Chapter 5:
Organizing Presentation Production

Starting Small

Planning Your Presentation Design

Organizing Slide Types and Revisions

Dealing With Mistakes

The Real World: Last-Minute Madness


Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Chapter 5:
Organizing Presentation Production

Efficient management of the presentation production process will improve your chances for success. This chapter describes how to avoid crises by organizing the production of the slides. It offers suggestions for streamlining the production process and eliminating confusion and bottlenecks.

Starting Small

Recently, a large advertising firm bought a Macintosh system and software for creating in-house slide presentations. But before the computer was barely warm, management decided to do a very important product-introduction show with more than 200 slides. The outcome was almost a foregone conclusion. The production staff - without any experience in using the new software or in handling a large presentation - was overwhelmed.

As the meeting date got closer and closer, there were massive color changes, revisions, additions, and deletions to the presentation. In the process, the 200 slides were sent to the service bureau three separate times for imaging on a rush basis. By the time the presenters took the stage, nobody was happy with the final product, and the slides actually cost more than if they had been produced by an outside vendor.

You can't learn everything about producing an effective presentation from a book. Hands-on experience is the best teacher. So before you dive into a big show, try your hand at creating a small, 10 to 20 slide presentation. Go through the whole process from scheduling to final slide output and learn by doing.

Practically speaking, everybody's first desktop presentation experience is a trial by fire. Creating a presentation is a complex process which few people get right the first time. If your first attempt is not successful, don't give up. With experience, you will soon develop a method of presentation planning and design that is right for you and your organization.

Planning Your Presentation Design

The overall design of a presentation provides a context for the information you include in it, but the design itself also conveys information. The colors you choose, the typefaces you use, and the layout of the graphics in a presentation say a lot about who you are and what you represent. It's important that your design be appropriate for your speaker, your company, and your message.

Once the presentation's design is established, you create the actual slides by applying the rules and guidelines you have set for the design. Since many of your design and layout decisions are made beforehand, the actual slide-production process will go smoothly and quickly.

Create a Consistent Design

The first task in creating the slides for a presentation is to create a format to serve as a backdrop and style guide for the slides. Take the time to develop styles for the entire presentation, not just your background and title. If you are including charts and graphs in your show, plan how they will be treated (Colors, two-dimensional or three-dimensional, with or without grids, and so on). Devise treatments for photo inserts and other illustrations in the presentation. There will always be slides that don't fit your predetermined formats, but you will save a lot of time in the final production process by deciding in advance how the most common slide types will be designed.

Create examples using your software, and then save them to disk. When you need to create a slide that is similar to one of your examples, open the file and make the necessary changes. Then save it as a new file, without overwriting your original. The original file examples are your templates, or the patterns for your actual slides.

Some presentation programs, such as Aldus Persuasion and Harvard Graphics 3.0, supply predefined format masters and templates, as illustrated in Figure 5.1. You can modify these templates or design your own templates for different types of slides. To create your slides, you simply enter the actual text or data. Using a standard format for the presentation allows you to maintain consistency and shorten your production time.

Figure 5.1: Presentation program format master and templates

Image Sample Slides

Changes in the basic format of a presentation after all the slides are completed can be difficult and time-consuming. To avoid last-minute format revisions, make sure that everyone involved has a chance to review and approve the design before proceeding with actual slide production.

To get a true representation of what your final presentation will look like, have a few samples imaged as slides or overhead transparencies before deciding on your final design. Depending on your computer and software, what looks good on your screen may be totally unacceptable when imaged on film. Try to include all of the fonts and colors used in your design in the samples.

Another advantage of processing sample slides is that it gives the service bureau an idea of what to expect when you are ready for final slide production. The service bureau will be able to spot potential problems with your files, such as missing fonts, file format incompatibilities, tight framing, or graphics and text overlapping slide margins.

When you get your imaged format samples back, have all the people who are involved in the presentation take a look at them. If they are satisfied, have them approve the design as formally as necessary. If the design is not satisfactory, you can revise it without a large investment of time and money.

When the presentation is a team effort, the design and approval process should take place at the same time as the speakers are preparing their outlines and scripts. By working in parallel, the design process can be finished just about the time the speakers are ready to submit storyboards containing the content of their slides. If you are working alone, don't put off getting your samples imaged; last-minute problems are harder to solve when you're on your own.

Organizing Slide Types and Revisions

As you learned in the first few chapters, organization is the key to streamlining the creation of a presentation. By organizing the order in which slides are created, you can speed up the production process, as well as help maintain consistency. By organizing your revision schedule, you can group changes into a single session.

Grouping Your Slides by Type

After spending valuable time planning the most effective order for your thoughts and arguments, it may seem counterproductive to reorder them when it comes time to produce your slides. But you will be able to create slides more efficiently if you create all the text slides at the same time, then all the charts, then all tables, and so on. By grouping your slide production by type, you can develop a "fast track," which will enable you to make design decisions more quickly and maintain design consistency among similar slides.

If you are using DOS-based programs, such as Applause II and Lotus Freelance Graphics, which save each slide as a separate graphics file, it doesn't matter which slide you create first. Simply sort your storyboard by slide type before beginning. If you are using a Microsoft Windows or Macintosh presentation graphics package, such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Aldus Persuasion, you will probably want all your slides in the same presentation file. In this case, create each different type of slide and then use the program's slide-sorting features to arrange the slides in the final presentation order before saving the file.

Organizing Your Revision Cycles

Change is inevitable. No matter how many times a presentation is reviewed, revised, and rewritten before the slides are created, changes will still be required throughout the production process.

