creating the presentation design product

Here’s a confession! This is pretty much a totally naff blog post πŸ™‚ What I mean by that is that normally I try to give some tools for making better presentations but in this post (or posts, it might take too long!) I want to explore with you, gentle reader, how and why I created the Presentation Design Pack. Hopefully you’ll get from it a sense of how to develop a product yourselves (or not! πŸ™‚ ) as well as a feel for the packs and if you’d like to buy one.


By the way, if you’d rather take a (very!) short video version of this blog (with all the details cut out!) you can!

The origins of the Presentation Design Pack

There are a number of origins for the PDP. (Can we agree that calling it the Presentation Design Pack is a waste of keystrokes? Thanks!) Some are selfish and/or personal and others are more altruistic/service-based. Both are important so I’ll try to write them side by side. (If you’re on a small screen that won’t help, sorry!)

Personal origins

I’m not getting any younger! Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing new people in new places and doing new things with them but I’m aware that it’s physically hugely demanding and I’d like to spend more time with my wife – not least because she’s working fewer days and it’s a waste not to see her! That’s about as selfish as you can get, right?

Also, I took a leg injury recently and while I didn’t miss any work because of it, I probably should have, given how long it took to heal.

Both of these things meant I was on the lookout for something that served people but which didn’t mean I had to trade time for money as much.

The third personal origin for the PDP was watching someone I know very, very well fighting to write essays. The essays were part of a Master’s course at the London School of Economics and they were bloody hard! The person I watched do this fought their way through undergraduate university to get a first…

… and all this with a level of dyslexia that makes them almost illiterate in some circumstances. I don’t mean the kind of mild dyslexia that is actually a combination of bad spelling, laziness and a need to have something to blame for the first two. I mean a full-on, which-way-is-left-and-is-that-a-b-or-a-p-or-even-a-d type of dyslexia.

The important thing that came out of this was the they used a way of recalling content for their essays, structuring it and writing the essays that was simply stunning. I was in awe and began to read the research papers. To my almost total lack of surprise I realised that this was the system that the rest of use should be using – but don’t because we think we don’t need to.

Service-related origins

Let’s face it, the kind of presentations that we all see in the fancy adverts aren’t the kind of presentation most of us are attending, let alone making. There’s nothing wrong with them (automatically!) but it’s just that most of us are doing things more like a monthly report to the board or a pitch to a new client than we are to rocking out a conference of hundreds.

And that means we need a system for making presentations that’s a better return on our time than would be sensible if we go for the time-investment that the big conference speakers make.

Fortunately there’s a system.

There’s a system that means your presentation get to about 85% (at an estimate!) of the Uber-cool conference presentation stuff for only about a fifth of the work – or even less!

That system was what I researched.

…and refined

…and tested

…and refined

…and retested

…and am now selling in a box!

It means you can get your presentations to the “good enough” stage without the hassle of working with a one-to-one coach… and it’s cheaper too πŸ˜‰

Caution – good enough isn’t genius level! πŸ™‚

The starting of the process

Last year was a hard one for my family as one of my children was seriously, brutally ill. The bad news is that my work-rate suffered but the good news is that I had lots of time on trains when I could do the thinking-in-my-head work that’s needed at the start of any big project, not just a new product.

The initial ideas were developed and researched over the Pennines!

Home-made and original
The home-made version that started all the development off!

Pretty quickly this lead to the very first prototype – a set of blank cards bought on eBay and written on by hand. As an aside, I quickly discovered which pens that say they’re “permanent” are really “permanent until you rest your hand on them, at which point they transfer from the card to your skin. And then they’re permanent!”)

The first test was just for me. I needed to test out my new baby with other people and handmade wasn’t going to cut it. Enter a quick-and-dirty half hour with my word processor, my printer and a pair of scissors!

The home-made starting point
The home-made starting point I used to test the proof-of-concept for the Presentation Design Pack

For the record, the red corners were never intended to be part of the design. (At this point I’d not got the concept of ‘design’ in mind – I was still working on ‘function’.) They were just there to help me cut the cards out when I printed them on sheets of A4…

Now that I’d got a way of creating something that people could respond to, I started passing them around friends and family. I included typed up instructions on A4. Importantly, I only gave copies to a couple of my friends at a time. This was so that I could take on board their feedback and responses, change the instructions, and make the product better each time. This took about four months, of constant development and bugging people!

Some of the things that had their origins in this point of the process were the fact that people constantly found other uses for the system that hadn’t crossed my mind, and that people wanted to take things faster and faster than I did. I began to add more sophistication to the system in response to requests for features.

