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An Interview with Julie Terberg

In this interview, Julie discusses the ‘art’ in PowerPoint; design, color and typography, and so much more.

As owner and principle designer at Terberg Design, Julie Terberg develops custom presentation solutions — unique for every client and purpose. She is a contributing editor to Presentations magazine, and has recently co-authored a book on crafting medical presentations. Perfect Medical Presentations, co-authored by Terry Irwin, will be available later this year.

Julie also conducts training sessions for those who want to expand their skills. To find out more about Terberg Design, visit Terberg Design.

Geetesh: PowerPoint presentations are being prepared from canned templates most of the time and some people talk about stuff like 'Death by PowerPoint'. What's happened to the 'art' in PowerPoint?

Julie: PowerPoint is readily available and relatively simple to use. Walk into any office these days and more than likely, everyone on the salesforce will have some version of PowerPoint loaded on their computer. A lot of these hardworking people are forced to develop presentations on their own, (usually at the last minute) without the benefit of having seen a well-developed presentation, let alone the assistance of a presentation consultant or graphic designer. While they may be very gifted in their chosen field, I think it's safe to say that the majority of people developing PowerPoint presentations are not artists nor experts in presentation development. Canned templates are the quickest and easiest route for them. Saves time and money. But is it a good business decision? Would they approach a corporate brochure or company web site the same way? Does a canned template really speak to the quality of your business or service? Does it tell your potential or existing client that you value their business?

"Death by PowerPoint" can be prevented with education, training and outside resources. If you're faced with developing presentations on your own: try to find examples of quality presentations, study them, and apply some of the basic principles in your own work. Or if the budget allows, contract a presentation consultant to train your staff, or hire a professional to do a presentation makeover.

Geetesh: Does usage of PowerPoint require any formal training in design and color?

Julie: Usage of PowerPoint: no, it's pretty simple to find your way through the basics of the program. Developing a successful presentation: yes, it helps. I'm not sure that formal training is necessary, but at least some exposure to basic design concepts and color theory would help. Basic typography skills can improve your work. Again, it helps to look at examples of presentations that communicate well.

It is equally important to have an understanding of what works in a presentation environment and what doesn't. Lighting, projectors, audience size and screen legibility are a few of the things that should be considered before presenting anything. Simulate the actual show environment and try out your color scheme and template to see if you have enough contrast to read everything, and that the design is working for you. Now sit in the back of the room and look at everything all over again.

Geetesh: You have seen PowerPoint evolve across versions - what's your favorite new PowerPoint feature?

Julie: By far, it's gotta be the animation tools. Some of the new effects are terrific. I love having the ability to combine effects, and have different objects animate at overlapping points in time. Exit effects are a great new feature. Customizable motion paths -- yeah! In conjunction with these tools, I appreciate having the timeline available for editing.

Geetesh: Most of the design you do has a fresh, natural feel to it. What inspires you?

Julie: I have many sources of inspiration. Nature itself is a big one, so I'm glad you mentioned the "natural feel". I love shooting digital photos outdoors and working those shots into my designs. I look for new color palettes in nature. I belong to a group of independent designers, and find a lot of inspiration in these women and their design work. My young daughter is always coloring and creating, and inspiring me to be a bit more relaxed and free with my designs. Magazines, web sites, and TV are great for inspiration. It helps to say fresh by looking at graphic approaches in other media. You may find a shape, or a color scheme, or a texture that would translate well into a new presentation design.

A lot of my clients have terrific marketing materials already in place. In these cases, I'm inspired by the designer(s) who developed the brochures and other print material, or the web site, and I take key elements of the design and rework them into the template and graphics. Good design works well across media platforms. This is a great way for a company to present a consistent brand to their audience.

Geetesh: How important is it to use good quality stock imagery in PowerPoint - and can digital photography help?

Julie: Photos can enhance most presentations. Of course, it all depends on the subject matter. If possible, digital photography shot specifically for your company would be the best resource. Shots of your products, your staff working, your products being used, or your services being performed. I've set up quite a few photo shoots for my clients. It doesn't take that long to snap a library of "real" images to work with.

Second best solution: good quality stock photos. There are a lot of great resources for low-res photography online, even free photos on the Microsoft Clip Gallery that can help. BizPresenter by Corbis is one of the best sites - only $7.95 per image for PowerPoint use.

Digital cameras are so inexpensive these days that you can afford to take your own shots. Experiment with lighting and cropping, and look at some of the stock photo sites for inspiration.

Clipart choices are usually tough. A lot of people toss in clipart thinking it will liven up their presentations, and in doing so they mix illustration styles and color palettes, and it all starts to look like angry fruit salad. Avoid clipart unless you have a great selection in the same design style, and that style displays well on-screen.

Geetesh: Which programs other than PowerPoint do you use to create your designs?

Julie: Photoshop and CorelDraw, primarily.

I'm an old CorelDraw user, and find it the easiest and best tool for creating new vector shapes to import into PowerPoint. Photoshop is always open on my system, it's my workhorse. I love to experiment with new ideas in Photoshop. I don't know how I would design without it. (Canned templates, perhaps?)

Geetesh: Many people take PowerPoint beyond its limits - with too much multimedia, video clips on every second slide and haphazard animations announcing themselves in the slide area. Has PowerPoint provided too much power to be used as required?

Julie: I don't feel that PowerPoint has provided too much power. It's a great program, and I appreciate having the new features available. Animation and video clips can be a great addition when used appropriately, and sparingly.

I think those people who take it "beyond" are just trying too hard to create a presentation that will be memorable and not boring. I don't think they have seen enough successful presentations to know that less can be more effective. (Maybe some aspire to be animators or in video production, who knows?)

In a presentation environment, multimedia overload can result in a lack of communication. The main objective with ANY presentation is to effectively communicate information. When you use motion and video, the audience's attention will be focused on the movement onscreen, which can distract them from listening to the spoken words.