A guaranteed way to lose your sanity is to attempt to keep up with small, piecemeal revisions to a presentation while you're still in the process of creating new slides. A constant flow of small changes is distracting and will often lead to other errors.

To eliminate piecemeal changes, set aside a block of time near the end of your production schedule devoted to corrections and revisions. Delay making changes until your scheduled time. The result will be fewer overall revisions, because a speaker will often change the wording or the figures in his slides several times before the final version. If you postpone making corrections until the end of the review process, you will avoid the intermediate revisions and go directly to the final round of changes to the slides.

Dealing with Mistakes

The easiest way to avoid last-minute panic attacks is to remember that the slides and handouts you are preparing are only an enhancement to the speech. With careful proofing, any major errors in your slides will be caught in the course of review and revisions.

The simpler and more direct the information in your slide, the less likely it is an error will go undetected before final imaging. However, it's not the end of the world if there is a typographical error on a slide. Minor errors are often overlooked when projected. The only "unforgivable" sin is spelling a person's or company's name incorrectly.

If some small errors sneak through the proofing process, you can usually handle them with some well-chosen words during the course of the presentation. You can correct an incorrect figure in a chart or table verbally. A humorous remark can often relieve any embarrassment caused by an error in a slide. If you mention it first, the audience will be on your side.

Slides with errors that are seriously misleading or unacceptable should be eliminated from the presentation. It's better to talk without slide support than to have your slides contradict what you're saying.

The Real World:
Last-Minute Madness

Thursday, October 11, 10:00 am: The article in the Wall Street Journal shocked the members of the presentation team. Billie Bob Boone, the infamous corporate takeover specialist, had purchased five percent of Hypothetical International's stock. A hurried series of phone calls and faxes from Hypothetical's management confirmed the stock purchase, but no one could discover from Boone's office whether further purchases were planned. Though very suspicious of Boone's plans, George and Alan, under advice from their investment bankers, decide to go through with the new stock issue.

11:00 am: Billie Bob Boone's stock purchase has caused a lot of commotion among the stockbrokers and analysts. To head off any wild rumors, Hypothetical has its Public Relations department issue a press release about Boone's purchase, and George decides to rewrite the second speech of his presentation to address this issue and engage in a little damage control. In addition, Victoria will have to revise a slide that shows the distribution of Hypothetical stock.

Most of George's original speech is a summary of the stock offering and a bit of salesmanship. He decides that none of it will have to be discarded. However, he needs to add a short section about the Billie Bob Boone stock purchase and how it will affect Hypothetical.

Victoria's revision is routine; a simple change in a pie chart reflecting the distribution of stock.

12:30 pm: Jim Gonzalez has been working furiously to finish the last revisions on the rest of the presentation slides, and he will fit in Victoria's pie chart revision. According to the production schedule, diskettes were due by noon today at the service bureau for imaging. Jim and Ellen decide to send the first three presentations to the service bureau and warn the service bureau staff that a fourth presentation will be sent tomorrow for rush processing.

2:00 pm: To put the best possible light on the situation, George decides to downplay the potential effects. He is going to emphasize the fact that Boone's purchase is quite small compared with the combined resources of the current board. He will also point out that Hypothetical has none of the problems associated with most of Boone's takeover targets. He prepares a quick outline, and it appears there will be about eight new slides in the final presentation.

It will take a while to track down some of the figures he needs. George sets the Research department (his secretary, Ruth) to work, and then starts working on his speech and some rough sketches for his slides.

5:00 pm: Unfortunately, some figures for the new slides are still unavailable. But to get things rolling, George sits down with Jim and Ellen to go over the last few slides in the presentation. Jim will create the slides this evening, leaving empty places for the missing information. When the information is available in the morning, Jim will just plug in the missing figures.

7:15 pm: Jim prints proof copies of George's additional slides (minus a few figures) and leaves them on the chairman's desk for approval.

Friday, October 12, 10:00 am: With the financial data he needs finally available, George marks up the proofs of his new slides, filling in the gaps. He sends the copies to Jim, who makes the final changes, prints new proofs, and has them approved by George.

11:30 am: A diskette containing George's final presentation, ready for imaging, is sent by messenger to the service bureau. Ellen alerts the service bureau that the final disk is on the way and that they would like the final slides back by 5:00 pm.

1:00 pm: The slides for the first three presentations arrive from the service bureau. Ellen and Jim, using storyboards as a guide, place the slides in trays for projection and deliver them to George, Alan, and Victoria. The speakers review their slides in a conference room and begin rehearsing their speeches.

5:00 pm: The final slides arrive from the service bureau. Due to the last-minute changes, there isn't a final outline or storyboard for George's second presentation. Ellen delivers the slides to George with an empty slide tray so he can put them in order for his speech.


Creating effective presentation graphics is a skill learned through experience and practice. Here are some guidelines for avoiding disaster:

  • Do some small slide projects before tackling a major presentation.
  • Don't design just a pretty background. Develop a comprehensive design that anticipates many of the types of slides in your presentation.
  • Save design examples to disk and use them as templates to create your final slides.
  • Use computerized templates (sometimes called style sheets or masters) if your presentation software offers them.
  • Have format samples imaged and approved before proceeding with final slide production. Organize your production by slide type.
  • Avoid piecemeal revisions to slides; try to schedule changes so they can be done all at once.
  • Don't panic. Small errors in your slides will often be overlooked by the audience, or they can be corrected verbally by the speaker.
  • Have a strategy prepared for dealing with last-minute changes.