Efficient ways to create slideshows

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Why I know the reason but still can’t make a good slideshow?
How to balance design needs (audience’s perspective) and “design efficiency” (producer’s perspective)?
How can we improve the efficiency of slideshows besides improving the design ability?

We have clearly understood that the most important thing to get the “slide design” right is to put yourself in the “audience’s” shoes and think about how to design it to better convey the message. Theoretically, this is the best way to achieve the best results as long as your design thinking is correct.

However, when we go back to being speakers – or rather slide makers – and start to do slide design, we find that the reality is not so simple, but there are many limitations. I will simply divide them into two main categories.

Limitations in ability
Although we have a clear idea of what is a good slide design in general, it is still a rather abstract concept. In practice, if you don’t have design experience, lack the appropriate design skills, or are not familiar with the functions of the software, you still don’t know how to use PPT to make slides that conform to the “design thinking”, even though the concept is correct. This part of the limitation is exactly the problem that this column will solve for you. In the following chapters, I will bring you to understand what kind of “design thinking” you should have for each slide design scenario, and how to make use of PPT’s software functions to implement “design thinking” into the production of slides.

Time constraints
In an ideal situation, we can make more designs for slides that fit the memory model to improve the efficiency of understanding and stimulate emotional resonance; however, in reality, our time is quite limited. Even if you have the right design direction and are very familiar with the software and various design techniques, you will have to spend a lot of time to make a better design. This is a very impractical thing for people in the workplace. So, in the face of time cost constraints, we need to make the appropriate trade-offs.

The so-called “trade-off” does not mean that we don’t do design if we have little time, but rather “how much time to do how much design”. This is actually very similar to the concept of “minimum viable product” in the marketing field, and we can use this concept to think about the whole slide production process.

First, let’s briefly introduce what is “minimum viable product (MVP)”. It refers to the simplest product that can satisfy the core needs of the target users in the process of new product development. It has three characteristics.

Completely tailored to the needs of the target user
The simplest and least costly form
Imperfect and requires constant iteration

The most common illustration of this concept is the example of building a car at the bottom. The core demand is “travel for transportation”, at this point we need to do, not like the first half of the painting, starting from building wheels to slowly build a car; but first make a skateboard that can get around, and then slowly iterate out of the bicycle, motorcycle, car.

Now, let’s apply this concept back to the production of slides, you will find that “target users” are the “audience”, “needs” are the “information” in the slides, and “products” are the “presentation” composed of slides. What we should do is not to make the best design for each page of the slides (build a car); instead, we should return to the theme of expression (user needs) and make a presentation (slide) that can fully convey the message first, and then do further optimization and iteration according to our ability and time. This is the most feasible “efficiency thinking” in practice from the perspective of slide makers.

In fact, the most common presentation scenarios we encounter are not so much about the design of the slides, but about making a simple and focused PPT in a short period of time, in which case we only need to master the basic software operations and follow the three guiding principles of “design thinking” as much as possible in the general direction of slide design, which is quite enough.

Therefore, what we want to do next is to take into account the audience-oriented “design thinking” and the “efficiency thinking” of the slideshow maker, and propose a set of methodology as a guide for slideshow design, which is the next three stages of “slideshow design” to be shared.

The Three Stages of Slide Design
Before we start talking about the three phases, let’s review the three guiding principles of slide design.

Establishing a “logical framework”: Start by establishing a complete “logical framework”, condensing as much information as possible into three to four modules.
Create a “visual hierarchy”: Create “front-attention features” for visual elements (color change, enlargement, boldness, even animation, etc.) to achieve an instantly recognizable effect.
Use “image elements”: Use visual information such as “image elements” as much as possible to accelerate the audience’s understanding, trigger empathy, and even prompt action.

With these three principles in mind, let’s move on to a question: what are the starting point and the end point in the process of creating a slideshow?

