Events: Stop asking speakers to use your brain-dead PowerPoint template

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?

13 responses to “Events: Stop asking speakers to use your brain-dead PowerPoint template

  1. “Most speakers’ slides don’t make much sense without the speech.” Agreed. In fact, the best speeches can’t be reassembled from the slides. If they could be, you’d just stand there and let the audience read each slide in succession. (Hint: not a good speech-making technique.)

  2. Totally agree. They can brand the cover slide so it’s obvious it fits into the conference. Half the time the templates are not true templates and whoever designed it has no idea how to create one. That leads to a lot of fun.

  3. As a former conference producer charged with vetting speaker proposals/presentations, I have to agree with your points. I always thought this policy should be more flexible and audience-driven.

  4. Agree! As you’ve stated, the provided templates are often terrible in general. It’s not just that they don’t align well with a specific presentation, they’re often just bad. I especially “like” when they provide both rules and a template and the template doesn’t match their own rules.

  5. I write it in my agreement that I will be using my own slides. The ONLY compromise to that is their title slide. Period. I look at slides as the visual emotional representation of what I’m saying. Templates rarely ever convey emotion.

  6. Let’s say that I have to submit my slides ahead of time to use the conference’s computer. Nothing makes me more nervous before speaking than hearing the words “We made a few changes to your slides.”

    In my experience, few conference organizers appreciate how much effort true professionals put into their slides. I’m talking about animations, notes, timing, figures, etc. They don’t know what they don’t know.

    I’ll send this post next time I have to deal with this noise.

    Thanks for writing this one, Josh.

  7. As with the previous comments, this is a real pain almost every time I speak. I do the same. I put the their title slide ahead of mine and sometimes put a conference closing slide that includes some stuff like rating the session and hashtags for the conference. I actually want that branded as a conference slide, not mine.

    To be further annoying, these “professionally designed” templates often chew up lots of the real estate on the slide making almost impossible to transfer my content anyway. I believe this nonsense started back when powerpoint was a new thing and it may have added a little professionalism to at least the look of presentations – maybe. Regardless, it’s counter productive and annoying now.

  8. I’ve been on both sides of this – as a speaker and a content coordinator for events. Our events run really tightly, and on a small budget. We avoid awkward transitions between speakers by pulling everything together into one deck. That’s our main reason for requesting a template. We also engage speakers who often aren’t speaking pros – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used my own presentation skills to reshape a speaker’s slides from a million bullet points to a simple image (I always review these with the speaker and give them the option of reverting back to their slides). I’ve often seen slides I created for them used in future presentations! That said, if a speaker pushes back on the template, or on any suggested changes, we gracefully accede. The speaker has to be comfortable with what they’re presenting.

  9. Josh, I’m trying to remember an article that has engender so many responses so quickly! We presenters, speakers, and conference operators are a passionate bunch. I too, like the many above could write an essay on this topic from each perspective. Ultimately, there is no longer any reason (technically, or otherwise) to require templates, nor (I’m sorry, Liz) running all session presentations into a single deck. That has to be one of the biggest causes of concern where presentations come in all shapes and forms – particularly aspect ratios…

    Submit presentations prior for checking. If you’re on a budget, check it on the show machine so that you know it works. Most conferences of any scale have speaker prep so they can be delivered on the day (not optimal…) checked, amended, then embargoed and sent to the room.

    I would highly recommend engaging with The Presentation Guild (https://presentationguild.org/) and what I think is the greatest conference on presenting and presentations: The Presentation Summit (https://www.betterpresenting.com/summit/). I have no commercial interest in either. Have attended the Summit on multiple occasions and you will not find a more dedicated bunch of presentation professionals anywhere. Seriously. Apologies, Josh, if shameless (impartial) plugs are a no no, here.

  10. As the host of the Presentation Summit, our template does have an integrated color scheme, our layouts are thoughtfully crafted, our typefaces sensibly chosen, and animations and transitions smartly integrated.

    And yet…we make nobody use it…

  11. Actually, most of the times those templates are “brain dead” simply because aren’t “professionally designed”!
    They are usually designed by regular (printing) graphic designers who don’t have the slightest clue of what “Presentation Design” means – or even of its existence – a professional area where Communication Designers specialized in building visuals for presentations know how to cover the countless variables suitable for a Presentation Template.
    Even so – other than in some corporate cases, and reluctantly – I surely won’t vote for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.