Template to death, death to templates

︎by Pete Lacey, Head of Design

You check your project list. “Create Internal Presentation Template” has been added.

You crack open Google Slides, Keynote, or if you’re unfortunate enough – Powerpoint.

You start building your template.

Your masterpiece.

Every internal presentation from here-on in is going to look like it came from the same person. One unique voice who knows everything about the business. Beautiful visual metaphors, powerful one-liners, crispy clean infographics.

It’s so on brand.

Heck, it is the brand.

Image left, space for text on right. Image right, space for text on left. Headers, bullet lists. Title slides, sub-title slides. Body copy styles.

*chef’s kiss* Full image-only slide.

Why not go one step further? Asset library of illustrations and photos, suggested word-counts, chart styles, tone of voice guide, narrative flow suggestions, subtle slide transitions.

There you have it.

It’s perfect.

Anyone who uses this template is destined for presentation success. The best kind of success.

Everything is at their disposal.

They cannot fail.

But, wait – what is this?

Is that a unique individual coming to do a presentation?

Someone pre-occupied with thoughts and worries of their own, someone who needs to communicate something on a short deadline, someone who is an expert in their field but not an expert in design?

Is that individual not browsing your various style guides? Slide suggestions?

They’re just duplicating the first slide, aren’t they?

They’ve deleted that text area, haven’t they?

Is that them pasting in the 26 bullet points from a Google Doc that was written the previous week?

They reduce the font size, it overflowed.

Point 5 is extra important. Look, they’ve changed it to red and bold.

Unfortunately none of your images represent Agile Product Development in Distributed Teams very well, so they’ll grab one from Google.

They’ll point to something vaguely with an arrow.

They don’t really like the brand colour, never have. This lime green has much more pizzazz, especially as a background.

Your rules look cool and all, but they don’t really have time for that level of constraint.

The presentation happens.

And it’ll go one of two ways.

A success. The content was on point, the delivery was clear and the takeaway was easy.

A failure. The content was confusing, the delivery was unfocussed and the takeaway was hard.

In time, you realise.

You’ll realise how well your template is used has no effect on either of these outcomes.

You’ll realise that a bad point delivered in beautiful wrapping is still a bad point, and a good point delivered in ugly wrapping is still a good point.

You’ll realise that the reason you like design is that it can be a way for people to express themselves as individuals, that internally this expression is actually quite a nice thing that helps people appear more human and less part of a monolithic organisation.

Even if that individual has the occasional bias towards lime green.

The reality is people are just too busy, they’re too unique, and they’re too tired. They will not be contained by your template.

If they have the skills to put across a good point, design can really help maximise the impact of that point. It’s beautiful when that happens. But if they broke all your design rules, and their points are still golden – then don’t worry.

If they don’t have the skills to put across a good point, your template is never going to help get it over the line – then still don’t worry.

I’m not saying that design doesn’t matter, that would be crazy talk, but in the world of internal presentations... perhaps there is other stuff to focus on first. 

What exactly? Well, more on that later.

I’ve got a presentation to give.

© Pleo 2023