You've already dropped $50,000 to develop a good Web site, and many times more than that to design marketing materials that reflect your company's identity. Your star salesperson is now standing in front of a senior executive who has eluded him for years. He quickly sets up the laptop and projector, takes aim and floods the room with ... shoddy, amateurish images that look more tossed together than the salad at lunch. The executive's first impression: If this company puts the same amount of effort into its products as it does its sales presentations, I don't want any part of it.
Too many businesses take just such an ad hoc approach to creating sales presentations, using text styles, graphics and images that have little or nothing to do with the carefully crafted corporate identity of the company for which they are working. Fortunately, even if you're rushed for time, it's not tremendously difficult to create materials that reflect a consistently professional and unique corporate identity. The key is using a well-designed template. From that, everything else flows much more smoothly. How do you craft a template that will create a strong first impression every time? Read on.
Your template should reflect who you are
The first thing to do when creating a template is go directly to the marketing department and find out what graphical elements, approved colors and logos the company is already using to create its identity. You don't have a marketing department, much less an identity? Then now is the right time to create one.
To fashion a unique look for your template, we'll start with scanned images (bitmaps) placed on a color background. The more traditional approach is to create shapes and color gradations in the background master with your application's drawing tools, but the hard edges associated with vector-based drawing tools make it difficult to capture fluid images.
Identify a limited number of photographic images and color options you feel communicate the essence of your company. Start with original art or electronic files whenever possible. The use of paint packages such as Adobe Photoshop will enable you to create subtle, photo-realistic background treatments from your scanned images. These in turn will help convey who your company is and what it does.
Tip: Photo-realistic background elements should be subtle enough that the audience's eyes are not drawn to the image/design elements. The trick is to create impressions without creating a distraction.
If you're developing a template for an electronic presentation, be sure to design it for the target aspect ratio/resolution of your laptop or projector (e.g., 800 x 600). Don't plan on crunching or stretching an image to fit once it's in PowerPoint. Not only will you see a noticeable degradation and distortion of the image, the file size will not get any smaller even though you've reduced its size. As an alternative to the full-size bitmap background, try creating a partial bitmap image that occupies a strip up the left or right side of the background. Blend one edge in Photoshop to a digital color (RGB value) that you can re-create with your PowerPoint background color. Now you've crafted a nice soft edge that transitions both backgrounds (bitmap image with PowerPoint background) and you've managed to reduce the file size by 60 to 70 percent.
Some decisions need to be made before bringing that bitmap image back to PowerPoint. For instance, how many colors should your bitmap image use? Saving that image as a 24-bit (16.8 million colors) file may give you a beautiful look, but your efforts will be lost on a computer that can only display 256 colors in an electronic presentation. A very displeasing compromise of color can occur during that "color crunch," leaving your background with a pixilated appearance and/or lack of uniformity and smoothness.
A computer setting of High Color-16 bit (65,400 colors) will ensure that there is virtually no color compromise (in Windows, go to START to SETTINGS to CONTROL PANEL to DISPLAY to SETTINGS). Most paint packages like Photoshop will allow you to manipulate image attributes such as dpi (dots per inch), color depth and image size for best results. Table 1 contains guidelines for integrating scanned images (backgrounds or photos) into your presentations, based on your output medium of choice.
It's time to bring that image into your presentation. If you're working in PowerPoint 97, you're in luck. This version can accept a JPEG file and maintain its compressed optimization. The 95 version of PowerPoint accepts the JPEG, but without the file-size reduction optimization. A JPEG compressed-file format will not only reduce the final file size to less than 10 percent of its bmp file equivalent, but will also sacrifice little image quality in the process.
When you're importing a full bitmap image into PowerPoint 97, you may want to consider selecting FORMAT to BACKGROUND and then drop down the toggle box and select FILL EFFECTS. The fourth tab setting will indicate PICTURE, where you can browse to your new bitmap, pull it in, then APPLY it to your entire presentation.
The advantage to this method is that you won't have bulky bitmap images in your master slides and, when you print out your presentation with the PURE BLACK & WHITE option, the bitmap background will drop out, saving you a ton of printer-wait frustration. In addition, you can OMIT MASTER elements while still retaining your new background.
A clean logo should now be inserted as a separate element on your background. You'll typically place it in the bottom right-hand corner of your master(s), although the rest of the design elements will dictate its final location. The logo should not be an overwhelming graphical component, just a subtle name impression on each slide.
Design for your audience
Any good template design takes into consideration the target audience of the presentation. Conservative audiences might be put off by loud color or design, even though the message is on target. On the flip side, a media-savvy target audience will quickly spot a template that's come straight out of your software's stock library. The better presentation templates show up on a regular basis, so if you're after a unique look, don't look there.
Like any creative endeavor, there is some trial and error involved in this entire process. But the end result will be a fresh, new presentation identity that can be utilized by the entire company in a number of different formats. And, when it comes time for that crucial sales presentation, your salespeople will be and look prepared.
Jim Endicott is owner/manager of Distinction, a business communications company that provides creative and consulting support services. Jim assists business professionals in enhancing the content, tools and techniques related to effective presenting. He can be reached at 503.554.1203, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.distinction-serv....