template graphics.
  • Colors: color the content to match the template. Use colors as tools instead of distinguishers. For example, it's not necessary to have every slice of a pie chart a different color. Make them all the same color and reserve color in case you want to highlight a slice and add an extra level of information.
  • Photographs and clip art: blend them carefully. Many people think it's impossible to use both on the same page. It isn't. But do it thoughtfully and carefully. Proofing these means looking critically at the interplay.
  • Hierarchies: format the levels of text so that you convey main thoughts and supporting thoughts clearly. Format graphics in the same manner. Be aware as you are laying the content out how each object is relating to those around it. Proof these relationships.
  • Animations: animate to support your message, not to wake our audience up. If your audience is asleep, no amount of shocking animation is going to turn your presentation around. Use animation as a tool, much like you use color as a tool. Animations can control the attention of your audience as well as support the movement of the flows and builds on your pages.

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These are the basics. As you can see, proofing can add time to the production process, but it can also add value. On balance, the benefits of presenting an excellent presentation far outweigh the time that might be saved by trimming the proofing time.