Please reconsider requiring your speakers to use slide templates. Really. Pretty please?
We absolutely understand that you believe this practice will convey a certain amount of consistency with the event branding. But you’ve already got that with your site, your signage, your print materials, your badges, your squishy stress balls and your conference pens. The presentation template isn’t a good place to emphasize this. Here’s why.
If you want a great presentation from a presenter, you’re not going to get it from a template.
This is a generalization I’m sure, but I have yet to see a slide template provided by an event that doesn’t look clunky and cumbersome. Some are full-on amateurish because, well, they’re designed by the marketing intern. Not designers, not even experienced presenters.
Plus, they’ve got to be universally compatible, which means graphic based, which means you don’t want them to be too big or hard to work around, which limits both the space you have to work with and the elegance you can achieve.
I recognize that not everyone is a stellar presentation designer, and you’re concerned that your speakers might bring slides that don’t look polished. But templates don’t solve that problem. What they do is provide a standard format for mediocre design and content.
Really great presentations are more visual than anything else. A template strips all of the creativity and individuality out of a presentation and distracts from outstanding visuals and design. If the problem is that your presenters can’t build a slide deck that isn’t jammed with bullet points and bad clip art, your template isn’t going to fix that, it’s only going to make it worse while they work to shoehorn their bullet points and bad clip art in less space or with a different font and your logo in the footer.
Moreover, some of us who present professionally often actually invest a significant amount of money (like thousands of dollars for each presentation) in having some presentations professionally designed because we want to deliver the very best for your audiences. We’re the minority, I understand that. But when it does happen, please don’t make us take that investment and stick it in a stock template that everyone else is using.
Templates are, well, templates.
If you insist on a template for your event’s presentations, every single presentation in every single room of your conference is going to look and feel the same at the most fundamental level. The result is that at the very start, your attendees are going to zone out on the visuals in front of them, whether they enhance the topic or not.
Let the speakers and their content stand out — for better or worse. You’re trying to create a dynamic conference with diverse content that appeals to a wide range of people.
You’ve worked so hard and spent so much effort to create a great agenda with speakers and topics that you’re confident will deliver value to your audience. It’s really hard to build and emphasize that dynamic by insisting that all presentations look like clones of one another.
Templates can be an aid, but shouldn’t be a requirement.
If you have presenters who aren’t confident in their presentation design or are less experienced at building a presentation for an event like yours, providing them with an optional template to use or some guidelines to follow can be a great way to support them and help take some of the stress out of building their slide decks.
But “optional” is the operative word.
You aren’t going to weed out bad design, weak content, or sales-heavy presentations with a slide template. Those are human problems that are driven by the speaker, not problems with the tools or the delivery mechanisms. And those weaknesses are a very real risk of putting on an event. If you don’t have confidence in the speakers or their material, you have a talent problem on your hands, not a materials problem.
Unfortunately for all of us who have run an event or participated in one at any time at all, you realize that you simply can’t use process and procedure to prevent poor performance. It just doesn’t work.
How To Help Instead
If you really want to help your speakers create better looking decks, offer time from your more seasoned event staff for even five minutes of feedback on your speakers’ presentations in the week or two before the conference to help them improve it. Make it optional (no professional likes to feel undermined).
If your event is of the scale where that’s just not feasible or reasonable, post some guidelines on a speakers-only page for your event, or embed some examples of presentations you love from Slideshare with a few points about what you love (the images, the layout, the style and voice). Include links to some great presentation resources like slide:ology or Presentation Zen.
If your presenters have cash to invest in making their visuals outstanding, send them to professionals like Ethos3 (disclosure: they’ve designed a few of my presentations, I love them, they’ve given me discounts, and I will use them again even if I pay full price).
Trust Your Speakers
I love speaking at events. It’s one of the most rewarding and interesting parts of my work, especially when you look out into a room and see people smiling, furiously taking notes, asking great questions, and you watch the lightbulbs go on while people get new ideas or see concepts in a new way. It’s exhilarating.
People like me put a great deal of effort into pulling together a presentation that doesn’t need a template to resonate with the audience. If you bring aboard speakers that are invested in their topic, invested in teaching your audience and devoted to making their sessions awesome, your brand and your event will be elevated over and over again by having them there.
Trust me when I tell you that no one attending an awesome session will forget what event they’re attending, and they have plenty of reminders around them to make subtle and continued impressions of your brand. Great presenters make it obvious that you, the event organizer, care greatly about leaving your attendees with valuable information and ideas that they can chew on and implement for months afterward.
And I promise, when that happens, no one will miss the template.