The Inside Story of how a 700 Page PowerPoint Presentation was completely redesigned in 3 marathon days for a large healthcare company meeting.
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."
I have a hard time saying "No".
Always the optimist. Always the affirmative attitude. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" is my mantra.
So when the phone call came in on Wednesday morning from a harried physician in New York needing a PowerPoint redesign for a medical conference he was organizing in partnership with a large pharmaceutical company, "Yes!" was my automatic reply. "Of course we can do it!"
AN EASY PROJECT...UNTIL THE DETAILS EMERGED
At first it seemed like a slam-dunk project. Simply insert the client's logo on each of the 10 separate PowerPoint presentations submitted by the doctors and health care experts speaking at the conference. In my mind, it would only take a few hours to get the presentations cleaned up, and integrate the logos onto each presentation's slide master.
"When do you need this?" I casually asked.
"Our conference starts Monday; and we need to have it to the printer by Saturday," was Dr. Paul's blunt reply. "And we need all the slides to have the same look and feel with a new template," he added.
"Oh." After several seconds of awkward silence I replied, "That changes things a bit."
As Doctor Paul apologized to me for waiting to the last moment- thinking his team could handle the design- I opened three of the presentations he had emailed. They were hideous. Crazy graphics. Animations from hell. And each presentation had its own tragic look and feel. Was it too late to say no? Yes!
ONE PRESENTATION WAS BIG ENOUGH....BUT TEN?!
Transforming just one of these presentations would be a big task. But Ten?!
With the clock ticking down to their deadline, there was little time for negotiation. I needed the work, and wanted their business. And, most importantly, I knew I could do it. "Yes!"
With only 30 hours of available development time for one person (me!), I estimated the price at $3,000. They agreed, and we had a deal. Yes!
I made a few conciliatory phone calls to my other clients, asking for their blessing for me to change my deliverable date for their presentations. And then I took a deep breath, and enjoyed my last full hearty meal for the next three days.
A VERY LATE NIGHT
The presentation transformation began at 9pm ET on Wednesday evening, as I politely locked myself in my home office and warned my partner, "It's going to be a late night. Sleep well."
I initiated a GoToMeeting.com web conference with the client to discuss the three presentation template options I had drafted earlier in the day.
"Let's go with Option 3. It's the cleanest and most corporate-looking," he decreed. I agreed. Yes!
PRE-DESIGNED TEMPLATES MODIFIED IN PHOTOSHOP FOR A CUSTOMIZED LOOK
The template was based on a background image from the late great Digital Juice's Presenter's Toolkit and some elements from Presentation Pro's collection of 20,000 templates and presentation images. Pre-designed templates are an efficient and professional source for great presentation images.
In Adobe Photoshop, I worked to modify the background into a light grey-scale theme with blue horizontal bars for title text. Many of the original presentations featured light text against a dark background. HCN's new unified presentation template/theme featured dark text set against a light grey background. Studies show that many presenters prefer a lighter background, promoting their connection with the audience, and aiding the audience to take notes or see their PDAs.
WORKING TOGETHER ONLINE LATE INTO THE NIGHT
Dr. Paul and I worked online collaboratively for nearly 90 minutes to refine the templates and discuss the presentations. I set up a Dropbox and we reviewed the other seven speakers' presentations. And when we hung up at 11pm, I was just getting started.
I set a "hard stop" time for 2am, and over the next three hours I worked with focused precision to refine the template and transfer the old presentations into the new template. My new template included several page layouts, as I created an"intelligent design" featuring pre-defined line spacing, placement for graphics and standard dissolve transitions.
By saving the template as "HCS-Template.potx" allowed me to start a brand new PowerPoint file with same template. I worked to import my slides from the existing presentation into the brand new file (New Slide..Reuse Slide...Insert Slide From...(with Keep Source Formatting un-checked)).