I also took some off πŸ˜‰

I tried very hard to refine the extra features so that each feature did more than one thing and could be used in more than one way – it kept the essential elegance of the cards while allowing different people to use them in different ways.

Instruction book
A book of details, history, examples, case studies, template structures and advanced/alternative uses for the pack!

I also started to write the book that is now part of the PDP which brings all these new ways of working and the different ideas together. It took a long time to develop the instruction book, and I found I was constantly iterating it alongside development of the rest of the system.

I also included a few case studies in there as inspiration – and those came from live client work using the system, even before it was fully developed as a product!

And clients loved it whenever I used it. Importantly they found it worked – gained themselves millions of pounds of work for themselves based on presentations they’d design while using it. That gave me considerable confidence! πŸ™‚ The downside from a business perspective was that that means they don’t need me any longer. A well, I’ll survive!

Trying it out as a product

By now I’d refined and refined the instructions so that they were

  • comprehensive
  • idiot-proof
  • short
Original instruction sheet
The original instruction sheet

so it was time to try it out as a stand alone. I’d be in the room, along with a videographer, but the idea was that the instructions would speak for themselves. I’d refined the instructions so well by this point that I’d had my designer put them onto a single sheet of A0 paper.

Again I got lucky here. I’m no longer a Regional President of the Professional Speaking Association but I’m a member and on good terms with my local President. We agreed that I’d run a session and it seemed like a win-win. What I got out of it was valuable feedback from people who either made professional presentations or who wanted to. (That latter group is important!) What people who came along got out of it was free access to an awesome system.

And it worked. You can see some of the feedback on the sales page for the system at design.presentationgenius.info where some of them have even taken the time to record videos! So what did I learn? Well firstly and importantly I learned that my instructions – the ones that were supposed to be

  • comprehensive
  • idiot-proof
  • short

only scored one out of three! πŸ˜‰ They were short. Back to the drawing board! Everyone loved the system but it took more explaining than could be done in the format I’d chosen.

Moving on to more development

So armed with the two sets of feedback now (clients using the system with me and presenters using the system with just the instructions) I knew two things

  • people loved it
  • I needed to give better instructions πŸ™‚

Onwards!

Presentation Design Pack Instruction Cards
A set of 11, high quality, A5 instruction cards that take you through the process in a series of build-on-each-other steps

I took a massive redirection at this point and ditched the big instruction sheet. I just couldn’t get the information on in a self-contained way without resorting to a text size of about 2 pt! πŸ™‚ In it’s place arrived a series of A5 sized “instruction cards”.

One overview card to set the scene – and ten individual cards. Back to the cycle of writing, editing, proof-reading, testing, and back to writing… and repeat… Some cards I got right first time, others took over a dozen revisions. Two had to be started again.

And again.

And I flatter myself to say that “some” cards were right first time. In truth, one of them was.

During this time the book on advanced tools took on more and more content, as more and more people tried the system and found different things that I wanted to include because the were useful. And there there was the question of slide design…

Designing slides once the content is right

I’m an expert and with that comes the knowledge that the key thing to a successful prevention is know what you’re trying to do and then having the right content in the right way to do that. Everything else can help, but without those things you’re on a hiding to nothing – your presentation is going to suck.

However…

Evolving Your Slides booklet
A simple, step-by-step guide to moving your slides from “okay, I suppose” to “awesome” and “effective”.

Time after time in the testing stage people asked for extra help – the stuff about how to make your presentation zing in delivery. And so was born the fifth and final part of the Presentation Design Pack – a short booklet called “Evolving Your Slides“. Fortunately for me, my sanity and my marriage, there’s not much need to test this bit because it’s an evolution (SWIDT?) of an old ebook I used to sell.

Getting the packaging sorted

I have to admit, this was a lot harder than I expected. Why? Because I knew what I wanted/needed – I’m an expert in that after all. But I know nothing about packaging other than a set of criteria I created:

  • it needs to be post-able (obviously!). Sadly that ruled out wood
  • it needed to be environmentally okay. That rules out foam fillings
  • it needs to make the PDP look reasonably good πŸ˜‰

So…. you’d be amazed at how unhelpful most packaging companies’ websites are! Not to put too fine a point on it, I ended up having to have someone visit. The details are boring, but the effect will be great!

So where are we now?

About to launch! Wow! The new website at design.presentationgenius.info is gradually taking shape, pre-launch interest is climbing (gosh!) and, well… I hope this helps a lot of people!

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