Get better and quicker at powerpoint
October 15, 2020 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm on a project where we do basically 50-75% of Powerpoint. We are not moving away from this. I'm extremely slow and super frustrated with putting my ideas on Powerpoint slides where it's taken me two weeks to do something that should take me 3 days if I just had to type it in a bunch of e-mails. I'm so behind and have so much writer's block. Help me get over this! What are your ways of thinking about building decks and diagrams? Tips like start in word and copy in. Etc
posted by sandmanwv to Technology (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Note: these are not the traditional build PPT and present, these are powerpoints as deliverables (if you work in IT you may know what I'm talking about).
posted by sandmanwv at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2020

Best answer: Can you tell us a bit more about what part of PowerPoint is holding you back? Is it the idea of splitting things up into separate slides? Or the editing tools? Or something else?

I work with IT and think I know the type of files you're talking about and at this point, have used them so much, I now basically *think* in PowerPoint. Not a good way to think, necessarily...but useful! With the caveat that I'm fairly sure ppt isn't the best tool for this (or anything), it's something that my group generally keeps going back to even though we've tried to move on..

Before getting any more details, my basic two pieces of advice:
1 - think of the slides as an outline structure and use the slides as an organizing tool for your thoughts.
2 - start adding content first, without worrying about diagrams and graphics. I've heard this as writing advice as well: do a sh*tty first draft and then you have something to reorganize and edit! Especially because these aren't really presentations, there's less of a need to figure out every single visual at first. I think trying to do so will grind things to a halt before you give yourself a chance to get started.

Since you mention emails, think of an email you'd send and write it up, even as an email if that's easiest for you. Then just dump all of that text into a slide. If there's more than one topic, take the different sections and make a separate slide for each.

If you have an idea of the content breadth beforehand, you could also start by making a general outline on the first slide and then create one slide per major idea. Depending on how much content you have, you can add some text on that slide to start or turn it into a title slide and start adding your sub-points below it as separate slides. PowerPoint allows you to group slides together, so you can use that to collapse some slides together as a single section on the right-hand panel. The TOC will help you organize your thoughts and can be left for the final version for the consumer.

I basically keep going like that, digging deeper into each section. Often, I'll find that I start typing ideas on a topic and realize I can group some like items together and split out that slide content into multiples. Again, basically just like any document structure, but using the slides to represent one of the outline levels. At this point, I'm still not necessarily thinking about graphics or formatting, just getting all of the information in and organizing my thoughts.

Often I'll find instances where I'm writing something out in bullet points and I realize it should really be a diagram or table so I'll create that externally. Most recently, I'll create diagrams or wireframes in LucidChart and either provide that as a separate package or export them as pictures and add them directly to the slides. If these don't pop up naturally, I would comb through the slides and think about each of the pieces to see if there's a better way to present that information. Or if a graphical element could added to help explain the text and eliminate misunderstandings.

Honestly though because this is a deliverable, some slides will truly just be text. I've also found that these types of files get forwarded to others, so it's helpful to have all the important information written out vs. a real presentation where you would have a great visual and the important information would be spoken.

Feel free to memail me to talk in more detail. I apparently have a lot of thoughts on this?!
posted by moogs at 2:17 PM on October 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

I used to work somewhere that did stuff this (no more than 10 slides for a Board paper). You do get used to it, the trick is to outline or scaffold what you need to convey and then split it into slides. Don't think of it as writing anything with complete sentences. Once you've decided what's going on each slide you can finesse the content - is it better conveyed with a table, chart, graphic, image... Or just plain text.
posted by plonkee at 3:01 PM on October 15, 2020

I like to write an outline and then supplement that outline by building a deck around it with pictures and diagrams to support my narrative. So maybe that will come naturally to you and you can embrace that approach too.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:24 PM on October 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you might want want to investigate "outline view" further.

Powerpoint templates (perhaps your company has one) can help prevent going down the formatting rabbit hole.

I would also try searching youtube or (perhaps you have access through your library) for various tutorials. Sometimes it can be helpful to watch how people do things especially if one is not super familiar with the latest features of powerpoint.
posted by oceano at 6:15 PM on October 15, 2020

I, too, have to use slide decks most of the time when I'd prefer two paragraphs and maybe a chart, so I feel you. Here's what's helped me get faster and better at them--to the point where colleagues often borrow my slide templates.

And that's the first thing: Build a template! It might take you some time to hone what template works, but it's so worth it to just have a ready-made thing to copy and plug stuff into. You can start by looking at what your most effective colleagues do, what deliverables have gotten the most praise or engagement. I have two for different types of reports, and a very different one for recommendations/proposals.

When I'm building a new one, I start building what I call a skeleton deck: I create blank slides that are literally titled things like the following, to give myself an outline to work within:

Basic intro
Key takeaway
What happened
Why that was a problem (impact data goes here)
Here's how I propose we do better

Then I just plug stuff in, often starting with EVERYTHING that fits those slides and whittling it down. I generally prefer to do this instead of starting in a doc, because it holds me to the format, and I might stray too far from it and have to do too much rework if I start in a doc. But you can start in a doc if it's more helpful for you. I do sometimes start in a doc if I'm working with a lot of material I need to whittle down.

If you're adding/editing slides in a deck someone else created, you can use the same technique, just for your own slides.

A few other tips:
* If this is intended to be a read-only deliverable, ignore most advice you'll read online about how to create effective presentation decks. You're not creating a presentation deck, you're creating a document that your company prefers to have in slide deck format. So stuff like "No more than 10 words per slide" or "Use punchy images on each slide" or whatever will not apply.
* Don't waste time on bells and whistles like transitions and fade-ins, they don't work well with read-only decks and even for presentations the impact isn't worth the time to learn them, fiddle with them, and fix them when they break at your next edit
* If you're sharing ideas/recommendations, anticipate the most likely follow-up questions and answer them in the deck.
* You should never leave your audience to draw their own conclusions from what you've shared, but it's especially important here. Literally tell them in words what you want them to know, think, or do.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:00 PM on October 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

For most decks, I actually write out a version with a sharpie and a stack of printer paper. The sharpie forces you into a shitty first draft, and getting the concepts nailed before you do detail work will save you a lot of time.
posted by amoeba at 10:12 PM on October 18, 2020

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