A Better Conversation With Your Presentation Designer

For robust project kickoff meetings, I provide here my list of questions and initial concept development exercises that I like to discuss with clients at the start of any new presentation project. A comprehensive intake process is critical for developing a design brief and scope of services tailored for a client's particular situation.

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A holistic approach

I always like to think broadly at the project kickoff phase. Why has the client called in a presentation designer? What is the client’s communication challenge? What will be the scope of services? What are the project deliverables?

During this initial scoping, I try to think through the various stages of the presentation design life cycle, from concept development to speaker coaching to live support at the event. We might build workstreams around each of these stages into the project management timeline:

Concept development

brainstorming
card sorting
whiteboarding

Design and production

slide deck and supplemental materials
brand considerations
templates
exhibits, props, images, icons, infographics, maps

Delivery

speaker coaching
rehearsal
media training
ready room

Event support

event production
coordination with IT
equipment leasing

Initial concept development

The message

What is the presentation topic?

What is the main idea or big idea? All aspects of the presentation need to support this main idea.

Initial concept development exercise: What is the working title of the presentation?

The call to action ("CTA")

Is there a CTA? What action would the client like the audience to take as a result of the presentation? It's usually a good idea to write out the CTA at the outset of the project and return to it frequently. 

As an initial concept development stage, I might ask for a 30-second “elevator speech” and listen for a clear CTA. If I cannot identify a clear CTA from the elevator speech I try to explore this further with the client. 

Who is the audience? Who is the target?

What defines the audience as a group — profession, education, age, etc.? What are their distinguishing features?

How many people will view the presentation? Will there be one person in the audience? Will it be open to the public?

Will it be live broadcast? Will it be recorded and viewed by additional people at a later date and time?

Is there a specific target person or group in the audience the presenter is trying to reach? Is there more than one target?

How familiar is the target already with the topic and background? What is their current state? What challenge do they face? On what journey does the presenter want to take them? How does the presenter want them to transform as a result of the presentation?

Persona concept development exercise: imagine an audience "persona" — a fictional person who is representative of the target audience around whom to design the presentation experience.

Consider third-party stakeholders, if any. Is there a group that the presentation impacts for better or worse? Some sensitivities of which to be aware?

The presentation experience

At what event will the presentation be delivered?

Has the event been specifically set up to address the presentation topic? Is it part of a series of regularly scheduled or recurring events? Is it part of a larger event, like a convention or trade show? Is it a breakout session?

What is the venue?

Where will the event be held? What is the location? Will it be at the client location or off-site?

Will it be in a conference room? A courtroom? Ballroom? Will it be delivered from a lectern? A table?

Will there be a designated question and answer period?

Timing

When is the presentation? What is the date and time that it will be delivered? Have the date and time been set yet?

How long will the presentation be? How much time has been allotted to the presentation?

How many slides? Is there a required limit or range?

What are the chances time gets cut (to, say, 15 minutes, 5 minutes, or 30 seconds)? Best practice is to prepare for cases where time gets cut.

The presenter(s)

Who is the main presenter?

Will there be more than one person speaking at the event?

Exercise: identify everyone from the client who will be speaking at the event. Client might not be 100%-decided yet who the speakers will be at the time of the project kickoff meeting, and speaker roles may need to be further developed.

Concept development exercise: the byline. Will a name appear on a byline? Whose name would go on the byline on the title slide if it is chosen to be included? What is the name and title of that person as they would like it to appear?

Check-in on the presenters

How do the presenters feel about presenting? What is their presentation skill level? Knowledge of the material? Mental state — are they excited? nervous? Sometimes speakers are anxious about public speaking, and the presentation designer might be able to help with the jitters. 

To do: Keep in mind rehearsals and other speaker prep for project timeline. To what extent will the presentation designer support rehearsals? Do the presenters need or want speaker coaching or media training?

Does the presenter like to use PowerPoint’s Notes feature? Will the presenter want to view notes on a separate screen in Presenter view? How about paper note cards?

