Creating a Production Schedule
Just as you wouldn't plan a trip around the world without some sort of itinerary, you shouldn't plan a presentation without a production schedule. If there are several people involved in preparing the presentation, it's important to make sure that no one is left waiting for another person's input. A production schedule lets everyone know exactly what is expected of them and when their tasks should be completed.
Even if you're working alone, a simple production schedule will help you avoid procrastination and develop a work flow that will produce the best possible presentation.
Setting Up a Schedule
A production schedule can vary widely in complexity. For a small presentation, it may be just a series of checkpoints for accomplishing certain tasks during the preceding week. For a three-day conference involving many speakers, it can be like a battle plan for the production team, with overlapping deadlines and goals spanning several weeks before the final meeting.
A plain calendar page is the ideal tool for creating a production schedule. Mark sections for each of the tasks discussed in the following pages. In many cases, these sections will overlap, especially if the presentation will include several speakers. Mark deadlines (such as due dates for final script or imaging) in red to make them stand out.
Estimating production time is a skill which comes with practice, but you can protect yourself from serious scheduling problems by keeping these few things in mind:
- Be practical; set goals that are achievable.
- Always assume any task will take longer than planned.
- Treat all deadlines seriously; don't procrastinate.
- Remember Murphy's Law: If something can go wrong, it will.
Bottom-Up Production Scheduling
The moment a speaker steps up to the podium to begin giving a presentation, there's no longer any time for additions, changes, or repairs to the presentation materials. That date- -the day of the presentation- -becomes your final "drop-dead" deadline. By working from the bottom up, or backward from the presentation date, you can create a production schedule that will ensure that everything is finished by that day.
Figure 1.1 shows a typical production schedule for a presentation. The time estimates are for a presentation of consisting of from 20 to 100 slides. The actual time necessary for each task depends on your skill level and the amount of time that can be diverted from your regular duties. Remember, everything else in a company doesn't come to a halt just because there's a big presentation coming up.
Figure 1.1: A typical production schedule
Many of the tasks can overlap, making the actual production time much shorter than the sum of its parts. If necessary, you can compress your production time quite as bit if everybody does their part.
The following sections explain the stages of presentation production and how to schedule them, working backward from the presentation date.
Presentation Day Setup
The amount of time necessary for setting up the equipment for a presentation can vary widely. Determine when you can first get access to the room where you will be giving your presentation. In general, most presentations can be set up during the morning of the meeting. If you are just giving a short talk in a company conference room, there will actually be very little for you to do besides placing a slide tray on the projector and focusing.
A presentation involving many speakers, multiple projectors, and sound equipment may require considerably more setup time (up to two days).
Don't take chances in preparing the room or rooms for a large meeting. If you are unfamiliar with the complexities involved in such a project, consider using the services of a staging company that specializes in setting up large-scale presentations. You can usually find local staging companies listed in the business section of the phone book (the Yellow Pages) under Audio-Visual Equipment- -Renting & Leasing. If possible, contact a few of them for cost and time estimates.
Like anyone else who performs in front of an audience, a presentation speaker needs time to rehearse for the show. In your production schedule, allow a couple of days for the speaker to have a copy of the slides to use in practice sessions.
If you anticipate last-minute changes to a few slides, it may be worthwhile to go ahead and process all the slides so that the speaker can rehearse with them. Then you can redo just the slides that have changes and replace the incorrect slides before the presentation.
Production of Handouts and Other Materials
The length of time to be allotted to printing the audience handouts and other materials for the presentation depends on their content. If you are giving a short presentation consisting of mostly text slides to a small audience, materials preparation should not take more than a day.
On the other hand, printing large numbers of handouts containing complicated presentation graphics can take a lot of time (up to three days). Depending on your software, the complexity of your graphics, and the speed of your laser printer, it can take several hours to print just the master copies of the handouts for a 100-slide presentation. To this, add the time required for photocopying (or printing), collating, and binding the materials.
Final Imaging of Slides or Overhead Transparencies
Whether you are producing your slides on an in-house film recorder or using a service bureau, you must allow enough time for the final imaging, film processing, mounting, and tray placement of your slides.
Film recorder performance varies widely. Depending on the film recorder model, a single slide file can take from 2 to 20 minutes to image. It also takes time to process the film, mount the slides, and place the slides in trays. When you are producing many slides this way, the process can take up to two days. If you are using an in-house film recorder, check with the person who operates it for an estimate of imaging and finishing times for your project.
Most imaging service bureaus have a normal 24-hour turnaround for 35mm slides. (Large presentations of 100 or more slides may take longer to process.) If you are in a big hurry, they will usually be able deliver your slides in less than 24 hours, but be prepared to pay dearly. Many service bureaus charge up to a 200 percent premium for same-day service.
Revisions and Last-Minute Additions
It doesn't matter how much you prepare, or how many times you check and recheck your figures, there will always be last-minute changes to your presentation.
Since changes are unavoidable, plan for them in your production schedule. Allow a day or two for final revisions. You can't predict all the changes that will be necessary, but scheduling them will at least make room for more routine revisions and additions.
