Like many of you reading this, I speak at events. Whether the invitation is paid or free, it always comes with a request to put my PowerPoint presentation into a template supplied by the event.
Why? Why is this still a thing?
A public speaker has a fixed number of hours to prepare for the event. She can use some of those hours to consider the idea, others to thread together a story, others to create visuals that make that story come alive, and finally, some hours to hone the presentation to make it fantastic. And, if you insist, she can spend some time adjusting her slides to fit your template. Those last hours don’t benefit the audience at all — they’re just waste, and they take away from the power of the speech.
So let’s take this apart. What are the reasons that events do this, and why are they all stupid?
Our template is beautiful.
Actually, no. Your template sucks.
Honestly. You asked some designer to spend a few hours on it. The first slide — the title slide — is indeed beautifully designed and evocative of your conference.
But your designer didn’t think enough about where different kinds of content go on slides with bullets, slides with graphics, slides with charts, and so on. They didn’t think about which fonts work best in all those different formats. And of course, they didn’t carefully design a color palette that makes text, tables, graphics, heads, and subheads look good for each speaker’s particular needs.
As soon as we start to use your template, we start cursing like sailors. It fights us. This is not how you really want us to spend our time.
We want all the presentations to go together visually.
Why? Why is this important? We’re not decorating a house here.
Given the choice, do you want your speakers to reflect their own unique personalities, or yours? Don’t you think your audience would enjoy the talks more if the speakers get to do things the way that fits them best?
I know the speakers from your own organization are using your template. Good for them. Do you want them to look the same as the outside speakers? For lord’s sake, why?
If it’s really about the “look,” why don’t you make all the speakers wear the same suit? Maybe bright green, with a yellow tie? That would look awesome in group photos.
When people download the slides after the event, we want to make it clear what event they came from.
First off, this “download the slides after the event” concept is generally pretty silly. Most speakers’ slides don’t make much sense without the speech. But sure, there is an occasional slide in there with a diagram on it or a list of things to do that’s useful after the talk is done.
And you know what? That slide, if it gets reused, is going to promote the speaker, not the event. No one looks at the event slide pasted into some corporate presentation and says, “Oh, that’s from Bloofumpoo World, I have to go to that awesome conference.”
If you want the first slide to tell you what event it’s from, that makes sense. The rest of the slides, not so much.
We want you to create original content.
Really? You think forcing content into a template will force us to make it original?
That’s pretty condescending. And it doesn’t work.
This isn’t the first speech we’ve given on this topic, or the first time we ever assembled a lot of these slides. That’s why you hired us — because we’re experts that people have heard about before.
Here’s how most speakers work: We have a bunch of go-to slides. We use them all the time. We are always rearranging them and adding to them.
We assemble them with some new material for your request and we give the talk.
Those slides are in our format — whatever template we usually use.
If you actually insist on putting the slides into your template, we’ll ask some entry level staffer to force the slides from our template into yours. The results will be awful. Because we put the title at the top and you put it at the left. Or we use red and blue charts and your template is in rust and chartreuse. Or any of a number of other casual incompatibilities that you never thought of.
Now the slides will look like crap and won’t work well. The speaker won’t be happy. Neither will the audience. Do you really think that’s better?
Our slides obey effective design principles.
What, you mean like not using small type on slides? Trust me, if your speaker wants to make an ugly slide, your “design principles” are not going to stop him.
And your design principles only work if we adjust, not just the main text and colors on the slide, but the text and colors in the graphics to your design. We don’t have time to do that. So the “design principles” you imagine that you are enforcing are just going smash into the principles we used when creating our graphics. The resulting mish-mosh won’t obey any design principles at all.
We want our copyright and hashtag on each slide.
Ummm . . . you want to assert copyright over over the content we created? Not happening, bub. It belongs to the speaker, not to you.
As for the hashtag — you mean the one that’s on the conference brochure. And the app? And that huge banner at the front of the stage? And that your emcee mentioned twelve times already? You need us to put it on the slides, too, in case somebody didn’t notice it? Sheesh. Is this a conference for people with Alzheimer’s?
These days, half the slides are graphics or videos from edge to edge anyway. Where are the hashtags supposed to go on those?
We want to help novice speakers.
So you’re inconveniencing expert speakers to benefit novice speakers? Seems like your priorities are off.
Novice speakers can usually get help from their companies. Or maybe you could point them to some resources for good PowerPoint templates.
Those templates are probably better designed than yours, anyway.
We want to make sure the fonts work.
This is, indeed, a worthwhile goal. I’ve seen lots of presentations where the fonts are missing from the presentation machine (typically, at the back of the room). This can make things look ugly.
The easy way to fix this is to allow the presenter to use her own machine. That even allows the presenter to use slide programs like Prezi or Keynote of Google Slides instead of PowerPoint.
Sometimes, though, that’s not possible — you may have an elaborate presentation setup backstage. In those cases, you can ask the presenter to embed the fonts in the slides.
Or, you can insist on a limited set of fonts. That’s what INBOUND does, for example, and they reject your slides if you deviate from that. That’s less than ideal, but it’s better than forcing a foreign template on the speaker just to solve a font problem.
OK, we give up. What should we do?
Simple. Provide a single title slide template. We’ll put the title slide on the front of our presentation and do the rest the way we like.
And I’ll tell you a secret. Every event I’ve spoken at in the past five years, this is what I do anyway. And the event people never complain. It’s fine with you.
So why not admit it instead of making a brain-dead PowerPoint template that none of us will be using anyway?