Visual expression

Does the client want a particular style, say, an infographic style or specific illustration style? Would it be helpful if the client sees moodboards of various styles? Does the client have its own ideas for designs of specific slides? Sometimes I’ll ask the client to hand sketch a specific idea they have in mind with a Sharpie.

Brand implementation

I like to ask about the client’s brand and guidelines, and design consistent with the brand identity. What is the client's brand strategy? How does the client want the market to think and feel about its brand? Understanding the client's brand strategy can help inform the visual language and the voice and tone of a presentation. Clients invest a lot of time and money in their brand identity, and in practice business development teams might not always be aware that there might already be established brand guidelines, templates, and other resources. 

Assets to request from the client

Client’s "style guide" for its brand identity that defines:

  • color palettes
  • primary, secondary/accent, grays
  • logo and usage rules
  • fonts/typefaces
  • visual language
  • image treatments
  • icons
  • layouts/grids

Any presentation guidelines that describe layouts, treatments for images, graphs and tables, animations, footers, animations, multi-media/video, etc.

Templates or theme files

Potentially, headshots, bios, and contact information of the presenters, if needed

Icon, image, and video libraries, including subscriptions and licenses

Logo files — I like to ask for high quality vector files and high-resolution images where available.

For inspiration, I like to ask for any current or recent pitch decks, and any other material that the client likes for reference in the design — a website, annual report, print catalog, newsletter, or other print or digital art work.

Technology

What slideware is used within the client organization? PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, Prezi? something else? Which version of slideware is used by each of the users? Is everyone on the team using the same subscription-based software that automatically updates to the same version?

What is the level of software proficiency of the users?

Does the client expect to be able to edit the file after I return it to them? Will they know how?

What are the types of computers and tablets of each person who will open/edit/view the file — PC, Mac, both?

It's also a good idea to start thinking about contingencies in case something goes wrong. For instance, what happens if the presentation computer fails during the presentation or gets left in a taxi on the way to the event? Does the client have a plan B?

What type of IT support will be present during the event?

What technology and equipment will be used at the event? Will IT personnel be on-site for support? 

Will sound equipment be used? Will the presenter have a microphone and a PA system, and if so, who is coordinating?

Typefaces

Once the typefaces have been chosen, are they installed on users’ computers? Are the fonts recognized “safe fonts”? Does the client use custom fonts?

Are the fonts that will be used in the presentation document installed on all users' computers (as well as the computer which will be showing the on-screen presentation)?

Might have to plan on getting the right fonts installed, sometimes in collaboration with the IT department, or plan some other workaround.

Print or on-screen

Will the presentation slides will be printed, shown on-screen, or both? Has a particular presentation format been pre-determined? Aside from print and on-screen, formats, it is always helpful to consider alternative presentation formats. Sometimes a presentation is better as a conversation. In those cases, a deck can get in the way. Are there opportunities to break from the typical presentation experience? A flip board, a prop? Or nothing at all?

Supplemental materials, and a caveat

What supplemental materials does the client plan on providing to the audience, if any?

  • pre-reads
  • leave-behinds
  • micro-site
  • other collateral

Sometimes clients plan on printing the on-screen presentation as a leave-behind for clients to reference later. Other times, the client is creating a long-form report in a slide show format that they are planning on stepping through with their client page-by-page. Neither of these approaches are usually right.

In these cases, the client expects a single document to do double-duty, first as a visual channel for a live experience that client is narrating, and second, as a stand-alone presentation that can be referred to by the audience outside of the presentation setting. These are different functions that are better handled using separate documents with separate approaches.

Consider the client's strategic design needs

It might be helpful to look beyond the current project at the calendar for the next year, and mark all important meetings, conferences, trade shows, product launches, and other events, anywhere a presentation might be given.

Are there work streams and efficiencies we can tie into the current project?

Could the project be leveraged for later presentations?

Does the client already have a working presentation template and presentation guidelines that meets its needs?

Would the client like to revise or update its existing template?

Does personnel use best practices for efficiency and impact?

Does the client offer internal training in public speaking, presentation design, and working with presentation software? Would it like to build an internal training schedule?