The best way to manage revisions is to save up as many changes as you can for a final revision cycle, rather than interrupting the work flow repeatedly for small changes. It is much easier to go back and make all the revisions to your entire presentation at once than to pick at it piecemeal. Postponing the final revisions allows several generations of changes to accumulate, and you will be able to revise each slide in a single session.
Slide or Overhead Transparency Design and Production
Most of your actual production time will be spent creating graphics for your slides or overhead transparencies. The length of time required to design and produce these items varies from one presentation to another. You may spend two hours creating the slides for one presentation and two weeks producing the ones for another presentation. A number of things can affect the production time of your project:
- Your skill and experience level
- The complexity of your graphics
- The speed and ease of use of your software
Make sure you've allowed enough space in your production schedule to do the job right the first time. Rushed production often leads to typographical and other errors. Blackie Davidman always used to say:
"There is never enough time to do a job right...
But always enough time to do a job over."
If you are not sure how much time to allow for slide production, time how long it takes you to create a few slides (simple and complex) and multiply that figure by the appropriate factor for your estimate. For example, if it takes you one hour to produce three slides in a twenty-slide presentation, allow at least seven hours (or a full day) to create all of them. Your ability to estimate production time will grow as you gain experience.
Presentation Design and Approval
Design revisions affect the entire presentation. Although you can deal with last-minute changes to particular slides, changing the basic design of a presentation toward the end of your schedule can be disastrous, especially in a large presentation. You can avoid such catastrophes by scheduling early design decisions and approval.
Take a couple of days to create a design for the format of your presentation, with several examples of text and chart slides as well as a color palette sample. Allow one day to have the color and format samples imaged on film. The processed samples will give you a true idea of how the final slides will look.
Have the people involved in the presentation review the design by viewing the projected imaged samples and get their approval before continuing. You will usually be designing the presentation and getting approvals during the same time the script and storyboard are being prepared.
Presentation Plan, Outline, Script, and Storyboard
The presentation plan and outline are the backbone of your presentation, so don't skimp on the time you spend working on them. The more complete they are, the faster the rest of your production will go. Take a day to develop the plan, and write as thorough an outline as possible.
With the help of a good outline, writing the first draft of your speech (the script) should take only a day or two. While you are writing the first draft, make notes on what sort of slides will be necessary to support your topics, using your outline for reference.
Spend one more day creating drafts of your slides, including sketches of any charts you may need. These should be rough drafts, without any embellishments. Include just the basic information you need to create the slides with your presentation graphics software. Some software packages, such as Aldus Persuasion and Micrografx Charisma, can generate the text for your slides directly from your outline.
If you already have a great deal of the information you need at hand, most of the research for the presentation can be completed in the course of developing an outline and script. For example, company financial, sales, and production data are usually readily accessible.
However, if extensive research is necessary, allow for it in your schedule. Also include some extra time in the slide-production phase for adding any new information that arrives later in the schedule.
First Production Meeting
If your presentation is a team effort, get the members of the team together for an initial production meeting as soon as a presentation date is decided. At this meeting, begin to establish the scope of the project by covering the following items:
- How long will the presentation be?
- How many slides will be needed?
- Where is the presentation to be given?
- Will any special equipment be needed?
If you do not have all the information you need to develop a complete schedule, do the best you can at the initial meeting. Make sure everyone on the presentation team gets the missing information as soon as possible.
Production Deadlines and Checkpoints
After you have determined a general timetable for your production schedule, mark specific dates for when tasks have to be completed. For example, set deadlines for the speaker to finish the outline and a nearly final script and for delivery of the final diskette(s) for imaging. Any time one person depends upon another person for information, set a date for when that information will be available.
No matter how well you plan your production schedule, a few delays are unavoidable. To compensate for the inevitable, build a "fudge factor" into the schedule. Add a day or half-day to make up for lost time due to missed deadlines, miscommunication, or outright disasters.
In the rush of creating a presentation, it's easy to lose track of your priorities. You can avoid confusion and conflict by frequently reminding yourself of what is most important.
In the early stages of production planning, concentrate on developing a final outline and storyboard. If these are complete and satisfactory, there will be less chance of drastic revisions in the overall presentation later in the production process.
When you're creating slides or overhead transparencies, keep the big picture in mind. Don't hold up production of the whole presentation just because you're missing a few numbers for a chart or graph. Get as much done on the slides as soon as possible. In most cases, you can set up charts or tables in advance, leaving blanks for missing data. You can also create text slides that are incomplete. It's easier to change words or numbers and add text than it is to create an entire slide at the last minute.
If you are working as part of a team, make prompt and accurate communication your top priority. Nothing disrupts the production process more than crossed signals between team members.
Give vendors, such as printers and imaging service bureaus, plenty of advance notice if you'll be bringing in a big job. By allowing the vendor to plan for your job, you will get better service. Also, you can avoid many last-minute problems by being familiar with your vendor's requirements for submitting work for printing or imaging.