ONE SLIDE EVERY 30 SECONDS
By 1am- just one hour later- all ten presentations were in the new template, each saved its own folder with a logical file naming standard. But a new template can only go far in making ugly slides look better. The hard work was just beginning. Aiming to transform one slide one slide every 30 seconds, I was moving like a courtroom stenographer. Control-C. Control-V (Copy / Paste). Drag and Drop. Right-click...Reset Slide. Zoom Zoom!
When 2am arrived, I was on fire. Unstopable. I could have continued designing until dawn! The presentations were on their way to a magical transformation. But they were hardly in any organized style.
But I needed to settle down and get to bed. So I started wrapping up for the night by uploading two of the presentations for Dr. Paul to review in the morning. I took a Melatonin (herbal relaxer) pill and prepared for dreamland.
DELERIOUS DREAMS OF BULLET POINTS
Just as the ten medical presentations were in a state of organized chaos, so was my mind. I tossed and turned in my bed throughout the night, my mantra of "Yes!" overwhelming my mind, supplemented by abstract dreams of bullet points, templates and text blocks. Madness. Another melatonin at 4am. And then sunrise.
My Thursday workday started at 7am with a quickly consumed breakfast of waffles and a banana, followed by a rapid walk around the block. I called my client at 7:30am, and again at 8. I needed Dr. Paul's feedback!! Were we on the right track? Is everything okay?
I showered, said a quick "Hi! Bye!" to my partner, and locked myself in the home office for another day of heavy lifting. Dr. Paul finally re-emerged at 10am, pleased with my overnight progress.
After a few edits to some of the presentations (Dr. Paul was also a speaker with an updated presentation), Day Two of the 700-page presentation renaissance officially began. We agreed to not revise any content or radically change any of the speakers' slides...the new look and feel was shocking enough.
REPETITIOUS AND RAPID. CLEAN BUT HARDLY CREATIVE.
The tasks were repetitive and minimally creative. I moved quickly but with a focused precision to ensure accuracy and quality. Among the ugliest slides were the photos of the nuclear-colored bar graphs. I opted to recreate the charts with a simplicity and cleanliness. Where possible, and when time permitted, I updated or recreated many of the graphics. And for the text heavy slides, PowerPoint's Smart-Art feature provided an organized look. The text layout was aided by PowerPoint's "Autofit...shrink text on overflow" which prevented the text from overflowing (at the expense of consistency in size)
Like a drone, I was frenzied and focused, forgetting lunch, and swallowing a slice of pizza for dinner as I continued the ritual. Edit, Review, Email, Text, Talk, Design, Revise.
By 11pm, I felt we were close to the finish line. Dr. Paul and I connected and shared a final review for the day, and I uploaded all ten presentations for him to review overnight. My sleep that evening was easier and relaxed. 15 hours of relentless but satisfying work.
DAYBREAK BRINGS CALMNESS AND CLOSURE
At daybreak, I awoke and enjoyed a more leisurely neighborhood walk, and fulfilling breakfast. Around 10am, Dr. Paul called. You could sense the stress in his voice, overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the convention.
"These look great, Kevin," he said. "But we still have more work to do."
And so I spent Friday tweaking and refining the presentations and collaborating with Dr. Paul to add more sizzle and shine to his keynote talk.
By Friday evening, the total project time stood at 27 hours, and we were nearly complete. I enjoyed a fine meal at a restaurant with my partner and enjoyed a satisfied sleep.
COASTING TO THE FINISH LINE...ON TIME AND WITHIN BUDGET
Saturday morning, a frantic call from Dr. Paul at Staples, where he was printing the presentations- but a design issues was conflicting with the printing of the handouts. A quick-fix and the problem was solved. Several additional tweaks and edits, and by noon, everyone was happy and the ten HCS presentations were on the press.
As the speakers assembled for Monday's presentation, they all praised Paul for the facelift and enhancement he provided to all the presentations. The two day conference was a success, with speakers empowering health care providers with valuable information supported by world class visuals. And this last-minute presentation makeover will have long-lasting major impact locally...and around the world. Yes we can!
Kevin Lerner is a presentation consultant and expert on presentation design and delivery. His firm, The Presentation Team, has helped hundreds of companies and individuals to create world-class presentations.