Presentation Zen: What is Good Presentation Design?

From the Presentation Zen blog by Garr Reynolds. Visit the Presentation Zen store on Amazon.

Context Matters

As far as design is concerned, it is useful not to think in terms of right or wrong, but rather in terms of what is appropriate or inappropriate. That is, is it appropriate or inappropriate for a particular context? Good and Bad are indeed terms we use when talking about design — including PowerPoint/Keynote slides — but I’m personally cautious of this kind of thinking, especially when judging a design without its full context available. So much depends on how the visual is placed within the context of the presentation, and the content and objectives of that particular presentation are of paramount concern. Without a good knowledge of the place and circumstance, and the content and context of a presentation, it is impossible to say this is appropriate and that is inappropriate.

Simple But Not Simplistic

If there is one important precept worth following, it is the idea of simplicity. The best visuals are often ones designed with an eye toward simplicity. Yet, this says nothing about the specifics of a visual presentation. That will depend on the content and context. For example, even the best visuals used in support of a presentation for one audience on, say, quantum mechanics may appear complicated and confusing to a different audience.

Simplicity is often used as a means to greater clarity. However, simplicity can also be viewed as a consequence. A consequence, that is, of our careful efforts to craft a story and create supporting visuals that focus on our audience’s needs in a clear and meaningful way. Ok, simplicity is great you say, but how simple? What is the formula for simplicity? If you can’t give me concrete examples, you might say, at least give me a formula for making powerful, simple visuals. But do static formulas for achieving simplicity exist?

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You’re 50+ and Looking For a Job. Now What??

This post was written for our partners at iRelaunch, a career reentry consulting, training, and events company focused on bringing professionals back into the workforce after an extended leave.

The job search process is one of the more daunting experiences most of us will have in our careers. It can become even more challenging when you have entered 50+ territory. While age discrimination is illegal under the ADEA act of 1967, that does not mean it does not exist, whether real or perceived. According to an analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute in March 2020, job seekers 55+ spent 19.4% longer looking for work compared to all adults. This COVID world will likely add yet another layer of complexity and uncertainty.

Whether you looking to re-enter the job market after several years (or more), have recently chosen to travel down a different career path or have had that decision made for you, finding a new employment can be downright overwhelming. As a mature, experienced job seeker, you have much to offer. You strongly believe there’s no replacement for experience. Presumptions aside, it remains critically important to present your best, most marketable self. Here are some useful ideas to think about.

  • Know Your Audience – If you are interviewing with someone who is younger than you, don’t push too hard on your years of experience. They already know all about having read your resume. The risk is it could make the hiring manager feel as if you are gunning for their job. In such circumstances, the last thing they will do is bring you into the fold. Instead…
  • Consider The Consigliere Role – Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) provided sound advice and counsel to Don Corleone in The Godfather. He was highly valued and secure in his position. You can parlay this type of role in a similar manner. Let the hiring manager know you are there to support her/him. Their success is your success. This might not be how you’ve defined yourself in the past, but it could be the ticket to your future.
  • Be Prepared to Manage A Smaller (Or No) Team – Many experienced execs have managed teams of various sizes. Sometimes this might have been a very large team and included people who would take care of projects like building PowerPoint presentations and crunching numbers in Excel. The current (and likely) future reality is most companies are running extremely lean and overhead costs are more scrutinized than ever. Going forward, you may have direct ownership of tasks that historically would have been the purview of others. Alternately…
  • Upskill Your Hard Skills, Especially Tech – Age bias towards mature job seekers often comes in the form of perceived lack of comfort with technology. This is the polar opposite of younger team members who are digital natives. BE PREPARED. Ensure you have practical, functional skills necessary for the position. It does not mean you have to re-invent yourself into a tech guru. Rather, demonstrate you (1) keep up with industry-specific software, (2) understand the role social media plays for your company (as well as the competition) and most importantly, (3) ensure you have the critical computer skills to get the job done. This means having a solid grasp on processes that have been automated since you were last working in this space. 

While the corporate world has changed, it has not changed that much. At a baseline level, most companies on the Forbes Global 2000 likely still use Microsoft Office. That means you want to be comfortable with Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint. 

You likely know how to use Word and Outlook. Do you know Excel and PPT or are you still “faking it until you make it?” At a minimum, you should be able to:

  • Enter data into a spreadsheet
  • Use and modify basic formulas
  • Create simple tables and charts
  • Understand what a pivot table does

  • Create and delete PPT slides
  • Modify slides to fit your specific objectives.
  • Work with data to create simple tables and charts
  • Manage a deck to suit your presentation style (animations, timing, etc.).

This is not intended as a complete list. There are many other elements of Excel and PPT that will enhance your productivity. However, this starting point should give you something to consider and (if needed) seek out training like what is offered by My Software Tutor. At the end of the day, the more complete your skills package is, the greater likelihood you will reach your career objectives.

The PowerPoint Origin Story

History of PowerPoint

Development

The development of the software that would later become PowerPoint began in 1984. The project was led by Robert Gaskins at a Silicon Valley startup called Forethought. The original product description was called “Presentation Graphics for Overhead Projection.” Development focused on the Mac platform.

However, the team needed additional money to further fund development. This became the first investment for Apple’s venture fund called the Strategic Investment Group. Then Apple CEO John Skully reportedly said “We see desktop presentation as potentially a bigger market for Apple than desktop publishing.”

The intention was to launch the product under the name Presenter. However, that name was not available. They considered “SlideMaker” and “OverheadMaker.” According to Gaskins, he randomly came up with the term “powerpoint” in the shower. While not anyone’s first choice, his colleague Glenn Hobin had coincidentally seen an airport sign with the words “POWER POINT”). Fate directed them to keep the name. It was changed to a single word with an upper-case P to be consistent with the Mac software naming convention.

Launch

PowerPoint was introduced in April 1987 exclusively for Mac computers. Concurrently, Microsoft had initiated an internal project to create presentation software. They contemplated an acquisition to speed up the process. When the idea of the Forethought purchase was brought to Bill Gates, he responded “No, no, no, no, no, that’s just a feature of Microsoft Word, just put it into Word.”

To his credit, Gates listened to the team. Based on an initial 10,000 unit sales success, Microsoft purchased the company three months later (July 1987) for $14M. This marked Microsoft’s first significant acquisition. Within two years, it was integrated into the Office suite (1989 for Mac, 1990 for Windows) and the rest is history.

Over the past few decades, PowerPoint’s market share has been as high as 95%. While Apple’s Keynote and Google Slides have chipped away at PowerPoint’s market dominance. it is believed more than 35 million PPT presentations are still made every day by an estimated 500 million users worldwide.