Creating better web pages and site design

I have recently been doing some restructuring of my company website at – it’s still very plain and simple but I have tried to tick all the appropriate boxes for accessibility, usability, standards compliance and above all giving people clear information about what my company does and does not offer.

Later I may give it a bit more corporate gloss and “pictures of people in smart suits drinking cappuccinos in a meeting, and someone good looking with a headset on smiling at the camera” (to quote a friend who kindly gave me their thoughts on what it was missing).

As regular readers will know, clear presentation of information is a hot topic of mine, particularly when I am delivering software training. As I am a MOS: Master I do a lot of Microsoft Office courses, and try to focus not just on the features of the applications but also advise on good practices. This might include clear layout of a Word document, suitable formatting of an Excel chart, or the whole process of designing a professional presentation to deliver your message clearly and avoid “death by PowerPoint”.


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Einstein on PowerPoint

Albert Einstein famously said “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler” in reference to physics and its explanations of the Universe.

It might also apply to PowerPoint presentations, where it is too easy to clutter slide with too many bullets or too much information and detail. For example, a chart with comparisons of twenty products across three sales regions for the last four quarters – with all the individual sales figures attached to each part of the stacked bar, of course.

Don’t do it. Keep it simple. Provide enough information in the visual aid to make the point (eg Widgets are selling more than ever, and sales in Toyland are decreasing) but no more than that.

Use the speaker’s notes to provide you with the extra detail if you need to refer to the numbers, and include these notes in the handout so people can digest them later if they want to. Think about using some hidden slides so you have a selection of related charts and / or figures which you can show in response to a direct question, but will not bore the audience with if they seem uninterested (or simply happy to take your conclusions at face value).

Handouts are also the right place for giving the source of your data and any appropriate caveats such as how many people were surveyed in a poll, or what exchange rate has been used to compare sales across currencies.

A good technique to deliver a more professional presentation is to think about what the audience would write down if there were no handouts. What would be the really important things they chose to take away? So why try and ram anything else through their eyeballs and into their brains?

Eistein giving a blackboard presentation about PowerPoint

Footnote: you can make your own images of Einstein’s blackboard musings here:

Ceci n’est pas une brand

One of the training courses I run is about producing and delivering better PowerPoint presentations. This looks at ways to avoid Death by PowerPoint by using well-crafted, visually attractive slides to provide maximum impact and increase audience understanding and information retention.

In a future blog post I might collect some thoughts together around that topic, but for now I thought I would link to a pretty good example. Given that this is a slideshow with no presenter, there is text accompanying pictures which would not necessarily be the case if it was speaker-driven. However, it is still a great example of visual impact to deliver a strong message.

Notice that because of the limitations of SlideShare (and good taste on the part of the designer) there are no animations, no builds, just pure, simple, accessible slides. One of the disciplines I ask my course delegates to adopt is to print their slide deck in black and white, 6 slides to a page. Only if their slides are readable and make sense (and have impact) in this format will they be successful for a presentation. Maybe my new discipline should be “post it to SlideShare” which has similar limitations of size* and lack of animation .

*I know you can view it in full-screen mode but many people won’t do this, and those that do often want to see if the first couple of slides draw them in before doing that.

The Brand Gap Presentation is also an interesting insight into the topic of branding and marketing, which is often a theme which comes into choice of presentation style and touches on some of the areas I teach.

Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.

Huge PowerPoint files and how to avoid them

I have used PowerPoint for many years in a variety of job roles and it never ceases to amaze me that other people are able to create presentations which are, quite frankly, vast in their file sizes. There are several reasons for this, but the underlying problem is twofold:

a) users don’t think about file size until it is too late (when they realise they can’t email it, nor fit it on their memory stick nor even burn it to a single CD)

b) they don’t know how to avoid or fix the problem even if they did think about it

This means that many common causes of over-sized files go unchecked, files are used and re-used, and by the time you see there is a problem you have a huge clearing up job to do. Much better to tackle the issue at the source – when creating your presentation in the first place.

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