Whether you have to design a presentation for a client or for yourself, you should answer seven questions that will help you determine what kind of presentation is needed (or even if a presentation is the best choice).
1. What is it about?
Obviously, the most important question in a presentation is: What kind of information does it contain? What message do we want to convey?
In the same way that different products need different packaging, different content needs different design. Does the presentation contain a dissertation, a report, a tutorial, a corporate presentation or a personal story? Is the information based on data or images?
If it contains numbers and formula, we will probably have to use graphs and maybe an infographic would be better than a presentation. If it’s a dissertation, it should be more sober. Tutorials could use screenshots and diagrams. If we use images, a video could be more interesting…
2. Who is our target audience?
You are not the hero who will save the audience; the presentation audience is your hero – Nancy Duarte
A message (and a presentation) must be adapted to the audience’s profile. We cannot explain the same content in the same way to different people. Or wouldn’t we adapt the tale of Snow White depending on the age and the cultural background of those who are listening? The more adapted our presentation, the likelier the emotional connection.
Then, ask this question: Who is our audience? Are they customers, workmates, students or participants attending a congress? Do we need to explain who we are (our company, our product) or we can go straight to the point?
We should also know the level of “expertise” of our audience. Can they easily understand the content of our presentation? Do we share a common background? Depending on the answer we may need to explain in more detail the information or, on the contrary, we could show directly the main points.
3. How much time do we have?
Do we have fifteen minutes, one hour or unlimited time to convey our message? Time limits determine the amount of information that can be explained, and also the number of slides (is it necessary to design a presentation for a 5 minutes speech?).
Depending on time we may need to leave out the irrelevant details. But don’t worry, because if there’s time for questions we could use it to explain them.
4. How our presentation will be projected?
The medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan
Because the medium influences how the message is perceived, presentations should be “responsive” to get the most of each medium. Will the presentation be displayed in a small or big screen, an iPad or maybe a website?
Devices and displays influence the readability (font size, colors, contrast), the actions that can be added (links and transitions) or the aspect ratio of the slides (4:3 or 16:9). Besides, we should also bear in mind that presentations don’t usually look as on our computer’s screen when they are projected or printed.
Our presentation is intended to be read instead of projected? Sometimes, presentations are distributed during a meeting or published on a website. In these cases, we can add extra information on each slide or the web page because it’s easier to read.
5. What resources are available?
I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen an embarrassed (and irritated) speaker who discovers that the font of her presentation has changed, charts moved, videos don’t work and the Internet connection doesn’t allow using links.
When it comes to design a presentation, one of my golden rules is being prepared to the worst. If we don’t have control over the conditions where our presentation will be displayed, it’s better to save it as a PDF file and avoid links, videos and animations.
However, if it’s possible, we should try to know if there’s a good Internet connection, if the device accepts videos and sound, if we can use our own computer and if we have to use PowerPoint®, Keynote® or PDF.
6. Who is the presenter?
Presentations aren’t always used by a single speaker. Many presentations are a marketing tool used by a diverse group of people. This is the case, for instance, of corporate presentations, which can be used by the CEO in a conference, the commercial agent to sell a service or by any other member of the team.
In these cases, we must bear in mind that not everybody who uses this presentation shares the same knowledge. Therefore, it cannot be designed as a tailor-made presentation, but a one-size-fits-all one.
7. In which context will it be presented?
One of the biggest mistakes of presentations is not taking into account the context in which they are going to be used. Haven’t you ever seen a presentation that didn’t have a bearing on the main theme of the conference? Generally, the focus of this kind of presentations is oneself and they usually become a hell for the audience. We should avoid this.
Is our presentation intended to be shown in a conference, a classroom, before a board of examiners, while visiting a potential customer or on a blog post? Depending on the context, we may need to learn more about the main theme of the conference, the syllabus of the school and the sector of our customer, thus transforming our message to be relevant.