The starting point is of course the “information” itself, which is generally abstract “verbal information”, such as spoken words or plain text descriptions; while the ending point is the slides presented by the “visual information” after the “information” has been processed (designed). As for how far you can influence the audience in the final presentation, it depends on how far you can go to the end (how much design you have done).

From the introduction of the memory model in the previous article, we can see that the more graphic and even empathy-inducing the design is, the more it can invoke the long-term memory area, which in turn deepens the memory and motivates action. Therefore, we can consider the “design level” of slides as a spectrum from “verbal information” to “visual information”. The higher the proportion of initial information such as text, the faster it is done and the lower the degree of design, and the more time it takes for the audience to understand it; conversely, the more images, the more time it takes to do it and the higher the degree of design, but it is the most intuitive, emotional, and impressive for the audience.

With the starting point, the end point, and the changes in the process, we can roughly launch how to advance the process of “slide design” step by step. To facilitate your understanding, I will first directly divide the whole process into three major stages: structured, pictorial, and scenario-based.

Stage 1: Structuring
At the beginning, we only have “linguistic information” such as spoken words or plain text. According to “Principle 1: Establishing a logical framework”, we need to sort out these “linguistic information” first, so that they have a “logical framework” that is easy to understand and remember. You can use sticky notes to arrange the information or draw a mind map according to your personal habits. After sorting into categories, according to the logical relationship of the content, in the horizontal structure, use the “rule of 3” to summarize the key points at the same level to help the audience remember; in the vertical structure, distinguish the core topics, first level headings, second level headings and content descriptions to make a logical tree diagram with well-defined levels.

However, trying to present a large amount of content information to the audience, it is obviously not enough to only create a logical framework, because there is no focus on it visually. This is where we need to use “Principle 2: Create Visual Hierarchy”. The way to do this is very simple, that is, to do layout for the content in the slide, using visual forms to distinguish the logical hierarchy, for example: change the color of headings, subheadings, enlarge, bold to layer, or underline the key words, key paragraphs and other text to emphasize, in order to guide the audience’s line of sight.

At this point, we have completed the “minimal viable product” for the presentation. There is no need to spend time looking for diagrams, no need to do much design, just sort out the information, do a good layout, and you are done quickly. Although there is still a lot of text in the slides, they are at least easy to read and relatively well understood.

Stage 2: Visualization
After “structuring”, we have sorted out the “logical framework” and captured the key information in the text content. How to improve it further? As mentioned above, we gradually convert the “verbal information” into “visual information”, that is, “Principle 3: Use of image elements”. It is simple to find out the key information or keywords after “structuring”, and then replace them with appropriate image elements according to the type of information. For example, in the case of the two major branches of economics above, we can omit a lot of text to become an oral presentation, and find suitable illustrations to replace the descriptions in it, which not only makes the content more concise and easy to understand, but also makes the design more beautiful.

It is important to note here that “replacing image elements” is not arbitrary, but “based on the type of information”. In the field of product design, there is a saying that “Form follows function”, and this is also true for slideshow design. Therefore, when we want to show a specific thing or scene, we should use “pictures”; when we want to present data, we should use “charts”; and when we want to illustrate a logical relationship or abstract concept, obviously the first two are not appropriate, but should use “shapes” and “icons” to match. We will elaborate on this part later when we introduce the chapter of “Image Elements”.

Stage 3: Scenario-based
After “picturization”, we have made the content information concrete as images. However, the images in this stage still follow the typographic logic of text, but with a more intuitive replacement. The “scene-based” stage, on the other hand, is to turn the image into the main, so that all the image elements, further blend into a complete “scene”, so that the text content relegated to the picture of the auxiliary instructions. For example, the picture below is a design we did for TalkingData Data Intelligence Summit. We directly used a street map as the “scene”, and then arranged the text into the street as an auxiliary description, so that the text information and the scene map can be integrated to create a “sense of scene”.