Planning Multispeaker Presentations
One of the most challenging projects that you may face is the "big meeting," such as an annual stockholders meeting, a scientific conference, or a sales convention. Such meetings involve many people giving presentations over several days. Hundreds, even thousands, of slides may be required.
The Production Coordinator
If you are involved in a large project with several speakers and hundreds of slides, a good idea is to choose someone in your organization to act as a production coordinator. The production coordinator is the "Keeper of the Schedule," whose main job is to make sure everything gets done properly and on time, to prod the procrastinators, and to calm the frantic. The coordinator should also act as liaison to any outside vendors. Overall, the coordinator serves to simplify the communication process.
In practice, the production coordinator usually ends up being the same person who does the majority of the graphics design and production. If you are put in this situation, don't despair; just make it a point to delegate as much responsibility as you can to the speakers and anyone else you can recruit to help you out.
The Production Checklist
One way of organizing a complex presentation is to use a production checklist. Create a list of all the separate presentations in the meeting, along with checkboxes for the tasks necessary for completion. Figure 1.2 shows an example of a checklist for a multispeaker presentation.
Figure 1.2: Production checklist
As each script is finished, each group of slides is created, and each slide tray is loaded, check off the appropriate box on the checklist. This way, you can keep track of the various stages of the presentations. You will know who is lagging behind in providing a finished script and which presentations are ready for imaging.
The Real World:
Welcome to the real world, where production schedules fall apart, people procrastinate, and computers crash. Where even the best planning and intentions go awry under the pressure of tight deadlines and personality clashes. Where Murphy's Law is an understatement.
Monday, October 1, 1:00 pm: The place is Hypothetical International. In order to finance expansion into new areas of business outside our already diversified holdings, our management has decided to issue new stock in the company. To ensure a successful stock sale, our Chief Executive Officer (CEO), President, and Chief Financial Officer will be going on the road to talk to financial analysts, stockbrokers, institutional investors, and other interested parties about what a great investment Hypothetical is.
Five people are attending our first production meeting:
- George Spelvin, CEO
- Alan Smithee, President
- Victoria Regina, Chief Financial Officer
- Ellen Jackson, Office Services Manager
- Jim Gonzalez, Desktop Publishing Specialist
The goals of this first meeting are to get a grasp on the whole project and develop a few guidelines about production scheduling. George, Alan, and Victoria are the speakers. They will prepare the presentation plan and write their speeches with help from their assistants. Ellen will coordinate the project and act as liaison between speakers, in-house production people, and outside vendors. Jim is the artist who will design and create the slides and other presentation materials.
The total presentation will consist of four parts:
- Opening remarks by George Spelvin
- A general introduction to Hypothetical International by Alan Smithee
- Corporate financial information and details of the stock offering by Victoria Regina
- Closing remarks by George Spelvin
The total meeting time is going to be one hour, with about 35 to 40 minutes of presentation, plus a question-and-answer period. All of our speakers have a pretty good idea of what they want to say, and all of the speeches will be no more than 15 minutes.
There's not a lot of time for research, but fortunately, most of the information needed to create the presentations is already in the company's computer. There will be a few last-minute figures on the stock offering to be worked out, but the corporate financial information is ready.
Our preliminary estimate is a total of about 100 slides in the entire presentation. Except for Victoria's financial data, most of the information will be presented in simple text or graphic slides.
The first presentation is on Monday, October 15 at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, a prestigious investment banking firm. The speakers will be flying to New York on the previous Sunday afternoon.
Working backward from our speaker's flight time, the first target date on our schedule will be Friday, October 12, 5:00 pm. By then, all the speakers should have their final presentations in hand so that they can rehearse over the weekend.
The next target date will be Thursday, October 11, 12:00 pm. At that time, we will need to send the final imaging disks to our service bureau and the final handout copy to our in-house copy center for copying and binding. By setting a noon deadline, we give both ourselves and the service bureau some slack in case of last-minute changes or errors.
Based on Jim Gonzalez's previous experience, three days should be enough time to produce the slides, so we will set the deadline for slide copy from the speakers on Monday, October 8, 9:00 am. If there is enough to work on before that time, it will be given to Jim as soon as it becomes available. A final revision cycle will be done on Thursday morning, just before the disk goes to the service bureau.
While the speakers are working on the content of their presentations, Jim will be working on the design aspects. We'll set Thursday, October 4 as the date for completion of the design process. The first drafts of the speakers' scripts will also be due on that date.
For their own benefit, the speakers plan a meeting for the end of the day tomorrow (October 2) to go over their respective presentation plans and outlines.
It looks like a good production schedule. We've cut a few corners in the schedule to save time and we have almost two whole weekends to take up the slack if things go wrong. Unfortunately, there are a few tight spots that will give us trouble later on. And Murphy was an optimist...
Continued in Chapter 2!
Your first step to a successful presentation is to organize the production process, as follows:
- Create a production schedule working backwards from your meeting date.
- Set deadlines and checkpoints for all important production goals.
- Prioritize your production tasks so no one is delayed by missing information.
- For complex presentations, assign a person to coordinate production tasks and to act as liaison to outside vendors.
- Use a production checklist to keep track of production goals.