Five years ago, I was asked to put together a deck for a client. What the deck contained doesn’t exactly matter; how I developed that deck, however, does.
The premise of this was simple; I already had all the information in hand and didn’t exactly need to do anything but make the slides look “good.” Being ignorant and naïve back then, I considered this to be an easy task.
Keep in mind, I never even took PowerPoint seriously back then. I just thought it was standard practice to throw in bullet points and stick a few images on the slides and call it a day.
So, I did precisely that. I copied and pasted the text from the word document onto every PowerPoint slide. I didn’t even bother paraphrasing, adjusting font sizes, aligning paragraphs or positioning text boxes. To make matters worse, all the images in the deck were gathered from a single Google search. If I recall correctly, one of them even had a company watermark on it.
I hate to admit it, but I cut a lot of corners.
One Presentation, A Lifetime of Hate
When the first draft (and I use that term loosely) was ready, I thought I was set. Though, deep down, I knew that no effort was put into practice with the deck I made. I just did not care enough. Why didn’t I care enough? Because I didn’t think anybody would care at all.
I believed that content was king and that designing slides were just a waste of time. In my head, this made sense. There are only 24 hours in a day, so why would I waste my time trying to make things look good when it’s the information that matters in the end?
Alas, my expectations did not meet my reality. But more on that later.
At around 9:00 PM, I emailed the deck to my client. I can’t remember every word I typed, but the email went something like this:
As discussed, I’ve finished the first draft of the deck you’ve requested. You can find it attached to this email. I based the information on the analysis that we carried out earlier.
I’d love to hear your feedback on this so we can close the project as soon as possible. Let me know when you’re free to talk.
Once that email was sent, I shut my laptop, crashed on my bed and browsed Reddit on my phone until I fell asleep.
No Sympathy for the Weak
Standard morning procedures apply here. I woke up groggy, scratched my eyes, crawled to the bathroom, took a shower and brushed my teeth. When I got changed to head to the office, I heard my phone chime an email notification.
I walked over to my nightstand and grabbed my phone. It was an email from John. This wasn’t surprising; John is a driven kind of guy – he was always prompt with his responses. What was surprising were the words in his email. I’m doing my best to recall from memory, but it was something like this:
Is this a joke? Do you really have the audacity to send me something like this?
Did you really think that I was paying you to copy and paste information into slides? I could have done the same thing myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure my ten-year-old daughter could have done a better job than you did.
From what I see, you’ve exerted absolutely no effort in making this deck. One of the requirements was to focus on packaging the information in the best way possible so that the end user could experience what was being communicated. None of that exists in here.
I’m truly hoping you’ve sent me that deck by accident and you have something else for me, because if this is it, you can be damn sure that I will not be progressing this project with you any further.
I will never forget that sinking feeling in my stomach. It was the first time in my professional life that I let someone down, and there was no way around it: I let him down pretty hard.
Before you ask, I did indeed reply to him. Hell, I even tried calling him (he didn’t pick up). A lot of back-and-forths ensued, but it left us nowhere. John was just not happy with the work I was delivering, and I had no one to blame but myself for that.
Don’t Make Your Clients Hate You
The exchange I had with John was my first real motivation to get better at visual communication. It didn’t exactly get me to practice or anything (that story is described in the Slide Cow Toolkit’s web page). But it at least did churn my mindset quite a bit. It was the first time I started to realize that maybe, just maybe, designing good and practical PowerPoint slides should become a norm in the business world.
I’m not going to bore you with a fancy conclusion to this piece. The lesson here is simple. Take initiative to better your visual communication methods. It doesn’t matter if you think your client (or boss, or colleague, or audience, or anybody) will care or not. It also doesn’t matter if your information is flawless. Your duty, as a professional in any field, is to communicate as best as possible. Take it seriously.
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What about you?
Did you ever have an experience like I did? Did it force you to change a few habits? I’d love to know. Just post a comment below. The more detail, the better.