So what should we do? On the one hand, we have to improve our “aesthetics” on a daily basis, read more excellent graphic design works, learn how designers handle image elements, and think about how to apply them to slide design; on the other hand, we can start from the technology, learn to build scenes with pictures or videos, use PPT’s own animation or even 3D function to simulate dynamic or display objects, etc.

After completing this stage, the slides convey more than just “information”, but also “atmosphere” and “emotion”. By shaping the scene, the speaker can better “tell the story with pictures” and complete a brilliant and impressive presentation.

Tips to improve the efficiency of slideshow production
The above “Three Stages of Slide Design” is a methodology that can be followed in the general direction of slide design to address the problem of “limited time”. However, if you have a lot of content to deal with, you may not even be able to do the “structuring” stage properly. Therefore, we also need to develop efficient software operation habits in the daily production of slides, in order to help you save more time, so that you can have more room for good “slide design”.

So, what are the techniques that can significantly improve the efficiency of slideshow production? The more scenario-specific features, such as layout alignment, theme setting, slide mastering, etc., will be explained in subsequent chapters in the context of Design Thinking. Here we will mainly mention two features that can help you save a lot of tedious operations: Quick Access Toolbar and Shortcut Keys.

“Using the “Quick Access Toolbar
What is the “Quick Access Toolbar”? Simply put, it is a toolbar that allows you to put frequently used functions into the same toolbar. Once you set it up, you can improve the efficiency of your PPT operations once and for all.

When you open PPT and see the top left corner, the default functions are “Save”, “Undo Typing”, “Repeat Typing” and “Start from the beginning”, which is the initial “Quick Access Toolbar” of PPT. Our next task is to put all the most frequently used functions into this toolbar.

How do I add a frequently used feature to the Quick Access Toolbar? Simply move your mouse over the feature you want to add and click “Right click – Add to Quick Access Toolbar” to add the feature to the Quick Access Toolbar.

However, when you add more and more functions, you will find a whole column of tools crammed at the top of the PPT, and you have to move your mouse to the top to switch to find them, which is not convenient. At this point, you can pull the inverted triangle menu “Customize Quick Access Toolbar” on the far right of the Quick Access Toolbar and find “Show below ribbon” at the bottom, and move this whole column of tools to the bottom of the ribbon. This way, the functions you’ve added can be displayed in a full row, and you can shorten the distance you have to move your mouse to click on them.

In addition, in the “Customize Quick Access Toolbar”, you can click “Other Commands” to further adjust or export this toolbar. In this screen, you can adjust the order of each function in the toolbar, and add or remove functions against the ribbon on the left.

What you need to do here is to categorize each function as well as possible and put functions of the same category together, e.g. text box and modify text formatting category, align and evenly split functions put in the same category …… etc. This will avoid the inconvenience of using the toolbar due to its confusing ordering.

After setting up the Quick Access Toolbar, you can export your own Quick Access Toolbar to a custom file in “Other Commands – Import/Export”. This allows you to import this file directly when you use PPT on another computer without having to set up the Quick Access Toolbar again.

Here is a brief summary of the key points for setting up the Quick Access Toolbar.

Add the most frequently used functions
Adjust the display to the bottom of the ribbon
Place similar functions in close proximity to each other

The use of “Shortcut Keys
We all know that in the process of doing PPT, there are many frequently used but trivial operations, such as: copy and paste, change the color and bold of the text, enlarge the picture in equal proportion …… etc. If we only rely on the mouse to click back and forth, it will often take a lot of time. But if we know which shortcut key to use when operating the mouse, we can complete the original three or four steps to achieve the effect in one step.

Speaking of shortcuts, you must have seen a lot on the Internet, a direct list of a bunch of shortcuts table. However, this kind of list looks rich, but there is nothing practical. Few people will really follow the table to practice and remember, and there is no need to remember so many tedious shortcut keys in practice. Therefore, I mainly introduce, mostly with the mouse can be completed with the operation, relatively good to start, respectively: Ctrl, Shift and F4.



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